The gun was mounted on the mantelpiece, an odd fate for a simple pistol, even one so meticulously cleaned and cared for. Lestrade was studying it when John made his way inside, preceded by the syncopated clicking of his cane. "I told him you were here, but he's off with the bees," he called. "Can't guarantee when he'll back in."
"Bees." Lestrade shook his head. "I thought you were joking about the bees."
"Most people do." John lowered himself carefully into one of the chairs, the one with the battered pillow that, from certain angles, might still bear a union jack. "Come on, then, have a seat—how's the chemo going?"
"Finally over with it." Lestrade sank into the chair opposite John and pointed at his cap. "Hope you don't mind if I keep it this on."
John waved it off. "This house is the official refuge for the vanity of old men. Just don't turn up in a toupee or I won't be responsible for Sherlock's actions."
Lestrade laughed, quietly, and looked around the sitting room again. "Still surprised you got him out here," he said after a while.
John shrugged, right shoulder rising higher than the left. "More house than I need with Sarah gone, and Sherlock...London was getting a bit much for him, even if he won't admit it. Not enough room for the bees, either."
"What is it about the bloody bees?" Lestrade asked.
Outside the cottage, the birches swayed, throwing shifting dapples of light on the net curtains. "He likes them," John said, watching the trees. "Keeps him from getting bored."
Lestrade frowned. "He's not, I dunno, training them to attack people, is he?"
"No, but don't give him ideas," John said emphatically, which drew another small laugh. "Seriously, if it weren't for the bees he'd be losing his mind out here..."
"Sorry," John said, looking down at his lap. "It's easier to talk about when you live with it, I suppose. No choice in the matter."
"How bad is he, really?" Lestrade asked, shifting in his chair.
John shrugged again. "It comes and goes. He's good at hiding it. We'll get to talking about old times and it's like nothing's wrong."
Lestrade frowned. "Never thought Sherlock was a fan of reminiscing."
That made John smile, bittersweet. "Let me show you something—hang on--" With a few grunted curses, he levered himself out of the chair and crossed to the desk, picking up a smart little laptop and an improbably thick pair of glasses. He put on the latter and brought the former to Lestrade, prodding the touch screen a few times. "There. Have a look."
Lestrade pulled out his own reading glasses and squinted at the large type. Then he laughed out loud, a proper belly laugh that ended in a few rasping wheezes. "Oh, please tell me you're not."
"Oh, yes," John said with relish. "That's the real reason he's here—or so he says—I kept all the notes on the old cases, see. We've even got a publisher."
"The Yard are going to die of shame," Lestrade said gleefully.
John sank back into his chair again and took off the glasses. "That's sort of the point, I think. Finally wants the credit for all those cases he solved for you."
"Helped me solve!" Lestrade protested.
"Who's writing the book?" John said with a wicked grin. "Be happy I'm not letting him call you a rat-faced ignoramus in print. You should hear what he has to say about Dimmock."
"You're both evil," Lestrade declared, but there was still a note of affection in his voice. "And I'm insane, because I want to read the whole damn thing."
"Oh, I'll send you the drafts," John assured him. "Before we have to change everything round to protect the guilty."
Lestrade chuckled again and set the little computer aside. Then something in his face sharpened. "This was his idea, then? Or yours?"
"His," John said, and the smile slipped from his face. "I think he realized...he wanted to get it all down, before the end. He wanted to leave something behind."
"Getting sentimental, is he?" Lestrade said.
John looked to the window again. "His brother died last year. You wouldn't have heard about it. Private service and all." He paused. "Near as I can tell, that man controlled most of the civilized world from his mobile, for a good few years. A couple of the uncivilized bits as well. But it's all classified. A minor position in the government. Civil servant's pension."
Lestrade nodded, slowly. "I see what you mean."
Sherlock wandered back up to the house for tea, taunting Lestrade with a full head of black hair. "Hello, Inspector," he called as he came in from the garden.
Lestrade paused with a sandwich halfway to his mouth. "Sherlock. Been a while."
In the middle of hanging up his jacket, Sherlock paused, and sighed dramatically. "I use the title affectionately, of course, in homage to our past history of collaboration, and not due to my ongoing mental decline."
"Sherlock," John said, sternly. "Tea. You're eating today if I have to hold you down."
"Yes, Mycroft," Sherlock said waspishly, but he did sit down. He ignored the sandwich John pushed in his direction, but set about adding sugar to his tea.
"John was telling me about the bees," Lestrade said awkwardly.
"Hmm, yes." Sherlock tasted the tea and scowled. "John, for the last time, there is no point in buying decaffeinated tea. I intend to continue enjoying the few vices left to me. The bees," he turned his attention back to Lestrade, "are a metaphor."
"A metaphor?" Lestrade echoed.
Sherlock nodded. "They are—when viewed as a collective, at least—frightfully intelligent; remarkably efficient; vanishingly rare, now, as a species; and most definitely dying out. Much like myself."
"Sherlock," John said again, more pleading than warning, as Lestrade busied himself with his tea.
"Oh, don't start," Sherlock said. "It's hardly a secret. Why else would the esteemed ex-Inspector have come out all this way?"
