Author's Note: So here we are. Thank you everyone who read, followed, favorited, and reviewed. It encouraged me throughout this whole process and the support I received was so wonderful.

I know this is not an easy story to read (especially that previous chapter). I had a hard time writing it, since it's such a dreary setting. It made for some tricky navigation, and I can only hope I managed it adequately; that this final chapter accomplishes what I wanted to convey with the whole story, and it doesn't leave you all with a bad taste in your mouths.

Also, I just learned about thirty seconds ago that this won the 2013 SAMFA for Best Drama in the K-T category (and A Hands-On Approach won for Best Adventure, same group!). I am stunned. I honestly didn't even think anything I wrote would be nominated. Thank you again to all who nominated the story, and thank you so much to the judges for this wonderful honor.

Thanks again for everything, sincerely.

In the End

Chapter Eight

before leaving my room i turn, and (stooping through the morning) kiss this pillow, dear where our heads lived and were.

more my life does not leap than with the mystery your smile sings.

-e.e. cummings, "dive for dreams"

On that last day, some people prayed to their gods or to the Earth. Some people wept. Some people chose willful ignorance, while others sat, frozen in fear and dread. Some even managed to laugh.

Temple and church bells chimed all over the world. Some found them comforting, others thought they sounded a death knell.

Mothers, fathers, children, friends, and lovers embraced each other. Some, who thought they would die alone found themselves welcomed into the company others. Some did die alone. Some made peace with that fact. Others did not go gentle into that goodnight.

Philosophies on death either consoled or agitated the world population in those final hours. A few faced the end with gladness in their hearts and songs on their lips. Cries of distress were not the only sounds uttered that day.

The Earth drew its last gasp of breath and then to stardust it returned.

It was terrifying and tragic, but it was fast, the mere blink of an eye.

And it was beautiful.

He made it as far as the airport.

For the entire ride, Sherlock maintained a desperate hold on the door, to the point that the plastic material under his hand groaned at the pressure. The driver—some unfortunate underling whose job dictated that he spend his final days chauffeuring Sherlock around—flicked nervous glances over at him periodically, clearly afraid that Sherlock was going to throw open the door and fling himself out of the moving car at any second.

The closer they got to their destination, the more and more aware Sherlock became of an acute pressure on his chest. It felt like it might crush him. He tried to breathe steadily, in through his nose, out through his mouth. No gasping. Anything to ward off what felt alarmingly like hyperventilation.

The airfield was small, no more than a single building with an attached tower and a lone runway. He could hardly make it out in the distance. Almost all commercial flights were grounded fourteen days before, stranding thousands of people in the far corners of foreign lands. Unless you're the brother of an important government official, he thought bitterly to himself.

It could be said of him that he never spared much thought on the fairness of life. He wasn't a social justice activist. Not because he held definite political opinions that contradicted the edicts of human welfare. Rather, the plight of the downtrodden was not something that often affected him; but he couldn't help but realize that this was perhaps the most exorbitant display of the privilege to which he'd become so inured in his thirty-six years. Here he was, grudgingly boarding a plane bound for France, where he would see his mother and his brother one last time. Here he was, feeling resentful that he had to. Meanwhile, there were millions of people whose lives hung in precarious balance who would never again look into their loved ones' faces.

The pressure on his chest tightened. So did his hold on the door.

They rounded a slight bend in the road, and Sherlock could see the blinking lights of a small aircraft to the rear of the building; the Learjet that would take him away from England for the last time. It reminded him of another plane he'd boarded at his brother's behest, one full of dead passengers. Rather fitting, since he himself was essentially a dead man.

The tail lights of the plane glowed an eerie, vibrant red, their glare a corona cutting through the pitch of night. Sherlock was inexplicably reminded of a portentous saying.

Red sky at night, shepherds' delight. Red sky in the morning, shepherds take warning.

He looked to the console's clock. 12:13 AM.

He couldn't figure out why the the digital readout of the clock suddenly blurred until he felt a tear escape, rolling down his cheek slowly. It reached his chin and then fell to his shirt, landing warmly as the material absorbed it.

And then, like a violin string tightened too far, he snapped.

"No!" Sherlock burst out.

"Sir?" asked the driver.

"No. This isn't what I want. I can't—"

"You're distressed about something? Can I be of assistance?"

"Take me back," Sherlock gasped.

The driver fidgeted nervously, glancing around as if looking for some kind of instruction on how he should proceed. "Mr. Holmes' instructions were—"

It was all Sherlock could do not to deck man. "I don't give a damn about Mycroft's bloody instructions. Take me back to her, now."

Growing more and more flustered, the chauffer replied, "Where's that?"

Sherlock sighed impatiently, getting desperate. "Back to Baker Street. I need you to take back to my home."

"I'm not supposed to—"

"I'm begging you," Sherlock interrupted him quietly.

The man looked at the plane and then down at his own steering wheel. Sherlock felt a welling of panic, trying to figure out how he could make it back to Baker Street if the driver still refused. He would steal a car if he had to. He would overpower his driver. But then the car slowed and they pulled over to the shoulder of the road and made a tight turn into the narrow street's opposite lane of traffic.

To Sherlock, it felt like a reprieve.

When the car pulled up in front of his Baker Street flat once more, Sherlock felt the adrenaline that had fueled his fervor begin to ebb. He looked up to the first floor, hoping for a sign that Molly was indeed still there, that she hadn't left in the hour that he'd been gone.

The windows were dark, the curtains shut tightly to the night. The darkened glass made house look empty, much like all of the others on the street; but Sherlock insisted to himself that he shouldn't panic. Not yet. He told his feet, suddenly leaden with uncertainty and dread, to move, damn it.

And slowly, step by step they did.

He let himself in the door, grateful that he'd had the presence of mind to take his house key, even at a time when he thought he'd never have use for it again. It must have been an unconscious decision, he realized. As if his body knew he'd be right back even when his mind had been slower with the uptake.

The house was as silent as it was dark. He couldn't hear Molly moving around on the floor about him, or the murmur of the television, or any other indication that she'd stayed put. Why should she have? He thought despairingly.

But, still, he climbed the stairs. Step by step.

When he reached 221b, he stopped short in the doorway. The fire in the grate had died down to mere embers. They still glowed warmly, but they only cast a meager light a very short distance into the room.

Standing there, backlit by that dull glow was Molly. She faced the fireplace, not moving at all. She must have gone into his room after he'd gone, for she was wearing one of his many dressing gowns. The blue silk dwarfed her, its hem close to dragging on the floor.

