Epilogue - Two

In the end their love for each other was not enough to save Sherlock from the repercussions of his past. It was a slow descent into darkness, and John who was a prosaic man at times, an analytical man at times, a man who in happier times would have huffed indignantly at this choice of words, could not deny that this was indeed the appropriate term for what it was: bloody, never ending darkness.

It had been a gradual descent. A slow, but deteriorating process, dragging on for years really, starting right after his return. John knew now that Sherlock had never fully recovered from what he had gone through in those three solitary years and there was nothing or nobody that could prevent him from slowly going under. Not his work, not his friends and sadly not even John and his love for him.

oOo

'Hello boys!' Mrs Hudson's cheery call sounded from the hallway, announcing her imminent arrival. John folded up his newspaper and got up from his chair to greet their landlady.

'Hello, Mrs Hudson ... ooh, that looks delicious!' John smacked his lips when he saw the big tray with a plate filled with a variety of delicious little sandwiches and another plate laden with scones and strawberry jam and clotted cream next to it. Relieving Mrs Hudson of the tray he motioned to the kitchen counter. 'I got everything you told me to get, Mrs Hudson. There's Darjeeling - first flush as ordered - Assam and Lapsang Souchong - loose leaves naturally - and the special chocolate truffles you asked for.'

'That's marvellous, John. You are a darling,' Mrs Hudson stood on tiptoe to peck John on the cheek. Turning away she patted his arm in a motherly fashion and casually asked. 'Where's our birthday boy?'

'Resting. He was very tired after our walk this morning.' John put the tray on the kitchen table and smiled weakly. 'We agreed it would be better to get a bit of sleep before all the noisy festivity.'

'Right, dear. A bit of rest and quiet is never wrong!'

'He's quiet enough as it is already, thank you very much!' John snapped and immediately regretted his outburst. 'I'm sorry, so sorry, Mrs Hudson. It's just ...'

'Don't worry, dear,' Mrs Hudson assured him with another friendly pat on the arm. 'I understand. I merely meant I'm sure a bit of rest is just what he needed. He's always so tired these days, isn't he?'

All John could reply with was a weak nod as he was unable to respond in a more expressive way. He felt as if something was choking him and he noisily cleared his throat to get rid of it. Mrs Hudson noticed his discomfort and pain and turned away to give John some privacy. She busied herself with arranging the tea set, cups and plates and saucers, on the kitchen table which had been covered with one of her linen table cloths and looked rather lovely. 'What about his brother?' she suddenly asked. 'Will Mycroft come at all?'

John snapped out of his reverie when he heard that name. 'Yeah - I guess he will be paying a short visit later today. It's his bloody right as Sherlock's brother, though one can never be entirely certain with him ... as you bloody well know.'

'Language, my dear,' Mrs Hudson gently admonished. 'But how true. He is a strange one, is Mycroft. So cold, isn't he?' She shuddered as if a cold hand had reached out for her. 'Enough of that, John,' she said with an air of finality, determined not to let anything spoil this happy occasion. Her eyes darted over the table, 'Have you got any sugar, dear?'

'Over there on the shelf.'

'Any milk?'

'In the fridge. There's always plenty. Sherlock makes sure of that. It's one of the little errands he runs on a daily basis. It's part of his routine, you know. We need to get a bit of structure into his - our - days.'

Mrs Hudson smiled and quickly turned away to get the sugar bowl and the milk. And a good thing that was as she felt warm tears welling up in her eyes - Don't cry, she berated herself. It's no good whatsoever - and besides it's his birthday, so let's all be jolly.

John did not notice her distress as the mentioning of that name had lost him in the memories of his last encounter with Mycroft Holmes. It had been a fight, a cruel fight, fought with cutting remarks and settled with conclusive words. They had fought over Sherlock, of course, and this, as it proved, decisive battle had marked the climax of countless arguments they had fought out over the last months.

'I insist that he is taken care of at home, John.'

'His home is here, Mycroft. 221B is the only real home he ever had.'

'I'm sure you will understand that he needs to be with his family.'

'And I am sure you will agree that I am his family,' John had sharply rebuffed him and this remark had settled the argument once and for all, at least for him.

This unpleasant encounter had taken place a few days ago and since then the air between them had perceptibly cooled. Cooled below the already icy coolness that had marked their every interaction so far anyway. John was not sure how he felt about a possible visit of Mycroft today. But as it was Sherlock's 40th birthday, it had to be expected.

'There!' Mrs Hudson proudly exclaimed and clasped her hands in front of her bosom. John blinked, slowly finding back to the here and now. His eyes scanned the kitchen table and the array of tempting and mouth-watering things skilfully arranged on plates and trays. 'Oh, yes! This looks very tantalising indeed, Mrs Hudson! Wonderful!'

The doorbell rang once, twice, catapulting them both into action. 'I'll answer the door,' Mrs Hudson decreed. 'And you, dear John, you'll get our birthday boy.'

oOo

Sherlock was sitting on the sofa, a silent entity among the happy chatter of his guests. His right hand rested on his thigh and his other hand held a plate of untouched sandwiches. He looked tired, but otherwise remarkably unchanged in his usual crisp shirt and tight-fitting suit. He always made sure to look dapper and well-groomed, holding on to that bit of normality as long as he was able to.

His hair was a bit longer and the curls a bit wilder these days, but he still retained that pale ethereal beauty that had always made him so outstanding. A few grey hairs at the temples were a testament of approaching middle age, but he was still lean as a whippet and his face was barely lined.

