Somewhere Near the Edge
"Why would I need you?"
"No reason at all."
Stagnant in the deafening silence, an image combs up through his memory and finally surfaces – a picture he saw once in a history book of two men standing in the rubble of a London library during the Blitz, reading eagerly, as though the war hadn't been brought right to their doorstep and the building around them barely standing.
Sherlock occupies an entire, massive study table, spread with books – history, literature, western civilization – all paged open and two note books spread out on either side of him.
John thinks this is ridiculous, but doesn't say it.
Anything that occupies that mind nowadays is a blessed relief from his insufferableness that has simply gotten worse since the world's gone to hell.
John rubs his face. It's so stupid.
It was the sodding flu!
He wants Sherlock to write that in his manifesto – Humanity, Brought to its knees by the sniffles.
John stifles a laugh and Sherlock casts him a sideways glance but doesn't say anything. They are pressed for time.
"Before the power's gone forever," Sherlock had urged him. There would be plenty of time to live by candlelight and huddle for warmth.
With that thought, John dozes in his chair.
The first one to go was Anderson. Incorrigible Anderson, whose big mouth lowered the IQ of the whole street – and how he managed to get his job was the biggest mystery to Sherlock – was the first of many to die.
As soon as he got off the phone, John knew it was going to be an argument.
Sherlock was plucking at his violin again.
John stood in the doorway and cleared his throat but the detective didn't so much as look up.
"That was Lestrade," John said.
Sherlock gave half a nod.
"Seems Anderson passed on this morning – quite suddenly."
"Obviously it was sudden. There was nothing wrong with him last week when he was boring me with his trite ideas on the Briggs' murder."
"Sherlock," John warned.
He stopped plucking at his violin and rested his silver eyes on John.
"The man's dead. You could at least be civilized to him now," John said.
"Why now? It's not like he's even around to hear my insults anymore."
"You…" John began, stopped short. Threw his arms up in defeat.
The detective rolled his head back. "Let me guess – I am under some social obligation to attend a wake, am I not?"
"No," Sherlock said.
John crossed his arms over his inflated chest. "I'm not having this argument you," he stopped himself again, took a deep breath through his nose. "It's on Friday morning. I expect you to put on a suit, come with me, don't speak to anyone, don't smirk, give the family your condolences and then you can be rid of the matter once and for all."
He stalked from the room.
The violin noise that followed him out was far from music.
He wakes with a soft snort and his tongue feels like a pile of dead leaves in his mouth.
"John," the detective says, poking him sharply with two fingers.
"S'what?" John mutters.
"I'm done. Lets go."
The doctor stretches. "Done for good?"
The face. Again. Like John had asked something stupid. Again.
"Don't look at me like that."
"No. Not quiet. Almost. It is a bit of an undertaking. You don't have to come with me," Sherlock says.
John shakes his head. "No. And do what? Sit at home and watch Molly sulk through the garden?"
Sherlock gives half a knowing grin. "Right. She's not taken well to the end of the world, has she?"
"I don't think anyone has," John agrees, helping Sherlock take his load of books out to the car.
It only bothers him a little that Sherlock doesn't offer to help with the stack but swipes up both of his note books sharply and hoists them under one arm. Doesn't even hold the door open.
He was a doctor. He thought later that he should've seen the signs long before he did. He should've seen the signs that late winter morning when they buried Anderson.
The next to topple was Mrs Hudson and that was when it all got too real.
It was Sherlock who found her – feverish, half-delirious, soaked to the bone with sweat – on her kitchen floor. And it was Sherlock who took her to the hospital and sat with her.
And it was Sherlock who held her hand until the very end.
There was no discussion on whether or not they would attend her funeral.
It was Sherlock who arranged it.
Or Mycroft – John couldn't be certain, since it was such a nice service.
But he suspected it was Sherlock since it was such a sentimental affair.
He's humming. Sherlock is humming.
The road before them is dark and the headlights sweep away the shadows in small gusts. They've been driving twenty minutes, maybe and John has no idea how long Sherlock's been humming.
"You're really invested in this, aren't you?" John asks.
Trees blur by the window – all incased in night. John thinks briefly about the entwives, destroying their society by leaving. Sherlock – just the opposite – trying to leave something behind of a society that has been destroyed.
"No more cases to solve. No more great who-done-its. No more good experiments," he sighs, "I will admit I didn't give Molly proper time to grab any more lab equipment, but she seems to have abandoned any attempt at furthering knowledge for reading Jane Austin. It's trite."
"Or she's grieving," John offered up.
The consultant made a disapproving clicking sound with his tongue.
"Shut up," John hisses.
The New Plague (as it was ineloquently dubbed) was in full swing with every hospital stretched beyond capacity. Sixteen hour shifts in the surgery and they were massively swamped with new ailment – beds lining the halls, people sitting upright in chairs coughing and coughing and sneezing and getting fevers that make the surface of the sun look cold and nothing, just fucking nothing works to sway it at all. John was twelve hours into his shift when he turned into a supply closet and clicked it closed behind him and leaned back against the door, breathing heavily into the surgical mask the entire hospital staff had taken to wearing. He rubbed his bleary eyes – sleep longing to take him and shook out each leg, one at a time when his phone buzzed.
Come at once.
John shook his head to himself, blinked a few times and typed back a response – pausing twice to yawn –
The reply took only a few seconds.
Of utmost importance. Come now.
He was about to reply with the fact that human lives depend upon him (although, as his internal clock ticks towards absolute zero on the energy scale, he's not sure leaving the surgery now wouldn't be a benefit) when the door is jerked out from behind him and a strong hand clasps his shoulder.
"Come with me now," Sherlock said.
John almost fell down but Sherlock guided him through the crowded hallways, into one of the stairwells, down two flights and out the back door where Molly stood in front of a jeep looking rather pale.
"What's going on?" John asked as Sherlock yanked open the passenger side door and flung him inside.
Settling himself behind the wheel, he explained. "Martial law is going to be declared in about six hours. The economy is going to completely collapse in about seventeen minutes. I can't get an exact pinpoint on when the riots will start but probably within the next hour – two at the most."
"How do you know that?" John asked as he pealed off his surgical mask.
"Well," Sherlock stared hard at the road before them, kicking the vehicle into gear. "The British government succumbed this morning to this new plague."
John gaped at him. "Mycroft?"
Sherlock only gave the slightest nod to acknowledge him.
Ultimately, they ended up at this old beach house – used to belong to Mrs Hudson. Sherlock found the papers for it when they went through her apartment. She inherited it from some distant relative. No one had lived in it in years. It was large – two stories, facing the ocean but without power. The first night there, Sherlock carefully built a fire in the hearth and the three of them sat in front of it without saying a word.
John watched the light cast eerie shadows across Sherlock's face as he stared into the orange flame. Molly stared down at her hands. She looked so very small.
Two weeks later, Lestrade arrived, his face grim and his hair grayer than ever.
Even though he wasn't have the best relationship with his wife – it still upset him when she died.
Which is why John had to pull Sherlock into a closet to tell him play nice, very sternly in a low voice, the space between them crowding with tension like water filling a sinking ship.
The problem with the End of The World as We Know It was that it had a distinct lack of crime, because, well, everything was anarchy and there were few people left. No laws, no crime. Just these four who'd survived the Plague wiping out London and the rest of England, Britain, Europe… the world. Well, they weren't the only four left, but sometimes it felt that way, in that beach house living on kerosene light and canned goods while they worked out a better system. Aside from that, the world's only consulting detective was bored.
And when he was bored – he got on everyone's nerves.
To the point that Lestrade pulled John into the same closet he'd spoke to Sherlock in and begged him to find something – anything – to occupy that crazy detective and handed him the keys to his car. Because if he didn't stop annoying Lestrade (and offending Molly) right now, well, they might make a voyage into cannibalism slightly earlier than anticipated.
Which was when John got the idea to take him to the library because… well, why the fuck not? What else was there to do at the end of the world but grow a garden and read?
Which is how he got the idea for this little project he's been working in.
"You're going to do what?" John asked, standing over his friend.
