Disclaimer: Sadly, neither Sherlock Holmes nor any other recognizable characters are mine.

There's no Johnlock this time, only lots of platonic affection.

See the end of the story for author's notes.

Enjoy!

o

Fossils

o

John Watson wonders when exactly he has become old.

He hasn't felt particularly old until recently. He's had silvery-grey hair for years now, hell, he's had the first grey hairs while he was still in his early forties. And yet he can't help but notice that it does take him a considerable while longer to walk the short distance into the village and get the papers and some fresh pastries in the mornings than it used to; he has taken to using a cane again, as his right knee is giving him trouble. Ever since he's injured it during a spectacularly ill-fated chase -seemingly an eternity ago- it's been playing up every now and then.

It seems that the discomfort has become a mostly permanent one lately, despite John's efforts to keep himself fit. He's doing twenty laps at the local pool twice a week, which he deems rather respectable at nearly 82. He has however noticed how he sometimes tends to forget things nowadays; not to a worrisome extent, blimey, but enough to have to write things down, which is a bloody nuisance. Not that he doesn't like writing, no; it's the fact that it makes him feel a little senile which bothers him.

Of course, Sherlock's memory is still working perfectly, and John's gotten the feeling that it amuses his friend to no end when John needs five minutes to remember the name of the new baker, or whether he has actually thought to buy cheese or not.

But all in all, he can't complain. After his wife's death fifteen years ago, he had been too shattered to even organize her funeral on his own. Lestrade, who had long been retired at that time, had helped, and Sherlock as well. John didn't want his children to be involved; he didn't want them to have to choose flower arrangements or anything else which had to do with the actual service because it seemed wrong, wrong that they should be bothered with something that was so very much unlike Mary, sad and solemn. The twins had been twenty-two back then, and they had been as inconsolable as their father.

John had only slowly recovered and still felt lonely when, six years later, Sherlock had asked him to move to Sussex with him. He remembers that conversation well:

"Sussex."

"Yes."

"So you're actually retiring."

"Yes."

"But why Sussex."

"Because it's nice. It's rural, not too far from London, ideal for bee-keeping."

This had caused John to chuckle; Sherlock had been talking about bees a lot during the previous months, they had become his latest obsession.

"You really mean it, don't you?"

"Of course I do, keep up," Sherlock said, impatiently. "Why would I bother asking if I didn't mean it?"

He had even been to Sussex to look for available properties, it turned out.

A few minutes later, John heard himself agreeing to accompany Sherlock the next time he went. Apparently, money didn't seem to be an issue; the cottages Sherlock had in mind were all very picturesque and very expensive. John didn't feel comfortable with that; he and Mary had never bought their own lodgings, and the money he had saved over the years was supposed to be for his for his children.

Sherlock tried to forestall the inevitable argument by saying: "Before you start argueing- I can afford to buy a house. I don't have any heirs by blood-relation, and if I die, my possessions will be yours and the twins' anyway- no, don't look at me like this, it's the only sensible thing to do. Anyway, I don't want to live here alone and you shouldn't stay alone either." Unspoken concern was visible in his gaze.

Overwhelmed, John had fumbled for words: "I'd feel like I'd take advantage of you. Let me at least pay rent."

Sherlock huffed: "Don't be ridiculous." And that had been that.

Of course, John didn't really have to think hard about how to decide. Since Mary's death, he had been rolling around in their flat like a single pea in a shoebox. The children were living their own lives, it didn't matter whether they visited him in London or Sussex. It'd be good to get a change. And he had missed Sherlock, despite the fact that living with him had been a challenge sometimes.

So he had said yes, and even though that had meant getting used to unsavoury things in the fridge again, a kitchen full of lab equipment and the occasional rant because living in the country was much less eventful than living in London -surprise- John hadn't for one day regretted his decision.

Of course, he was doing the better part of the house-work. Of course, he was still doing most of their shopping. But he didn't mind; it had been like this in Baker Street, and even though he sometimes wondered how Sherlock had managed on his own, he hadn't expected anything else. At least it gave him something to do, especially on those days on which the weather was too dreary to go for walks or on which he suddenly missed Mary as strongly as on the first day without her. It was crucial to keep moving, he told himself, otherwise he'd quickly deteriorate to being a senile old man who spent his days sitting in an armchair.

He had briefly considered to restart his blog, but had decided against it; it belonged to a part of his life which was irretrievably over. He has begun to write a journal instead, though he doesn't do it very frequently.


He looks around as he passes the small gate now, paper and pastries in an old purple string bag which might have belonged to Mrs Hudson; the garden is in full bloom, appropriately overgrown as it fits for an old cottage with a thatched roof such as theirs. John has long stopped to make the differentiation between 'mine' and 'his'; it is their house and it is filled with their things, and he doesn't feel uncomfortable about that anymore. He knows that there's an abundance of gossip in the village about Sherlock and him, two bachelors living together like this, but he couldn't care less. That kind of gossip has been there right from the start (kindled further by either of them deflecting any advances on the local women's side, if for different reasons), and it'd be a little late to begin feeling bothered by it.

It is only shortly past eight in the morning, but it is promising to be a warm day. John finds Sherlock in the back garden where he inspects his hives. Not that there's a lot to inspect; they are situated in the shade of a few old apple trees, and all four colonies have survived the winter and rather cold spring splendidly. Some of the bees are buzzing about now, surrounding Sherlock like a small halo, their fur and wings catching the sun.

Sherlock walks with his hands clasped on his back, a contemplative smile on his face. It deepens when he sees John, and the former doctor thinks that it is a marvel how many years it momentarily takes off his friend's appearance. Sherlock hasn't lost his good looks, and he is still rather slender, considering that he is 76, though not as stick-thin anymore. His hair is white, not silvery-grey like John's, and he still walks upright, without the stoop many tall men develop at one point. He still wears tailored suits most of the time, too, and John has noticed that many of the women in the village, despite or perhaps precisely because of his obvious indifference are eyeing him appreciatively when he walks by, including much younger ones. When he smiles, he looks every bit as young as the man John has met in the lab at Barts, more than 40 years ago.

He is still as impatient as always, and he can be surprisingly rude, especially when people make the mistake to consider him an old deary (a mistake John can't really relate to, since Sherlock looks less like a harmless old man but rather like a retired secret agent in his opinion). He's always been surprisingly patient and even affectionate with John's children and grandchildren though, and he doesn't protest or correct them when they call him 'grandpa'. John doesn't say anything either; he isn't sure whether Sherlock sometimes regrets the lack of family, and he can very well share his own wealth: there are three grandchildren so far, two boys and one girl.