That, more than his own wild heartbeat and determination, gave him hope. At least she wasn't indifferent to him, if she was wearing his clothes like mourning.

Sherlock stood there, frozen at the door, overcome by the fact that he was seeing Molly Hooper again. Again after a mere hour, yes, but to a man who'd felt the bereavement of a separation as real as any death, she was like a phoenix, rising from those ashes glowing before her.

He didn't say a word. He couldn't get his voice to work past an obstruction in his throat.

But Molly must have heard him trying to speak, or perhaps she saw a flicker of movement in the mirror above the mantle. Or maybe she just sensed that she was no longer alone. Whatever the case, suddenly, she dove to the side of the fireplace before whirling around, wielding a fire poker like a sword. Sherlock could see, even in the dim light that she was squinting, trying to see the intruder after staring so long at the embers.

He could see the moment she realized who stood before her. Slowly, she lowered the poker, though she didn't let go. Sherlock could hear her breath, shuddering as she looked at him.

Somehow, it was enough for him, and he felt the weight fall away from him, like iron shackles swinging open from around his ankles. He moved through the room, reaching her in four strides. He didn't realize until he stood directly in front of her that, as he'd approached, he was murmuring again and again, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

His arms banded desperately around her, so tightly he spared a thought that she might not be able to breathe, but he couldn't loosen his hold on her. The warm silk of the dressing gown, heated by her skin, thawed him, though he'd not been cold before he saw her.

Molly was limp in his arms for only a second before he heard the fire poker drop to the floor with a clatter and then her own arms were holding him just as tightly, just as frantically. Their mouths met hungrily, and Sherlock felt like there wasn't enough time in the world for his wanting to linger, kissing her. At the same time, impatience licked at him, the desire to map the rest of her face with his lips, to prove to his other senses that she was with him once more.

Sherlock could not think of another time when he'd been so wrong. She fit to him. He was alive because of her. How could he ever think that it was better to spare his self some ephemeral pain? Had he learned nothing when he'd faked his death? Sherlock Holmes needed people very much. A select few, but those few were very dear to him. He thought he had realized that truth, but apparently he had to hurt one of the precious few desperately in order to teach himself that final lesson. The most precious of the few, he now knew.

Crushing his lips harder to hers, Sherlock's teeth cut into the inside of his lips almost painfully. He didn't care. He felt her hands convulsively clutching him and he'd likely bear bruises to match where she'd held him. His own arms had yet to loosen from around her and he gloried in every point where her body touched his.

Finally, she broke away, gasping and shuddering as tears streamed down her cheeks. He set to kissing the salty droplets away, drinking in her pain and disbelief and tentative joy.

"Y—you came back," she whispered.

"I came back," he echoed. "I came back to you." Sherlock smoothed a strand of her hair, stuck to the wetness on her face, behind her ear. He let his fingers remain there, slightly tickling the shell of her ear with his light touch. "I shouldn't have left to begin with. I'm so sorry I did. I want you to forgive me, but if you can't, I understand. Leaving could be worst thing I've ever done."

She fidgeted. Why was she nervous, he wondered. Did she expect him to say, "Just popping back to grab my laptop. Didn't realize I'd forgotten it until almost too late. See you later." Could he blame her if she did think such a thing of him?

"You weren't gone for long, Sherlock. What changed between then and now?"

Ah, so he was right.

Sherlock Holmes did something he very rarely considered necessary: he weighed his words before he spoke. But then, it had never felt as important as it did now.

"I made it all the way to the airport," he began slowly. "I could see the plane on the tarmac, waiting for me. And I remembered a conversation I once had with my brother on a different plane, several years ago. The topic of Mycroft's and my exchange is not necessarily what I remembered tonight, but the general theme of my loneliness and how it has the ability to destroy things most certainly is."

He reached down, toying with the belt of his dressing gown secured at her waist, not able to meet her eyes for the next part. "My loneliness is destructive. It's what led me to drugs in the past. It's what led me to reveal State secrets to the wrong person that same night with my brother. And I realized that, tonight… I let it try to destroy what we have because it's all I know.

"Because if I admitted that I need you, that I,"—here, he stumbled over the word, never having used it before—"love you, then all of that loneliness and all of its destruction could have been so different. If I admitted that I didn't ever need the loneliness, then what would it say about the what I've done in my life? I chose the loneliness because I thought it built an indestructible barrier. But I could have been better. I didn't think I could face that, or the fact that I have wasted so much of our time. Soon you'll be gone and the time we spent together will have been for nothing. And it was more than I could bear. I didn't think I was strong enough."

He returned his hands to cup her face, his thumbs stroking her cheekbones. "But I think I am strong enough. I think you make me strong enough, because in that short time that I thought I'd never look at this face again, I wasn't sure how I would confront what's coming with any sort of ease. That was a singular thing, after all this time spent with you when I didn't feel any need to linger or dread. I know, intellectually, that I could live for the next three days without you, Molly, but the pain I felt told me that I don't want to."

Molly's breath hitched as he spoke, but she listened carefully, her hands holding tightly to his wrists.

"The only thing I can ask is for you to trust that I have never regretted anything so much as I do letting you walk up those stairs. And how much I regret leaving after you walked away. But if you want me to go again, I will. Please, just tell me."

He stared at her, waiting for her to respond. Tears still leaked form her eyes. He would have felt a crushing worry settle in again had it not been for her thumbs rubbing small circles on his skin.

Finally, finally she spoke. "I trust you and of course I forgive you. You've held my heart for so long, Sherlock. I used to picture what it would be like to be able to love you, to have you love me back. And I never imagined that it would be easy."

He lowered his forehead to hers. "I wish I could make it easy."

She gave a watery laugh. "I don't know if I wish it. It made you who you are. It brought us here. And even though I've known some heartache because of you, I also know what it's like to have my whole body hum with happiness because of you. You've never hurt me intentionally and if this is the worst we face, I'd say we're doing alright."

"Three days left," he mused. "Not much time to mess it up. If anyone could manage it, it would be me, but I promise you I'll try my best not to."

Molly gave him a lopsided smile. "You're wonderful. You'll be wonderful." She moved a hand to the back of his head, gently tugging it down further so she could press a kiss to his hairline. Quietly, so quietly—no more than a exhale, really—she whispered, "I love you."