"Leave a note," Sherlock said – the words reverberating through the air and straight into John's heart with the echo of an earlier time – a moment he tried to burry and couldn't because the pain, even now, was still too great.
"Yes. A note. It's what people do. So why shouldn't there be a note now? One for the world. For all people. The Note," he explained.
John just stared at him, perplexed. "A note for the entire world?"
Sherlock nodded, as though it made perfect sense.
"For who to read? Exactly?"
The great man shrugged. "Intelligent life."
"Or the future descendents of the survivors. Future anthropologists. Archaeologists. Historians. Surly society will rebuild."
But the doctor had his doubts. "This is," John started, stopped, "Fine. Fine. Sounds like a great project," he said and smiled but not with his eyes.
So – while the world is still warm after death, John and Sherlock trek off to a library in London and let Sherlock collect, well, "A small history of everything."
John isn't exactly sure how one collects a "small" history of "everything" but he wouldn't put it past Sherlock to somehow manage it.
And it prevents Sherlock from annoying Lestrade – or saying hurtful things to Molly.
Molly – who never dawns lipstick anymore – or even changes into anymore more fancy than a sweater and jeans – sits in the yellowed, afternoon light reading Jane Austin and J.R.R Tolkien and George Orwell and Alexandre Dumas. Old, old tales written while the world was still infinite.
It's spring – like the world is mocking them. Birds in the trees, singing for their lives hadn't been undone, and the waves on the beach smelling fresher than ever and beckoning them out.
Sherlock's brought back most of the book's he desires from a variety of libraries all over London. They fill the living room in neat stacks – many now with duel use as furniture. He spends most of his time in there, and John often joins him and just sits and leafs through the books Sherlock has discarded from use.
"Dull," he says, flinging an textbook for Western Civilization towards the north corner of the room.
"Too much politics," he says, tossing an autobiography in the same direction (the autobiography of a politician as it would turn out).
"Have all of these details already," he explains, adding a detailed account of WWII to the pile.
A moment later the room is quiet and John looks up from his browsing to find Sherlock engrossed in Elie Wiesel's memoir, "Night."
Across his face in an emotion John had only previously seen him fake.
They eat dinner like a family. John slices up vegetables carefully, his precise doctor's hands not having much use for anything more complex than this lately. Turns out that Lestrade knows a little something about being a butcher and they have usurped the use of several cows and bulls that belonged to a farmer now long dead. They have milk and steak and a vegetable garden and an apple tree and a cherry tree and they're doing alright, even though the world is over.
Sherlock paints with spices and makes sauces John can't believe. Can't believe he's had this talent all along and never used it before. Molly finally joins them in the kitchen and the three men look up as she enters to see she's cut her hair so it is only falls her chin.
"Just got sick of it all," she explains at the raised eyebrow on Sherlock's face.
But doesn't know his raised eyebrow is at Lestrade – staring with his mouth ever so slightly ajar at the woman, oncing her over, twicing her over, three times her over.
John clears his throat. "I think it's lovely," he says.
"Yes," Lestrade agrees, a bit too loudly.
Sherlock suggests John accompany him on a walk after dinner. Claims there is rose bush down the path a bit that he thinks might be rare and wants to have a better look at it.
The path they follow borders both the beach and the forest. It is lovely here – with nothing but the soft breeze in the trees and the sound of the ocean, forever lapping at the sandy shore. The house is perched a bit upon a hill and they carefully make their way down.
John squints into the setting sun when they reach the bottom of the hill and leans against a rock. "So, where is this bush?"
"Hmm? Oh. That. There is no bush. I just thought we'd leave them alone."
John looks back up at the house, the sun laying across its wide windows and turning them gold.
"Lestrade always has had a bit of a crush on Molly," Sherlock says.
"You didn't notice the way he looked at her tonight? Or at that Christmas get together Mrs Hudson insisted upon?"
John just shakes his head.
"Your observational skills are outstanding."
"Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit," John fires back.
"And quoting an idiom is the highest form, I take it."
"Sherlock, can we not do this?"
"Not do what?"
"This. Just. Drop it."
"Everything. Are you actually doing something nice for other people by leaving them alone up there?"
"Don't act so surprised," Sherlock says and starts to wander down the beach. "He's wanted her for months and not done a thing about it. The world's over. What's stopping him now?"
John stares out at the sea in all her majesty. Going in and out forever, even though the society built around her was gone. Devouring costal towns in small, nibbling bites, and digesting sunken ships slowly. Greater than all of them – society, anarchy, all of humanity, even Sherlock Holmes. Sherlock, who John could see standing on the edge of an escarpment, also looking out at the sea, wind blowing gingerly through his hair. Actually doing something nice for someone else.
"John, look!" Sherlock said, pointing out at something over the water. He seemed so excited that he did something that caused John Watson's heart to give out.
The great Holmes – who does everything with purpose and intent – in the boredom of the end of the world, lost full motor control, relaxed a bit in his might and fell from the sandy precipice on a seashore cliff.
Sometimes, when the good doctor is uncomfortable or afraid, some part of his psyche that hides in the dark – some feral aspect of his personality that never rears its ugly head in day-to-day life – will awake with a horrible joke and this was one of those times. That horrible voice awoke and informed John that he has now had his heart ripped out twice, so, shouldn't he, by all accounts, be dead himself now?
But he shoves that voice away as he screams the detective's name and races towards the edge of the cliff where the man stood a moment before and looks down, down, down…
About two meters to where the detective lay, covered in sand and looking rather disheveled. It only looked like life-ending drop from where John had been standing.
It takes him a long moment to convince his heart to start beating again. When it does, he climbs down to the other man, kneels before him and starts feeling his limbs with careful, doctor touches – looking for bruises, lacerations, broken bones, ripped tendons, soft tissue damage, any injury, every injury. He keeps one hand poised on Sherlock's wrist, fingers locked into his heartbeat, counting with the back of his mind, one, two, three, four, five every beat, every beat… Sherlock is alive. And uninjured. Although he will probably be a touch sore tomorrow.
And he's saying the good doctor's name name. He says it five times before John snaps back and meets his eyes.
"John, it was just a small tumble, I'm fine," he assures him.
"Well, I'm not," John says and then feels stupid again, the blood leaving his face and his poor heart thundering.
"But you didn't fall," Sherlock states, perplexity crossing his angular face.
"No, I didn't," John agrees, still holding onto Sherlock's wrist (twenty-nine, thirty, thirty-one), "But I'm not okay, nonetheless. Because you fell."
"Not far. I'm fine."
"I know," John says, flatly, nods, "But, look," he rubs his free hand over his face, not daring let go of the detective for fear it will shake the trance, the reverie, and put him into a world where the fall was a big one, a real one that leaves Sherlock gone for good. "I didn't tell you before you jumped from Bart's. And I didn't tell you when you were dead, and I didn't tell you when you came back, but it's the end of the world so I'm telling you now, because I just spent a year wading through a hospital of the dying and watched everyone we knew and cared about drop off like flies and, Sherlock Holmes, I spent every single one of those days terrified that I would come home and find you among those dead flies and every night when I finally fell asleep thankful that you didn't. I didn't tell you before, but I'm telling you now – I love you, you great, bothersome man. And I can't and won't live without you again. So if you fall off anything for real – or drown, or get the flu or otherwise go up in smoke – I'm going to follow you through and kick your arse on the other side because I can't survive without you anymore. I won't do it. I don't know how. I love you, you idiot."
Eighty-one, eighty-two, eighty-three, eighty-four.
Sherlock's heart rate sped up.
And then he kissed him. That great, bothersome man laid lips against the good doctor's.
Since the world was over, and he'd been married to his work, that made him widower now, so why not find a new love?
Leaving them alone for the evening did not prove to be a successful way to get the former DI and Molly to make a real connection.
Having loud sex in John's bedroom, however, turned out to be a better catalyst.
Molly and Lestrade had sat outside watching the sunset and chatting a bit, and when it was finally too dark to see, had come back inside and stood awkwardly in the kitchen for a long moment, because… well.
