What do you say about a twenty-five year old Detective Constable who died?
That he was brave, and smart, and handsome. That he loved his country. That he loved me, too. He told me once that he'd die for me, but I'm the soldier: I'm supposed to give up my life to save his. But he never gave me the chance. And in some small way, I resent that.
It was the end of term, and I was just starting a fifteen-page paper that was due the next day--that's med school for you. There was a book I needed that I had forgotten to check out of the library that morning, so I made a mad dash back to the school only to come face-to-face with crime scene tape and a plainclothes officer who looked even more exhausted than your average med student.
"You can't go in there," he told me.
"Why not?" Not my brightest moment, I'll admit. "I go to school here," I finished, somewhat lamely.
"Why d'you think?" he asked, looking at me as if I was an idiot. "There's been a murder." Something about his accent--provincial, rough-edged--appealed to me, though I wouldn't have admitted it.
"In the St. Barts' library? Are you kidding?" I craned my neck around to peer inside the library. "There isn't even anyone in there. Look, I really need this book. It's for a paper. I waited until the last minute to start it, and if I don't get this book I can't write it, and if I don't write it I'll probably fail Surgical Oncology."
"Listen," he sighed, with the air of someone who's been through this a hundred times already, "I can appreciate that you need your book and I'm sorry you can't get it. You're right, there isn't anyone in there right now, but it's still a crime scene and there is still evidence to gather. We can't have rich, idle med students mucking it up."
"I'm not rich and idle," I protested. "I'm poor and overworked."
He laughed. "I doubt it. I'm poor and overworked." As if to prove it, he yawned.
To this day, I don't know why I did it. Maybe it was just how exhausted he looked in that moment, maybe I felt like doing another human being a nice turn, maybe I thought it would help my case. "There's a coffee shop right around the corner. How do you take yours?"
He gave me a slow, careful look. "Why?"
I shrugged, trying to feign nonchalance. "Why not?"
He bit his lip, then nodded. "Black, two sugars." I wasn't more than two steps away when he called me back. For a minute he was silent, looking as if he was grappling with an internal dilemma, but finally asked, "What's the title of it?"
I passed him a slip of paper on which was written the title and call number of the necessary book. When I came back with two coffees, he produced the book out from behind his back with a flourish and a wink. I could have kissed him.
I did, later.
"Agent Holmes, those two are long gone by now."
"I'm telling you," Holmes answers, sounding quite annoyed, "that they're not. It won't be hard to find them, but your men have to be willing to put in a bit of legwork."
"Sure. Let me just go put a carrot on a stick and drag it through South London, shall I?"
From the entrance of the room comes a woman's laughter, sweet and lilting. "I'm sure a bottle of tequila would be far more enticing." Officer Lestrade and Agent Holmes glance over to see the speaker -- a compact, pretty young woman with curly blonde hair and bloodstained pyjamas. She's supporting a man, also in filthy nightclothes, who's sporting several bandages.
Lestrade groans, and hides his face in his hands to avoid Holmes's smug, satisfied grin.
They separate the siblings, to see if their stories match up. Not that Harry and John haven't had more than enough time to make something up, but there are procedures to follow. Lestrade gets John Watson, because Holmes thinks the girl is more likely to lie and clearly doesn't trust Lestrade to notice if she is.
Watson--"Call me John, please"--is pleasantly honest and straightforward. Lestrade plies him with coffee, doughnuts, and conversation that borders on flirtation, and it doesn't take much questioning to get to the heart of the story:
"Harry's not the nicest drunk. I try to keep an eye on her, but sometimes she gets out of hand. Last night, she picked a fight and I had to jump in to help. They must've followed us back to the flat, because they broke in, handcuffed me to the toilet. Said they were going to kill her in front of me. They had guns." He shrugs. "She's my sister. I'd do anything to protect her."
"Agent Holmes is under the impression that you ripped the toilet from the wall and jumped off the fifth floor balcony onto one of the men." If it's true, it's impressive as hell, but Lestrade's not about to tell John that. (Not yet, anyway. A week from today, fourteen mobsters will be dead, and Lestrade will throw his lot in with the Watson siblings. He will hide evidence and commit perjury to keep them out of jail. But later. That comes later.)
