Natalie Chandler and Greg Lestrade were certainly not a pair of coppers one would have predicted to get on, not initially.
One coming from the...well not rough, but certainly tumble...streets of southeast London. The other from as posh an upbringing as you could imagine.
Except that all becomes equal when one lands at Hendon Police College. Especially if your family isn’t that keen on you being there in the first place. Nat’s ‘Da’ made his feelings known within about a week, just by keeping on being himself. (“Oh, yes, DI, that is my father; yes, you can definitely charge him.”)
Greg’s father and mother, on the other hand.... Well, their way was more subtle. Absence rather than presence. Not that that anybody noticed. Except Natalie. Natalie noticed everything. Greg would learn to praise Allah, Jehovah, and all the small gods for it in the years to come.
Of course, she wouldn’t point it out, would she. Not in so many words. She used chicken tikka instead. It was in various kinds of takeaway, that Natalie would try unsubtly to mother him.
“Okay, Gregory, my lad. I cannot for the life of me get this chapter into my head. Can I bribe you to help me study?”
And he would stretch out on his mattress, smiling that smile that was only theirs.
They progressed in this odd sort of rhythm. Except that hers was always the way of giving, and his the way of taking. He always felt one step behind, trying to make it up to her.
Even the month they both made DS. She made it 2 weeks before him, but hadn’t lorded it over him. Not that he managed to honor it properly, in any case. Somehow, even when he meant to be the caretaker, he mucked it up.
Greg had meant to take her out for a proper dinner and a pint; but the Courtney family murder case had come up the very day. The entire borough force had been on it.
That little boy’s face...it had been haunting him. He hadn’t gotten proper sleep the entire fortnight. He needed his Natalie, and (unfairly, he knew) resented when she wasn’t there. Though of course he should have known it. Should have known she knew what was going on. That the case would work as it needed to work.
In the fucked up way of the world, even though he felt like he had bungled the case beyond the telling of it? Finally solving it was when the bosses decided to give him those damn sergeant’s bars. They rang damn hollow, he could say that much.
He was sitting in his darkened office when Nat came.
“I needed you.”
“I know, love.”
“You weren’t there.”
“I couldn’t be.”
“...I brought pizza?”
“Well, mother Mary and all the little fishes, sit down, then.”
“Where on earth do you pick up these phrases, you ridiculous man?”
As they had been the pair at Hendon, so they were the pair on the make, on the way up.
Every time he showed up in the Times, there she was to mark the occasion. Beef Chow Mein, Chicken and Biscuits, Vindaloo from this lovely hole-in-the-wall place she’d discovered. The woman was a culinary mastermind (well, at least when it came to takeaway.)
It was Lillian who could actually cook, but Lil never objected to these other dinners. She even joined in on a few. It was part of what made him love his Lil; that she was not, nor would she ever be, threatened by or jealous when it came to Natalie. Lillian had always said that after watching Greg and Natalie for less then 5 minutes, she knew there was nothing to worry about. Indeed, that “you, Greg Lestrade, need more people in your life looking after you.”
Greg couldn’t remember what Nat brought to Lil’s funeral. (Natalie wasn’t Jewish. But, as she had told Greg some time in college, she’d adopted the practice of arriving with takeaway at funerals or wakes. Just as good procedure.) He was sure it was something appropriate.
Appropriate; entirely unlike the encounter between Sherlock and Nat- excuse me, DS Chandler that had occurred there. Then, and after, Natalie had insisted the young man call her by her title. He never did, but she never stopped trying. That was a pair destined for a) spectacular heroics or b) spectacular destruction. He was very grateful that neither had occurred at that time.
Greg was never good at these departmental things. And so it was destined to be that he’d only arrive with petrol-station-purchased sushi. Hardly could count as catering, could it.
But he had showed up, because Natalie had needed him, Natalie had wanted him, too.
Because of the the old boy network, it had been Greg who’d made DI first, gotten his own unit. Central London Homicide; the “red ball team”, as their American colleagues might have called it.
But now things had worked out as they should. Now, they’d given her MIU. The all-encompassing Major Investigations Unit; not just the party girls in Chelsea or the stockbroker boys in the City, but the young mothers, the students, in Hackney and Tottenham.. The voices in terror crying out for aid or justice; they deserved Natalie, deserved her attention. Not that Greg didn’t believe he could’ve run it fine. It’s just that he was damn sure Nat was better.
He was excited to meet Natalie’s team. She now had the best forensic team in the Met, that was for sure. Greg would take Joy Granger, and Angela Ferrando over all comers any day of the week.
But more then that, he was downright jealous Natalie had poached that clever kid Devlin out from under everybody. All that, and she’d gotten Ronnie, too. Everyone knew Ronnie Brooks. Anyone who’d been a true copper for any length of time. Not only since the old boy had been sober, but before that.
Greg smiled as the two of them looked over at Devlin and Brooks. Getting on like a house afire.
He nudged Natalie, gently.“You can certainly pick ‘em, love.”
“Oi, shut it, you.” (Greg grinned wider. She very rarely brought out the Voice these days.)
“Hey, I brought food, didn’t I?”
“Petrol station sushi doesn’t count. You better thank your lucky stars I called up Mr. Lu from round the corner.”
“Yeah, of course, you would say that, wouldn’t you.”
The night of the explosion, Lestrade didn’t really have anything to say. But Natalie found him anyway. Sitting in the hard plastic chairs of St. Thomas’s Hospital. It had been the trauma center closest to that godforsaken pool.
Greg had no appetite. He had eaten...some sort of sandwich, he thought; a quick dinner with Sally and Anderson early in the evening. Before the call. Before the chaos.
