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Hazy Shade of Winter

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It's cold. It's January 6th and the cottage is cold. The bees are boxed for the winter. The leaves are brown on the ground and there's a grey look to the world.

Sherlock shivers and stares at the dark fireplace. He's old and tired and suddenly it doesn't seem worth it anymore.

His hair is run through with silver and he wears practical clothes these days. All jumpers and long underwear under heavy wool pants.

And still he's cold all the time. Cold with or without a fire in the hearth. Cold in the sunlight. Cold in the summer.

And he realizes it's because the cold is in him. It's in the hole in his chest left by one army doctor decades ago.

He looks out the window. A storm is coming in. Sleet, if not snow, by the looks of it. He gets up and walks to his front door. He grabs his coat, but not his coat. The belstaff is long gone, worn and mostly impractical here. He takes one last look around his cottage before exiting out the door and carefully locking up.

He turns and looks towards the small gathering of woods at the edge of his property. There are no proper forests in England anymore, but one could still get proper lost in the trees near his property.

He can see the headline now. 'Former Detective Sherlock Holmes, Couldn't Detect Way Out of the Cold.' Callous and unforgiving gossip rags. The only unchanging things in an ever changing world.

He won't get lost, but that's what they'll think when they eventually find him. He wonders if they'll find him frozen in the depth of winter or partially rotted and torn by local animals as spring blooms.

He treks into the woods. He's headed to a spot deep in: a small pool of water that sits year around. In the summer it's a lovely place to dip his feet and sit among the wildflowers. He's never been in winter. He expects it'll be near frozen. There have been several frosts, and a couple of flurry storms, but nothing stuck.

He treks for the better part of an hour. The woods are deathly silent. He feels it's almost a travesty to disturb the stillness. How horrible that man wasn't designed to be stealthy and unobtrusive? Instead he's crashing through the underbrush.

He pauses for a moment and looks up into the empty canopy above him. He rests a hand on a nearby tree and gives a silent apology.

Soon he'll be quiet.

Soon.

Eventually he reaches his destination and it's as he expected. The water is mostly frozen with a bit of overflow on the far side where the sun hits most of the day. The grass around the pool is brown and dead. There are no flowers. No sign of life at all, save for himself.

The light is a shallow grey and the storm has reached him, though it has yet to start raining.

He walks to the edge of the frozen pond and takes a seat and then carefully lies back onto the ground. He's chilled, but not dangerously so yet. Presumably that'll change when it begins to rain or snow.

He feels so empty, so much so that he's not sure he can even be sad anymore. He's just tired and finally given up. He closes his eyes and lets out a sigh.

He feels the air change. The storm is imminent.

And then there's a warm breeze on his face.

He contorts his face in confusion, but keeps his eyes closed. Probably a warm air current meeting the storm or something like that. Weather patterns were never that relevant to him except in a few very specific instances.

"Get up you idiot."

And that has him jolting up in shock, eyes wide now, because that voice, here, now, is impossible.

Though just as impossible as what he registers as he looks around him.

He's still in the clearing, but it's clearly late spring now. The water is unfrozen and a still tranquil blue. The sun is shining and the clearing is covered in dappled light filtering through the nearby full canopy of leaves from the trees. He's surrounded by warm earth, dewy grass, and fragrant wildflowers in bright, cheery colors.

And next to him is a one John Hamish Watson, looking young and alive and somehow just as Sherlock remembers him when they first met.

"J-," Sherlocks voice breaks before he tries again, swallows and whispers, "John?"

"Yeah, it's me."

"How are-" Sherlock feels so lost and out of his depth. "How?"

John just shrugs. "Don't quite know, but I'm here."

Sherlock reaches out a hand and touches John on his cheek. John is solid and warm. Sherlock pulls his hand back slowly. "But. You're dead," he says dumbly.

John's gaze softens and he gives Sherlock a small smile before looking out at the pond, "Yeah. I am." His voice is quiet, pained.

"Am I dead?"

John looks over at Sherlock's feet, but doesn't let his gaze travel any higher. "No. Not yet at any rate."

"Oh. Then...what?" He doesn't complete the sentence and let's his voice drift off.

"What are we doing here?"

"We can start with that."

"You're dying. This is sort of a limbo."

Sherlock takes that in.

"Ah. This is a hallucination. My brains gasping last pulses. I suppose this is preferable to a recap of my life."