Of course, if one counts Mycroft, Sherlock's not entirely alone in the world; their relationship still isn't the best, but with a certain age it seems that the brothers have come to the mutual realization that if at one point one of them will pass away, the other is going to be irrevocably bereft of more than his favourite sparring partner. When the older Holmes suffered a stroke in the previous year, Sherlock had silently but adamantly taken up camp in the hospital, and John had even caught him holding Mycroft's hand.

"They are happy," Sherlock says now, coming up towards John.

"Of course they are," John says as he leads the way into the kitchen, "it's summer and the sun is shining."

"They aren't always happy just because it's summer."

John puts the string bag on the table, which is void of chemistry ingredients for once, and turns towards his friend: "How do you know?"

"I can tell from their behaviour."

"Huh." He shuffles over to the electric kettle and switches it on. "I know that they do communicate with each other, but I didn't know that humans could read their movements."

Sherlock sighs: "You don't believe me."

"I do believe you. If anyone can deduce the mood of their bees from their behaviour, it's you."

"Exactly." He seems content with this result.

John has noticed that Sherlock increasingly often does this; there have been several similar occasions on which it seemed that he wanted to prove to his friend that he still was up to his usual mental capabilities.

"Are you all right?" John asks while he measures the tea and puts the strainer into the pot.

"Of course I'm all right," Sherlock says, irritably.

"Just asking."

"You're not just asking, you're thinking something."

"Another excellent deduction," John quips, but Sherlock watches him with narrowed eyes.

"Fine," John doesn't want to spend the next hours arguing. "I am wondering why you seem to feel the need to prove your abilities."

"I don't feel the need to prove anything," Sherlock replies, indignantly.

"Yes, you do. Which is fine, by the way, but it makes me wonder whether you're okay."

Sherlock's gaze rests on John for a long moment before he answers: "It's just... we're getting older, that's all. I'm trying to assess things."

John smirks good-naturedly: "Okay. Whatever you think is necessary."

Sherlock nods and begins to assemble two cups, two plates and two knives on a tray; they are going to sit outside, in a small alcove just outside of the kitchen, which can be entered via a wooden double wing door.


Sherlock has been mostly honest with John just now, but he hasn't told him the real reason. He is a little unnerved by John's recent forgetfulness, and it worries him. He hopes that John doesn't suffer from the early stages of dementia, which would eventually mean the end of their self-sufficiency. The idea of having other people around to care for them is unbearable, just as moving into a nursery home would be. They have agreed that they're staying in their cottage together as long as possible.

They set the table in companionable silence; Sherlock has never become a regular eater, but he does have breakfast with John on most days. They share the paper and talk about the news, just like they did back in Baker Street. Of course, there's no Mrs Hudson here; she has passed away 30 years ago, but she has never been forgotten. John sometimes thinks she'd have liked it here, and it makes him sad that she isn't there anymore. On some days, he can remember her very clearly, her voice for example and how she laughed; on other days, she's but a mere shadow.

After she was gone, Sherlock had been devastated and couldn't face going back to Baker Street for a while, a notion that John understood all too well; his friend had declined the offer to stay with him and Mary however, and John still doesn't know where he went during that time.

This is one of the disadvantages of getting old, he thinks, losing friends and relatives. Of course, when Mrs Hudson died he and Sherlock hadn't been that old yet. But there were more and more people whose numbers John had had to delete from their phone's directory over the years, and it only showed them quite plainly once more that no-one was immortal. John shudders at the thought; the events after the Reichenbach-case had been bad enough, he can't imagine a world without Sherlock.

Or without himself, for that matter. On the other hand, he hadn't been able to imagine a world without Mary either.

His sister Harry has passed away shortly after he had moved to Sussex; years of alcohol abuse had weakened and damaged her organs. Though they had never been close, it had been another veritable blow for John, and he had been glad to have Sherlock, who did his best to distract his friend.

He is pulled out of these thoughts by the arrival of the garden's other two inhabitants: a pair of Indian Runner Ducks called Jemima and Float (the names being the courtesy of John's grandson Timmy). They usually join John and Sherlock when they have breakfast outside, and John has already put a bowl of grain out for them. They have found their way into the cottage's garden one day and stayed; in addition to the large expanse of grass, there's a little pond which seems to hold their attraction. That and the fact that John has begun to feed them as well, because he rather likes them.

They are very curious and have taken to follow Sherlock around when he's busy with his bees, something John never tires to watch. At first Sherlock had been irritated by the ducks, but he has become accustomed to them, and John has even heard him talking to them, explaining about bees.

After their meal, the two animals settle down in the grass next to John's chair, cleaning their plumage and blinking into the sunshine, Jemima making content little quacking sounds from time to time. John looks at them and thinks what a strange picture they must make: two old geezers and their ducks. Well, it could be worse, he muses: one old geezer and his ducks, for example.


That afternoon, John makes a pot of coffee and takes it to the table outside, then sits down with his tablet to catch up with his emails. In his inbox he finds one from his daughter Maya; she has attached a new photo of her own daughter's class, two rows of grinning children neatly lined up underneath the king's portrait.

Sherlock, lured outside by the smell of coffee, leans over John's shoulder: "Is that Riley's class?" he asks and snatches John's reading glasses from his friend's nose to have a better look. John protests half-heartedly ("go find your own"), then nods: "Yes. She's going to enter second grade soon, can you imagine?"

"Well, yes, the proof's right there," Sherlock replies, still studying the picture. "Half of the kids have missing front teeth. Just like Maya and Henry at that age."

John shakes his head: "You never forget things like that, do you?"

Sherlock frowns: "Of course not. They had gaping holes instead of front teeth for months and were lisping rather badly."

"Yeah," John chuckles fondly, remembering it equally clearly.

Sherlock hands him back his glasses and pours himself some coffee:"Which reminds me- I still haven't researched whether monozygotic twins have a tendency to lose their milk teeth at the same time." With that, he disappears into the house. John looks at his retreating back, then turns back to his computer; he suddenly feels an overwhelming urge to speak to either of his children.

Maya answers her phone after the third ring: "Hey Dad! How are you?"

"I'm fine, sweetheart, just fine. I just got your email. Riley looks very pretty."

"She does, doesn't she? And she's so proud that her hair's finally long enough to make a ponytail."

"Yes, I saw that. She looks all grown-up. Sherlock said the children reminded him of you and Henry at that age, with the missing front teeth."

Maya laughs: "I bet they did. How is he?"

"Fine. His bees are apparently happy, which makes him happy. I haven't heard the word 'dull' in a long time."

"Good. I'm glad." Maya sounds fond; she's always had a soft spot for her godfather. Just like John, she has never been intimidated by him, and she was allowed to breach his boundaries in a way only her father had been before her. Riley has inherited this trait, it seems, and Sherlock has eventually had to admit defeat. It's just impossible to keep people at bay when they love you nevertheless and come in the shape of someone small with restless hands and endless curiosity.

