A/N: Thanks again to Sidney Sussex, who was an immense help with this whole thing. I was pretty much on the verge of scrapping it before you read through it, m'dear. Thanks so much for your wonderful suggestions.
August melts into September, and the whole of London spends several weeks baking beneath an unforgiving sun. There are days where Lestrade does not see the world outside of his bedroom. Those are the bad ones, the ones where he floats in a haze and loses half the week in the blink of an eye.
The bad days start to outnumber the good by the time autumn fully sets in, and it is not long before Lestrade finds himself in the hospital, subjected to an endless parade of doctors and nurses and Scotland Yarders. He has a brother whom he has not spoken to in years living in the States with his family, and every once in a while he gets a call from the niece he has not seen since her second birthday. John is a regular visitor, and Mycroft Holmes has even made an appearance once or twice. Lestrade fully admits that most of his existence right now is a haze, and he cannot recall whether the images he has in his head of the elder Holmes are from one or multiple occasions. His life right now rather reminds him of a movie reel, but all the scenes are out of order and nothing flows chronologically.
Sherlock makes an unexpected appearance one Monday afternoon, tall and regal and thoroughly out of place amidst the glaring white of the hospital room. He is silent; one moment Lestrade is glancing through the paper in search of the crossword, and the next a dark shadow is looming over him. They stare at one another for several moments and any person observing the scene would have every right to find it comical.
"Well," Lestrade says finally. Sherlock looks the same as ever - just on the cusp of gaunt; wearing his customary button-down; curls thick and recently clipped. Lestrade is only too aware of his own appearance; he looks as old as his father was the day he died. But he doesn't like thinking about his father - never has - and pushes the unfortunate comparison from his mind.
"I needed to collect some information from a victim," Sherlock supplies finally.
"So I gathered. Sally was filling me in on the case - nasty business," Lestrade returns, content to momentarily pretend that there is a perfectly good reason why he has not seen Sherlock since mid-summer. "Well, have a seat now that you're here."
"I would, but I must get back to the case. As you said, nasty business."
Lestrade takes his glasses off his face and rubs an eye wearily.
"Yes, I was afraid that was what you were going to say. Don't -" he snaps as Sherlock turns to leave, "even think about walking through that door."
"I -" Sherlock hesitates, and Lestrade can see the thoughts whirling around his brain, trying to figure out the appropriate response; the correct facial expression. "I should leave you to rest."
"Yes, well, that course of action was shot the moment you stepped into this room. Now sit before I knock you down."
Lestrade fully expects the detective to sweep out the door with a smirk and a glib comment. Instead, the taller man snags a plastic chair from the other side of the room and brings it over to the bedside.
"Sally was in here the other day. She said that the case you're working on now with Gregson is a particularly difficult one." Lestrade lets out a huff of laughter. "It almost sounds as though you two are getting along. Sorry I have to miss that."
"I assure you, nothing of the sort is happening," Sherlock says stiffly.
"How are things otherwise?" Lestrade prompts before a silence can settle in. "John tells me you're trying to get a book published. It's - uh - based on your cases and methods, right? Sort of like your website, but more detailed."
Sherlock nods and says in a clipped tone, "It's a work in progress." He leans forward, resting his forearms on his legs and folding his hands. "You have a week."
"Yeah. Two at the outside." Lestrade folds the paper and sets it aside. "Of course, I've had 'one week' since the middle of August. I don't think I'm done with surprises just yet."
He smiles; Sherlock does not.
"You know, John's been asking about how we met." Lestrade waves a hand. "Well, sorta. He's too polite to ask outright, of course."
"Oh?" Sherlock does not look surprised. He has probably known for weeks. "You haven't told him."
"No," Lestrade agrees, "because it's not for me to say. I'm wondering, though, why you haven't bothered to."
Sherlock says nothing.
"I'm a dying man, Sherlock. Who better t'keep your secrets?"
"I did not come here to discuss this subject again," Sherlock snaps.
"All right, fair enough." Lestrade says, holding up his hands. "So why 'd you come, then? Talking to the victim wasn't your only reason; you could've done that anytime."
