In the End

Disclaimer: Sherlock and its characters are the property of the BBC and the hive mind of The Almighty Moftiss. No infringement intended.

Unbeta'd (I should really see about finding one... any volunteers? *cough*). All mistakes are my own.

The universe began violently, but beautifully. And from its violent beginnings, our tiny sun and its planets formed; the products of previous, countless stars' births, lives, and deaths.

The Earth was one such planet built on star dust. And while it was not the first, nor the last, to play host to billions upon billions of heartbeats over its millennia of years, that didn't make the planet's story any less of a wonder.

The unfortunate reality was, however, that when the Earth died suddenly, there were billions of heartbeats that came to an abrupt end with it. And when they learned what was to come with only days to spare, many did not accept it with quiet grace or even grim determination.

Fear, horror, dismay, violence, and denial all had a part in the human experience in those last few days of Earth.

But amidst that heartbreak and confusion, there were still moments of beauty. There were still smiles, and there was still love.

And while each life was touched by both the good and the bad, in the end, this story is only about love.

When Dylan Thomas wrote that one should not "go gentle into that goodnight," he was probably not facing sudden, unexpected death. He likely meant it in a 'don't just curl up in a ball and whimper when the going gets tough' kind of way.

But telling people to "rage against the dying of the light" was sort of ill advised, poetic as his words were.

Molly Hooper had time to ponder this as she lay in her bed, listening to the sounds filtering in through her flat's thin walls and windows. Breaking glass, car alarms, and yells all meshed into a cacophony of confusion and despair.

The rioting in the streets of London, and, reportedly, the world over, was only getting worse each night.

So, while Molly empathized with every person who had just learned six days ago that his or her life was going to be snuffed out in a matter of seconds, she did find herself blaming Dylan Thomas just a little bit for the upheaval outside.

And she was choosing to attribute her wakefulness to the sounds of violence and confusion.

Certainly, it wasn't her own thoughts.

Molly had never feared the end of her life. A pathologist afraid of death would probably be an awkward mix.

She didn't want to die painfully, of course. She would have much preferred to go in her sleep at the ripe, old age of eighty-five, surrounded by family. Family, who would be sad that they now only had her memory, but not sad by how her life had come to a close. But those cards were effectively off the table, now.

She didn't believe in any sort of afterlife or anything, though it would be lovely if she were wrong on that front.

Molly did have regrets. Of course she did. She was human. She considered herself a whole person without a significant other, but, of course, she had wanted to passionately love and be passionately loved by someone. And now that wouldn't happen.

But that was a regret she was going to do her damnedest not to dwell on.

And she definitely wasn't going to transfer those feelings of regret into pleading despair or acts of violence, vigilantism, or even civil disobedience.

Instead, she was going to continue to go to work for as long as possible and do her job quietly, efficiently, and as well as she'd always done it.

Hopefully the rioters wouldn't burn down the hospital.

Yes, the rioters and the noise and nothing else were to blame for her still being awake two hours before her alarm was set to go off.

The rioters.

The noise.

Not her loneliness.

Sirens bled in with the rest of the tumult and Molly Hooper lay alone and watched the shadows move across her ceiling.

Someone Molly knew quite well was also awake in those early hours of the morning.

A few miles away, in 221b Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes sat in his favorite armchair in the flat's silent sitting room. He stared at the wallpaper over to his right side, picking out subtle imperfections in the fleur de lis print.

His face bore no signs of tiredness. His suit was as crisp as if it had just been pressed, and his alert posture was more fitting for afternoon teatime, not the dark of four-thirty in the morning.

But even though his expression did not betray it, he was feeling a bit… troubled.

Sherlock had never spent much time worrying about his own mortality, save for the Moriarty Incident three years ago. Even then, he had figured out that Moriarty meant for him to die long before their final confrontation, so he'd had plenty of time to figure out a viable alternative.

While his time away from his friends had felt a bit like a death of sorts, he had always had the knowledge that, if he didn't actually die in the process, he would be reunited with them eventually.

Now, he knew his death was imminent.

He wasn't too concerned about the actual event. There was nothing anyone could do to stop it, so there was really no use thinking too much on it. Hopefully it would all be rather quick.

But the minute the news had come that the world was ending, everyone Sherlock knew became immersed in his or her own families.

Sherlock and John were fresh from a case, sharing a taxi from New Scotland Yard when they heard the bulletin on the radio. Sherlock remembered now that it had been an unseasonably sunny day, the sky blue and cheerful as they heard the news.

John asked the driver to stop the car and numbly said he was going home to his wife, Mary. He had not been in touch since. Sherlock knew he'd hear from his friend again, but the initial shock had seemingly not worn off yet.