Because they could hear John shouting the detective's name (at the top of his voice, nonetheless) and the unmistakable sound of headboard striking wall, along with a rattling bed frame.
Molly turned six different shades of scarlet in front of Lestrade.
Lestrade couldn't help but laugh and shake his head.
"Come on," he said, grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her outside.
They sit now in the jeep – Lestrade drove them up the road a bit away from the house and it's dark and quiet and calm and Molly hasn't said a word yet. Finally Lestrade says, "Took them long enough."
Molly nods once.
"I'm sorry," Lestrade changes gears.
"It's fine," Molly says, but her voice is barely a whisper. She shifts and stares hard at the darkness. "He could hardly remember my name once John entered his life. I knew he loved him."
"Didn't we all," Lestrade agrees.
"I just, you know," Molly cuts herself off. "He's something special."
"You're something special," Lestrade tries.
Molly blushes again.
"I would've… but you know, I was married."
It hangs between them.
"God, it's really all over, isn't it? Funny how it strikes you again and again, like that. Sometimes I feel like we're on the worlds weirdest holiday and any moment we're going to pack up the car and head back to London and everything will be the way it was," Lestrade says, exasperated.
"I know what you mean," Molly agrees and shakes her head a bit in disbelief. "Who'd have thought we would be the ones to survive? I never thought… I mean, the rest of them…" she drifts off.
She turns to him.
He leans in. Kisses her.
Later on, it's almost morning, and they haven't slept at all. John finds himself still counting Sherlock's heartbeats and has to force himself to stop, stop.
He touches every inch of him he can reach. All perfect, pale skin, smooth like silk and rough in some places, like the palms of hands and the backs of elbows. Then he stops touching him as a thought comes to him, suddenly cupping Sherlock's hip quiet sharply.
"What is it?" the detective's lethargic voice invades the darkness, feeling the change in John.
"What did you see? Earlier? Before you fell down that hill?"
The detective shifts to his side so he faces John directly, tucking one long arm up under his head as an extra pillow. Slivers of dawn are forcing their way into the room and illuminating the doctor ever so slightly. "An albatross," Sherlock says.
John doesn't respond. Doesn't understand the significance.
"They don't live in the North Atlantic. Twenty-four species of albatrosses in four genera in the world and not a single one that is native to the North Atlantic. However, some have been found in the area. Wanderers they call vagrants, occasionally appear in the North Atlantic, but they are not native."
"An albatross. A vagrant albatross."
Sherlock nods. John can't see him but he can hear his head shift.
"He must be lonely," the doctor whispers and pulls Sherlock closer.
"I don't know if birds experience loneliness – it is you who is experiencing sentiment."
"Well, I'm a sentimental old fool," John agrees, "which is only going to get worse now that I finally have you."
"I think," Sherlock begins and is suddenly quiet. Not a Sherlock quiet. Not a Sherlock-full-of-sound and fury and thinking kind of quiet. A new kind of quiet. A heavy sort of quiet that makes John shiver.
"Think what?" John prompts.
"Silly. Sentiment," Sherlock dismisses it and rolls over.
John presses his front fully flush to the detective's back and stays there, watching the morning slowly creep into the room. He plays idly with Sherlock's curls. "I might appreciate some sentiment," he says when he thinks the other man has fallen asleep.
But he hasn't.
Sherlock is silent another long moment, and then with his voice barely audible, "I think I might've been like that albatross once – drifting, alone at sea, with no hope of running across a friend of any sort."
John is very still. A moment like this has never transpired between him and the detective before and he doesn't want to startle it away.
"But, I suppose it's not like that anymore," Sherlock surmises.
John burrows into him even more, holding him so tight…
Dawn fully breaks and casts her long, yellowed rays across their bed and finally the two men slumber.
The world's been over for a good five months and it's late summer. Autumn is already knocking on the door. It's cold in the mornings now and John heads downstairs to breakfast with socks on. Sherlock still doesn't sleep much. He comes to bed hours after John has, and gets up first, always leaving John with a morning-breath kiss on the side of his head. Which John likes a lot more than he'd ever tell anyone. But he doesn't need to – Sherlock knows.
The manifesto – a brief history of everything – is going on two hundred and sixty pages long. He's only up to the ancient Israelites, too. At this rate, it's not going to be brief. It's going to be massive. John supposes he is doing this just to occupy himself – that he will drag it out as long as possible. Maybe never finish it.
But, when he's not immersed in the floor to ceiling stack of books in the living room, he does, occasionally, do something domestic, like make coffee.
Like he has this morning, standing in his red dressing gown in the kitchen pouring four cups of coffee into mismatched mugs.
Lestrade is down next, yawning, scratching, muttering to himself, picking up a mug and tilting it towards Sherlock in gratitude – these moments still surprise him. It's not like Sherlock knew how to do anything before the end of the world other than ask John or Mrs Hudson to make him food or tea, and to know that he can and didn't is also no surprise but him actually doing it – five months later, still surprises the former DI turned farmer.
Molly is down last. Her hair is grown out a bit, faster than John had anticipated and she looks bleary eyed with sleep.
Sherlock stands next to the counter, two cups of coffee in hand and looks her up and down and then turns around and pours a cup down the drain then sips from the other.
The three of them gape at him a moment.
He looks at them – gives John the face.
"Sherlock, what the hell?" John finally ventures.
The detective almost rolls his eyes. "Everyone knows pregnant woman can't have any caffeine. Causes birth defects. Speaking of which – you might want to brush up on some of your skills for delivery. I doubt we'll be able to locate a midwife. The world has ended, after all."
Molly chokes on air for a moment. "What?" she finally ventures when she unsticks her tongue from the back of her throat.
"You're pregnant. I'd say – five weeks along," Sherlock tells her.
Molly shakes her head. "No. No."
Sherlock does roll his eyes this time. "Really, Molly, you are two days late for your cycle and four pounds heavier and have been craving pickles. Yesterday you cried over a cracked pot for a houseplant – indicative of a mood swing. It's obvious."
"I can't be pregnant," Molly assures him, shaking her head.
"Why not? You're of a fertile age and, well, it's not like the two of you have been carefully using any sort of birth control."
"Sherlock," John cuts him off.
Lestrade takes Molly's hand and pulls her into his embrace, glaring at Sherlock as John grabs the man and pulls him back towards their bedroom.
"Come," Sherlock demands. The sun is setting and it's a tad cold out and John has been in and out of a light doze for the past hour. His mind is not on track yet and Sherlock is pulling him, pulling him.
"What?" John takes air in harshly through his nose.
"Come," Sherlock demands again, pulling John out of the chair he fell asleep in, the book in his lap clattering to the floor. "I made something," Sherlock says.
John can only sleepily follow along.
Dusk turns the sky a pale blue around the rims and above them, night has already settled. Stars are coming out – planets first, brightest in the blue. Sherlock is taking him down the beach, around the cliff he fell off of till John can see a small wooden shack erected haphazardly on the seashore.
"What's that?" John asks.
Sherlock hushes him and holds his hand tighter. It's a lean-to built of washed up driftwood and bits of broken boats. John can make out the yellow and red script of the name Ophelia on one board, even though the light is fading fast.
"Come," Sherlock ducks his head into the triangle shaped space between two boards and pulls John in behind him.
It's like a place of childhood – the lean-to. Reminds him a bit of the tree house his cousin once had. But it's tight inside. Perhaps cozy is a better word.
Sherlock pulls John flush against him and John lays his hand over the detective's heart. "What is this?"
"Some place secret," Sherlock says. "Outside."
"Outside of what?" John asks, feeling the word loom over him with an implication beyond the literal.
"Outside of life, reality, society."
"Every day since the first riot has been outside, then, Sherlock," John says. His voice feels huge inside the lean-to.
"I know, but this is our outside," the Consulting detective says, now clinging John a bit closer to him and begins to… hum. Something John can't place. Something by Rachmaninoff that he knows was used in a mushy, romantic movie Harry made him sit through. As he hums, he sways a bit, ever so slightly. Like dancing, if Sherlock was ever the one to dance.