He used to think of it as a grouping of words used to control people. Manipulation, pure and simple. He'd scoffed at its ability to start wars, ruin lives, and destroy families. But he most certainly didn't feel controlled when Molly said it to him. They'd been dancing toward it throughout their conversation, but when she spoke those words in that exact order and combination, he marveled at how it felt like someone had pressed one of those fire embers to his chest, its heat sparking and radiating outward. It left him breathless.

And the knowledge that Molly Hooper would never use such powerful words to hurt or manipulate him made it the simplest thing for him to lift his head, brush his nose across hers in an approximation of the sweet gesture she'd made to him several times now, and whisper back, "I love you."

He felt a flicker of surprise at how he didn't feel that chafing vulnerability he would have expected upon making such an admission. But then, he thought, perhaps that was the whole point of being able to confess love: with the words was the tacit understanding that a person couldn't be made more vulnerable, and a declaration of love was his way of telling his lover that he trusted her with that vulnerability.

Molly's body shuddered against his before her arms wound tightly around him once more. They stood there, holding each other quietly for what could have been hours but was more than likely only a few moments. Sherlock regretfully drew back, but not before he kissed her again. And again. And once more for good measure.

"Molly, will you come with me to France? I need to see my mother. I would like for her to meet you."

"Can we still get over there?" she asked.

He nodded. "I sent a message to Mycroft and asked him to postpone my flight by a few hours. I told him I'd left something back at the flat that I absolutely needed. He rang me and squawked about it, but eventually acquiesced."

Molly frowned. "Are you saying that the poor driver is still outside, waiting for us?"

"Yes," he replied sheepishly. "I was a bit distracted, trying to figure out how I would convince you to take me back. I vaguely recall barking at him to stay put and then I left him at the curb.

"We probably owe him an apology. But to answer your question, Sherlock, I would follow you to the world's end in a white petticoat," she said earnestly.

"That doesn't seem like the most comfortable travel attire," he considered, "but if that's what you want to wear, then by all means."

Molly chuckled and rose up on her tiptoes, kissing him sweetly on the cheek. "Mary, Queen of Scots said that to… someone. Anyway, I don't plan on wearing a petticoat. But I would like to take my cat, if I might? I can't leave him alone."

He felt a happy smile overtaking his face. "Of course. If you want to go pack your other belongings, I will get him into his carrier."

Twenty minutes later, Sherlock and Molly left Baker Street for the last time. He was surprised to feel a pall settle over him at the realization that he was leaving his own home. He experienced new dose of empathy for Molly's melancholy when she faced the same prospect five nights before. Still, this leave taking wasn't with nearly the same level of distress as his earlier departure. He felt he could have been walking to his execution and he wouldn't have minded because Molly was with him.

As soon as they settled back in the car, Sherlock turned to the driver. "I never asked you your name," he realized.

The man looked a little taken aback by the sudden attention, but he gathered his composure quickly. "Neil, sir. Neil Stonehouse."

"Ah, well, I apologize for all of the driving around and waiting you've done for me. I appreciate it, though."

Neil nodded his acceptance as he turned the key in the ignition.

"But I'm afraid I must ask you to make one more stop before we return to the airfield," Sherlock continued.

The poor driver gave a resigned sigh and pulled the car into the sparse traffic.

Sherlock rang the door buzzer on the flat as a formality, but he began sorting through his key ring immediately thereafter. The tenant likely didn't know that Sherlock had made a copy ages ago, but Sherlock figured the time for secrets was long past.

Just as he was about to insert said key into the front door's lock, he spied a light flicking on through the flat's front window. He quickly stuffed his keys back into his coat pocket and held his hands clasped behind his back, schooling his expression into one of patient affability.

John Watson answered the door, still tying the sash on his dressing gown and blinking at the bright lights bombarding him at that ungodly hour.

"Sherlock, what the bloody hell are you doing here at two in the morning?" he demanded.

"No time to explain. Do roust your wife out of bed. We have a plane to catch." Really, Sherlock felt like he had his old spring back in his step. And why shouldn't he?

John continued to squint at him, though Sherlock recognized it as more his resting expression when Sherlock did something to baffle him. "Plane? What are you talking about?"

"John, what's going on down there?" Mary's voice filtered down from the couple's bedroom on the flat's upper floor.

"Morning, Mary," Sherlock called up from the foot of the staircase. "I was just requesting that John wake you up."

"Requesting… that's rich," John muttered. Sherlock ignored him.

Soon, Mary joined the two men in the flat's small foyer. She managed to look a bit more alert than her husband, though her short, blonde hair stood on end in a few places. "Sherlock, as much as I adore seeing you, I really hope this is important," she said in greeting.

He offered her a perfunctory smile before launching into explanation. "We are on our way to catch a plane to France; to my mother and stepfather's house for the next three days, and I had hoped that you two might join us."

"Us?" John asked, still dulled by sleep, if Sherlock's opinion were asked to weigh in on his friend's slowness.

"Molly's waiting in the car," he said with a wave of his hand in the general direction of outside. How had they not cottoned on to that?

The Watsons nodded in understanding, painfully slowly. Sherlock wasn't sure they appreciated the immediacy of the situation. "We really must get going. The plan is set to take off in an hour," he pressed.

"And why are we expected to go?" John asked stolidly.

Sherlock thought he might have actually shuffled his feet bashfully, when remembering that early morning visit in the next few days, though he dearly hoped he hadn't. "I just thought it would be… nice. If we were all together one last time." He refused to meet their eyes as he said it.

"What if we want to be in our own home when the end comes?" his friend rejoined.

"Well if that's what you wish," Sherlock said slowly, feeling his euphoric mood wilt slightly. He couldn't say he blamed them. Everyone was resorting to his or her creature comforts now. Home familiarity was no small consolation. It just happened that Sherlock's solaces were John, Mary, and Molly.

Mary and John exchanged a look. Finally, John sighed, rubbing his face with his hands. "Give us a few minutes to gather some things. We're bringing the dog."

Sherlock felt buoyed once more. "I am sure Gladstone and Toby will get along famously."

The quartet unloaded their luggage and pets, eyeing the Learjet parked exactly where Sherlock had last seen it. As they handed off their belongings to the plane's pilot, who grunted a greeting to them when they arrived, Sherlock noticed Molly staring out across the tarmac. He called to her, and she shook herself out of her stare and moved to the plane's stairs.

Soon, the plane was racing down the runway and pulling up into the predawn sky. It was the fastest takeoff Sherlock had ever experienced. Funny what a dearth of competing planes could do for air traffic clearance.