Mrs. Hudson had gone to Cornwall to be with her sister and other, extended family.

She had wept as she said goodbye to Sherlock, kissed his cheek, told him she loved, him, and then assured him not to worry about rent.

His oft-absent filter switched on, and he didn't say aloud that that was obvious, as it was due the day after the impending apocalypse. And if he was honest, that thought hadn't occurred to him at the time of their goodbye, either.

He had watched her taxi drive away and felt nothing but bereft, even though she was only going a couple of hundred miles away.

For the time being.

Lestrade, too, had left town. He had fretted about leaving his job. Ever the dutiful policeman, he felt he was abandoning his post. But his wife, with whom he'd hastened to reconcile upon hearing the news, was from Newcastle, and her parents still lived there.

Sherlock recognized how death might bring about a certain vulnerability in most people. But as a man with no lover and a familial relationship that could not be described by anyone as "close," he had no reason to feel so himself.

So why was he so unsettled?

He cared for his mother.

The same for Mrs. Hudson.

Lestrade had become a genuine friend in the years that they had known each other, much as the Detective Inspector might want to coldcock Sherlock on a regular basis.

Mycroft, when he wasn't being too obnoxious, certainly understood Sherlock better than a lot of people.

And John's and Sherlock's relationship was far more of a fraternal one than that of Sherlock's and Mycroft's.

But as he watched all of them turn to their other loved ones now that the end had come, he didn't necessarily feel the acceptance he might have imagined he would.

Sherlock had once commented to John, while the latter forced him to watch some ghastly apocalyptic action film, that he didn't want to be one of the few survivors such stories always cheered on after their plot-devised disasters. Having to fight for a world that would likely not be sustainable for hundreds of years, if ever, just sounded exhausting and needlessly dangerous.

And he wouldn't wish that on any of his friends, either.

Now that he wasn't just imagining it, he supposed he still agreed with that assertion, for the most part.

But there was just something that was keeping him from feeling, well, peaceful—for lack of a better word—about it.

He wasn't going to start railing against the fates for all of his unfinished business, or anything half as dramatic.

But he did feel like something was threatening to go unfinished.

If only he could identify what it was.

Sherlock Holmes listened to the silence around him with nothing but his teeming mind for company.

John Watson hadn't had any plans to resurface today. Or maybe even the next day, or the day after that.

He was still getting by in a bit of a trance, and hadn't planned to leave his Mary's side until that initial shock had passed. As it was, he'd only emerged from his self-imposed absence because of a phone call from Mike Stamford.

Unable to reach Sherlock on his mobile, he'd had little other choice.

And so, armed with his gun in case any rioting hoards turned violent, John made his way to Baker Street. Fortunately, the unrest had calmed down in the daylight hours. It would likely flare up again as the sun set.

John had convinced himself that Sherlock would probably be holed up with his mother and brother by now, certainly not all by himself.

It was with a stab of guilt that he found his friend in his empty flat, alone.

He chose to ignore the fact that it had been the first place he'd even tried looking.

John stood in the doorway to the sitting room, looking at his friend. Sherlock had not yet acknowledged him, and John wasn't sure if the other man was even aware he had company.

To an outsider, it would appear that Sherlock was just deep in thought about a case or something equally pedestrian. He bore the expressionless face that he often wore when visiting his "mind palace". But it was doubtful that he had many people coming to him with cases now.

As the person who probably knew Sherlock better than anyone else, John already could tell that Sherlock's stillness was not the result of a mystery or puzzle. Or at lease mysteries and puzzles that concerned a crime.

No, this type of stillness was far different.

He looked lonely.

And not just the loneliness that Sherlock usually carried with him. Because he did. He might deny it vehemently, but John knew that Sherlock Holmes was one of the loneliest people he'd ever met.

But this loneliness was different. If John were a fanciful man, he might say it was rather animal in its nature.

Like a feral dog that had been hit by a lorry and left to die on the side of the road, Sherlock probably didn't know why he was in pain or what was causing it. He might not even realize that he was miserable.

But John could tell. He knew why Sherlock was despondent, too. He was the one who had left Sherlock alone for a week to try to process this onslaught of mortality.

John felt a rush of anger with himself and with everyone else who normally spent any time with the man. They had all gotten it in their heads that Sherlock was self-reliant to the point of voluntary hermitage.

And that conviction had enabled John to leave his friend in sitting in that taxi without a second glance as the words of the radio bulletin petered into silence while cries of dismay started to sound.

John couldn't bear to see that expression on Sherlock's face for another moment, so he cleared his throat to announce his presence.