Damn Sherlock. More than that....damn John Watson. For bringing back Lestrade’s hope again, that he might one day see the good man the great man was capable of being.
It had been Greg who had found the two of them; he mostly just remembered yelling for the paramedics after. And the way he’d found them; the smaller man curled around the taller one, as if to protect him.
Sherlock and John had survived, somehow.Thanks be to those small gods who looked after coppers, even the irregular ones. Still, that image was going to stay with Greg for a while.
Natalie arrived. Natalie, and Ronnie, and Matt arrived, because these days they were like the bloody Musketeers.
Matt and Ronnie headed off towards the nurse’s station. Natalie knelt by his side; only needing to nod in Greg’s direction to get her point across.
“We can manage this for now. You and Donovan, go home, get some rest. We’ll be here in the morning when you get back.”
There was that look in Nat’s eye; that look like ‘I love you, but I know you probably shouldn’t be here at all; I recognize that gangly kid and his doctor friend.’
But she didn’t say anything. She just touched his shoulder; and at that moment up came Ronnie Brooks. Subtly profferring a bag of chips.
“That should be "DI ‘Kiddo’" to you, Ronnie.”
“Oh, yeah, sorry, ‘Guv....I mean, ‘Guvs.’”
Everybody smiled then. And Greg did go home. Surrendering to the dubious but pleasurable comforts of his bed. Nothing was solved then. But Holmes and Watson lived to deduce another day, and he guessed that was some sort of victory. Actually. it was the only sort of victory he really wanted.
Sherlock and John were off in France somewhere when it happened.
Greg supposed that was best , really. As it turned out, they couldn’t have helped. No one could have, really. And that was the problem.
He’d learned from the best. He emulated Natalie in all things. Even in grief, even in sadness, he had learned from her.
And so Greg Lestrade showed up at Bow Street, bearing Chinese takeaway, at about 15 minutes before midnight.
Ronnie was nowhere to be found. As far as Greg had heard, he had to pray that Ronnie was out again with Sam Casey, worrying the hell out of the case like a terrier. Because as long as Ronnie was working the case, he wasn’t... Greg didn’t even want to think past that.
The emotional impact the Devlin kid had had was astonishing. Even that first night, Lestrade had seen it. He’d managed to run into Steel, the ex-CPS bloke, now working for NGOs all around London. James hadn’t even heard of the Old Bailey shooting; the man nearly collapsed at the news of who it had been, bracing himself on the counter.
It had been several days before Greg could get away, and he felt guilty. Guilty that ,for all that Natalie had done for him, he couldn’t be there for her at that moment.
He reached her office; one hand knocked on the glass door, the other cradling a paper bag of noodle containers under his arm. The door opened easily; swung,even. Greg gazed from the door, at the pale, dark-haired lady he had come for. Sitting in her chair, looking through the blinds out into the empty bullpen.
“I would guess you probably need to eat something, yeah?”
“Yeah, but it’s the witching hour, that can wait.”
A shudder ran through Greg, and he shook his head. “No, it really can’t.” On a whim, he reached into his Bag of Things, and pulled out a box of chicken fried rice. Getting a hold of it, he then knelt in front of Natalie’s desk chair.
“Sam Casey’s a good lad.”
“Yeah, tell that to Ronnie.”
Greg tried to come up with a smile.
“Nat, you can’t really tell Ronnie much at the best of times.”
Greg had guessed the odds on that remark as 50-50; apparently he’d bet wrong. Natalie shot up from her chair, and stalked across the room. Greg mustered all of the energy in him that hadn’t been lost to age, and got up. Followed her as she vented.
“Don’t even talk to me about Ronnie Brooks right now. He went down to see Ellis. Down, in the cells, by himself. And then, talking to the suspect; I had to threaten to lock him up, did you know that? These last days....ever since....he’s been stalking around like something out of a revenge play, and I can’t do a damn thing about it. Not a damn...”
At this last phrase, she’d stopped next to the Venetian blinds. Now she lashed out, whacking her forearm against the windowsill. The only thing Greg could say on his own behalf was that he knew Natalie, maybe could predict her a little bit. So on the next pass, he caught Natalie’s arm. Prevented her from striking again.
And then she quieted. No violence any more, just quiet mourning. It was one of the few times in their friendship that Greg had ever seen Natalie Chandler letting herself be vulnerable. Leaning into his chest. Crying. Her breathing calmed down, from ragged intake to regular rhythm.
Natalie eventually looked up at Greg, wiping her eyes, staring him with a wry sort of sorrow.
“I miss him, Greg.”
“I go home, I hug my little boys, I love them. I should save it all for them, leave the job here. But.”
“But he was your friend.”
“There’s, this...I come in, and I look over at the computer, and he’s not there. When Ronnie’s stalking around like a vengeful ghost, I could always look to Matt to sort him out. But now there’s just the two of us. The two of us, and the hole in between where Matty used to be.”
Greg had no answer to that, so he just reached out and grasped her other arm.
Natalie let out a hollow laugh. “But of course, I’m the ‘Guv, aren’t I. So I just have to go on, move things on.”
Greg smiled ruefully at that. “Rank, it’s really overrated, sometimes.”
“Because this is how it is. To be a copper.”
“Yeah. Except, really I’ve never been a proper one of those.”
Greg looked into her eyes, while squeezing her arm a little harder. Natalie caught that gaze; she grinned and started to cry again at the same time.Then leaned her head against his shoulder.
He wrapped his arms around her, trying his damnedest to be the solid dependable bloke he’d never believed himself to be. Greg felt, rather than heard, Natalie murmur into his shoulder.
“Oh, Greg Lestrade. You are a good copper, you daft man.”
“Learned from the best, didn’t I.”