"When are you coming to visit?" John asks before he can stop himself, because it is questions like these which makes one sound senile and pathetic.

Maya however doesn't seem to mind: "I was going to suggest that we come down on the weekend, maybe take the kids to the beach."

John is delighted: "Sure, why don't you. We'll have the guest room ready."

When he disconnects the call a few minutes later, he feels happiness bubbling up in him. With a light-hearted sigh, he pulls the tablet closer and begins to assemble a food order.

Ever since they are not driving anymore, he orders the bulk of their supplies on the internet and has it delivered, which is the easiest solution. After moving to Sussex, Sherlock had bought a car, but he stopped driving the previous year after ending up in a hedge due to an incident, as he calls it. John calls it an accident. He also suspects that the not-driving-anymore isn't voluntary but has been enforced by Mycroft, but Sherlock refuses to talk about it.

The bottom line is that they are much less mobile since then, as John has never learned to drive anyway and certainly wouldn't have started now.

Well, John thinks, adding Hula Hoops to the list because Riley loves them, there are worse things than that.


On Saturday morning, John hurries with his breakfast.

"You're fretting," Sherlock observes, regarding John over the edge of the paper. As he is wearing his own reading glasses this time, it does give him a rather stern look.

"I'm not fretting," John replies, "I just want everything ready when they arrive."

"You don't want them to think we can't manage," Sherlock states calmly. "You have been worrying about that for a while now."

John snorts: "No, I haven't. I just like everything to be tidy and clean, and if possible, without acid stains." He can't admit that Sherlock's right, especially not after he has spent half an hour hoovering under the bed in the guest-room on the previous day. Afterwards, he hadn't been able to straighten up for a while, and had hidden in the bathroom until his back had recovered. No need to give Sherlock further ammunition, after all. But it had been necessary in John's opinion, and he didn't want to argue about it.

"Maybe we should get a household help."

"Yes," John concedes, "maybe we should."

"But they can't touch my experiments."

"I'm sure that can be arranged."

"Where are you going?"

"To do the kitchen."

"I thought we had just settled the topic."

"Yes, we did, but the help won't materialize out of thin air, will it? Right now, it's only me or you, and we both know what that means."

"Fine," Sherlock puts the paper aside, "I'll do it."

John cups one of his ears: "I'm sorry, what did you just say?"

"Still not funny."

"Hehe."


"Grandpa!" Riley propels herself into John's arms the second she's out of the car. Her brother Timmy follows a little more slowly; he's eleven and tries to be cool. He can't hide his grin though as John pulls him into a one-armed hug: "Hey you. I think you've added at least two inches since the last time."

Timmy beams at him. While Maya and her husband Owen embrace John, Riley has already entered the house in search of Sherlock. She finds him in the living room, reading. He doesn't appear to have heard her, so she sneaks up on him, careful not to make the floorboards creak, and quickly covers his eyes with her hands. "Guess who!"

Sherlock expertly hides his smile: "Could it be... Timmy?"

Barely able to subdue her glee, Riley makes her voice as deep as possible: "No."

"Owen?"

This time, Riley can't help it and giggles: "No! Grandpa, it's me!"

She quickly skips around the chair and climbs onto Sherlock's lap, planting a kiss on the tip of his nose.

"Hello, Bumblebee," he says, smiling, and pulls her close. She snuggles up against him: "What are you reading?"

"It's called Bees."

"Read it to me."

"Magic word?"

"Now."

He chuckles. "I see. Well, then. 'Having transformed the food by means of its own bodily substances into wax — this the bee produces out of itself — the bees now makes a special little container in which to deposit its egg or in which to store up food supplies. This special little vessel is, I should like to say, a really great marvel, It appears to be hexagonal when we look at it from above; looked at from the side it is closed in this way. Eggs can be deposited there, or food can be stored. Each vessel lies next to another; they fit extremely well together, so that this "surface" by which one cell, (for so it is called), is joined to another in the honey-comb, is exceedingly well made use of — the space is well used.'"

"I remember," Riley says. "You showed them to me. The shape goes like this." She takes Sherlock's hand and draws a somewhat haphazard honeycomb into his palm with her finger. They have spent a lot of time writing secret messages to each other this way.

"Very good," Sherlock nods. "Do you know why it's called a hexagonal?"

At this point, they are interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the family.

"I see Riley has already monopolised you," Maya smiles and bends down to kiss Sherlock's cheek, taking hold of his hand and squeezing it for a moment: "How are you?"

"Fine," he returns her smile.

"Grandpa was reading to me about bees," Riley pipes up. "The shape of a honey-comb is called a hexgon... what's the word again, Grandpa?"

"Hexagonal. Hex is greek and means six. Now can you guess where the name comes from?"

"It's got six tips," Timmy says, who's sidled up to the chair to have a look at the book. "Hi." He grins at Sherlock, who winks at him.

Once everyone's been greeted and the group has moved outside, Riley and Timmy wander off to find the ducks while the grown-ups sit down around the table; John has made some punch with woodruff from their own garden.

Inhaling the heavy scent of woodruff and lavender which is lingering in the air, Maya looks around and is glad to see that her father and godfather are obviously doing well. They have a cosy home and seem to be getting along fine. Of course, they always have, even though they tend to bicker like an old couple at times; she is certain that they'll keep looking after each other. She can see that her father is walking a little more slowly, and his cane has been leaning against the wall underneath the coat hooks, meaning he has been using it recently. But he looks good; his face has a slight tan, and his eyes are bright.

It has been the right decision of him to move away from London, and she is forever grateful to Sherlock that he asked her dad to accompany him. For all that she has heard about her godfather (and sometimes witnessed), he isn't as coldhearted as some people made him out to be, and he seems to have gotten a little softer with age. There have been many occasions on which he didn't let his impatience take over as usual and has bitten back a sharp answer rather than hurting someone, and therefore she trusts him not to be harsh with John even if he forgets things or on some days hoovers the living room twice (which she knows for a fact he sometimes does).

She also remembers a conversation with her mum, a long time ago; she can't have been much older than seventeen, but she had overheard her father cursing his friend, who had called him in the middle of dinner, before taking his jacket off the hook and leaving in a hurry nevertheless.

"Why is Dad doing it if he doesn't like it?" she had asked, and Mary had smiled contemplatively: "He does like it. He loves it, in fact. He just doesn't want to give Sherlock the impression that he is at his beck and call."

"But he is."

"Yes, you could say that. Though he doesn't do everything Sherlock asks him to."

"Really?" Maya had been doubtful. "It looks like it."