As the plane banked, turning east, Sherlock heard Molly give a small sigh as she stared out of her tiny window.

"What is it?" He asked her quietly. She had been quite happy to see John and Mary, and her mood had been rather even until they reached the airfield.

"This is the last time we'll ever see London. I know there are lots of lasts right now, but I guess this one is hitting particularly hard," she explained. Sherlock peered around her, looking at the city's twinkling lights. From up there, the city looked as it always had, untouched by dark or despair. London had always been his home and he now felt a pang as he realized Molly was right. At a loss for what he should say, he merely flipped up their shared armrest and put his arm around her, pulling her closer to him. As he pressed a comforting kiss to her brow, he saw both Mary's and John's eyebrows shoot up in almost comical synchronicity.

"Oh, yes," he said casually, not relinquishing his hold on Molly, though he had a sneaking suspicion that he was blushing. How mortifying. But there was nothing for it. Needs must and all that. "Molly pulled my head out of my arse."

"Whoa there, what you do in the bedroom is your own business," Mary said drolly, but Sherlock couldn't describe her smile as anything other than beaming.

They landed on a remote strip similar to the one from which they'd departed. France was just seeing the first rays of sunrise and it shone through the morning mist that coated the ground. The air was still chilled, and their breaths misted out in front of them as they deplaned.

Sherlock spotted his brother standing beside a nondescript, black car. Though his duties had to have wound down to nearly nothing, Mycroft still wore his uniform of three-piece suit and a perpetual air of impatience. Sherlock noticed his brother's face register momentary surprise at the extended party that emerged from the jet.

Ever the consummate diplomat, Mycroft did not bemoan the unexpected group. Instead, he merely smiled thinly and commented, "It might be a tight fit on the ride back to the estate. I do apologize. Sherlock did not inform me that you all would be joining him."

Sherlock adopted a mockingly placating expression and said, "Don't worry, Mycroft. If you're claustrophobic, I would be happy to drive while you walk home."

Mycroft merely arched a brow at his brother while hitting a button on his key fob to open the boot.

They piled into the vehicle and made the short trek to the Holmes-Sevigny estate. Sherlock took it upon himself to critique every aspect of his brother's driving. "You've gone soft with all of those chauffeurs, Mycroft. I do believe you completely ignored that lane merger back there."

Mycroft asked Sherlock if he wouldn't be more comfortable with a jumper stuffed in his mouth. Sherlock suggested that Mycroft could probably recommend a good density of wool, since knitting and gags were really more his forte than Sherlock's. John suggested that they both shut up, and the remainder of the car ride was spent in silence.

They reached the sprawling grounds that hosted Violet Holmes-Sevigny's home. Sherlock had never lived there, himself. His mother had remarried when her younger son was in his mid-twenties and had immediately moved over to France, the native country of her new husband and birthplace of her own parents.

Sherlock had no complaints about his stepfather. The man and he hardly knew each other, really, but in the handful of times that they'd met Sherlock had ben unable to find anything wrong with him. An author by profession, Jean-Luc Sevigny was an old-money inheritor who dabbled in fiction writing. He was a far cry from Sherlock and Mycroft's biological father, Siger, and that was only a good thing, Sherlock had decided after the first time he met his mother's then-betrothed. Jean-Luc and Violet had what she assured her sons was a whirlwind romance, and Sherlock had no reason to suspect that first blush had worn off in the ten years since their marriage.

When they reached the front of the large mansion, Sherlock rolled his eyes at his companions' cooing and gasping over the splendor before them. It was nothing new to him. He'd grown up in a rather opulent setting and his mother had merely transferred that opulence to her adopted country.

The enormous front doors of the main house opened and a tall woman hurried out and down the front steps, her husband following behind at a more sedate pace. The Holmes family had never been one to rush toward each other, but Sherlock's mother had always been far easier with her affections than her sons. Sherlock had last seen her four months prior. He had tried harder in the time since his faked death to spend time with her and bridge the gap between them. They'd made some inroads, but Sherlock still felt the distance between him and his mother keenly.

He slowly climbed from the car, glancing to see if the others had followed suit. His mother reached them just as the last car door closed, and before Sherlock was fully aware of what she was doing, she had her arms wrapped around him in a fierce hug. And then she released Sherlock with on of her arms and reached over to Mycroft, who'd just walked around from the driver's side, and yanked him into what Sherlock was certain was the most awkward group hug in the history of humankind.

He and his older brother eyed each other as their mother held on to them. Though she would deny it, Sherlock saw a sheen of tears in her eyes. She was more sentimental, not overly emotive, after all. Violet adopted the quintessential, British "stiff upper lip" principle. He wisely remained quiet.

Drawing back a little, Violet smiled up at him. She was attractive in an understated way. Her hair was still the dark, mink brown of her youth, with a few strands of gray shot through, lending to her quiet dignity. Sherlock could see his own eyes looking back at him. In his younger days, when he'd catch glimpses of himself in the mirror, he'd always been glad that he took after his mother more than his father.

Siger Holmes had been a hard man, not necessarily abusive but most certainly not kind, either. After Sherlock revealed to his mother that he'd discovered his father's numerous infidelities, Violet and Siger went through a messy divorce. Violet tried her hardest to leave her two children out of it as much as possible, but Siger had had no such qualms. His sons were quite firmly on their mother's side in the proceedings, which made their father's relationship with them that much more bitter. Siger went on the marry two more times before dying of a heart attack in bed with one of his many mistresses. Sherlock had vague memories of his father's funeral, but it came at the height of his drug addiction, so he really remembered impressions more than the actual event.

He didn't miss him.

In spite of his feeling no lament for Siger Holmes, it hadn't helped that Sherlock's father's death came at the same time as when Violet had effected the most distance between herself and her younger son. Sherlock had tried not to let on that he felt abandoned, but Mycroft had been his main caretaker at a time when Sherlock was just a scared twenty-year-old boy wishing for his mother.

He knew that Violet regretted it. He'd even felt some empathy for why she hadn't handled Sherlock's illness with little grace. At times, he'd been a terrible junkie, cruel and caustic while angling for his next score. But there were times when he hadn't been a complete monster, and his younger self had had trouble reconciling why she distanced herself even at those moments. In more recent years, he avoided thinking about it at all, afraid of what he'd realize about himself if he dwelled on those memories.