John nods, pressing his tongue to the inside of his cheek. "Agent Holmes would be correct. Though how did he...?"
Lestrade shrugs. "It's just something he does." He slides a newspaper across the table. "They're making you out to be heroes in the press. Your neighbors had nothing bad to say about either of you -- a couple mentioned Harry's drinking, but the general consensus is that you're angels. Saints."
John laughs and dips his fingertips into his cup, flicking droplets of coffee at Lestrade. "Body of Christ. Go forth, my son, and sin no more."
Lestrade can't help the wicked grin that spreads across his face.
The door swings open. "I'm a cop, you know. I could have you arrested. Hell, I could do it myself."
Dr. John Watson freezes, then throws up his hands. "Mr. Lestrade, I--" He stops, having absolutely no idea what to say. In all of his years working for Dr. Holmes, he has broken into far more houses than he's comfortable thinking about, but he's never been caught before.
"Come on in, then," Lestrade tells him, and John doesn't know what else to do but obey. "I saw you take Mary's keys out of her purse when she was sleeping. I'm going to assume you have a very, very good reason for doing that?"
It's really ridiculously unfair, John thinks, how collected this man is. His roommate is in the hospital with a disease obscure enough to keep Sherlock Holmes entertained and stumped at the same time, and one of her doctors just tried to break into his home, but all he's doing is leaning against the wall with a smug smile and patiently waiting for an explanation.
John licks his lips. "Dr. Holmes -- my boss --"
"The cranky, handsome one with a limp, who refuses to speak to me, Mary, or her family?" Lestrade interrupts.
"Er -- yeah." Handsome? "He doesn't... talk to patients. Ever. It's nothing personal, really, nothing against you or the Morstans. He doesn't trust anyone to tell the truth."
"So he tells his employees to sneak around and housebreak instead of asking questions."
"Yeah. Exactly." The words echo in John's ears, sounding hollow even to himself despite their veracity. "We try to leave everything the way it was, but sometimes you just... need to see where people live, what's in their environment. It's saved lives before."
Lestrade rolls his eyes. "Spare me the miracles. I know what it's like to have to work with an egotistical maniac who insists on doing things his way... 'S like trying to use an umbrella to stay dry in a hurricane," he mutters.
"Oh," John says. "Right. Well, would you mind awfully--?"
"No," Lestrade answers. "But I'm going to supervise you. I'll overlook this little show of housebreaking, too, and very kindly not arrest you." After a second he adds, in a drawl that makes John's heart skip a beat, "Unless you're very, very naughty."
"Darling," Mycroft calls, beckoning a finger. "Come over here, I'd like you to meet someone."
Lestrade excuses himself from a conversation with Mycroft's PA and winds his way through the crowd. As he passes, people smile at him as if they're old friends, but he hasn't even met half of them yet. They know him, though; it's impossible to read the papers and not know of Gregory Lestrade, famous only for being the boyfriend of GeneCo founder Mycroft Holmes. Tonight, at this party, he will make headlines once more; he and Mycroft will be announcing their engagement.
Mycroft is conversing with a good-looking younger man with short, straight blonde hair and cheerful eyes. He is alluring in a way that Lestrade can't specify, and doesn't want to think too much about.
Mycroft pulls Lestrade close to him. "Love, I'd like you to meet our newest head of R&D, Dr. John Watson. Dr. Watson, this is my fiance, Gregory Lestrade."
Lestrade holds out a hand; instead of shaking it, John Watson brings it to his mouth and kisses it. "It's very nice to meet you, Greg," he intones, and they lock eyes.
In a year's time Lestrade will be dead, in a year's time Dr. Watson will be a broken man, a repo man, a soulless shell of a person; Lestrade can't possibly know this, but he wouldn't care even if he did.
"What kind of moron kills off his most famous character?"