Mary had regarded her with the same smile still lingering in the lines around her eyes: "If there is something your father doesn't want, he won't do it. But solving cases with Sherlock... it's like oxygen for him. It's both the thrill and also the need to stay at his friend's side. It took me a while to understand it, but I have accepted it for what it is. If I hadn't, I couldn't have stayed together with your dad."

It had taken Maya a while as well, and she had asked her father about it one day. John had been evasive at first, but his daughter had a way of insisting which didn't let him off the hook so easily. So he had told her about how he had met Sherlock, and how their friendship had developed. "He has helped me to build up a new life," he had said, "without him, I wouldn't be here."

He had shown her his private casebook in which he had assembled his own notes, clips from newspapers and even pictures related to their cases. Maya hadn't known about Sherlock's faked suicide and subsequent return, and she was rather shocked about it, especially when John told her the reasons. "I have lost him once," John said to her, "I will try everything I can not to lose him a second time."

From that day on, Maya looked at Sherlock with different eyes, and she understood a few things about him and her father. And one thing which was certain was that Sherlock would never ever do anything to harm John, on the contrary.

She looks at her godfather now and thinks that there has always been a certain frailty about him which is still palpable, if ever so subtle. Most people didn't seem to notice it, but she knows that her father is aware of it, and Creepy Uncle Mycroft probably as well. Moving back together has done both of them good, and it has saved not only John but also Sherlock from a lot of loneliness. The children have adopted him as a second grandfather, and he seems to enjoy it, at least most of the time.

Sometimes he withdraws from their company for a while, disappearing into his room or the garden or somewhere else entirely, and sometimes he seems sad. Maybe he does feels the lack of something, of having loved someone and having been loved in return, who knows. As far as Maya is aware, Sherlock has never had a relationship. He obviously is very fond of her dad, of course, and John loves him, but platonic love doesn't count, does it? Maya and Henry however are convinced that John and Sherlock are soulmates, a rather beautiful notion. They share a bond which is strong and irrevocable, and which has been more than 40 years in the making.


Sometimes John looks at Sherlock and wishes they could do it all again. The years have gone by in a flash, and even though they are still the same people, their lives have changed so much by now. No more cases, no more investigating, chasing criminals, putting themselves in the line of fire. Of course, it hasn't always been good, and there have been enough close shaves to make John marvel at the fact that they are still alive at all. But. If he could do it again, he would.

There are a few old pictures of them around, some of which have even been framed and found their way onto the mantel above the fireplace, and John likes to look at them from time to time. They look so young, for heaven's sake, that it seems inconceivable that those faces belong to him and Sherlock. There's one picture with Mrs Hudson, taken at Christmas, and another one of John and Lestrade. Whom they have buried two years ago, and John still feels a painful tug at his heart when he thinks of it. The former Detective Inspector had worked long beyond the standard retirement age, and had eventually gone to live with his son's family in the north of London. He'd been nearly deaf at the end, but still up for a good joke. He had died shortly after his 90th birthday.

"Sentiment, John," Sherlock remarked the last time he caught John staring at him and pondering, and John had felt a sudden pang; even now that either of them could technically drop dead every second, he couldn't bear the idea of losing his friend. Not him, not now, not ever.

"I want to go first," John had said with a thick voice, and Sherlock had stopped reading and looked up, scrutinizing his friend more closely over the rim of his glasses.

"You can't," he then said. "I don't want you to leave me."

"And you think you can leave me, just like you have done before?" John was upset. "I think you owe me one, don't you?"

Sherlock was taken aback: "Stop shouting at me. I can hear perfectly well. And no, I don't think I owe you because of what I did a long time ago. You know I didn't have a choice."

John huffed and folded his arms in front of his chest: "I'm calling dibs then."

"You can't call dibs on who'll die first."

"I can and I will."

"You're being stubborn."

"And you're being... you."

Sherlock smirked: "I take that as a compliment." But he could see that John was not appeased by his quip, and when he became too agitated, it'd unnecessarily mess up his blood pressure.

"Fine," he said, quietly, "if you insist, you old fool. But give me a heads-up, will you?"

John snorted, but his shoulders lost a little of their tension.

The children also like to look at those photos, and they keep asking questions about them, for example if it is the exact same coat in the pictures that Sherlock is still wearing nowadays. It's not, he has to admit, the old coat has gone into retirement years ago, being too severely worn off by that time and beyond repair.

Sherlock had bought a new one, but it hadn't been the same, and he had been sulky about it until John couldn't bear it anymore and had finally resolved in conniving with Mycroft, who had left no stone unturned until he had found the manufacturer of the original coat's cloth as well as the sewing pattern, and a few weeks later, Sherlock had found an exact replica of his beloved Belstaff under the Christmas tree John insisted they have.

He had been surprised, appalled, exasperated and delighted all at once and for a while had ranted about Mycroft and other people constantly interfering with his life, but once he had put it on, he couldn't be parted with it anymore.


That afternoon, they all go to the beach. Maya's and Owen's van can be converted into a seven-seater, which is very convenient now that Sherlock doesn't have a car anymore, and there's still enough room for toys and towels and whatnot.

John is glad that Sherlock has agreed to accompany them, as he usually keeps out of these family outings, but then he likes the ocean.

It's warm enough for the children to flounder about in the water, and they squeal with delight while they splash about and try to get Owen as wet as possible. Maya, John and Sherlock also go and join them for a while; Maya, who's wearing a short skirt, wading into the water until it's more than knee-deep, the others keeping a safe distance. John has difficulties in keeping his balance, so Sherlock wordlessly reaches out and takes his hand to support him.

"People will talk," John says, and his friend grins: "People do little else."

When they retreat to sit down, none of them is quite dry anymore. Tim comes running with his dip net: "Look, grandpas, I caught a crab!"

"Ooh, a big one," John marvels, "look at that claw! I'll take a picture of it."

Pictures are being taken: of the crab, of Timmy with the net right next to his face so one can see the crab, of John with Timmy and the crab, of John and Sherlock with the crab. Then Timmy runs to set it free again. A little while later, he comes running with another crab, followed by Riley who has found sea shells. More pictures are being taken, then Riley wants to build a sand castle.

Maya sits down next to the men: "Too cold for a swim yet," she breathes, shielding her eyes with one hand to look at her daughter. Who beckons them over: "Come and help!"

For a while, they all busy themselves with the growing heap of sand, then John slowly straightens up: "It's no good if I keep crouching like this," he grumbles, stretching his back. "I'll just watch you, okay?"

"Okay," Riley takes her bucket over to him: "You can sort the sea shells, Grandpa, we'll use only the white ones to decorate the castle."

"Aye aye." John begins to sort through her collection.