When Violet began reaching out to him again after his last successful stint in rehab, Sherlock had shied away. He wasn't unkind, but he buried himself in his work, certain that it was the only thing to keep him sane and sober. Now, as he stood in his mother's embrace, he thought again about wasted time, much as he had with Molly.

Violet turned to her unexpected guests, offering them a polite smile.

"Mother, you remember John Watson?" Sherlock asked. The two had met on one other occasion when John and he were flatmates. It had been an unremarkable visit, though John had later commented that he was stunned that someone so lovely could raise someone so swotty. Sherlock had played his violin particularly screechily for several days after.

Violet nodded. "It's nice to see you again, Dr. Watson."

"John, please. This is my wife, Mary. Mary, this is Violet Holmes-Sevigny," John introduced.

The two women shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. As they spoke, Sherlock sought out Molly, who lurked a little to the side of the main group. He moved over to her and, just as Violet turned expectantly to this last stranger, took her hand, weaving his fingers between hers.

He took a deep breath. "Mummy, this is Molly…. My Molly."

Violet drew up short, blinking, looking back and forth between Molly and Sherlock. Even Mycroft did a double-take, much to Sherlock's satisfaction. Then he was distracted by his mother hurrying the rest of the way to them, looking suspiciously misty again as she clasped Molly's free hand in both of hers.

Sherlock was certain his own smile was just as shy as Molly's as she spoke to his mother. He would take time later to cringe at how stereotypically normal the entire introduction was. Taking the girl home to meet Mum for the first time. It was only strange because this was the first and only time it would ever happen for him. But as he watched Molly say something that had his mother laughing brightly, he couldn't feel too self-conscious about it.

After Violet introduced the newcomers to her husband, they filed into the house. Proving that she was a flawless hostess even at the end of the world, she gave them a tour of the house and continually asked Molly, John, and Mary if they needed anything. Sherlock could almost pretend they were there for a weekend house party and nothing dire or cataclysmic.

The group spent the rest of the day companionably. They sat around chatting, and Sherlock was pleased that he didn't feel any restlessness or need to be doing something. He watched as Molly and his stepfather formed an unlikely pair. Finally, she'd found someone with a gleeful appreciation for her morbid sense of humor, and she spent the afternoon regaling him with stories of some of her grimmer pathology cases while everyone else did their best not to cringe at the unorthodox conversation.

Everyone began drooping over a late evening meal. Sherlock felt his own body grow heavy with a sudden exhaustion. His mother noticed her guests' fatique and waved them all away from the table before they'd even finished eating. The two couples trudged up to their respective bedrooms.

Sherlock looked through the window into the night before turning back to watch Molly as she shucked her clothes with absolutely no grace and collapsed face-first in the middle of the bed. He chuckled quietly before following suit. He curled around her body, reaching over her to turn off the lamp on the bedside table, enveloping the room in warm dark. His eyelids drooped as he ducked his head to kiss her mouth already going lax with sleep.

He mused on how the day had been so very strange and so very wonderful as he drifted off.

He woke the next day early enough that he could hear no other movement from the house. He was content to linger for a while where he was, cuddled in with Molly, who slept on. She wasn't a snorer, he noted. She did make murmuring noises on a occasion, but quietly. Sherlock pushed down a flickering of sadness over all of the facets of Molly's sleep habits that he would never discover.

As he watched her, she stirred. Her brown eyes looked back at him fuzzily as a sleepy smile curved her lips. "Hello," she whispered.

He didn't reply with words. Instead he reached up to trace a hand across her cheek as he leaned in to kiss the corner of her smiling mouth. She turned her head so that their lips met fully, and then she pushed on his shoulder until he rolled over onto his back. She followed him, hitching a leg across his and coming to a stop when she sat on his thighs. She leaned over him, her hands braced on either side of his head. Sherlock he looked up at her, taking in the way the morning light filtering through the window made a corona around her. Turning his head, he pressed his lips to the soft skin of her forearm before returning his gaze to hers as he smoothed his hands up her thighs, across her hips, his thumbs tickling the softness of her belly before continuing up her ribs and under her arms so that he could tug her back down to lie on top of him.

They made love quietly, the only noises in the room their hitching breaths, the rustling of sheets, and the slight creak of the mattress as they moved together.

After, they lay with their legs tangled together while Sherlock combed his fingers over and over through her long hair. The light moved across the ceiling, the only sign of time passing all too quickly.

Soon, the rest of house stirred and Sherlock knew that he and Molly couldn't hide away in their room until the end of time. He dragged himself out of the bed and away from her warm arms, stumbling to the bathroom for a hasty shower. When he reemerged, Molly was still lying in the bed, covered only by a sheet. He watched her wiggling her toes and stretching as he dressed. It was such a new thing for him, that he could feel and enjoy this swelling in his heart as he watched her doing something so completely innocuous.

She turned her head and smiled at him before she expelled a gusty sigh and flung back the sheet. She rose from the bed, sauntering over to where he stood buttoning his shirt. "Allow me," she said with a lecherous leer. He let her finish fastening the buttons, enjoying her as she batted her lashes exaggeratedly up at him. When she finished, she curled her fingers in the shirt's collar and pulled him down so that she could lay a smacking kiss on his lips. "You'll do quite nicely, I think," she murmured against his mouth.

As she turned away from him, Sherlock decided he wanted to be playful in turn, but he fretted he might not know what he was doing. Still, he gave her backside an experimental, light swat. Molly jumped in surprise and grinned at him over her shoulder. He tried to adopt an approximation of her earlier ogling expression. She let loose a mad giggle before she darted away and disappeared from sight in the bathroom.

Sherlock was a little stunned to realize his cheeks hurt from how widely he was smiling. He tried to wipe it from his face as he made his way downstairs and into the kitchen. Nevertheless, John, who sat with Mary at the breakfast bar eating a piece of toast, stopped mid-chew on seeing Sherlock's face. "I am going to need more than two days to get used to that," he muttered.

Sherlock scowled at him as he pulled a mug from the cupboard, but he couldn't fight the smirk from returning when his back was to his friends while he poured himself a large dose of coffee. He was spared from having to think of a snappy comeback by his mother and brother arriving, entering the kitchen through the glass door that opened onto the house's sprawling back garden.

"Ah, good morning, Darling," Violet greeted Sherlock. "I hope you and Molly slept well. Will she be down soon?"

He nodded in greeting as he sipped some coffee from his mug. "I believe she will shortly. She was in the shower when I left to come downstairs," he replied.