"I have -" Sherlock breaks off and tugs at his ear. "John seems to feel that I was - unfair to you the last time that we spoke."
"Oh, I see. So you're here on John's behalf, are you?" Lestrade intends for it to be teasing but it comes off as bitter to his ears.
"I -" The words are an obvious physical struggle for the detective. He makes several sounds in the back of his throat that may be the beginnings of a sentence but none of them ever reach the surface. He then looks away from Lestrade's face, fixating instead on the floor. Lestrade has never seen the man so uncomfortable, and it is disconcerting. "I was wrong that night. I should not have -" He stops and shakes his head, still looking at the floor.
Lestrade places a hand on Sherlock's knee and hopes that can convey well enough his thoughts, for he doesn't trust his voice to do the job. He then grabs his glasses off the top of his head and says, "Where's that file?"
Sherlock's gaze snaps to Lestrade's face. "What?"
"This case has been keeping you up for days, if John's exhaustion is any indication. It helps you to talk through things aloud, and what better audience can you ask for than a bed-ridden man?" Lestrade grins. "So take me through it, yeah?"
The sentence brings to Sherlock's face the first hint of a genuine smile that he has seen in days.
There is a man slumped in the chair next to the bed when Lestrade next wakes, asleep with his head on his fist and long legs propped up on the bed. His eyes take several moments to adjust to the darkness in the room, and when he does he is surprised to recognize Sherlock's shadowy form in the chair. He is going to regret sleeping like that in the morning, and Lestrade reaches out a hand to touch the knee closest to him. Sherlock, ever the light sleeper, winks awake and is alert at once. Two pinpricks of light twinkle at him from the darkness of the room, and Lestrade breathes, "Hey."
"How long have you been there?"
"Since twelve-thirty." Sherlock straightens in the chair and tugs at his shirt, smoothing it out.
"Jesus, Sherlock. What time is it now?" It has to be late; through the window he can see the deep blue of twilight.
Lestrade winces. "I'm so sorry. I don't usually sleep the whole day away. You didn't have to -" He breaks off suddenly as the expression on Sherlock's face shifts, and knows immediately what has happened. "I wasn't asleep the whole time, was I?"
"No." Sherlock cocks his head. "Does this happen often?"
"More often lately than I'd like." Lestrade withdraws his hand. "What'd we talk about?"
Sherlock shakes his head. "Nothing of importance."
"It's important to me."
"We talked about a case."
"Ah." Lestrade nods. "And did we also talk about that night at my flat?"
Sherlock looks hesitant. "Yes."
"I see." Lestrade stretches protesting muscles, dismayed to find that even after several hours of sleep he feels as though he has not rested for days. "Well, I'm sure we came to a happy conclusion on that front."
A nurse sticks her head into the room and interrupts them to tell Sherlock that visiting hours have ended. Sherlock tells her, in a charming drawl, just what he would like her to go and do with herself. She scurries from the room; Lestrade tries to suppress his snigger.
"Was that necessary?"
"Yes, I believe so." Sherlock leans forward, furrowing his brow. "However, I must get back to the case. Will –" He stops, and Lestrade is dumbfounded by the fact that he has apparently rendered Sherlock speechless. He wonders if this happened during the hours now lost to him, and is sorry to have missed it. "Will you be – all right?"
Lestrade's smile is sad. "Will you?"
The shake of the head is almost imperceptible, and Sherlock does not meet his gaze. He reaches instead for the file and gets to his feet. He offers a departing nod and a soft, "Greg."
"Good night, Sherlock."
For the first time in months, he sleeps peacefully the whole night through.
John trots down the stairs one Tuesday morning at an hour few would consider decent, mind too restless for sleep. He treads carefully, knowing that at this time of the morning Sherlock is generally still asleep, but as he steps into the living room he sees the man in question standing by the window. His hands are clasped behind his back and he stares out at the still street below. Grey light tinged with pink weakly illuminates the glass and Sherlock's face glows a chilly blue in the dull sunrise.
John stops on the threshold and, as realization sinks in, grows suddenly very weary. He sighs and places a hand on the door frame, leaning his forehead against it.
"When?" he whispers.
"Two hours ago," Sherlock answers without turning.