Sherlock also needs a break after another ten minutes or so; he gets up and goes for a little walk. He has turned up his trouser legs and shed his jacket; his eyes are trained on the ground while he slowly wanders along the surf, hands in his pockets.

John's gaze follows him, the sea shells momentarily forgotten: Sherlock is a lone figure on the beach, getting smaller with every step. It's good to know that he'll turn around at one point.

"Everything all right, Dad?" Maya asks, and John hurriedly nods: "Yes, fine." They smile at each other, and for a moment, John is at complete peace with the world.

When Sherlock comes back, he hands Riley a few snail shells he's found, then sits down next to John: "We could go to Lyme Regis," he says. "Just for a few days."

"Okay." John nods. "But we'll have to find a guide this time. I'm not taking any more risks."

Sherlock smiles with the corners of his mouth, but doesn't say anything. They have been to Lyme Regis a few times the past years, looking for fossils, and their findings are meanwhile covering every available surface in their living room, mostly ammonites. It's hardly his fault that the best discoveries usually were made rather close to the rockface, or that said rockface is chronically unstable.

John looks at him: "Which reminds me." He begins to rummage in the bag he's brought and produces a bottle of sunscreen: "Here."

"Don't need it. I've put some on at home."

"Your nose is turning red."

Sherlock glares at him, then turns towards the others: "Riley, come here for a second."

The girl pauses:"Magic word?" she shouts.

"Now."

"I see! Well, then..." She makes her way over to them, grinning:"What is it?"

"Is my nose turning red?"

Riley carefully looks Sherlock's nose over, scrunching up her own in the process: "I'd say... maybe a little."

"Oh joy, I'll never hear the end of it. Thank you, Bumblebee."

John can't help feeling smug as he hands Sherlock the small bottle.

As a matter of fact, John has always been looking after Sherlock, who has a tendency to neglect himself. Things happen, which they don't tell anyone if it isn't absolutely necessary; about that accident, for example (or incident, depending on whom one asks).

This spring, John has found Sherlock unconscious in the shower one morning; he had been experimenting for two days, hardly eating and not sleeping at all, which had resulted in a serious bout of hypoglycaemia. It had taken him a whole day to recover, and he had tamely eaten everything John had prepared for him. After that, John had thoroughly grilled Sherlock about the reason for his losing control over the car in the previous year; he didn't stop questioning Sherlock until the latter finally admitted that he might have blacked out for a moment.

John had subsequently yelled at him for a good five minutes, because the reason for the blacking out seemed clear now. "For heaven's sake, you're not 30 anymore!" John had yelled, "really Sherlock, how a genius like you can be so stupid at times is beyond me! You could have gotten killed! You could have killed someone else!"

Sherlock had been appropriately contrite, and he knew that John was right, of course. Which is why he usually doesn't protest when John mothers him a little; most of the time, he needs whatever John suggests, like drinking a little more or working a little less. On the other hand, Sherlock is the one who reminds John of his appointments at the dentist's and accompanies him to the ophthalmologist, who is keeping an eye on his intraocular pressure just in case, since John belongs to a high-risk group for glaucoma.

It was the aforesaid doctor's receptionist who, after seeing Sherlock in the waiting room where he was reading a magazine at arm's length, had tentatively suggested he'd have his eyesight tested, which resulted in his having to use reading glasses and a considerable tantrum when he and John were back home. The former detective has meanwhile accepted that he needs an optical aid, but he tends to misplace his pair of glasses and often borrows John's, which works fine for him and annoys his friend to no end.


That evening, after the children have been put to bed, the adults sit outside with a glass of wine; the air is mild and the sky full of stars. John looks up at them and asks himself how it is possible that the world doesn't end when someone dies, that life just goes on. How it is possible that they see the light of celestial bodies which have long been dead themselves. How it is possible that he thinks about these matters so much lately and still doesn't lose his mind over them.

"I can't believe I'm turning 82," he says, rather abruptly; maybe because of the wine. After a moment of comprehension, Maya leans forward: "Dad?"

"I can't believe I'm turning 82," John repeats, "and in ten years I'll probably not be here anymore. The stars will still be up there, and you all will hopefully still be here, but I won't."

"Dad, it's been a long day. You're tired-"

"Don't talk to me like I'm a senile old man. I know what I said just now. It's been bothering me lately, and now you all know." He stubbornly pokes out his chin.

In the dim light supplied by a few candles, he can hardly make out the others' expressions. He can sense more than actually see dismay in Maya's features and consternation in Owen's; Sherlock's are unreadable.

"I'm sorry," he says, "I shouldn't have said anything."

"No, John," Owen sounds concerned, "you should. It's all right, really."

Maya's voice quivers a little as she speaks: "Why didn't you tell me earlier?"

John shrugs:"Because I didn't want to feel like an old geezer."

"Dad..." She clearly doesn't know what to say.

"It's okay, I'm all right." John sits up a little more straight, assuming soldier mode. "Sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry for," Maya whispers.


Later, when they all go to bed, Maya comes into John's room to say goodnight. "You can tell me these things, Dad," she says, hugging him close, and John suddenly feels like a fool: "I know, sweetheart. I didn't want to upset you."

"But you're all right?" Her question sounds anxious, the subtext is clear: there had better be no acute reason for him to be suddenly thinking about death.

"I'm all right," he assures her. "But when you reach a certain age, you can't help thinking about death once in a while. More so than usual."

She nods: "I know. And I really don't think you're a senile old man. In fact, I think you're doing admirably well. You don't look your age."

"I keep forgetting things."

"Everyone does. I always have to write lists, just so you know. But let me know if you think it's getting worse, okay? We'll deal with it, together."

John smiles at her, and he sounds relieved: "Thank you."

Maya pulls him close again; losing her mother was hard enough. She can't imagine a world without her father, ever. "I love you, Dad," she murmurs. "Always."

John, who is feeling considerably better, has just crawled under the sheets when there's another knock on his door.

This time, it's Sherlock who slips into his room.

John raises one eyebrow: "Everything okay?"

For a moment, Sherlock only looks at him, mutely. "I just hope that you will still be here in ten years," he says, "because I intend to become 90, at least. I won't do it without you though."

John stares at him speechlessly before slowly breaking into a grin: "Deal."


And then, two years later, it's Sherlock who very nearly doesn't abide by it. On one of the first days of frost, he slips on an icy patch in the garden and falls, hitting his head on a low stone wall hard enough to render him unconscious. It's a Tuesday, John is at the pool doing his laps. When he returns home, he finds a bloodied, very dazed and very cold Sherlock who hasn't managed to get up and seems to have broken his arm on top of it. When John tries to get him off the ground, Sherlock turns his head and throws up. Feeling helpless, John calls an ambulance and insists on being taken along to the hospital.