John purses his lips and looks up at Sherlock. "No. Not a hallucination. This is very much real."

"Hmm. As a hallucination you would say that. Besides there's a glaringly obvious reason for why this isn't real."

"Which is?"

"You wouldn't be here if this were real."

John frowns and he lets out a long sigh. "I get why you would think that. I really do. But I'm here. I've always been with you."

"Ha," Sherlock scoffs, "that's why you left with Rosie all those years ago and never spoke to me again. I found out about your death from my brother."

John winces and looks chagrined. "I thought I was doing the right thing."

"The right thing?"

"Sherlock. I was awful towards you. I hurt you emotionally and physically. You did everything within your power to try and make me happy and all I kept doing was hurting you. So I did the only thing I could think of and left."

"I always did say you were an idiot," he says bitterly. To think. All those years ago John left him out of some skewed sense of morality. Of doing the right thing."You leaving was the worst thing I ever had to endure."

John let's out a pained sound and reaches toward Sherlock, but only lets his hand hover near Sherlock without touching.

Sherlock suddenly feels irrationally angry. He stands up with a huff and looks down at John confrontationally. John stares a moment before slowly standing to face Sherlock.

"Well John? All these years you've supposedly been stalking me and you still can't just reach out? That was always your problem. You always were more concerned about how people perceived you rather then just simply accepting yourself. I loved you, John. Wholly and desperately. I'm not saying you didn't hurt me, but you were a net good in my life and we could have worked together to fix our problems. You thought leaving was the best option? You coward. It was the easiest option."

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry doesn't fix anything now John. You're dead and I'm dying." Sherlock let's out a sigh and visibly deflates, the anger leaving him as suddenly as it came. "We're a mess aren't we?"

John gives a rueful laugh, "Yeah, we are. But that's another reason we're here, now, talking. We have an option."

Sherlock gives him a bewildered look, "Option?"

"Yeah. I've been talking with the higher ups and-"

"Hold on. The higher ups. You mean like God? But no. You said ups, plural. Gods?"

"It's all up to you, but they, it, whatever are in charge and they've agreed to something."

"Ok. I'm sorry for interrupting. Please do continue."

"When I first died I wasn't entirely sure what was going on. I met others and they explained that the afterlife is what we make of it for ourselves. I truly wanted nothing more then to be with you. And so that's what I got. I have been with you since the day I died. And it's given me a lot of time to think and I would do anything to do it all over again; to have a second chance.

"Soulmates aren't a thing, exactly. But that's what the others started calling us, the other people in the afterlife who stumbled across me following you around. Haunting you, really. Well, eventually word got around to this person who's like the mouthpiece for the higher ups. Abrasive, heavy smoker, and prone to cussing, but he thought there was something romantic and tragic about our situation. So he made me an offer. We can go back. We can try again."

"We can try...again?" Sherlock gives John a dubious look, "There has to be a catch."

John smiles sadly. "There is. We won't remember any of the life we already lived. And if we can't love each other by the time you're 38, then we never meet again."

"Then what incentive is there for us to try again? Can't we just be here, together?"

"Everyone has to go back at some point and there's no guarantee the next time I come back I'll remember you. That we'll find each other. And I don't want that. I want you. Always you."

Sherlock looks pensive and thinks over everything John has just said.

"Look, Sherlock. I understand if you don't feel the same anymore. If you'd rather be rid of me. I-"

Sherlock cuts him off. "We'll go back."

"What? You want to try?"

"Of course John. If my choice is between a second guaranteed chance and a possible maybe, in a few centuries, second chance, then I choose now. Besides I know we'll do it right this time."

John gives him a watery smile, "Oh, do you now?"

Sherlock smiles at John and reaches out for him. John steps forward and Sherlock takes his hands. "Dance with me John?"

John looks up at Sherlock and smiles softly. "Of course, Sherlock."

They begin to dance a slow waltz together in the tall flowers. Sherlock leans forward and whispers into John's ear, "We won't remember our lives, but we might remember this. So hold onto this memory John. Remember me as I hold you in a quiet meadow on a sunny day and I whisper 'I love you' in your ear. We'll have this, this time, John. Remember."

The world is breaking up, the meadow fading and the sun shining brighter and brighter. Sherlock can't feel John anymore. Can't feel anything.

"Remember."