Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Warning: Hints at character death.

A/N: Set some five years after season 1 of Sherlock; no real spoilers, but some allusions to "The Great Game" (which I'm going to pretend takes place in March). This takes place after my earlier fic, "After the End," but reading that ahead of time isn't entirely necessary. Intended as close friendship, but could be viewed through slash goggles. I doubt that recording devices are utilized in police procedure the way they are described here, but we're going to suspend disbelief and pretend that they are. Feedback always welcome.

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"You really need to get a hobby," Lestrade muttered to Sherlock. "Tennis. You ever try tennis? Good exercise; rarely fatal."

"Shut up and open this, will you?" Sherlock grumbled. He held out the pill bottle, impossible to open one-handed even for He-Of-Nimble-Fingers. Lestrade popped it open easily and shook out the requisite number of pills.

"You're going to have to sit up for this one. Think you can manage that?"

"Of course I can; I'm not a child!" Sherlock snapped.

"I never implied - oh, never mind." Lestrade reached over and placed an arm under Sherlock's shoulders, supporting him as the detective struggled into a sitting position. He was careful not to jostle the injured arm but the movement hurt Sherlock anyway. The detective's feet hit the ground clumsily and he moaned pitifully as the room reoriented itself around him.

"Still dizzy, are we?" Lestrade handed him the medicine and a glass of water. "I thought that should have worn off by now."

"Quit nannying me," Sherlock said, pressing a hand to his eyes; the light was painfully bright. "I assure you, I am fine."

"Oh, I see." Lestrade bit back a laugh. "Is that why you told your nurse to come 'round this evening? After seven, of course, because 'Father' won't be home then. Am I 'Father,' now? Not sure how I feel about that, to be honest."

Sherlock paused in rubbing his forehead. "I did not."

Lestrade snorted. "You most certainly did. D'you think I could make something like that up?"

"Christ," Sherlock sighed. "Lestrade, I don't care if I'm bleeding from my eyes - you are never to allow me to step foot in hospital again."

"Yes, Sherlock," Lestrade said, though they both knew he was lying. "Come on, let's get you to bed."

"Lestrade," Sherlock said irritably. "I can barely sit up. Do you really think you'll be capable of getting me into the bedroom?"

"Was that an admission of weakness I just heard? The great Sherlock Holmes, finally admitting defeat?"

"Hardly; it was merely an expression of concern for your well-being. In your advanced age, you should not be performing such strenuous work."

Lestrade pointed a finger at him. "Now, I may be the wrong side of fifty, but I'm fairly certain I can still hold my own-"

"Only fairly?" Sherlock cut in, amusement dancing behind his eyes.

Lestrade held up his hands in defeat. "Right. Stay here. Not my problem if your back's a mess in the morning."

He rose and disappeared into Sherlock's room.

"Lestrade!" the detective shouted, sounding alarmed. "Lestrade, what are you doing? Get out of there!"

"Calm yourself. I was only getting this." Lestrade reemerged, holding a thick afghan aloft. He draped it over the detective's battered form. "That a problem?"

"I suppose not." Sherlock narrowed his eyes. "Did you touch anything?"

"Only the blanket."

"You're sure? Did you move anything?"

"No."

"No, you're not sure or no, you didn't move anything?"

"Oh for god's – Sherlock! I've known you for over a decade; do you really think I'd be stupid enough to touch one of your – experiments?"

Sherlock huffed. "Would you like an honest answer to that?"

"No; I can guess." Lestrade threw himself wearily into a chair and rubbed his eyes. "What have you got going on in there?"

"Nothing you need concern yourself with," Sherlock said, closing his eyes.

"Right. You're probably growing something toxic, knowing my luck." Lestrade struggled and failed to suppress a yawn. He had barely slept more than a couple of hours in the past four days, not since the accident and subsequent surgery. The injury had been far from fatal, but the surgery necessary. Add onto that the fact that the patient was Sherlock, notoriously bad at siting still for long periods of time and even worse at tending to his body's needs, and the past few days had been nothing short of awful.

But he was safe and on his way to being well again. In the end, Lestrade mused, that was all that really mattered.

"Oh, don't be so dramatic. It's only an experiment involving airborne poisons. I'm testing an alibi."

Lestrade shot him an alarmed look. Sherlock's eyes remained closed, but the mouth twitched after a few seconds into a brief smile. Lestrade sighed and leaned back into the chair.

"Gods, Sherlock, don't do that. It's not funny."

"That's a matter of perspective. I found it rather amusing."

"I'm sure you did." He propped his feet up on the couch and nudged the blanketed body. "You falling asleep on me?"

"Mmph. That was the idea," Sherlock said. Then: "Lestrade, stop that!"

"Now who's amused?" Lestrade said, grinning. Sherlock blinked blearily up at him. The mediation was working quickly this time around, though perhaps that was because this time the detective wasn't fighting it off tooth and nail.

Lestrade placed his feet on the floor and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

"Seriously now, though," he said. "How are you feeling?"

"Marvelous."

"Sherlock."