While Sherlock is being taken care of, John sits down in the waiting room and feels himself shake; not because of the cold, but out of pure, unadultered fear. He doesn't even remember to call Mycroft, he just sits and clenches his hands together.

After half an hour, a nurse comes to inform him that Mr Holmes has to undergo surgery due to the complicated break. Only now does John think of Sherlock's brother. His hand is trembling as he opens his phone's directory, and his voice sounds strange in his own ears: "Sherlock's had an accident," he says, and tells Mycroft how he's found him. "Possible hypothermia, a head injury, a broken arm," he lists up, "he 's in surgery now, apparently the break's complicated."

Mycroft sounds appalled: "I'll be there as quickly as possible," he says. "Thank you, John."

John sits down again, unable to shake off a feeling of dread; what if Sherlock's been out in the cold for too long, he didn't even wear his coat. What if the head injury's too grievous? What if he'll die?

He has never been so relieved to see the older Holmes brother. Courtesy of his stroke, Mycroft walks slowly, still preferring an umbrella to a cane. His features are a little lopsided, but apart from that, there has been no lasting damage. He shakes John's hand: "Any news?" "None."

They don't talk much more until an hour later, when a doctor comes into the waiting area: "Anyone for Mr Holmes?"

John and Mycroft get to their feet simultaneously. The doctor informs them that Sherlock has sustained a thankfully minor concussion, and that the bones in his arm have been reinforced by a plate and screws, which are eventually going to be removed again. "Our main worry right now is the hypothermia; his body temperature is down to 28°C. Which makes the hypothermia, though bordering on severe, only moderate, but at 78 that's still a reason for concern."

"Doctor," Mycroft asks, "how can he have developed hypothermia of such an extent within such a relatively short amount of time? He has been outside for approximately one or two hours."

"Lying on the cold ground for even half an hour is enough to cool a body down significantly," the doctor replies, "and you have to consider your brother's age as well as the fact that he is very lean and wasn't dressed appropriately. He didn't have the means to keep his warmth."

Mycroft nods; of course, he already knew that. There have been worse cases which didn't even need that long. But this is Sherlock they are talking about; trivial things like this don't happen to him.

"Can we see him?" John now asks.

The doctor nods: "He is still in recovery. As soon as he has been moved to the ICU, someone will come and get you."

Sherlock looks impossibly small and fragile in the large hospital bed, surrounded by machines; his skin tone nearly matches the sheets, and he is breathing warmed air through an oxygene mask. Except for his injured arm he is covered by a warming blanket. John is sure that there are a few hot water bottles hidden underneath it to help increasing Sherlock's temperature; in addition to that, the fluids which Sherlock is receiving intravenously are being warmed as well.

John is shaking again; seeing his friend like this doesn't seem right. He stands as close to the bed as possible, holding on to the safety railing to keep himself upright, and with his free hand reaches out to touch Sherlock's cold cheek. "I called dibs, you silly old bugger," he murmurs, feeling near tears. Right now, it seems impossible that Sherlock will ever come home again. His condition is critical, the young doctor has said. Critical. Meaning potentially life-threatening, if anything goes wrong now.

Please, Sherlock, John silently pleads, don't be unnecessarily dramatic this time.

He looks at his friend again; he has rarely seen him this pale, apart from- no, he chides himself, don't think about that. Not now. Not ever.

A nurse comes in, bringing another warming blanket which she artfully arranges around Sherlock's head, mindful of the wound on his temple: "He'll be all right," she says in an attempt to reassure John, who is grateful for it.

"He doesn't look like it," he replies, aware that his voice still doesn't sound normal.

The nurse gives him a sympathetic look: "Don't worry," she says before she leaves again.

When John turns back to Sherlock, he thinks he sees a bit of movement. And really, a moment later, Sherlock's eyelids begin to flutter. He doesn't manage to open them, but he seems to sense John's presence, which is enough to make the other's heart jump.

"I'm here, Sherlock," he says, doing his best to keep his voice steady, and touching Sherlock's cheek again."I'm here."

John is still standing by the bed when Mycroft comes in. He has spoken to the doctor a while longer, and as he now beholds his sleeping brother, his expression is doleful. "He will hate this," he says, then turns around and leaves the room again.


When the nurse comes in a second time, half an hour later, John has not moved, his hand on Sherlock's good arm.

"Wouldn't you like to sit down, dear?" she asks, and for a moment, John feels like weeping again because her tone so strongly reminded him of Mrs Hudson just now. He has to clear his throat several times before he can speak: "No, thanks. I'm fine."

Another half hour later, he is still standing there, but this time, the nurse gently forces him to sit down, and really, John feels a little shaky again. He is brought a cup of water, which revives him somewhat. "Where is Mycroft- I mean, his brother?" He indicates Sherlock with his head.

"I believe he is sitting in the waiting room by the nurse's station," she says.

And really, that's where John finds him after he has recovered a little. Mycroft is clutching his umbrella and staring straight ahead; he is pale himself, and John is astonished to see him so visibly shaken.

"Why didn't you stay with us?" he asks, upon which Mycroft shakes his head: "I'm sorry, John. I can't see him like that."

"You have seen him like that at least half a dozen times," John states, though he can guess what is going on in Mycroft's mind.

Accordingly, the older Holmes shakes his head: "This is different," he replies, his voice trailing off a little before pulling himself together: "I'm sorry," he repeats. "I'm being...sentimental."

That makes sense, of course, but John doesn't want to hear it. He wants Mycroft to be his usual cool self, reassuring John that Sherlock will be all right soon. Which is not forthcoming, however, because this time, Sherlock manages to scare them both. It is not until the evening that his temperature is back to normal, and as if to mock them, a fever sets in a while later . Sherlock opens his eyes a few times but isn't entirely lucid, and he is still very pale.

Understandably, neither John nor Mycroft are prepared to leave the premises under these circumstances; who knows which other complications might arise during the night. By that time, the nurses on duty appear a little worried on the two visitors' behalf. Something which Mycroft has said to the doctor earlier seems to have rescinded the usual visiting hours, and those are not why the nurses are concerned; the brother of the patient seems tired but to be holding up with remarkable poise, sitting in the waiting room with his umbrella in his hands, while the other gentleman, who is a doctor himself, looks tired and as though he'll keel over any minute. Of course, appearances can be deceiving, but the night nurse at one point decides she is not going to watch it any longer.

John looks up in surprise when a tray appears in front of him, holding a steaming cup of tea (from the nurse's station, not the vending machine), a couple of sandwiches and a few biscuits.

"Thank you," he murmurs, blinking and quite bewildered, "you needn't have."

"I don't need two additional patients," she gives him a brief smile, then looks at him sternly: "Now eat, please. And then I'll show you where you can take a nap."

