The realization didn’t hit Lestrade until after the fact, until it was much too late. Not that it would have mattered, he recognized even later. He’d been nothing more than a pawn in Moriarty’s game, and he’d fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker: letting the doubts fill him far too easily, when if anything Lestrade should have stuck up for Sherlock, done a proper investigation before taking their total lack of good evidence to the higher ups. How quick and simple it would have been to compare Sherlock’s shoes to the prints from where the children had been abducted, and the idea hadn’t crossed Lestrade’s mind until after the entire affair had ended in tragedy.
God, he’d been a fool, and it had cost a good man his life and destroyed another. By all outward appearances, John seemed to have moved on, put it behind him, but Lestrade knew differently, having driven him home way too often from another drunken bender at another nameless pub, seemingly working his way across London.
Sherlock hadn’t been what Lestrade would call a friend. At least not by the normal definition. Sherlock didn’t have friends. Except the one. Somehow Sherlock had found what he’d needed in John, and they’d complimented each other, grounding one another as John was driven to rise to the occasion and Sherlock was forced to slow down, to live a little. Lestrade felt himself lucky for being one of the few to be let through, let under that shell of genius bravado. He’d known Sherlock as much as he was able, and that was almost not at all, but he missed it, missed the infuriatingly right genius of a man.
Lestrade had thought his career was over, and had been closer than ever to crawling back into the bottle that had once ruined his life, but as if by magic the inquiries had disappeared, the whispers and rumors evaporating as though they never existed. The silence, the complete lack of mention of what had happened was almost worst than the questions, the accusing and mistrustful looks. It had Mycroft’s work written all over it, and for once Lestrade wasn’t sure if he appreciated it. Mycroft had had a hand in the whole thing, had played a bigger role than Lestrade was sure he wanted it know given John’s reaction the one time he’d attempted to bring him up. Explosive was not strong enough a word for it. And with Sherlock gone, Mycroft had been absent, leaving Lestrade unable to voice his questions.
Even a year later, Lestrade still reached for his mobile, ready to phone Sherlock about the newest case that had them stumped. Each time, the realization was still as painful as the first, the draw that one man that so few knew, that almost no one believed in, still had on him. Sherlock had opened up a world to him, connecting seemingly insignificant details to make a solid case, and in the process teaching Lestrade so very much. He missed that, missed the banter, the few times when he could pull one over Sherlock.
Less and less frequently, Lestrade would hear the gossip about the genius that had fooled them all, he wanted to rage at the unfairness of it, but knew it would accomplish anything. They didn’t believe, didn’t understand. But the ones that mattered did believe and that was all that mattered in the end. If there was an afterlife, Lestrade was sure Sherlock was laughing at him, calling him a sentimental fool. Fool, he may have been, but he believed, and that had to count for something.