John doesn't want to break the spell. In their world outside of the real world, the small world Sherlock has built for them.
Eventually Sherlock comes to a resting place and stops moving, his left hand cradling John's head and he clears his throat and tries to speak.
"I think," the ever eloquent man is suddenly, spectacularly, inarticulate. He tries again. "I seem to have feelings," he almost spits the word.
John leans back and looks into those sea-glass, green eyes. "As do I," John says and kisses him, ever so gently on the lips.
They are still again. Listening to the sea rub against land, for all eternity, regardless of humanity. John can feel the other man's heartbeat and it reminds him that he's alive, made it this far…
"Sherlock," he says, suddenly overcome with that dirty 's' word of sentiment.
"Do you need me?"
"That's rather broad…"
John pulls out of his grasp and looks at Sherlock. "You have feelings. You care to be more specific?"
John sighs, wrings his hands and steps out of the lean-to and into the smothering darkness of night. He climbs back to the house in silence.
Sherlock doesn't join him in bed that night.
The next night, just before sunset, John realizes he hasn't seen the scoundrel all day and goes looking for him.
He's sitting on his haunches on the beach with a pile of wood before him.
Their secret world torn down and piled up.
Just as John approaches, he flicks a match towards the pile and the whole thing goes up in a picturesque bonfire.
John can feel his heart drop a few centimeters lower in his chest. He stands a moment, watching the wood burn, then plops down beside his scoffing lover.
After a moment, he reaches out and pulls the detective's hand into his own.
A corner of the dark-haired sleuth's mouth curls up in a smile, he tries to force it down but it doesn't work.
Then John is grinning. Almost laughing.
"It's not symbolic," Sherlock suddenly spits the non sequitur.
"Sure," John agrees.
Neither one can tell if they are being sarcastic or not.
Neither one cares. Because it works. Because they work. With the ambiguousness of feelings hanging in the air above them, feeling each other's pulses through their palms where they hold hands watching their secret world burn. Their strange dynamic has worked for them, and works for them now, as lovers.
When there is almost nothing left of their lean-to, John stands, stares down at his lover. "Come to bed with me?" he asks – feels exposed, like he's put it all out there. And everything is over and nothing is left and if Sherlock says no, well… Well, John will have to go up to the house and pack his belongings and go live in the woods like Tom Bombadil. But even Bombadil had Goldberry, so he won't be like Bombadil at all. More like Frodo leaving the Shire for good.
However, it seems John Watson is the luckiest man alive because one Sherlock Holmes grins up at him, all pearly white and says, "Always."
Motherhood suits Molly. This surprises everyone. Even her. No, especially her. But now she can't picture the world any other way.
She hums Mozart to the infant, rocking her gently by the window in the chair that the three men got together and built. With much yelling and arguing. They were not designed to build anything together. Eventually, John had stolen the project, locked himself in the garage and finished it alone.
The world's been over a year and there is no more coffee, or tea. Sherlock experiments with tons of local fruit and makes some good juice, some rancid juice and some very, very scary wine that no one but him dared to try. Then he retched. Everywhere.
His Manifesto is now six hundred and eight pages long. He's blanketing the start of every major civilization and is up to the Shang Dynasty in China – 1600 BC.
Molly's labour went better than expected. Lestrade held her hand and smoothed her hair the whole time. It took twenty-two hours.
"First births are like that," Sherlock said before Lestrade shoed him from the room.
John – a doctor who has seen lots and lots of naked and injured bodies – finds that having seen more of Molly than he ever wanted to, makes him a bit uncomfortable. He avoids being in the same room with her for the first few days. But it's okay – Lestrade wears fatherhood well. He takes care of them both – Molly and the infant. And he actually loves Molly. This startles John – he thought maybe they were just together for comforts sake. But they make an adorable family. Takes him a few weeks to realize that they are all a big, adorable family – including him and Sherlock. It's disgusting.
But oddly heartwarming.
Molly names the girl baby Aurora Lenore - Goddess of Dawn and a Disney princess and dark, Victorian poetry. She somehow becomes nicknamed Aura to everyone. Except Sherlock who calls her 'Little Lenny.'
When asked what her last name is, Molly blinks, resettles the sleeping infant against her chest and replies, "I don't see that she needs one. Besides, I can imagine everyone doing their fair share to help raise her and Aurora Lenore Lestrade Hooper Watson Holmes is rather a long name."
"Well, she is English," Lestrade says and laughs.
There are books and papers spread across the edges of the bed. John is being passive aggressive, hoping Sherlock would move them. And he would, if he wasn't so darn tired and the bed wasn't so warm and watching John sleep wasn't so bloody interesting. Especially when combined with the warm bed and his exhaustion.
Even though he is tired, he doesn't sleep. He doesn't want this to slip away. He needs to see this – John, completely relaxed. All the muscles in his face smooth, making him boyishly young. So very young. The gentle rise and fall of his chest, the puckered scar from the deadmen's war (as Sherlock now thinks of it). So… calm. Serenity. He reminds him of the ocean – big and rhythmic, beautiful and perfect. But maybe that's just because he can hear the sea from here.
John turns over in his slumber to face him completely and, almost like a part of him is always aware of Sherlock on some level, sleepily opens one eye then the other then blinks and lets the world shift into focus. He smiles. Lopsided. The same smile he gets when he's sloshed. "Hi," he says.
"Hello," Sherlock whispers. Doesn't like his voice disrupting the dark.
"What are you doing?" John asks.
"Watching you sleep."
"Is it interesting?" John asks, yawning in the middle of the last word and shutting his eyes again.
"Extremely," Sherlock replies and glides across the little space between them, pressing the doctor into his long arms.
"Why?" John asks, but he's already nodding off again.
"Because…" Sherlock says, waits till he feels John's breathing become too rhythmic for consciousness again.
"I feel like we're near the edge of something."
"Will you be okay with her?" Molly asks for the millionth time.
"Yes, yes," John assures her, though the child feels strange and heavy in his arms.
"It's just that," Molly starts, running her fingers over the sleeping infant's face.
"That's it," Lestrade says, approaching her from behind. He scoops her up in one big motion, swinging her over his shoulder.
Molly squeals and little Aurora squirms in her sleep.
"A doctor and a detective, I don't think she's ever been in better care," Sherlock says.
"Hey now, be nice," Lestrade warns, throwing open the passenger door. He drops Molly into the seat and leans in to snog her. Hard.
John clears his throat and turns back to the house. "You think this is a good idea?" he asks Sherlock, his voice just barely a whisper.
"The old world won't keep forever, John. They're welcome to take the last of the petrol and see what they can scrounge up in London. Give them some time alone. Give us some time alone, too," says, then looks thoughtful for a moment. "We should see about getting some horses. You know – as an investment."
"Right. Right. Well, right now, I have a baby in my arms."
Behind them, the car turns down the road and heads out of view.
"Keen observation," Sherlock mocks.
"Sherlock, I'm not going to take care of her alone the whole time they're gone," he says, but Sherlock is already wandering away.
"Sherlock?" he calls after him.
The raven-haired consulting detective doesn't turn around.
"Damn him," John growls and takes baby Aura inside.
It's late. Very late. The witching hour. The house is dark and almost entirely quiet. And cold. The fire has burned out and – John reaches across the smooth sheets – the other occupant of his bed is gone, the blankets thrown back at an angle. That's why he's cold. He looks at the corner of the room where the bassinet has been rolled in. It's empty too. He gets up, shivering a bit, finds his ratty slippers and slinks out of the bedroom. He has to leap over Sherlock's brief history of everything to get out.
It's almost seven hundred pages now. He's still talking about ancient China.
He carefully maneuvers down the stairs, moving close to the wall to avoid the center of the steps that squeak and pauses at the bottom and listened. Listened hard, holding his breath as he did.
A low, calming voice. A soothing voice and the soft sound of pacing. A soothing voice reciting poetry just above a whisper.
John peaks around the corner and is met by a tall man, shirtless beneath his dressing robe, barefoot and bathed in candle light from a dozen candles put up on the mantle, pacing the room carefully with a bundle in his arms.