"Writing Sherlock used to be fun, Mary. Now it's a chore. There's no surprises.... just like these parties. " Dr. John Watson, former RAMC doctor and current bestselling mystery novelist, finishes his glass of champagne and makes a face. "Where do you get your ideas? Is Watson based on you or does he just have your name? Are Sherlock and Irene going to hook up? Just once I'd like to hear something new."
Someone taps him on the shoulder, and John turns around to face a drop-dead gorgeous man with a youthful face and graying hair. "Dr. Watson?" the man asks.
John pulls a pen out of his suit pocket. "Where would you like me to sign?" he asks, flirting shamelessly.
Unimpressed, the man holds up a badge. "Detective Inspector Lestrade. I'm here about a murder."
Mary raises one perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Hey, John, something new."
"You've got quite a record, Doctor Watson," Lestrade drawls, dropping a file on the desk. "Twice now you've been caught with an unregistered firearm. And yet, in both cases, the charges were dropped."
John shrugs. "Gregson's a friend; I saved his nephew's life in Afghanistan. But if you think I need... punishing... well, I'd be happy to let you spank me."
A flicker of interest passes across Lestrade's face, almost too quickly to be noticed -- but John was looking for it. Lestrade clears his throat. "That's not what you're here about."
"Pity," John answers, bracing his forearms on the interrogation room table and leaning forward. "I was looking forward to it."
This time Lestrade rolls his eyes and opens the file in front of him. He brings out two photographs. One is of a man, dead, posed in a wooden chair with his arms and legs askew, an unnatural smile on his face. The second is another man lying facedown by a small body of water, his head horribly misshapen by numerous blows from a presumably heavy object. Beside him lay a rifle.
John lets out a breath. "My god. Those are..."
"From your stories," Lestrade finishes. "The Sign of the Four and the Boscombe Valley Mystery. You've got a copy-cat."
John sits outside Chief Inspector Gregson's office, listening to the row going on within.
"I'm not--!" Lestrade's shouting. "For God's sake, sir, he's insufferable! Insufferable and wildly inappropriate, and--"
"Lestrade!" Gregson says sharply. Lestrade quiets. "It's not your decision. It's mine, and I've made it. You're his inspiration; he wants to base his next novel on you. If that means he's got to shadow you, then that means you have to put up with him."
Lestrade sighs and runs a hand through his hair. "For how long, sir?"
"For as long as he needs," Gregson replies.
John appears at the door and grins (as if butter wouldn't melt). Lestrade glares at him. Oh yes, this is the beginning of something beautiful.
The music of the club is loud, bass-heavy. Too loud. John winds his way through men of every description (and gets his arse groped once, but the dance floor is so packed he can't tell who did it). Once outside, he takes a deep breath of fresh air and sags against the brick wall of the club. This isn't how he intended his night to go -- tomorrow he ships off to Afghanistan, and he'd been hoping for one last shag to see him through the long months ahead.
Next to him, smoking a cigarette, is a man in very tight black trousers; though his brown hair is graying slightly around the temples, he's clearly only slightly older than John. A stressful job, John guesses, or a hereditary predisposition for premature graying. He wonders which it is. He stares a little, trying to decide, and the man catches him. Nods.
"Alright then?" he asks John, offering a cigarette. John shakes his head, and the man continues, "Saw you dancing in there. Couldn't help noticing. You'll forgive my forwardness, but Christ you're gorgeous."
Greg is a copper, a trainee hoping to make detective constable soon. John calls himself a med student, which was true until quite recently, and carefully does not mention the army or Afghanistan at any point in the evening.
"Call me sometime?" Greg asks the next morning, handing a slip of paper to John.
John promises he will. He keeps Greg's number, intending to call him again when he gets back (it will be years from now, of course, but he'll be interested to see how gray Greg's hair has gotten then).
But life intervenes, and when John returns home broken and tired, he takes a match to the paper he'd saved so carefully. It's months before he sees Lestrade again, and days (sleepless ones, filled with adventure and danger) before he remembers why that low, gravelly voice seemed so familiar.
Of course, Lestrade forgives him everything.