Sherlock hardly even started. He blinked. Once. Twice. And then he turned his head a fraction to look at his friend standing in the doorway.

"John," he murmured. He couldn't think of anything else to say.

"Sherlock. I… How are you?"

Sherlock looked down and stared at his steepled fingers. He actually looked like he wasn't sure how to respond.

But he managed to do so.

"I've just been spending time with my thoughts, as they say. You've left Mary for a reason, I gather. I wouldn't want to keep you from her. What is the matter?"

It was a rather surprising display of empathy, coming from Sherlock, but John suspected a large part of it was a defense mechanism on his friend's part.

Sherlock seemed to realize that John had caught him in a vulnerable moment and was trying to regroup.

I'll let you have your way, for now, John thought to himself.

"Erm… yeah, I've just had a call from Mike Stamford. He's been trying to reach you for the better part of three days now. It's about Molly."

Sherlock and the pathologist from St. Bart's had grown quite close in recent years. This was unsurprising when John learned just how much Sherlock had trusted and relied on Molly's help when he faked his death and overthrew Moriarty's network.

Of course that closeness was all relative—Sherlock would have never been the type to go out and get a pint with his mate, Molly—but he was gentler with her now.

Gentler with Molly than he was with anyone else, in fact.

So gentle that John had sometimes wondered if Sherlock…

He shook his head as he thought on it, feeling a twinge of grief. Even if it was something that might have been, now it would never be and there was no use wondering about it.

The mention of Molly did succeed in getting his friend's attention, however.

"Molly? What of her?"

"Mike is worried about her. The hospital staff is trying to get by with a skeleton crew. It's been a struggle to find people willing work. And those who are working aren't really exhibiting the same drive as before, obviously."

John moved further into the room, once again taking his old armchair before he continued.

"But Molly's the opposite. She hardly ever leaves. Stamford doesn't think she's been sleeping or eating at all. He's tried to tell her that it's probably not crucial that she gather samples and send them away for toxicology tests when the results will never be tabulated. But she's insisting that she follow the normal operating procedure.

"I understand that she's wanting to keep her mind off of things, but I'm worried for her, too, after what Stamford told me. Why isn't she spending any time with family?"

"She doesn't have any family. She's the only child of two, sibling-free parents who are now both deceased," Sherlock explained, looking a bit taken aback to be the one informing John about a friend's personal history.

John blinked at Sherlock before getting back tot the matter at hand.

"Poor Molly…. Well, whatever the case, she's working herself to death—well, a more miserable death—and Stamford was wondering if we could go try to convince her to take better care of herself or something. He's been unsuccessful so far, and wanted us to have a go."

Sherlock resumed his staring contest with his fingers. He was quiet for a moment, as if he was weighing each word.

"I'm not sure I'd be the best person for this. When have I ever offered anyone any sort of comfort? A few words from me and she'll climb into one of the cadaver drawers just to be done with it all."

To an extent, John normally would have agreed. But Sherlock sounded genuinely distraught at this thought. Like he was actually worried that he'd do more harm than good.

"Sherlock, the fact that you're conscious of it makes me think that won't happen. It sounds like Molly is hurting and alone. If nothing else, she deserves to know that we care."

The Sherlock of five years ago would have chafed at the flurry of sentiment they were bandying about, but he'd returned from the dead a changed man.

And the oncoming end of the world apparently had provided another step in his personal evolution.

He glanced up at John and gave a grim nod, and then stood and made his way over to his coat.

He paused and then turned back to his friend.

"It's good to see you, John."

The surprises kept coming, and John had felt the burning pressure of unshed tears over the last several days as it was.

So he blinked his eyes several times and he replied, "You, too, Sherlock."

The two friends left the flat and made their way to Molly Hooper.

The world had eleven days.

Note: I couldn't decide whether to post this as a one-shot or in installments, since it looks like it's going to be bloody long and I'm nowhere near finished. So this is a litmus of sorts to see if I should continue at all.

I decided not to explain what will cause the end of the world. Scientists typically believe there isn't going to be some mass-extinction, planet-exploding event while humans are alive (or ever, until the sun expands and sucks the Earth in with its gravitational pull). So using "artistic license" (read: inability to commit), I am leaving it vague.

The film Seeking a Friend for the End of the World gave me the idea for this story. I really recommend everyone watch it. While it is, on the surface, maybe a distressing subject, I think it is one of the loveliest movies I've ever seen, and I wanted to model this fic after that; and that's why I didn't classify it as angst.

As ever, I truly appreciate any feedback, even if it's just you yelling, "Boo!" a la the old crone in the dream sequence from The Princess Bride.