"His manner is vague and aloof,
You would think there was nobody shyer –
But his voice has been heard on the roof
When he was cured up by the fire."
John grins ear to ear as Sherlock turns on the balls of his feet and stops sharp, noticing the arrival of his lover. "Poetry?" John whispers.
"Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats. I memorized a few once, for a class when I was twelve."
Something inside John's heart swells almost painfully with joy at the knowledge that Sherlock didn't delete this poem as soon as recited for the class.
"It was either Mr. Mistoffelees or Hamlet's 'to be or not to be' which I memorized for that case I had to be a Shakespearean actor. But that seemed a little heavy for someone who is only two months old."
John crosses the room quietly and looks down at the child.
Sherlock's voice is even lower now. "She was fussing and I didn't want to wake you. I think," he touches her face with one long, perfect finger, "I think she likes my voice," he says and positively beams.
John falls in love with him all over again.
"Okay. The pointed part is the trochlea."
The look again.
The good doctor sighs. "The radius and the ulna bones are here and here."
John gives up. "Distal Phalanges. Femur. Medial Malleolus."
Later on, she'll be running up the path from the backyard to the house and fall and scrape her knee but complain to mummy that she hurt her patella.
As Molly wipes away stray tears, John turns to Sherlock. "I swear if I didn't know who you were shagging – I'd think she was yours."
Sherlock gives half a wry smile, secretly flattered.
The world's been over for five years and four-year old Aura is working on being the smartest little girl alive.
He is exhausted. Bone-exhausted. It's harvest season – they're little garden has gotten significantly larger. Half Lestrade's doing, half his own, that is, Sherlock's. And an inquisitive little girl tagged along the whole day, pointing, "What's that? Why are you doing that? What does that do?"
The men happily answering her questions – sometimes with short one-word answers, other times the explanations are longer. Her thirst for knowledge is like nothing he's ever seen before. Including in himself.
John – even though he worked just as hard – is not tired yet. He's lying in the darkness, on his back, one arm thrown across the bed, the other resting on his chest. His thinking is distracting Sherlock's tired mind. His mind that just wants to sleep, for once but it needs John's mind to stop running so fast first.
Finally, after they have lain together completely still for several minutes, John speaks what's on his mind.
"Do you miss him?" he asks.
Sherlock tries hard not to breathe for a moment. "Who?" he asks.
The detective shrugs. "I suppose."
John rolls onto his side, searches Sherlock's face. "You suppose?"
"Mycroft wouldn't approve if I missed him. He had no feelings – thought I was the same."
"So, you didn't show emotion to get his approval?" John asks, suddenly feeling like a shrink.
"I don't know," Sherlock admits.
"But, do you? Miss him?"
"When? Oh. I don't know. Odd moments. Like when I drink out of a brown mug. Or that day we walked on the beach in the rain and neither one of us had an umbrella but neither cared… Just, little moments. Like that," he squirms in the darkness. He's got on nothing but his shorts, and feels incredibly naked all of a sudden, which makes him feel stupid because he often sleeps like this, and also often sleeps entirely nude.
John leans in and presses his lips lightly to Sherlock's. "Thank you," he whispers.
The detective is perplexed. "For what?"
"For giving me that."
"I didn't give you anything."
"You gave me a piece of yourself."
Nine hundred pages even. He's writing about some of the Native American cultures. John can't name them all, but it makes him think of Brave New World in a strange, sad way. The living room is still filled with books. Books he fears Aurora will topple onto herself. But she doesn't. Thank goodness.
Lestrade and Molly have decided to take her on a picnic today. It's nice out. The sun is shining and it's not too hot or to cold. They bid the boys adieu and head out.
As soon as the door shuts behind them, Sherlock snaps up from his work and locks his eyes on John.
He's either going to try to get something out of John or get something into John and the doctor isn't sure which.
"Do you miss Harry?" Sherlock asks, taking him completely by surprise.
"Yes. Your sister."
"I know who Harry is."
"Do you miss her?"
"Why are you asking?"
"I realized after you asked me if I missed Mycroft that social protocol would be to ask you if you missed your sister."
"That's rather…. Humane of you."
"Well, don't be to surprised. So, do you miss her?"
"I do but," John stops. Chews on his lip.
Sherlock's eyebrows come together. "But what?"
"I miss Clara more," he admits.
"Why are you ashamed of that?" Sherlock asks, suddenly fascinated with his display of emotion.
Now it's John's turn to squirm. "Because, Harry was my sister, I should miss her more. We were blood related, but I miss Clara more."
Sherlock nods, logging this away in his hard drive. After a moment, "I don't see that blood means you have to have a strong bond. People make strong bonds with other people they like."
John wants to tell him to shut up. Sherlock knows nothing about people. And now that they are all dead, he doesn't need to know anything about them.
He takes a different route though and says, "You know who I really miss?"
"The Queen?" Sherlock ventures.
"Jokes don't suit you. And it's Mrs Hudson whom I miss."
Sherlock leans back in his chair, steeples his fingers beneath his chin as though he's never thought of this before and nods. "I miss her too, John, very much."
Silence sits over the house a moment. They can hear birds outside. Even the ocean caressing the shore if they strain their ears.
The corner of the detective's lip turns up. "Since they won't be back for a while, want to have loud sex in the kitchen?"
John laughs, turns red all over (even behind his earlobes) stands up and says, "Ever the romantic. Yes. Yes, I do."
John comes downstairs to find Sherlock with a bottle of bright pink paint and several toothpicks. He eyes him suspiciously.
"Uncle Shirley is going to teach me how to find honey!" Aura – eight years old – exclaims.
"How does one do that with a bottle of paint and a toothpick?" John asks.
Sherlock makes a disapproving clicking noise and holds out his hand for Aura to take. "You can either come along and learn or you can stand here and scoff," Sherlock gives him his options.
"I'm all for standing inside and scoffing today," John says.
Sherlock shakes his head and leads Aura outside.
John stands by the window and watches them hunch over a dish of sugar water that Sherlock put out earlier.
Aura has Lestrade's mouth and Molly's nose. And some distant relative of Molly's deep, emerald eyes. She has long dark hair that falls stick straight, and she's skinny and pale and looks very much like she could be Sherlock's biological niece. It makes his heart thunder watching the care in which Sherlock watches her. Dipping a toothpick into the bright pink paint and doting it carefully on the back of a distracted, feasting bee. Aura copies his motions and Sherlock smiles.
Molly has appeared from somewhere and stands beside John watching them. "I still can't believe it," she says.
In the yard, Sherlock is looking at his watch and straightening up, Aura too. They're watching their dotted bees fly away. Sherlock has his hand on her back and he's pointing as the tiny creature floats – going, going, gone.
"I wanted to," Molly says and stops. She's blushing.
John looks at her. "What's wrong?"
She stares out at the garden and starts again. "I wanted to let you know, that if you wanted a kid – I'd do that for you," she finally meets his gaze. "I mean – I'd carry it for you. You and Sherlock."
"What? No. No. I don't… Just. I think," John sputters.
Molly fidgets with her fingers. Touches her left ring finger. It's ringless.
"Did Sherlock put you up to this?"
"No," Molly shakes her head earnestly. "It's just. Look at him," she says and peers back to Aura and the detective in the yard.
John sighs almost all of the breath out of his body and his heart gives out just a little bit. "I don't think it's a good idea, Molly, but you're wonderful for offering."
Sometimes, Sherlock doesn't write in his manifesto for days. Then, he'll binge on it, stay up for three days and knock out fifty pages – easy.
John doesn't sleep well on these nights.
Amazing what several years of sleeping next to all that lank of detective can do to one's psyche – that is, namely, make it hard to sleep alone.
Because, he remembers times when he was so alone and something brought him out of the dark and into the light. That light, though, is sometimes too bright and he almost has to shrink away from it.
He still thinks about the entwives. That this must be how the ents felt when the wives left – empty and powerless. The way he feels when Sherlock doesn't come back to bed.
Mostly, it's the way he feels when he watches Sherlock teaching her – teaching his little Lenny to observe.