"You really think he'd come here just to gawk at you?" John asked.
"I said nothing of the kind," Sherlock said airily, and picked at a biscuit. "No, Lestrade, you're here for a proper farewell, aren't you? From us, not to us. The chemotherapy was clearly ineffective and a man of your age, in your condition, is a poor candidate for further surgery. It's palliative care from now on, and you wanted to see me at least once again while you can still travel and I am still myself."
John looked sharply across the table, and Lestrade nodded once, stiffly. "Right as usual," he said. "What gave it away?"
"Right hand," Sherlock said casually, selecting another biscuit. "The mark from the IV has almost healed. I estimated the date of your diagnosis based on when you got around to actually telling anyone about it, so projecting from that you ought to have one more treatment scheduled—instead you've stopped early, either because the cancer hasn't responded or the side effects were too severe, or most likely a combination of both."
Lestrade didn't respond to this, just busied himself with his own tea. "Why didn't you say something?" John asked quietly.
"Well, I'm not dropping dead tomorrow, am I?" Lestrade said. "Still got a few months. And I didn't want anyone mooning and chirping over me."
"Not when you've come to moon and chirp over me, is that right?" Sherlock asked. When John gave him another dirty look, he took a defiant bite of his sandwich.
"Just wanted to see how you were getting on," Lestrade mumbled. "See if it was true about the bees and all."
"Of course it's true," Sherlock said. "I need something to keep me occupied, and as you may have noticed, John has taken to keeping his gun where he can see it at all times."
"Sherlock!" John said sharply, and the mug in his left hand trembled, slopping tea onto the table.
"But it was good of you to come nevertheless," Sherlock carried on blithely. "I assume John's told you about the book, yes? I should like you to contribute, partly due to John's woefully inaccurate record-keeping and partly to stop him griping about journalistic bias."
Lestrade blinked, like he wasn't sure if the request was complimentary or insulting. "Erm. Of course. I'd be happy to help."
"Excellent," Sherlock said. "I should like to interview Sally Donovan as well—or should have liked," he amended, eyes snapping back and forth between John's bowed head and Lestrade's stiffened shoulders, "had I had the opportunity—but of course we hadn't even conceived of the idea when Donovan...that is, when Donovan was...she..."
"Anderson-Donovan," John said quietly, when he had sputtered himself to silence. "They hyphenated back in '21. She's still alive."
Sherlock's head dropped, and he shoved his plate and tea away before folding his arms tightly across his chest. "Names," he hissed quietly. "It's always the bloody names—"
"Don't worry about it," Lestrade tried to say, but Sherlock didn't react. John shook his head slightly. Lestrade cleared his throat. "I'll, er, see if I still have her number somewhere, yeah?"
Someone's watch or phone began to beep, swiftly joined by a second alarm, then a third. Lestrade pulled put a pill sorter and shook a handful of tablets into his palm; John turned in his chair and fetched two more off a side table, thrusting one at Sherlock. He refilled everyone's tea. "Cheers," John said humorlessly, and Lestrade, at least, joined in the mocking toast.
"Is he all right out there by himself?" Lestrade asked on his way out. "With his bloody bees and all?"
"We rent out the caretaker's cottage at the bottom of the garden," John explained. "Married couple, lovely girls. They keep an eye out."
"Ah." Lestrade shrugged on his coat and hesitated again. "Sorry I didn't say up front—the diagnosis."
"Don't mention it," John said. "We ought to be used to it by now, at our age, right?"
Lestrade nodded, and for a moment his eyes tracked over John's shoulder, at the pistol mounted ridiculously above the fireplace, between a photo of Sarah and what appeared to be a human skull. "At least you've still got your health, right?" he tried to joke.
John just smiled weakly. "Somebody's got to be the last."
That night, John worked on the book, sliding his glasses up and down his nose and toying with the font size periodically. Sherlock walked up and down the sitting room with the violin, rehearsing his favorite pieces; every so often he would pause, as if he'd made some minute error, then carry on as if nothing had happened. Only someone who had heard him play frequently and over many years would even notice. If he was still bothered by Lestrade's visit—if he even remembered it—he gave no sign.
Eventually John asked, quietly, "Do you still mean to go through with it, then?"
Sherlock did not stop playing, but merely drew out the note he was on, thin and quailing. He flicked his eyes to the pistol over the mantelpiece, then raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, that," John said peevishly.
Sherlock shrugged, and continued his circuit.
"Because," John said, "I'm still licensed. I could prescribe you something instead."
That made Sherlock laugh, and he dropped the violin for a moment. "Oh, John," he said. "I appreciate the sentiment. But I won't involve you any more than necessary—the guilt would destroy you."
"It would be less painful for you, though," John said. "Less chance of something going wrong."
"True." Sherlock actually seemed to be weighing the question for a moment, but a smile ghosted over his face. "But then again, I always have wanted to go out with a bang."
John chokes on a noise. It might've been a laugh. It might not have. "Jesus, Sherlock—"
"John," he scolded gently, and raised the violin to his shoulder again. "Do be quiet now. The song isn't over."
John shut his eyes, one hand trembling over his computer, as Sherlock played on.