"I don't-"

"It's either that or my foot kicking you out." Her stern look doesn't waver, though he thinks he can detect the smallest of smiles in the corners of her mouth.

"I can't leave him." John's voice is rough; he sounds desperate.

"I promise I will wake you if anything happens."

They stare at each other for a long time, Nurse Lucy doing her best to hide her sympathy. The old man in front of her is slightly dishevelled, his intense blue eyes weary and despondent. He is rather good-looking for his age, and the multitude of lines around his eyes and his mouth tell her that he likes to laugh. There's also something very obstinate about him, not only because he refuses to go home and rest or even lie down a little; he seems like someone who isn't easily fooled. Only now, he is really shaken; she doesn't know about the exact nature of his and the patient's relationship, and she doesn't care. All she knows is that this man is on the edge of a breakdown, and she doesn't want to risk that.

John finally gives in. He is really tired, and he knows he's not going to be useful like this.

"What about Mr Holmes?" He glances in the direction of the waiting room.

"My colleague is working on it," the nurse says dryly, causing John to actually chuckle a little.

He sleeps for a few hours and wakes up disoriented and with a stiff back. It takes a moment to recall what has happened, but as soon as he remembers, he gets to his feet.

Mycroft is nowhere in sight, but Sherlock looks marginally better in John's opinion. He squints a little to read the data on the machines and jumps when he hears a voice right behind him; he hasn't heard the nurse coming in. It's the one who's been there on the day before, and the night nurse has informed her about the latest developments.

"Good morning," she says, "your friend's doing rather well. He has woken up briefly, and the fever's gone."

Relief makes John weak in the knees for a moment, and he quickly sits down of his own accord.

"Are you all right?" the nurse asks, immediately concerned. John is a little tired of feeling like an old man again, but he doesn't let it on: "I'm fine, thank you," he says. "I just need some coffee and to freshen up a bit. Did he say anything?"

The nurse looks on her chart: "He asked for you and was told you were resting."

John feels tremendously guilty for not having been there.


Sherlock sleeps for most of that day, knocked out by the medication and the impact of his injuries. In the afternoon, Maya comes by, having driven down from London. She scolds John for not calling her (she has only found out because she has been trying to reach him), then takes him into her arms, because he looks exhausted and worried and like he needs someone to hold him. She also hugs Mycroft, who'd never admit it but allows himself to draw comfort from it as well.

In the early evening, Sherlock awakes. He immediately recognizes John, and things begin to look up from there, which John is ridiculously grateful for.

Sherlock is allowed to go home after ten days. He is complaining about the sling which he has to wear and that he won't be able to play the violin with only one arm, but apart from that, he is remarkably quiet. His doctor has advised him to contact social services in order to apply for temporary home care, assuming that he and John won't be able to cope on their own.

It was quite a blow, and naturally, Sherlock had been offended. Before he had been able to verbally tear the good man to shreds, however, John had stepped in. "We can manage," he had said. "We'll get in touch with Dr Lazenby, our local GP, but we don't need any help at home." (In fact, they haven't even gotten round to hire a household help, as planned.)

The doctor had regarded him doubtfully, but in the end John had been able to convince him.

That evening, he and Sherlock sit and watch TV in the living room, but the former doctor can tell that his friend isn't paying any attention to the screen.

"Sherlock?" he prompts. "Are you all right?"

"Promise me not to overdo it," Sherlock says after some one-handed fidgeting, and John would have laughed if his friend hadn't been so serious.

"What do you mean?" he asks.

"I can't expect you to do all the work alone," Sherlock mutters, "on top of caring for me. If it will get too much, I'll apply for home care. I don't want you to think I'm taking you for granted."

John stares at him incredulously for a while.

"But... we can manage," he says, once he's found his voice. "I thought I'd ask Mrs Birling from the shop if she knows anyone who could help out in the house, maybe once a week, but apart from that we'll be fine, don't you think?"

Sherlock nods, considering this. "Okay," he says, "if you really don't mind."

"I'd be long gone if I minded," John retorts, smirking.

"Idiot."

"Silly old bugger."

They stare at each other.

"I know you're not taking me for granted," John eventually mutters. "I heard you asking Mycroft whether I'd eaten and slept and been to my eye appointment while you were in the hospital."

Sherlock frowns: "You weren't supposed to hear that."

"Sorry." But John doesn't really feel sorry about it. He has known before how much Sherlock values him, but it's nice to hear it once in a while, even if it's by pure coincidence.

"And anyway," he continues, "if we can't manage on our own in case one of us in incapacitated, we're doomed as soon as someone finds out."

Sherlock grins at John's choice of words, but he agrees; it's not actually funny. "You should go to bed," he then says, "you look absolutely knackered."

John can't deny that he is; he has been home only three or four times during the past ten days. Fortunately, Mycroft of all people had reminded John to organize someone to feed the ducks.

He can feel the strain of not having rested properly once now, his limbs feel stiff and he's bone-tired. He hesitates, though, his eyes wandering to Sherlock's sling.

"I'll be fine," his friend says, impatiently, "stop fussing."

Which is so tremendously unjustified that John gets up without any second thoughts: "Fine," he all but snaps, "good night."

When Sherlock goes to bed two hours later, he has to admit that he could use a pair of helping hands. If he doesn't move careful enough, every motion jars his arm which is still tender, and in the end, he gives up on the attempt of changing into his nightshirt and sleeps in the one he was wearing. John, who has already forgiven Sherlock on the following morning, can't but smirk at his friend's slightly rumpled appearance.


Once December approaches, a few weeks after Sherlock's been discharged from hospital, they have established a well-working system. A young woman called Natalie comes to help with the household twice a week, Tuesdays and Fridays. John is very glad about that, because the hoovering is a damn nuisance for his back, and keeping a one-handed Sherlock occupied is a full-time job. The new arrangement also ensures that he can continue with his swimming, because Sherlock's in capable hands while Natalie is there, much to his chagrin.

She appeared to be a little intimidated by him at first, especially after he had lectured her on how to dust off his fossils ("preferably, not all all") and what would happen if she broke the skull or anything else, for that matter, but after she had been over a few times, she seemed to have become a little bolder. She had even told him off once when he had repeatedly gotten in her way. John had secretly been impressed, but hadn't let it on. Once more, his thoughts returned to Mrs Hudson, and he could hear her voice as clearly as if she stood next to him: "I'm your landlady, dear, not your housekeeper."

They have furthermore been to Dr Lazenby's surgery twice, and according to him, the arm is healing nicely.

"If I hear the sentence 'considering your age' one more time, I'll shoot someone," Sherlock grumbled the last time they went back home.