("No, you see that but what does it mean?" Sherlock presses her. She's ten years old, standing beside the garden and squinting.
"That a cow was in the garden."
"Yes. That much is simple. Why was a cow in the garden?"
"Because it wasn't in the grazing field?"
"It got loose?"
"Yes. What does that mean?"
"Which means one of the fences must be broken."
"Why did it break?"
"The wind storm?"
"Do you get it now?" Sherlock asks.
Little Lenny nods. Sherlock beams.
John isn't so sure she did get it.)
Because, he can't give him that.
John stares at the wall. The house is six different kinds of quiet. Aura is asleep, so are Molly and Greg. (Lestrade is always Lestrade to John, but when it comes to Aurora – he likes to remember that he has a first name. He likes to think of them as a normal family, the way they were before the world when to hell. As Molly and Greg.)
But Sherlock is up. Downstairs, in the living room with all his books and his manifesto.
Crossing the fourteen hundred-page mark. John's not sure what topic he's currently working on.
He thinks about the albatross. The vagrant albatross, lost in the north Atlantic, so far from home. And Sherlock – all length and limb and power and singularity. That albatross.
His chest feels heavy. He gets up and goes downstairs.
Sherlock has two British history books open and one political science book, sitting next to his knee. He's pouring back over his own notes.
John doesn't say a word, but picks Sherlock's dressing robe (now rather warn out, but still cozy) off the arm of a chair where it'd been strew, crawls into the chair, carefully tucking his knees into his chest and pulls the robe around him.
Sherlock glances up from his own notes and looks at John.
"What's wrong?" he asks.
"Nothing," John says, shaking his head.
Sherlock squints at him harder and he can feel himself being deduced.
"I just can't sleep," John says.
The detective moves across the room without a sound and kneels in front of John. He pulls John's legs off the chair, moves his hands out of the way then carefully rests his head in the good doctor's lap.
John lets his hand come to rest in the ebony curls.
Aura is now eleven and madly into magic stories. John gives her all seven Harry Potter books. She devours them whole and then spends two days pretending to be Hermione, three weeks pretending to be Bellatrix and nearly two months insisting she is Tonks.
Lestrade shakes his head and gives her the Discworld series. She adores Nanny Ogg, wishes she had Rincewind's luggage, has a bit of a crush on Death and spends six weeks pretending to be Mustrum Ridcully.
At the start of this, she had walked into the kitchen and declared herself Ridcully one day. "Because he's really the best," she argued.
Lestrade opened his mouth to suggest that maybe Granny is a better role model for her but Sherlock raises one eyebrow at him, as though he can read his mind. Instead, he pats her on the head and says, "Okay, Archchancellor."
Molly reads her The Lord of the Rings and she declares herself Eowyn.
"Why not Arwin?" Molly asks, brushing the girl's unruly hair out of her face.
"Arwin's a princess. I'm no princess," she explains. "And Eowyn is so tough!"
When he thinks Lestrade and Molly aren't listening, John explains to her that the proper phrase is, "Badass. Eowyn is badass."
Molly catches him though and grounds him. John finds this so funny, he actually plays along, winking at the girl before retreating to his room from the remainder of the day.
Sherlock's manifesto predominates the majority of their bedroom outside of the closet. Books are piled in the corners, his notes are everywhere. Outlines. Ideas. Things he wants to elaborate on. Things he wants to cut back on.
He's nearing two thousand pages, and is currently in a deep, in-depth discussion on the rise and fall of the British Empire. An analysis like no school has ever seen. All information he readily teaches Aura. Who John is now pretty sure has a better education at thirteen then any adult he ever met in the old world.
She can also now deduce like a champ. Nowhere near Sherlock's level, but she'll still tell you what you had for breakfast (even if she watched you eat it, she'll still pick out the signs like she wasn't sitting across the table from you) how much sleep you got and what your favorite flower is.
She knows history like no ones business. Is constantly getting into whatever random experiment Sherlock is up to (like the end of the world would stop his desire to experiment on everything).
Of course, Lestrade teaches her to shoot, to fight, to think on her feet, to talk powerfully, to stay in command, to check corners for intruders, to trust only people proved to be reliable, (and when no one else is around he teaches her how to manipulate people). He teaches her about tells ("looking to the left, that means they're lying," he says, demonstrating), he teaches her about the Beatles and Beethoven, and Mock the Week and Doctor Who ("Things a girl of mine needs to know!"). He teaches her to be self-sufficient, how to plant a garden, how to milk a cow. And, of course, how to be a perfect daddy's girl and bat her eyes on occasion to get what she wants. But not too much.
On the other side, she has John and Molly, who teach her about medicine, about health, nutrition, about love (passionate, companionate, reciprocated and unrequited), teach her about beauty, to appreciate the small things, never to take anything for granted. Teach her about where she came from and all the possibilities of who she can be, even though the world is buried and dead.
John teaches her about a variety of illnesses people can get – from the common cold to Lupus. From HIV to the flu. Especially the flu. Teaches her about vaccines and how the world used to be. He tells her how the world went to hell in such detail that she sulks around the house for a few days. He feels a bit bad about this, but it was all things he'd never gotten out before.
He makes sure to teach her herbal things, things he know will work now in spite of the fact that there is nothing left. And of course, the importance of cleanliness. Because dirt simply festers with disease.
He also teaches her how to sew – both to close wounds and mend clothes. Important skills.
Molly teaches her about the body, she teaches her family history, teaches her to believe in a higher power and to never give up. Teaches her perseverance and an inner strength.
She leaves out an important detail though.
They can hear the scream through the entire house. The blood-curdling-someone-must-be-dying, quiet frankly, horror movie scream that echoes down the stairs.
Of course, Lestrade is the first one up the stairs, grabbing the poker from the fireplace as he went, followed on his heals by Sherlock and Molly, John coming up the rear (damn his leg).
Lestrade bursts into the room to find her shaking and saying that something's wrong, something is wrong. Once they establish there is no intruder, Molly closes the door on John and Sherlock, assuring them that if something is seriously wrong, she'll bring the girl to John.
John and Sherlock exchange bewilderment and return to the downstairs and wait.
Lestrade is down a moment later, shaking his head, holding in laughter.
"What's the matter?" John asks.
"I think I'll let Molly tell you," he says and returns to the garden.
Several hours later, Molly descends the stairs, turns bright red and hides her face.
"What is the matter?" Sherlock asks now.
She mumbles something into her hands.
"What was that?" Sherlock asks and pries one of her hands off her face.
Lowly, slowly. "She's thirteen. I forgot to tell her what happens to young women…"
John can only blink. Oh. Oh.
For a while, life returns to normal.
The next day, they are all, once again preparing a meal together in the kitchen and John has a longhaired, wide-eyed thirteen year old girl standing across the kitchen counter with her head cocked to one side staring at him.
"I think I missed something," she said.
John looks up. "In regards to what?"
"You're as blunt as Sherlock," John mutters.
"Mum said it was between a man and a woman, but you and Uncle Shirley share a room?"
Molly turns several shades of crimson again. "I just. Sorry," she eyes Sherlock, "Do you mind?"
Sherlock smiles but John can feel himself getting embarrassed and not wanting to show it. "Please," Sherlock says.
And Molly ushers the girl off again.
"This is getting out of hand. You gave her curiosity, the lot of you," John says to Lestrade and Sherlock, waving his hand vaguely.
"You answered her questions too."
At dinner, Aura – who's ability to judge socially appropriate topics is about on level with Sherlock's ability – turns to John and asks, "Does it hurt?"
Sherlock's never seen anyone do a spit-take before.
Sixteen summers, sixteen winters. Sixteen springs and sixteen autumns and sixteen half-arsed Christmases. Sixteen, long, incredibly short years.
John actually has to lean against the wall outside his bedroom. His legs ache. Outside, the snow has fallen heavy and it's cold. He can't believe it. It's been that long.
Aurora Lenore is fifteen years old, looks just like her mother, just like her father, and sometimes, when the light catches her right, a bit like Sherlock. But John is just biased to the detective and she's been around him so much that she's picked up a lot of his habits.
