by Maureen S. O'Brien (mobrien at dnaco.net)

Spoilers for "The Adventure of the Empty House" by Marv Wolfman

"Personal journal, Inspector Beth Lestrade. Entry for July 10, 2103."

She stopped there. Her throat had locked against the words. She mutely got a glass of water and choked it down.

"There's no sense sugarcoating it. Holmes is dead. Again." She almost laughed at that, but it was a hurting laugh. "The only consolation is that Watson saw him take that misbegotten clone of Moriarty's with him. But I don't think it's a fair bargain." She swallowed hard again, but continued.

"I could go on about how he was the world's first consulting detective and one of the founders of modern forensics." She crossed to her window and stared out at the towers of New London. "I could talk about how his adventures inspired me to follow my ancestor's example and become a police detective."

She leaned her head tiredly against the glass.

"But the truth is, I like...liked him. For someone as arrogant, overdramatic and unsociable as he was, he sure loved to socialize. He had a good sense of humor. And somehow, he was able to adjust without fuss to a world where most of his specialized knowledge had become obsolete and all of his friends were long dead. Without losing his mind or getting weirder than he was already." She snorted. "He was even able to adjust to taking orders from me. Well, mostly."

Her tone grew cold. "Not enough to quit ditching Watson and me. Not enough to call for a little zedding backup. Oh no, the famous detective Sherlock Holmes doesn't need backup. Backup is for mere mort...."

Her fist shot out and pounded the glass.

"Damn you, Holmes!"

But it wouldn't break.

"I've hardly known you a month! And you didn't even leave us a body!"

It wasn't even glass, really, so what was the point? Her hand sagged against the smooth cool surface.

"Still, I have to believe there was a reason you were allowed to live again, even if only for a little while. And I'm glad I got a chance to know you. You were pretty special."

Her brain felt numb and her heart hurt, and she knew enough about grief to realize that nothing but time would cure that.

"And if I ever find out who Watson saw firing at you, he'll be sorry his parents ever swapped DNA," she promised, her voice absolutely level.

Her city's lights were beautiful, but one light shone no more.

"Lights out," she commanded her apartment computer abruptly. "Remind me to go over to Baker Street again tomorrow and every day until I say otherwise. Somebody has to keep an eye on Watson. He's not really a compudroid anymore, and Holmes is...was...everything to him." She shucked her uniform in the dark and tiredly dumped it on the floor. "With any luck, being on the job will keep me too busy tomorrow to think. Because sometimes, life really inhales."

She didn't even bother to wipe away the tears dripping inexorably down her face as she padded back to her bedroom. Anyway, nobody was there to see.

"Oh, yeah. End journal entry."

Silence. She stared out into the darkness, and gradually her eyes adjusted. The light of New London painting a strip along the walls was bright enough to show her the homely shapes of her furniture out in the living room. She usually polarized the windows, but tonight she let them be. She needed a little light.

So she was still awake, staring out into the dark, when she heard the locking mechanism of her front door snick.

She rolled out of bed with no conscious thought and had her ionizer in hand before she heard the door open. She couldn't actually hear the intruder's footsteps, but she could hear his breathing. Male, she thought, accepting her unconscious' analysis of the situation without inquiring why it thought so. She let the intruder keep coming until he was within easy ionizer range but not close enough to jump her. She leaned around the door and took a bead on him.

"Lights," she whispered, then shouted, "Halt, police!"

An old man stood before her, his hands in the air. But he carried a cane that she knew. "Gently, Lestrade, gently!" he said.

In Holmes' voice.

"How dare you?" she hissed, in a voice she hardly recognized as her own. "You're sick, mocking a dead man. Were you one of the ones who killed him?"

"I am not dead, I assure you. Unfortunately, neither is Moriarty, no matter what Watson may have believed he saw. I have been spending the last few hours in disguise so that Moriarty's long distance shooter will not get a chance to correct his mistake. I apologize for my method of entry, but I believe your building is being watched. Now, if you believe that I am in fact myself, may I put my hands down?"

She stood for a moment in indecision, then put the safety back on. "Holmes...." She felt the anger turn hot again as she stalked toward him, staring directly into his eyes. "You idiot! If you ever go out without me or Watson as backup again, I'm going to...."

And suddenly she was hugging him fiercely. She knew he must be giving her some kind of strange look and he was certainly rigid in her hold, but she didn't back away until she was good and ready. She looked up. He looked surprised, embarrassed, but a little bit repentant. Good. "Just remember," she murmured up at him, shaking a finger, "I brought you into this world and I can take you out."

"No doubt."

She suddenly became aware that Holmes was staring at her face rather determinedly, and realized that a sports bra and knickers were probably not what he was used to seeing on her. She carefully avoided grinning. "Don't go anywhere. As soon as I get dressed, I want to hear the whole story. If you haven't eaten, you know where the kitchen is." She scooped up her uniform from the floor, walked back to her bedroom, and closed its door behind her for the first time since... since Holmes had stayed here, and who knew how long before then. Huh. Maybe she needed a life, as the old saying went.

She skinned into her uniform in about a second, then grabbed a brush. "Mirror," she said, turning it on, and confronted what Holmes had seen. Swollen eyes and tear tracks. Spiffy. Well, it wasn't as if you could hide much from the man. She subdued her hair, put the mirror away, and marched back out -- with her ionizer holstered this time.

Holmes had removed his disguise and was sitting in his chair, finishing off a just slapped-together sandwich. But she noticed that he sat uncomfortably on the edge of his chair and had not taken off his coat. Apparently his Victorian upbringing had overcome his Bohemian soul when she'd reminded him that she was a woman.

She almost grinned again. A woman with no life enjoyed the occasional reassurance. Well, she'd just be all business till he recovered from the embarrassment.

"Okay, Holmes, start talking. Or...wait. Let me call Watson first; he needs to be in on this."

"No. Watson must not know. I have to play dead for a while yet, and he's no actor. But I need someone on the inside, someone I can trust. In short, I need your backup." He looked at her with offhand assurance.

He was not playing fair. But she couldn't help feeling a little pride that Sherlock Holmes would come to her. "All right," she said. "Now tell me what really happened."

He leaned forward. "I was following a lead and learned that Moriarty was meeting one of his minions at...."

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