"I was thinking we should all go for a walk and have a picnic lunch by the Lys," his mother continued. Sherlock's nose crinkled, and he saw Mycroft pull a similar face out of the corner of his eye, before, as one, they smoothed their expressions into looks of mild interest when their mother turned to them. The Holmes brothers were not exactly outdoorsmen. But Sherlock figured he'd endured worse in his time than a mosquito-ridden picnic, and Mary and John were busy expressing genuine enthusiasm for the idea. He'd be outnumbered even if he had voiced his true opinion on the matter.

The group departed en masse two hours later. They strolled for some time along the riverbank before they found a shady spot that Violet deemed suitable for their picnicking purposes. After they'd eaten their fill of sandwiches and other finger foods, they stayed where they were. Even Sherlock had to admit that the warm sun and swishing sounds of the river were a welcome change from all of the madness in London that they'd left behind. He sat on the corner of the blanket they'd laid over the grass, weaving a long piece of grass through his fingers.

He watched as John and Mary stood at the water's edge, tossing chunks of bread to a group of mallards that had happened to float past. Mycroft typed away on his phone while Jean-Luc and Molly sat huddled over a notepad, discussing some anatomical anomaly that Sherlock's stepfather was incorporating into a story.

"I really like your Molly, Sherlock," Violet said, sitting down beside him on the blanket. He glanced at his mother, smiling slightly before returning his gaze to the woman in question. "You met her through your work?"

He nodded. "She was the only pathologist at Bart's who would work with me. The others refused after too many run-ins with my personality. Molly was always willing to help me. Frequently doing tasks well below her pay-grade, if I'm honest."

"And she fell in love with you? That's rather romantic. Don't flinch, it's true," Violet chided.

"She fell in love with me," he confirmed, unable to keep the bafflement from tinting his words. "She's extolled my virtues a few times, but I'm still not sure why she chose me."

Violet chuckled. "You wouldn't be my boy if you wooed her with a silver tongue."

"She should have run screaming, but she was never anything but kind and supportive. When I 'died', she was the only person, other than Mycroft, who knew it was all a ruse. She helped me, and then she hid me."

His mother flinched at the reminder of the time when she thought she'd lost her child. "Is that when you fell in love with her?" She asked.

Discussing love with his mother: it was not something he ever imagined happening, and yet, there they were. But he couldn't dredge up a caustic comment about the sentimental rubbish of it all. Not when discussing Molly or what was in him for her. "No. Well, perhaps a little, yes. Before…. I was aware of her in a way that I hadn't ever been of anyone else. But she had me figured out like a puzzle without my being cognizant that she was even watching."

"So when did you realize that you loved her?" Violet pressed.

Sherlock tried to pinpoint it. He could say thirty hours ago. But that wouldn't be quite true; he couldn't articulate it until then, but he'd loved her well before that moment. He could say last week, but he'd still been very much in the dark at that point. "I honestly don't know. To me, Molly is like a… a warmth that I've had in my chest for a long time. It started out small, but has gotten bigger and bigger. But I didn't even realize how much I wanted that warmth until I almost lost it."

He glanced again at his mother. Eye contact during such a frank conversation would be too much, but he hazarded a look, somehow still a young child wanting his mother's approval. He frowned when he saw her looking down at her hands, clasped in her lap while she blinked rapidly, trying to keep tears from falling. "Mum—"

"I don't know what's wrong with me. The way you speak of her makes me so glad, Sherlock. But it reminds me of how much I've let you down, that you're only experiencing loving someone like that now."

He looked out to the river, tracking a floating branch as it floated with the current. "To be fair, I think I did a rather good job keeping something… keeping Molly at bay without any help from you. My inability to see any advantage in love was probably a parting gift from Siger Holmes."

"Yes," Violet choked out, "But I didn't help you like I should have. I didn't remind you that love can still be a beautiful, vital thing. And I left you alone when you most needed the reminder that I love you."

"Again," Sherlock said, uncomfortably, "I didn't make it easy. And I've had some time to think about it in the past few days, and I've realized that you didn't give up on me so much as accept it when I didn't let you be my mother. And that is a world of difference, to me at least."

She nodded, tears dropping into her lap. "Thank you. And please believe me that I am sorry, sorrier than I've ever been about anything else."

"And I'm sorry, too. For… frankly, for the first thirty-six years of my life," he murmured.

Violet's laugh was a bit watery, but it was a laugh. "They weren't all bad. I remember when they put you in my arms for the first time. Mycroft always took after your father, but you opened your eyes and looked at me for the first time—already so serious, my Sherlock—and I thought to myself, 'he looks like me.' I loved your brother with all of my being, but holding this baby who was so clearly my son was a joy I had never thought I would experience.

"And there were so many times when you made me laugh and amazed me, and there were times when you were unbearably sweet. I just lost sight of that at times. But I need to tell you that you make me proud. And I do love you."

Sherlock looked away yet again. But slowly, he reached out across the small distance between them on the blanket and took his mother's hand in his and squeezed it.

Earth's last day began with the sun shining on cheerful daffodils and dappling leaves with its light. The wind ruffled grasses growing tall in fields and sky was full of fluffy, benign clouds.

No one was sure if animals would know something was amiss before the actual event, but they showed no instinctive response in the hours leading to the end. Birds still sang, cattle lowed, and their calls remained calm.

It would have been unnatural for the mood to be anything other than melancholy on the Holmes-Sevigny estate. They tried to affect a forced brightness and avoid counting down their final hours. They played card games and together prepared an enormous, mid-afternoon meal. Well, everyone but Sherlock prepared the meal. He wandered from person to person, offering his opinion on how he or she was accomplishing each task, until Molly walked up him, handed him a bowl of dough, rolled up his shirtsleeves for him, and told him to start kneading. When he tried to dissemble, she reminded him that she had lived with him on and off for three years and knew for a fact that he could cook and bake quite well. He shot her a look of wounded betrayal for revealing what was perhaps his closest-guarded secret, but she remained unmoved and left him to his assigned task.

After they ate more than was even remotely comfortable, they retreated to the sitting room. They didn't speak much. Eventually, Sherlock picked up his violin and together he and Mycroft moved over to the piano. As Sherlock tuned the violin and Mycroft played a soft piece to warm up his fingers, the two brothers glanced at each other. Sherlock studied his bow, not wanting to spark Mycroft's ire. Something had been bothering him for the past forty-eight hours, and he wasn't sure how he should broach it.