He has no idea the detective feels the same way in regards to the good doctor and the little girl. That sometimes she licks her lips just like him, and walks with the same strange determination he does. All the time, everywhere.
When John releases the wall and opens the door, he doesn't anticipate what he finds. Sherlock sitting on the floor, leaning against the bed, his eyes closed, arms crossed and laying in his lap like he'd lost the ability to move them.
"Sherlock?" John says, moving to sit next to him.
"The whimper," Sherlock's voice is so deep, it reverberates through John's chest cavity.
John takes his arm. His skin is freezing, cold to the touch. "Sherlock?" John says, worried, putting his arms around the man and pulling him in tight to his chest. That's when Sherlock begins to shiver. He's barefoot – his long toes almost blue against the floor. "Sherlock, what's wrong?" he tries again.
"This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a whimper." Sherlock offers up, like a dying breath.
"I don't. Sherlock. You're alright," and John's pulling him up onto the bed by his shoulders. The man is barely cooperating. "You idiot," he groans, pulls harder and manages to get the man into bed and covers him hastily in blankets. His touching his face, looking into his icy eyes. "Sherlock, what did you take?" he asks.
The detective just shivers. "A whimper, John. When it all ended, the world. A whimper," he says.
"Sherlock," John warns and presses a palm to the sleuth's face. But there's no fever. No illness. No medication. No intoxication. Just Sherlock being Sherlock.
Sherlock suddenly seizes him in his strong grasp, pushing his chilly hands up John's shirt and laying them against the doctor's back.
John gasps at the cold intrusion but doesn't say anything. Sherlock's shaking all over.
"How did we get old so fast?" he asks John, now burying his face in John's chest, pushing his legs against the other man, as though he longed to be absorbed into John via osmosis. "There's nothing left," he gasps.
John has no idea what's going on, and all he can do is hold that shaking figure to his body, running his hands through Sherlock's hair and patting his back and assuring him that it will be okay.
But in that wintry stillness, swaddled by the shadows of their bedroom, surrounded by the books Sherlock scavenged from civilization, he feels like a ghost trapped in some hazy in-between with the future looming above them as a great, grim unknown and the past six feet under, dead and buried, and he's not so sure that anything is okay, or will be okay.
In the morning, it's as though the detective has recalibrated his mind and shows no sign of emotional distress. Instead he explaining calculus to Aurora. Pages scrawled across the kitchen counter with symbols John hasn't seen since before medical school. Things he couldn't remember how to do if his life depended upon it. It's barely ten in the morning and he doesn't even remember Sherlock leaving his bed, which bothers him a bit, and they are clearly several hours into the lesson.
John leaves student and scholar alone and joins Lestrade in the garden.
"Ever think about it? How long it's been? Just the flu, too. God," Lestrade says. He's tan from so many days outside.
"Why is everyone talking about it?"
Molly comes up the walk with a basket of eggs. "About what?"
"The end," John clarifies.
"Because we left London sixteen years ago today," Molly says.
"I don't remember the date. Hell, I don't know what the date is today. Or what day of the week it is, for that matter." He sits down heavily and puts his face in his hands.
"John? You alright?" Molly asks, kneeling beside him.
How did time escape them so quickly?
Since the writing of his manifesto was sporadic at best, it takes John almost four months to notice that Sherlock has stopped writing it.
That the books are all neatly stacked along one living room wall – almost floor to ceiling in neat rows, and Sherlock's manifesto (2347 pages long) sits, coded in a layer of dust, on the dresser in their room. Untouched.
John has to climb out a second story window to where Sherlock is sitting on the roof, his head thrown back staring at the galaxy. John swallows hard, staring at his long, exposed pale neck and has to resist the urge to go over and bit it and fuck him hard under the stars. But he wants to know so he can't cave to a primal urge just yet.
He sits down next to him. Almost asks what he's up to and thinks better of it. Probably mapping constellations or… who knows what. The man doesn't even know the Earth goes around the sun. Instead, he also stares up and feels when Sherlock takes his hand, looks down at their hands interlocked – an age spot starting to show up on his hands, Sherlock's looking slightly weathered, just every so slightly though. John is grateful for a moment. His genius isn't aging too fast, yet.
A long silence. Then he asks.
"Why have you given up on your manifesto?"
"I haven't," Sherlock replies, flatly, still staring at the sky.
"You haven't touched it in months. Are you missing a source?" John asks.
"No. That's not it at all. I have decided to change the format."
John rests his tongue on the inside of his teeth for a moment, squinting at Sherlock in confusion, then licks his lips and asks, "Changed the format?"
"Yes," Sherlock says.
"The written word will fall away as society rebuilds. It'll take humanity a long time to get back to wanting books again, by then it'll probably have withered away."
"So you're going to scratch it in rock like an ancient Egyptian?"
"No. I've changed the format to Lenny; I've decided to teach her everything. In the hopes that she will, in turn, teach her children everything. That she'll eventually leave this little house and go off into the world and meet other people and, well. I have high hopes for her. But her education is my new format."
"She's going to leave?" John asks, taking this as surprise. It shouldn't be. Of course she'd want to go off. Besides, the four of them weren't going to live forever.
Sherlock lays back on the roof and tugs John down until his head is on the genius's chest. "There are just old men dying here. Why shouldn't she leave? Meet people. Have her own family."
It's like being stabbed. Old men dying here. John clings to Sherlock's shirt, to his body, listens to his heartbeat. Counts it like he did that day on the beach.
Thinks about the vagrant albatross. They're all vagrant birds, lost at sea - alone over the water.
And Lenny, breaking off, drifting away from them…
"Sherlock," John gasps.
Sherlock lays his hand in the good doctor's hair. "Yes?"
"I hoped it would be grander than this."
"What would be?"
"Life. You made it so grand. So big. Like I was always on the edge of something huge… And this. The whimper. It's like we died with them, all those years ago. And I wish, I wish." He gets quiet.
"I could've given you that."
"A child. So you could have a piece of yourself going on into the world. Not just a bunch of information, not just someone you taught, but someone who was descendent, someone like you. A part of you. I wish I could give you that."
"I know, I know…"
"Well," Sherlock, attempting humor, suggests, "Might not be a good idea to have a little me running around."
But he's crying.
"I prefer Lenny, actually," Aura announces in the middle of a late-winter afternoon. She's eighteen and taller than Molly, but still looks a bit like her – mousy nose and face though her eyes are a brilliant, dark green, her long hair is almost black, falls to her waist and she carries herself like Lestrade but walks like John. She smiles often, laughs much and never takes anything for granted. And, though not as proficient as Sherlock, she can read all the little details of everything like a fucking map. Part Eowyn, part Tonks, part Ridcully, part gothic poetry, part Elizabeth Bennet, part Hermione, part Lord Nelson - all Aurora Lenore Lestrade Hooper Watson Holmes, aka, Lenny.
And then she chews on her lip and tells them. "I want to go."
It's Lestrade – the perfect father he wasn't always – who looks up with his heart sinking fast, to ask first, "Go where?"
"Off. On my own. Into the world. To meet others. To see things. Experience things."
This day that Sherlock predicted and John swallows hard and, like a shadow that knows his every emotion, Sherlock is resting his hand on John's thigh under the table and then grabs two of his fingers reassuringly. They'll be alright.
"Okay," It's Molly who agrees. "She's eighteen. All grown up. And between the three of you – we know she knows enough," Molly assures them, then smiles and kisses her daughter on the temple.
For a moment, John's mind pictures them in a simpler time with Molly kissing her at graduation or just before a dance or first date… Something, easier.
If anything, when it comes to letting go of a little girl, is easy.
So Lenny packs clothes and supplies while the rest of them carefully pack up their hearts.
Lenny's got her bag full of supplies. (Sherlock and Molly both went through it approvingly.) Lestrade's cleaned a gun for her and loaded her down with enough ammo to take out a small army. Makes him feel comfortable. John puts together a first aid kit for her. Just in case.