Looking at him one could be tricked into believing that everything was fine and not notice the change immediately. It was different though, when you had the misfortune to encounter him in one of his dark hours, and meeting his eyes you would notice that the Sherlock Holmes was indeed no longer there and next to nothing was left of the sparkle and brilliance that had once made him so unique.

It was heart-breaking to realise that the buzzing, electrifying and more often than not irritating personality had been replaced by a diluted, washed-out and faded version. He would look at you, a puzzled frown on his face, but no curiosity would light up those mesmerising eyes. He would merely grace you with a weak smile and relapse into silent stupor.

John was sitting close to him, always keeping an unobtrusive eye on his love. Molly kept them company and was telling stories about her latest boyfriend, a rogue apparently, as she confided with a giggle. Before, Sherlock would never have let her get away with it, would have teased her, always that tiny bit too much, but all Sherlock uttered now was a low scoff at the most inappropriate of moments and it could have been aimed at anything or anybody in the room.

Molly glanced at John who nodded at her, a reassuring smile playing around his lips, but not quite reaching his eyes. Quickly Molly's hands darted forward and touched both men's hands in a very tender and loving gesture. John bent forward and pecked her on the blushing cheek, but Sherlock did not respond at all. 'He's bad today, isn't he?' Molly whispered to John. John nodded yes and smiled again, a brave little smile.

With a heavy heart Molly got up and wandered off to talk to Greg and Mrs Hudson who were in the kitchen, noisily conferring about Anderson. Mycroft had not graced the party with his presence yet and John was strangely thankful for that small mercy. But their old friend Greg Lestrade had accepted the invitation happily and was now gleefully informing Mrs Hudson, who had always had a particular penchant for Sherlock's favourite Yarder, about Anderson's latest shenanigans. 'Hilarious!' she exclaimed when Molly joined them and covered her mouth with her hands in a vain attempt to keep the girlish giggling at bay.

John watched their joy for a moment before he turned his attention back to Sherlock. He seemed absent, not here at all, but John knew that he would answer him if he asked.

'Are you alright, love?' John gently enquired.

'Yes. Yes, I'm ... fine.' Sherlock seemed to listen to what he had said and then nodded eagerly to show that everything was in order. John relieved him of the plate of sandwiches slowly going stale. Sherlock must have misunderstood his intention and grabbed John's sleeves, 'Don't go!'

'I won't, love. I'll stay here - with you. I just put the plate on the coffee table. See, there.' John sat back, close to him. Sherlock did not turn to him fully, but placed his hand on John's leg and John felt this distinctive grip again, the one Sherlock had perfected in the last months. Pinching the fabric of his jeans, or whatever trousers he would be wearing, he would hold on with two fingers, thus establishing connection between them. John covered Sherlock's fingers with his hand, giving him the security and reassurance he was looking for.

'Do you like everybody to be here? Just for you and your birthday?'

'Yes, it's ... lively, it's... nice to see them all. But I'd rather be alone with you, John.'

'I know, I guess they will be leaving soon, Sherl. And then we'll have the whole evening to ourselves, as always.'

'Good,' Sherlock nodded once again and turned to John. They locked eyes and for a moment John saw the old glimmer and sparkle, the mischief that so often had lit up those eyes and his heart skipped a beat. 'Very good, John' Sherlock added in his low velvety voice that had lost its sharp edge, but was all the lovelier for it. 'I would like you to read to me. Will you do that?'

'Of course I will. Whatever you want. It's your birthday after all!'

'Good! I rather enjoy it when you read to me, John. It's nice and entertaining and ...' he frowned when he could not think of another fitting word as it was so often the case in the last months. It was as if the words were leaving him just as his old self was saying goodbye to the world.

'Yes, it is, love. It is,' John closed the gap between them and kissed him, a tender gesture and full of unspoken worries and joys that probably would never be discussed between them again. The smile that this kiss earned him made up for a lot, but it could not disguise the fact that their life as they had known it was over. Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective, the only one in the world, was no longer.

John refused to be consumed by those morbid thoughts and sank back against the sofa. With a warm smile on his face he invited Sherlock to lean his head against his shoulder. Wrapping his arms around him he let his gaze drop to Sherlock's fingers still holding onto him. Their life as they had known it might be over, yes, but John knew that he would never leave Sherlock, would never leave him in this darkness, would never leave him alone.

He kissed the top of Sherlock's head and caught Mrs Hudson's sad smile as she was looking over to them. He realised that it was just as hard for their friends to accept this new and alien version of Sherlock as it had been for him. He also knew that there was no way out, and that he did not want a way out, and that John and Sherlock, Sherlock and John were meant to be together forever, together until the very end.

'Yes,' he whispered almost inaudibly. 'Until the end.'

He thought Sherlock had not paid attention to his muttered words, but when he felt Sherlock's fingers tighten their grip on him, he knew that he had indeed heard and had understood, and this little gesture was all the assurance John would ever need.


A/N Sorry for that, but I did warn you ...

Well, this is it for Dark Matter (I think). I have a kind of back story for it in mind, covering some of Sherlock's time away, some decisive events, his POV, so that might very well be next ... or something else entirely!

Thank you all so much for reading, reviewing, favouriting and alerting. A special Thank You goes to WitchRavenFox, MapleleafCameo, PowerOgirl, Wingatron, Jezzie81, Like A snowflake, MeggieMay9897and Godiva33 again. You are my darlings :)

See you, JJ