A/n: Ok, finally it really is complete.
Edit: Everyone, thank you so much for your reviews. I didn't know what people would think with the additional chapters, but I'm glad this story seems to have touched a tiny piece of reality somehow. I know I have much to learn yet as a writer, and I'm grateful for the reviews you give.
"Holmes, you scared me! Why didn't you answer?"
"I did, Watson," he chuckled softly. "I think your power of hearing has lessened of late. Don't be offended, old fellow; you can't help it. Watson, no, don't go away."
I wavered only a moment before stepping back into his room. "I don't mean to be touchy, Holmes. It was just hard to hear you say that—in more ways than one!" I finished with a laugh, coming to sit beside him. "I'm afraid you may be right, though. I didn't hear the kettle yesterday; I can't even hear your clock ticking now…ah well."
"We can still talk to each other, that's the most important thing." He glanced at the dish in my hand. "Is that soup you've brought?"
"No, tea, actually. I thought having it in a bowl would be…easier."
He was very quiet, then gave a small smile. "Well, I can't fault you for ingenuity, Watson. A bit of Earl Grey would hit the spot, so I'll relieve you of that dish and spoon. Thank you. Have you been outside today?" He dipped a spoonful of the tea.
"Oh, not me; look at the snow coming down! I'll not venture into that. It is beautiful to watch, though…the flakes falling endlessly, through the grey violet sky."
"Their one moment of glory, before they are lost in a sea of crystal corpses, nothing more than refuse to be stepped on." Holmes' voice was brittle, his flashing eyes focused on the spoon in his hand.
I sighed. "Holmes…if you'd rather a teacup and saucer, just say so."
"Confound it, of course I'd rather! But—well, you know. Surely even you can hear that." He nodded towards his trembling hand, and in fact I could hear the sound the spoon made knocking against the dish.
I took it from him and set it aside. "I think it needs to cool a little."
"Yes—I think so too," he said gratefully. He tried and failed miserably to hide a yawn.
"Would you like me to dim the lights?"
"I just woke up an hour ago, Watson, I'm not…"
"It's one of your bad days, Holmes, that's all," I soothed, as he finished a second yawn. "Tomorrow will be better." He put up a token resistance but allowed me to arrange his pillows so he could lie down. My stomach felt very odd as I watched him settling into a comfortable position; his face was thinner than ever, and I noticed a few white hairs among the grey.
"What's matter, Watson?" He murmured, drawing the blanket around him.
"This all seems so unfair."
"Well, how does this sound: next time, we flip a coin for who stays fitter, eh? It will be fair then." His voice was light, but his eyes were brewing concern.
I smiled through my tears. "All right, we'll do that."
"Make a memo of it."
"It's first thing on my list."
He allowed his smile to fall away and his voice to grow serious. "Watson, it's really going to be all right; tomorrow will be better as you say, though—there's no way we can go back twenty years, or even twenty minutes. And—and I think about that sometimes, Watson. I think about how things are so different now, how they are for you."
"No, Watson, listen." He grabbed at my arm, words pouring out in a feverish rush. "I've become such a boring housemate—I don't do anything but sleep, you have to do so much for me…and I can't take you on adventures anymore. I'll never have another case; it's over. Watson...I'm so sorry."
For a moment I thought I was going to be sick right on his bed.
"How many times do I have to knock this into your head?" I finally brought out. "I'm glad to take care of you. Of course it's more work, and it's frustrating sometimes, but—don't you understand? I'm not angry at you for changing, for being unable to live in the past. It shaped us but it's over now."
"No, you listen now, Holmes: our friendship isn't based on how interesting you make my life, and it's not going to crumble now that you're retired. Do you know how lucky we are to grow old together? Do you know how lucky I feel, to see my closest friend every day? I'm not going anywhere, even if you tried to chase me away. And Holmes, for once I know I can beat you at boxing, so don't even try!"
He grasped my hand, laughing in relief, and after giving me a fond look he fell asleep quite easily.
I kept my hand wrapped around his. It had broken obscure crypts, knocked away guns...
Now, even in his sleep it had a slight tremor to it. And even so, though his very hand had changed so much, I was glad to sit there on a winter's day and hold it, glad to be in this moment--and wondering what the next season would bring for us.