"You didn't wake me."
"Would knowing two hours earlier have changed the outcome?"
John bites his lip. "I'm so sorry, Sherlock."
Some time later he is sitting in his customary chair with his phone in his hand. He sweeps his thumb across the illuminated screen, staring at the highlighted name
Why had he done that?
Sherlock is buried in a massive tome and has been since shortly after sunrise. He stands at the shared desk, half-stooped, pouring over the brittle pages as dust floats lazily from them and into the air.
"Who was he, Sherlock?" John whispers finally, breaking the brittle silence for the first time since dawn. "To you. Who was he to you?"
He does not know exactly what he is expecting - a big reveal; the usual evasion. Sherlock has been worn down by the tragedy of the last few months, every moment eating away at his defenses. He is an expert at masking the pain but the chinks still show to someone who has barreled into hell and back on the heels of the detective. He takes a second too long to respond to queries; his movements are slower, more deliberate. The waspish comments lack their usual sting, and the violin has gone untouched for so long that there is a thin layer of dust upon the case.
Sherlock straightens and fixes John with a gaze - not probing, not searching; just looking.
"A good man," is all he says, voice rough and low with disuse. He looks away and rubs the back of his neck, then mutters something about needing air and slips from the flat.
John turns back to his phone. He presses the edit button and a moment later the new name glares back harshly at him from the screen.
The seaside has always made John melancholy. It is here that he is confronted with something so vast that he cannot comprehend it. It touches every horizon and sinks to unimaginable depths and he cannot even begin to sense its beginning, much less its end.
It makes him feel small.
Sherlock strides out into the water, a dark silhouette against blackest glass illuminated by the dim light of the rising moon. He goes far enough that the tug of the waves is a real threat; where the slightest of missteps can be deadly. John hangs back where the water wraps sleepily around his ankles, watching as his friend turns the urn upside down and the faintest tendrils of dust slip into the water. An entire human being, reduced to the most basic of elements – elements first forged in the stars so loved by the man now gone.
John suppresses the now-automatic I'm sorry when Sherlock is at his side again. The detective's eyes are on the waves that are slowly carrying away what is left of their friend, and he would not have heard the words anyway. Sherlock can just barely tolerate physical contact on the best of days and John also resists the urge to touch his arm, his shoulder, anything, to let him know that he is not alone.
Except that he is. They all are. Grains of sand upon a beach, with as little purpose as those pale flecks of dust. They are innumerable and less than memorable.
"But we are capable of so much more," Sherlock says matter-of-factly. John stopped being surprised long ago at the man's knack for knowing what another was thinking.
But within an hour they are back at Baker Street and Sherlock is well on his way to working himself into a violent rage. There is nothing that escapes his wrath; John has enough sense to hide the gun and their laptops before retreating to the safety of the kitchen as Sherlock whirls through the living room, scattering files and hurling beakers, mouth closed in a grim line and a terrible, raw look on his face. He finally sinks to his knees in the middle of the room, clenching a wine glass so hard in his fist that it shatters before John can reach him. Blood spills in rivulets through his fingers and he clutches at John, trembling, eerily silent except for the occasional shuddering gasp. John holds him and mourns the undefined - the borrowed father; the almost lover? - as much as the man himself.
And later - much later - when night has deepened to its fullest and a chill falls over their now-quiet rooms, John leaves Sherlock to sleep in a chair and seeks out the sanctuary of his own room.
The book is sitting on the table next to his bed, untouched since that first day he brought it home from Lestrade's flat. He fingers the worn cover and then thumbs through the dog-eared pages to the end.
They are far, both of them, from home, and lonely, and lengthened by their strife the way has been hard. Now their heads droop side by side till their long manes mingle, and when the voice of the charioteer falls silent they are reconciled for a night in sleep.
John's gaze strays from the oft-read pages to the window. He can see the whole of the sky from this room, twinkling with the diamonds of long-ago.
They are born of stars and to stars, returned.
-The book quote is taken from Mary Renault's The Charioteer.
-Much of this was inspired by a series of Carl Sagan quotes. Essentially, this ended up being an astronomy lesson – turned – death!fic.
Thanks for reading!