The detective stared at him from under bruised eyes. He looked little better now than when at the hospital; skin stretched too tightly across his cheekbones, permanent lines around his mouth, lips thin to the point of nonexistence. The only difference now was that there were no stark white hospital sheets to contrast against his pale skin and make it appear a deathly grey; now it merely looked a sickly yellow.

That was an image Lestrade would never get out of his mind – Sherlock lying prone on a bed, hands draped across his stomach and oh, so very still. He had had to check the machines every few minutes, just to assure himself that Sherlock was very much still alive. He made a vow then – to the universe, to the memory of John Watson, but mostly to himself.

Sherlock Holmes, you will outlive us all. I swear it.

"I can't hear his voice."

Lestrade blinked. "Sorry?"

"You know perfectly well what I just said. I won't repeat myself."

"But – oh." Realization dawned, and he mentally kicked himself for not catching on immediately. "John."

"I have an impeccable memory, Lestrade, as you yourself are well aware. I can recall such mundane details as what I was doing on the 24th of August for the past fifteen years." He heaved a great sigh. "But I cannot remember so important a detail as the sound of John's voice."

"Well." Lestrade rubbed the back of his neck, at a loss for proper words. This was not his area, this – comforting bit. "These things happen, I suppose. We're bound to forget things of great importance. It happens to everyone."

"Not to me. I am not everyone," Sherlock spat the word distastefully.

"Look, Sherlock – my mum's been gone close to fifteen years now. I can't say I recall precisely the sound of her voice, but I do remember the things she used to tell me; the scent of her perfume; how she felt when I hugged her. Not everything fades away."

He had intended the words to be comforting, but the shadow that crossed Sherlock's features told him that it had backfired terribly.

"Your mother," he said in a brittle voice, "cannot possibly compare to John Watson."

It stung, as it was intended to do, but Lestrade kept his features neutral. A wounded Sherlock struck out wildly, flinging scathing remarks and biting words like arrows from a crossbow, hoping one shot would land true. Lestrade was accustomed to absorbing the blows.

"My mother was as fine a person as you'll ever meet in this life," Lestrade said mildly. "Don't try to rile me, Sherlock. It won't work. You're hurting in more ways than one; I get that, believe me. But bringing me down with you won't make it any better in the end."

He reached out a hand and rested it against the top of Sherlock's head, threading his fingers through the thick curls and stroking gently. It was an old gesture, and a familiar one, used countless times during the year Sherlock spent struggling through relapse, withdrawal, and relapse again. He had slept through entire seasons back then, it seemed; sleep being the only time when depression didn't have him in its ironclad grip.

Lestrade felt the man tense first at the touch – it had been years since he'd used it last, long before John Watson came along – and then relax, sinking deeper into the couch.

"Don't you have a murderer to catch?" Sherlock asked finally in a halting voice. If Lestrade didn't know any better, he'd have sworn there was embarrassment laced in his words.

"The rest of the team can handle it."

"No, they can't," Sherlock said with a smirk.

"Yes, well, they're going to have to manage without me anyway."

Sherlock wasn't able to mask the look of surprise on his face before Lestrade saw it. The DI flashed him a rare grin and bopped him lightly on the chin with his fist. "Get some rest, would you?I need my best man back on the job as soon as possible. Lord knows we're helpless without you."

"What would you do without me, Lestrade?" Sherlock said in a voice thick with poorly suppressed exhaustion. He tugged the afghan up to his chin with his free hand and sank back into the pillows, face quickly going slack.

"What, indeed," Lestrade said softly, though Sherlock was already gone.

XXXX

Sherlock drifted out of a dreamless sleep some time later with a blistering headache and no concept of how much time might have passed. Mrs. Hudson, calmly clattering away in his kitchen, informed him that he had been sleeping for the better part of three days now and that the tea would be ready in a minute.

"Oh, and the Inspector left something for you." She nodded to the low table next to the sofa, where an old tape player was sitting. "Said he'll be back sometime after dinner to check in on you. Such a nice man. I do wish he'd have taken me up on my offer of staying in one of the spare rooms. That chair must have been just awful on his back."

"He – " The word came out as barely more than a squeak. Sherlock cleared his throat and forced the sentence past dry lips. "He – stayed the night?"

"Every night, dear," Mrs. Hudson said cheerfully. "He was terribly worried. Wasn't that sweet of him?"

Sherlock did not know what to say to that and turned his attention instead to the tape player and the note attached to it, written in Lestrade's hurried scrawl.

S –

This is probably not legal for you to have, but the investigation was closed long ago thanks to you and I doubt very much anyone is going to be looking for it anytime soon. I figure you could probably use it more than us.

-G

Sherlock reached out, ignoring the pains that shot up his arm at the sudden movement, and jabbed the play button on the machine. It sputtered and whined and then quickly settled in a steady clack, clack as the tape began to play.

"This is Detective Inspector Dimmock, taking a witness's statement. The date is March 4, 2010; the time is 2:13 in the morning. Go ahead."

There was the sound of a man drawing breath, a quick sigh, and then:

"My name is John Watson. I'm a doctor, and a colleague to one Sherlock Holmes. Earlier this evening…"

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