"If you want to say something, Sherlock," Mycroft said, not looking up from the ivory keys, "then by all means, say it."

Sherlock frowned, but took the invitation. "Are you frightened?" He hadn't broached it with anyone else, not even Molly or John. He wasn't certain why Mycroft was his chosen confidante, but he tried to disguise his discomfiture by pulling some resin from his violin case and running it along the horsehair of the bow. He doubted his brother was fooled by his act, but it was more for his own sake than anything.

Mycroft's brow wrinkled minutely. Sherlock doubted anyone registered it, not standing as close to the older Holmes brother as he was. If they did see it, the others would have likely thought it was over a puzzling passage of music. "I try not to dwell on things that are beyond my control. I've been near death before, and I find it helps not to think on it too much. This time it is almost a certainty, so I can only hope it's quick."

His younger brother's frowned deepened. "I have Molly. Mummy has Jean-Luc. Do you… do you wish you had someone with you now? And don't give me a speech about caring too much. I am asking you, Mycroft Holmes, not the government official."

Mycroft stopped playing altogether, his hands falling to his side on the piano bench. "I haven't thought about that side of me for a long time, Sherlock. I managed to shut it off quite effectively. But to answer your unasked question, I was in love, once. His name was Robert Smythe. We were young recruits in MI6 together, part of the first wave of post-Cold War agents. We broke several rules to be together, and I convinced myself I was happy with keeping it a secret. When he died in 1999, I was never certain if it was something that could have been prevented if he and I had just had the strength to ignore what we felt. I never tried to move on; rather, I decided to compartmentalize him. And in that compartment is where he shall stay."

Sherlock felt a new sorrow swamp him, one he had not expected. "I am sorry," he stuttered, at a loss for how to address his filial regrets.

Mycroft offered him a rather gentle look—gentle for Mycroft, at least—and said, "I am not lonely, brother. I have a room for that loneliness, and Robert is in there, too. Do you remember the Kreutzer Sonata?"

Sherlock recognized that the conversation was over. He nodded and brought the violin up to his chin and, together, he and his brother began playing their duet.

When the sun began to sink into the west, everyone in the house gathered in front of a large picture window, silently watching the sky's pinks, oranges, and reds bleed into each other. Together, they all watched the sun dip beneath the horizon with one, final glimmer. And then, as one they turned away from the window and began the slow trek to their rooms.

At the top of the stairs, Sherlock and Mycroft exchanged a long handshake. Sherlock clapped his free hand to his brother's shoulder, and Mycroft mirrored him. They nodded to each other before letting go. Mycroft gave his farewells to each person, and disappeared down the hall to his bedroom.

Raw though he was, Sherlock smiled at his mother, embracing her and kissing her cheek. She wept as she kissed him, her arms holding him to her tightly. Jean-Luc came up to him and held out his hand to Sherlock, who clasped it firmly. The older man smiled kindly and said, "I wish you happy, my boy. You are a good man." Sherlock could only nod in thanks.

Soon, only John, Mary, Molly, and Sherlock remained in the hall. They stood facing each other, and Sherlock couldn't bring words to his mouth. While John and Molly hugged, he accepted Mary's kiss on his cheek as she whispered her thanks to him for her husband for Sherlock being such a wonderful man. His eyes began to burn as they drew apart. Mary and Molly went into each other's arms, huddling together as Sherlock turned to look at John.

They watched each other silently and then John cursed and reached forward, pulling Sherlock to him in a fierce hug. The two men stood there for several, long minutes before they pulled apart for the last time. The burning moved to his chest as he looked at the face of his best friend, the best man he had ever known.

"It has been an honor, John Watson," he whispered.

John drew in a gasping breath before regaining his military bearing. He nodded and said, "Likewise, Sherlock Holmes."

Sherlock felt Molly's arms come around him in a tight hold as John and Mary disappeared into their bedroom.

Together, he and Molly moved to their own room, closing out the rest of the world gone mad with a click of the door latch.

"What do you regret?" She asked, gazing at his face. They lay on their sides in the middle of the ornate bed, facing each other.

He looked down and took her hands, tracing the lines on her palms with his fingers. "It seems pointless to think about it. What will it accomplish to rehash every what-if now, other than to make us feel worse for what we're losing?"

Molly didn't follow his gaze. Instead, she continued to watch his face as she replied. "I guess nothing. But I'm still thinking about it, whether we say it out loud or not."

Sherlock's eyes finally met hers again. He shifted closer to her so that he could now feel her chest brush his each time she inhaled, and the tips of their noses almost bumped when he spoke again.

"What do you regret, Molly?" He barely whispered it.

"I have dozens or regrets. A lot of them are silly. Most of them aren't. That I'm dying young, just like my parents. That I spent so much of my time worrying about idiotic things. You know, the typical clichés," she sighed. "I regret that I didn't have more time with you and that I won't get to see what we could have been. I won't get to grow old with you, if that was in the cards for us. And if it was, what our life would have been like. I'll never know if we would have had babies or just spent another fifty years driving each other mad, happy being just Molly-and-Sherlock."

Sherlock reached up to smooth a thumb over her brow as he considered her words. And then he started imagining it. "Then grow old with me now," he said, haltingly. He didn't regret his words; he just was unsure how to suggest something so daft.


"We're going to live, and stay together for at least fifty more years. What will happen? Tell me."

"Sherlock, that isn't—"

"Tell me."

Molly looked at him quietly for only a moment before she started talking. "We'll get married next year. Nothing fancy, just a quick, five-minute ceremony with a magistrate, our friends, and your brother. I'll carry a small bouquet of Gerbera daisies that you'll buy for me from a flower stand on our way to the Register's Office. They look so cheerful, and I'll tuck one into your breast pocket. I'll wear my mum's wedding dress. It's a bit dated, but it's simple. Perfect for us. Mrs. Hudson will cry through the whole ceremony. So will John, but he'll try to hide it, manfully."

Sherlock snorted a laugh as she went on. "I'll stay Molly Hooper. I like my last name; it was my parents' name, and I'm published under it. But I imagine that isn't something that will bother you much."

Sherlock shook his head in agreement, then arched an eyebrow, encouraging her to continue.

Molly thought on it before she began again. "We'll remain here at Baker Street, for a few years, at least. Mrs. Hudson will love having us nearby. It'll only be awkward for a little while before she realizes she needs to knock before she bursts in here. That sofa is just too inviting for lovemaking. Poor dear won't know how to face us for a bit, because we're rather inventive."

