A/N: Thanks to GhostTari, Vaden28, Raven Banesidhe for joining the party!
As promised and warned this is the last chapter. This has been such a wonderful experience! Thanks!
Last time – for Steve.
When John was younger, in the quiet moments before bed, his mother would read to him and his sister, everything and anything. Tales of knights and pirates, tales from around the world, fairy tales. But out of all the countless forgotten stories, there was one that he remembered, one he held onto in the silent spaces between waking and dreaming. One he carried in his heart.
The story was about an old man and an old woman who had been married forever. One of the gods, Zeus, he thought, or maybe Hera, or maybe both, decided to visit them and test their faith, their faith to the gods and to each other. The couple welcomed the god into their home, honoured the stranger by offering to share their meager meal and blessed the god. As the god left he or she revealed themselves and in the face of their love and devotion for each other and for the gods, they were granted a favour. The old couple asked that they die together. They loved each other too much to ever be separated. They lived out their days in peace and adoration and one day while walking hand in hand, at the same exact moment, they were both turned into trees, growing by the side of the road. Branches entwined as their fingers had been, still holding on to one another.
This story stayed with John because it was purely about the love the two had for each other. It was something he thought about when looking for a relationship in later years. Is this the person I would want to ask the gods to be with to the end of my days? Do I love them enough to want to die with them?
Up until the moment he began the best part of his relationship with Sherlock, the answer would have been No or Maybe. When he fell hard and landed at Sherlock's feet, the answer was a Yes, without limits or hesitation. Even if that story wasn't at the forefront of his mind, he knew that Sherlock was the one. The one he'd give up everything for and be with forever.
Life doesn't happen that way as much as you might wish, as much as you promise, as much as you beg when your partner lays dying or dead.
Sherlock died on a beautiful fall day. Walking back from his bees, checking to make sure all was well before winter. John was watching for him out of the kitchen window. They were both moving a little slower these days, they were both full of the aches and pains and reminders of a harsher life. They were both still madly in love. And in spite of age or limitation and the fact that lust was slower to kindle, they still worshipped each other in every way.
When he didn't return at his usual time, John, feeling his heart constrict, walked in the direction Sherlock was sure to be.
He found him.
Lying there. Peacefully. Looking as if he had just stopped, sat down against a tree and fell asleep.
Heart attack most likely.
John's neighbour found them both, Sherlock dead, John with his arms wrapped around him, silent tears tracking down his face, while he quietly begged him not to go, not to leave him again, to disappear some place he couldn't follow. The neighbour phoned around, took care of things for him, called Molly and she came with her daughter. With Greg, having passed a few years back, Molly was the best possible person for John to be with right now, as she had faced the loneliness and heartbreak that was John's lot for a second time. But there would be no miracle.
Arrangements were made, a memorial held, Sherlock's ashes scattered near his beloved bees. Life returned to those who were living, friends drifted away and except for weekly calls from Molly, John was left alone, with grief so palpable he could have painted with it.
Alone and idling sadly through his life once more.
He sat the last night, dozing in his chair. He was thinner. All of his hair grey; no glimmers of blond wisps had been seen for some time. His heart was heavy and his sleep troubled and it was much more difficult to care than it had been before.
He awoke to the sound of a log as it shifted in the fire. He remembered all over again, the continuous shaft of pain pierced his heart.
He sat back, sighed and rubbed a tired hand over his face.
He silently pleaded to the gods to let him go.
Eyes closed, beginning to doze again when he heard another, different, heartrending, cherished sound.
His voice. Deep, rich, with the taste of chocolate and smoke.
He looked up.
There was a faint sparkle; a flicker of light reflected from somewhere, playing on Sherlock's chair. He frowned but really he couldn't be bothered with it, didn't want to figure out the reason why he was hallucinating.
He drifted again.
More insistent this time.
That old familiar impatience from their early days.
John looked around the room, puzzled.
A heavy sigh from the direction of the chair.
John, do keep up! In that manner John loved and hated in equal measure.
The 'John, why do I put up with idiots?' voice.
Except you, John came the voice, as clear as if Sherlock were in the room. You were always the light to my shadow.
John narrowed his eyes and looked, really looked, between the layers of dust and time at the flicker.
And his heart stammered and his breath caught.
For there he was, half crouched on his chair, hair dark, white shirt, tight across his chest, sleeves rolled up and that shit eating, goddamn, cocky grin of his. That grin full of 'I am so much smarter than the rest you'.
But his eyes full of love and warmth and laughter.
All directed at John, to John, through John, illuminating his very soul.
Sorry I had to leave ahead of you. Pressing matters to attend to, but if you're ready?
And he held out his hand to his John.
His John. Always and forever more. Completely and Absolutely.
And John grabbed it, fingers entwined like the branches of two trees standing side by side on the road.
At first it was if a great weight held him down, a crushing weight that began to dissipate the longer Sherlock looked at him. And then he sensed the tethers holding him here snap and he felt lighter, younger.
Have you caught your breath? he asked.
And John smiled that wild, devil may care smile and he felt a giggle boiling up in his chest. Ready when you are.
He half glanced around as if he'd left something behind, but there was nothing, nothing better or more perfect than Sherlock. And then with Sherlock eternally leading the way, the two of them stepped between time and out of memory and into the infinity of space. They faded into starlight, the dust remaining, as eloquent as it ever was.