Her long hair is braided into one, long cord that falls down her right shoulder and she smiles. She starts, surprisingly, with John, pulls him into an embrace and kisses his cheek. "I love you, John. Thanks for everything," she says.
Then to Uncle Shirley, who has put on his cold, distance face, emotionless. She hugs him, tight, then squeezes one of his hands. "Thank you. For being such a great teacher."
"I have something for you," Sherlock says, still not hinting at anything but constrained detachment in his eyes. Goes to the kitchen and returns with…
His coat. The coat that John feels as though he spent the best part of his life chasing after, chasing behind, always looking for. The coat he was constantly watching sink into the distance – too far to touch.
Sherlock drapes it over her. "It's a bit warn, but it's still warm."
She thanks him again and hugs him tighter.
For a moment – John isn't sure what' he's sadder to see go. Lenny or Sherlock's coat, for all it symbolizes in his heart.
She steps outside to say goodbye to Molly and Lestrade. Clings to Lestrade for a long time and John can see he's trying not to cry.
Molly, however, cries anyways.
Sherlock puts his arm around the doctor's waist and pulls him flush to his side but doesn't speak. They stand before the window and watch Lenny walk away form the house till they can't see her anymore. Till Sherlock's coat fades from view. Lestrade and Molly stand out there for a long time, too.
All is quiet and John can hardly believe it.
The world's been over for nineteen years and now – Aura – their little Lenny is all grown up (she can throw a right hook like no one's business and stitch up her own wounds if she has to, she can forage for her own food and quote Shakespeare) and going out to explore that great big world alone. Or, at least, explore England and Wales and Scotland. They hope she'll at least stay on the island.
"John, take me upstairs," Sherlock demands sharply.
Molly and Lestrade are still on the front porch. John grabs him by his right hand and drags him out of the foyer and up the stairs, down the hall and into their bedroom. Without needing to be told or asked, John knocks the tall man onto the bed and undoes his shirt.
Not sure if this is the appropriate reaction to fear and loss, but it's the one he's going to take regardless. He kisses Sherlock's pale chest – looking at where the muscle used to be perfect and taunt. Now in his fifties, it's still perfect but a little relaxed. All that wild honey, John thinks and delves into Sherlock. Knots his hands into the now salt-and-pepper locks of his lover's head, kisses him all over to heat them both with a fire beyond purely body heat. A fire of love and loss and need and passion and remembrance and forgetting. A desire to be made whole, like all his life he has been one half of something and it took him so long – too long – to realize he that he's half of Sherlock.
But all that great man – now writhing beneath him – makes him think that maybe he's not half of Sherlock. But a quarter of Sherlock – or maybe something even smaller, a sixteenth of him. One ninety-seventh of him. A molecule. An atom. A mere vibration off his body.
A tiny part of him, but part of him, nonetheless. That he is nothing, no one (nothing ever happens to me John Watson) without him. And is that way every day. Has always been that way. Will always be that way.
Like he's always at the bottom of the stairwell in 221b looking up, looking up and listening and holding his breath and waiting, while the world was burning (whimpering) and then leaping up the stairs with his heart in his hands – leaving blood streaked in a stream behind him, back towards the street. To open the door and find him with his violin, not feverish, still alive. Back from the grave, up off the pavement outside of Bart's - his head not caved in and his wrists no longer limp with death.
Every day while the world was ending, he wanted to come in and when he found him like that – sitting in his chair with his violin – wanted to lay his hand on the detective's forehead and feel that it was still the perfect human temperature, then tilt his face back and kiss the pulse in his neck and kiss his lips and then kiss the rest of him in gratitude and necessity, but he didn't.
Because he was a coward. Every single one of those days – so much fear. Fear he knew he should expend upon himself, the world, the others: Harry, Mycroft, Mrs Hudson, Stanford. So many people, all gone and buried. But all of it – every last bit of it, every last inch of himself – was spent wondering what he would find when he finally reached the landing in front of their sitting room door in that flat on Baker Street, poised to open the door and discover - that Sherlock would be there, and be alive. Or the dark, ever present terror that he wouldn't be.
That his whole life – growing up, medical school, the war in the East – all of it was just a long, tedious journey home. Home to find a larger piece of himself that he fit inside of.
Home to Sherlock Holmes.
Maybe that's why the mourning wasn't as bad as it should have been. That he didn't cry over Harry and hardly over anyone else at all. Because it was relief. A sigh of relief when Sherlock pulled him out of the closet in the surgery, relief when he brought him out to the sea, and so much, almost overwhelming, relief when Sherlock kissed him like he was worthy. That all of that was Sherlock bringing him home. Home to this. To them.
Relief that he hadn't died. Not from the flu, not from so many races in the dark, not on the pavement in front of Bart's.
And no, he couldn't give Sherlock a child, or any hope of any future – especially now that everything had gone to hell – but he could give Sherlock this.
Him. All of him.
He gasps as something hot is pushed up inside him and clings to those slender hips and tells him what he's meant to tell him all along – something he discovered when they were crouched over a dead woman dressed in pink – "I need you."
And then he clarifies, "All of you."
Sherlock just groans his name and buries his face in John's neck and John can feel him sobbing and single warm tear dropping on his neck.
So, he didn't cry when Mycroft died or when Mrs Hudson died but when little Lenny left – he sobbed one tear into John's throat.
John just holds him, and lets him rock into him – sometimes soft, sometimes fast and hard – until he stills, above him, gasping the doctors name then biting his lip – the face he used to think he'd never see (back when they were stranded in 221b) – but now he knows so well it makes his knees go weak with gratitude to think about it.
Sherlock eventually comes down and curls around John like a half moon in their bed and lays his hand flat on the doctor's chest.
And he – that is, John – wants to know if he needs him like he needs Sherlock. Wants to know if the end was like that for him – all that breath holding till he was blue, waiting for something he couldn't lay fists against to take down the only thing that mattered to him. Wants to know if this (he puts his hand on top of Sherlock's), is just a symptom of the end of the world and not an ultimatum of their two fates. Would this happen if the world hadn't been packed so neatly into a hand basket and sent south?
But he doesn't ask.
Because of that lean-to burned on the beach.
"Yes." The baritone voice shatters the silence.
John turns from staring at the ceiling to look at Sherlock, whose gray eyes are piercing a hole into his being.
"I didn't say anything."
"I know. But the answer is yes."
The man in question pulls John so close it almost hurts. "Yes. Yes. Yes," he says, and then he's up and out of bed and rifling through his bottom drawer in their dresser.
John sits up and his rubbing at his face. "Sherlock, I am so confused. Again," he adds under his breath.
Sherlock climbs back into bed with something in his hands and lays it down in front of John like an offering.
John looks at it and swears he can feel everything, all at once – every moment he ever had with Sherlock, all the adrenalin they ever had, every heart-stopping time he thought the other man had died, all the heartache of his tombstone, the excitement of their first kiss, all the adoration he had watching him teach Lenny – all of it at once.
It's a board. A worn out board, a piece of driftwood, a remnant of another life. On it, in perfect script, it says, Ophelia.
Pulled from their lean-to; their private world.
John chokes for a moment and then gets his breath back.
"Maybe," Sherlock says, wrings his hands.
John focuses on him – hard.
"I need you," Sherlock confesses.
(In his novel, "Lisey's Story," Stephen King asserts that, "Inspiration is like love – you get as much as you give." I wholeheartedly agree with this statement and so this story is riddled with homage to other authors in the fandom (Atlin Merrick, Mirith Griffin, Cathedral Carver) as well as T.S. Eliot (the whimper), Andrea Gibson (maybe I need you), J.K. Rowling, Terry Pratchett (author of the Discworld series which I highly recommend). J.R.R. Tolkein, Shakespeare, and the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner (And by proxy, Firefly, in my opinion). And of course, Stephen King – who wrote my favorite short story, "Night Surf"(which you can find in his collection, "Night Shift,"). It details a group of young adults surviving at the end of the world (one lives in a lean-to on the beach) and I wanted to write this story modeled after "Night Surf" but with our boys surviving the deadly flu. Thank you for reading.)