John laughed: "No more smiley faces, Sherlock."

"Considering your age," Sherlock mimicked, ignoring his friend. "I am 78, I didn't think that's such an achievement nowadays."

"Well," John tries to keep a serious face, "you've been strangled- repeatedly at that-, stabbed, drugged, shot at, attacked with all kinds of other weapons, nearly poisoned and also punched countless times. Oh, and I should probably mention the really bad heatstroke in Lyme Regis. It is an achievement, if you ask me."

Sherlock growls at him, but doesn't manage to keep an entirely straight face either.

He's still moping that evening, however, getting on John's nerves until he gives in and calls Maya to say hello and thank her for the mail (Maya has been sending care packages). The real reason for buggering John like that is that it gives Sherlock the opportunity to talk to Riley.

"Did you get my picture?" she asks.

"I did, Bumblebee, thank you very much. I assume that it is supposed to be me?"

"Yes, and your arm in a cast. And next to you is Grandpa."

"Why does he have such big eyes?"

"Because he's just remembered something he'd forgotten."

Sherlock laughs: "Don't tell him that."

"Don't tell him what?" John materializes next to Sherlock.

"That you are a forgetful old man."

"Gee, Sherlock, it's past seven already," John retorts, "considering your age, shouldn't you be in bed by now?" With a cackle, he flees the room as quickly as his knee allows.


After the cast has been removed, Sherlock receives physiotherapy for his arm and learns to use it again. It feels a little alien at first, but he is very determined to leave the accident and its consequences behind for the time being. The plate and screws are going to be removed at the end of the year, but till then, he's got a lot to do. Most importantly of all, he's missed his violin, and he is impatient to play it.

For his 79th birthday, John gives him a few pages of sheet music, old melodies they have once heard in the Royal Albert Hall, after Sherlock had returned from the dead. It is an additional incentive and also, Sherlock notes, sentiment, but he doesn't mind. He's long since learned that sentiment is a part of life and not necessarily bad. It's furthermore immensely satisfying to know that Mycroft hasn't been right about it.

In the following summer, John and Sherlock travel to Lyme Regis shortly after John's birthday, as in the six summers after that. By unspoken agreement, they no longer keep the fossils they find. Their house is full of them, they don't want to assemble any more unnecessary clutter. In fact, they have begun, subtly and each on his own, to clear out a few things. So they just examine their findings and either put them back or give them to passers-by. They don't go very far from the main beach anymore, always staying in sight distance from the Cobb.

John is not able to walk without aid now, and even though he denies it, he only accompanies Sherlock onto the beach because he doesn't want him to go alone.

When they leave the small town in the seventh summer after the accident, they know that they won't come back again. It is with a sorrowful heart that they take their leave, for they have both grown fond of Lyme Regis, and the sense of yet another ending weighs heavy on their minds.

"Well," John says, clearing his throat, "that was that." At 92, his voice has become papery, and his hair is thinning considerably. He walks with a slight stoop now, due to using his cane regularly. In winter, when his knee has been exceptionally bad, he has already been using a Zimmer frame sometimes, bumping against door frames at first and cursing like a sailor each time; he still doesn't consider himself the sitting-down type.

Sherlock can also feel his increasing age in his bones, and just like John, he has taken to walking more slowly. He finds his hearing isn't the best anymore either, but he reckons that he can still do without any hearing aids for the time being; "as long as I can hear you, old boy," he says to John.


John occasionally forgets where he was headed when he's going somewhere, or whether he's just boiled the water for tea or not. All in all, he's doing remarkably well considering his age and that he's been having trouble with his memory for more than ten years now, and he seems content. Yet Sherlock begins to think that maybe he has set the stakes too high in demanding John be there at his 90th birthday; there are days on which his friend seems rather tired. Maybe it'd be best to let him go like that, not have him holding on to something which seems very far in the future. And yet Sherlock knows he won't be able to let go when the time comes. He just won't. I'd be lost without my blogger.

So he does his best to keep himself and John in good health, quietly taking over the chores his friend can't or won't do anymore.

Mycroft is living in a private nursery home nearby now, and Sherlock visits him on a regular basis. Natalie, who in the meantime has become something like their housekeeper and often also pops in on the days she's got off, drives him there. Mycroft's had a second stroke from which he recovered only slowly, and he hardly talks anymore. He looks shrunken and ancient. He seems to like the home, however, which is a small relief.

Every time Sherlock comes back from those visits, he sits down close to John and doesn't talk for hours. His friend knows that it's hard for Sherlock to see his brother so reduced to a half of what he's been, no matter how old he is, and John doesn't even try to get Sherlock to speak with him. It's enough that he's there, and they'll drink tea and keep silent together, be it in front of the fireplace in winter or out in their overgrown garden in summer, surrounded by the bitter-sweet scent of blooming lavender. Sometimes during those quiet times, John thinks he can feel his own time slipping away, like grains of sand in a large hourglass.

He hasn't thought about death for a long time now; he is yearning to see Mary again, his parents, Harry, Mrs Hudson and Lestrade, but he doesn't dare hoping. Maybe death's just like falling asleep, a gentle dwindling into darkness, and then nothing. At least it doesn't scare him anymore; the thought of losing his life as it is now, with a good friend by his side and the closeness of a loving family, is scaring him much more.

Now is what they have, he tells himself, now and what lies behind them. Every morning could bring a new inconvenience, something they might not be able to negotiate, and he dreads that day.

But still, he and Sherlock can manage. He recalls Mycroft's words from the first time they have ever met: "When you walk with Sherlock Holmes, you see the battlefield."

Well. Maybe in that regard, their lives haven't changed that much, even if it's a different battlefield now.

o

The End

o

Author's notes:

The quote about honey-combs is taken from "Bees" by R. Steiner.

This story was inspired by Una Stubbs, who is so lovely as Mrs Hudson and is indeed 76 years old. Furthermore, there are and have been some old people in my life who have served as role-models for this one; it was my grandma who fell on the ice and had to have surgery on her arm, for example.

As for the timeline, I assumed that Sherlock was born in 1978 and John in 1972, and that Lestrade is about ten years older than him. Mycroft is 12 years older than Sherlock in my headcanon, which would make him 98 at the end (the oldest person I've ever met was 104 years old, and she didn't look a day older than 75, by the way). The story would therefore begin in 2054 and end in 2064 (creepy...). Since we don't know what life will be looking like then, I didn't try to invent anything and pretty much just moved the story forward without bothering to research future cars or anything like that.

I have also taken liberties with regard to John; I don't think he and Mary had any children, for example, and Gladstone the dog has been replaced by Jemima and Float.

o

Thank you for reading, feedback is much appreciated. And now I'll go back to working on 'Hazard Control'.