Sherlock hummed in agreement, then chimed in. "I will do my best to remember important dates. I have managed to remember your birthday already, so I'd say I'm off to a good start. It's lucky you've never been one for parties, because I'm sure I'd fall short in that area."

Molly chuckled, thinking about Sherlock offending all of their party guests five minutes into the hors d'oeuvres. "Very true," she murmured. "I'll like the quieter celebrations with just you."

Sherlock continued, "But I know I'll still manage to make you mad sometimes. You'll probably make me mad, too, but I somehow doubt with the same frequency. When I do mess up, I'll do my best to make amends quickly. I didn't have a very good model of healthy arguments from my parents, so I hope you'll be patient with me and teach me."

She nodded her agreement, then moved on. "We'll find out we're going to have a baby not long after our… second anniversary. It'll have been plenty of time for us to enjoy each other before we have to start figuring out how the hell we can be parents, too."

Sherlock shifted his hand between then, so that the backs of his fingers brushed against the flatness of her belly. "I never thought I'd want children. But I think I do. With you. We'll have a girl with your brown eyes. What will we name her?" He asked.

"Courgette," she replied immediately.

She couldn't keep a straight face at his horrified expression. "Just kidding! Is there a name you're partial to? Something from your family? I've always thought that babies shouldn't be named directly after someone—give them a chance to be their own people. But there's something to be said for tradition, too."

Sherlock had to dredge up long-forgotten memories of the Holmes family tree. He'd gotten in trouble with his tutors too many times to delete the information permanently. Then, he remembered, some Victorian, great-aunt. "Ava."

"Ava," Molly beamed at Sherlock. "It's perfect. She's going to be wonderful. She'll be so smart. Socially awkward, the poor thing, but considering her parents, she'll be surprisingly good at making friends. We'll both teach her all sorts of useful things. I am already dreading the chemistry experiments you two will design and what they'll do to the flat."

He grinned at her, but rushed to allay her fears. "Well, those will come in time. But I'll start her on more basic kitchen chemistry. Baking biscuits and cakes. Then we'll post whatever we bake in anonymous packages to Mycroft."

Molly attempted a stern look but couldn't quite manage to quell a laugh. "He will love her. He'll try to act aloof and severe, but he won't be able to resist her charms. She'll probably talk her way into and out of all sorts of trouble with everyone. I shudder to think of the level of security detail her uncle will place on her.

"John and Mary's children will be a similar age, so our family dinners will be mad. Hopefully that kitchen chemistry you plan to teach her will take good hold, so we can make Ava do all of the cooking."

Sherlock agreed, "What reason is there to have children other than the socially acceptable, free labor they provide?"

They both giggled at their drollness. Molly fiddled with a button in the middle of Sherlock's shirt as she considered him. "Do you think you'll be one of those overbearing, stereotypical fathers who threatens to shoot his daughter's boyfriend when she starts dating?"

Sherlock's nose wrinkled with distaste, as he replied, "No, I think not. To be fair, I threaten to shoot a lot of things, people included. But our daughter won't have much patience with the type of idiot who needs threatening, so it's a moot point."

"Very true. What'll we do when she's gone off to University?" Molly asked.

Sherlock wrapped an arm around her shoulders and tugged her a bit closer as he thought on it. "Besides once again feeling free to wander around our house naked, you mean? I've always thought a quiet home in Sussex Downs would be just the place to spend my retirement. I've a mind to try some apiculture."

Molly almost laughed at the thought of Sherlock in a beekeeper's bonnet, but wisely kept her amusement to herself. Just as she was about to respond, a rumbling in the distance began, low and foreboding.

Her hands spasmed against his chest.

The cat crept out from under the bed, jumping up on the mattress and curling up against Molly's back. This somehow steadied her breathing and she continued, speaking evenly. "I'll still consult on some pathology cases here and there once we've moved. But it would be fun to keep a garden and have time to read actual novels, not just pathology books. And you'll still drag poor, old John out on exciting cases. Mary and I will laugh that you two actually use the word 'retirement' earnestly."

Sherlock's arms tightened around her even further. There was now no space between their bodies. He pressed her face against his neck as he coiled her hair around his hand. "And when we're old, we'll still be together," he said, speaking his promises into the shell of her ear. "We'll be like those old couples I used to sigh impatiently about when I'd find myself walking behind them. You'll insist on holding my hand, and I'll grumble about it, but I want you to know now that I'll secretly relish it. It'll be the main reason why I insist that we go for our slow, shuffling walks every day."

The rumbling grew, and the glass panes of the windows started to shake, and noises of breaking drinking glasses from the kitchen filtered through the closed door.

Molly slid her arm under Sherlock so that she could lock him to her with her interlaced fingers at his waist. She found her breath coming in quicker gasps, but still, she managed to speak. "One of us will die before the other. It won't be some creepy, Romeo and Juliet, joint-death-pact. But you or I will follow soon after whoever goes first. My grandmother only lived for another year after my grandfather died. She didn't give up. She just was ready, after living a full, happy life. And that's how it'll be for us. We'll both die peacefully. It'll be soft, in our sleep. I'll be thinking of you. You'll be thinking of me. We'll be thinking of our beautiful Ava. Thinking about how happy we were."

The creaking floorboards groaned and started to shift, rattling the bed.

At this, Sherlock did gently pull her head away from his neck so that he could look at her. He traced the lines of her face with his eyes, imagining wrinkles where there were none. "We had a wonderful life together. Didn't we, my Molly?"

The rumbling was now a roar of sound and shaking. Tiny fissures started spreading out across glass before it started to shatter outright. Books rattled loose from the shelves, falling to the floor, their pages fluttering on impact. The wood and plaster framework of the house started to buckle

Everything was violence, except for the man and woman holding each other on the bed.

Molly felt as if she were looking through a kaleidoscope. The tears clinging to her lashes split the many colors of Sherlock into different facets; the pink of his lips, the brown of his hair, the alabaster of his skin, the blue-green of his eyes. They all danced apart before merging back into the whole of his beloved face.

As she moved forward to press her mouth to his, she whispered, "Absolutely wonderful."

Their lips met. The gentlest of kisses.

And then all was an echo.

beyond sorrow's own joys and hoping's very fears

yours is the light by which my spirit's born.

yours is the darkness of my soul's return

-you are my sun, my moon, and all my stars.

-e.e. cummings, "dive for dreams"