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A Knockout Christmas

Chapter Text

“Right, that’s me knocking it on the head for Christmas,” Lestrade announced, clapping his hands together, and rubbing them a little in the cold. “Pleasure as always, boys.”

Sherlock looked up from his phone.

“You’re finishing for the day?” he demanded, brow furrowed in confusion. “It’s four o’clock.”

“Yeah,” Lestrade smiled. “A key piece of evidence secured, a couple of big arrests and some extradition warrants issued – pretty satisfying day’s work. Credit where credit’s due, Sherlock – it’s mostly down to you that I’m getting my Christmas Eve early finish.”

Sherlock glanced across to John, who apparently didn’t share his confusion and seemed to be surveying the scene with some amusement.

“Do you mean to tell me that the criminal classes honour the feast days of the Gregorian calendar and break for Christmas?”

“Aahh, nope,” Greg replied. “But even if they don’t want a holiday, I do. Besides, I’m back on shift again at eight am Boxing Day, so I’m taking every extra hour I can get.”

Sherlock sighed, pocketing his phone.

“Well, what about that double murder over in Harpenden? You said you wanted our help with it.”

“The cold case?” Lestrade replied. “It’s a cold case, mate. It’s not going to get any colder over the next two days.”

Sherlock frowned, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other. This day was not concluding as he expected it to, and the spectre of aimless hours now loomed ahead.

“So what are you doing, then?” he queried. As if I don’t know the answer.

“Pub,” Lestrade replied. “We’re all decamping to The Red Lion to make merry with some quality ales and erudite conversation.”

Sherlock snorted. He would be pissed and talking absolute drivel by five-thirty.

“You can join us if you like” the detective offered. “Both of you. I’ll even get the first round in.”

“Thanks for the offer, Greg,” John said, before Sherlock could reply. “But if I leave now, I can get Rosie from the childminder a bit early and have a few hours with her. Feels as though I haven’t seen her properly for ages.”

That was fair enough. Sherlock had been feeling slightly guilty about the volume of cases he’d taken on in the past few weeks, knowing it was keeping John from his daughter, just to fulfil his own recent compulsion to keep busy. He didn’t like to think too closely what was behind that compulsion.

Lestrade treated them both to one of his customary bear-hugs, and drew this coat collar around his neck.

“Have a good one,” he told them. “What time should I be there tomorrow?”

“Mrs Hudson wants us all around the table at one, but come over earlier if you like,” John replied. “Sherlock can treat us to some Christmas tunes.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes.

“If you change your mind, Sherlock, you know where we are,” Lestrade said, as he backed away with a wave.

“Indeed,” Sherlock replied. “And you should probably know that the redhead from the forensics unit - for whom you’re wearing the cashmere scarf and Tom Ford cologne - is actually seeing someone.”

“Merry Christmas, you grumpy bastard!” Lestrade called, apparently undeterred.

Sherlock and John started to walk towards the main road together, Sherlock retrieving his phone from his pocket again. No emails, no blog activity…one new text. Molly’s name flashed up on the screen; swallowing, Sherlock restored the phone – message unread – to his pocket. Eight years ago, he had hastily jabbed the name ‘Pathologist – Bart’s’ into his address book; there had been a need to exchange mobile numbers, so she could text him some lab results. A couple of weeks later, he had amended that to ‘Molly Hooper – Bart’s’; a few months on and he’d shorted it to just ‘Molly Hooper’, and that was the way it had stayed until earlier this year. But a few months ago, he had found himself changing her contact details in his phone again – and now she was simply ‘Molly’. Anything else seemed superfluous.

“Do you want to come and have an early dinner with me and Rosie?” John asked. “Just leftovers, but I know she’d loved to see you.”

Sherlock smiled, glancing across at John.

“She’ll see me tomorrow,” he replied. “She needs to be with her father tonight.”

“Okay, so what about you?” John asked, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “What are you going to do with the rest of your Christmas Eve?”

“I suppose I’ll go home.”

The corners of John’s mouth turned down as he gave it some thought.

“What about your brother?” he said eventually. “You could go and have a drink with him. He’s probably at his club, isn’t he?”

Sherlock snorted. Yes, Mycroft would almost certainly be ensconced in the oak-panelled sanctuary of the Diogenes Club, nursing the four-hundred-pound whiskey that he gifted to himself every Christmas and very definitely not wanting to be interrupted by his twitchy, preoccupied little brother. Worse still, Mycroft would probably successfully deduce why he was feeling this way, and Sherlock wasn’t ready to have that conversation. 

“It will be an opportunity for me to catch up with one or two of the projects I’ve been neglecting of late,” Sherlock said briskly. “That monograph I’ve been writing about pollen types, for example. I’m also halfway through a series of experiments examining the use of seemingly innocuous cleaning in apparent incidents of poisoning.”

John raised his eyebrows and puffed out his cheeks.

“Wow. That does sound like Christmas treat,” he replied. There was a short pause as they walked, which ended when John looked as though he’d been struck by a lightning rod of genius. “Hey, why don’t you ask Molly to come over? I think she was going to some drinks thing straight after work, but it’s not a late one. If you’re insisting on doing experiments on Christmas Eve, she’d probably be happy to keep you company.”

Keep me company. Is this what things had come to?

“Thank you, John, but I am not doing to die of loneliness in the course of one evening,” Sherlock replied curtly. “Besides, I’m sure Molly will have something better to do – something nauseatingly festive, no doubt. You’re forgetting, John – Molly likes Christmas.”

John rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, and you think it’s an international capitalist scam designed to keep us all in thrall to tradition and enslaved to material spending, and based on a nonsensical concoction of Pagan, Judeo-Christian and Victorian customs,” he said. “Did I miss anything?”

Sherlock made a hmph noise.

“Sounds about right,” he replied. “Although you forgot the bit about being forced to pretend that there’s merit in spending time with one’s blood relatives.”

He paused to re-tie his scarf.

“Look, Molly does enjoy Christmas, yes,” John pushed. “But you know Molly – friends come first with her.”

He really wished John would let this one drop, but if he wasn’t going to rouse any suspicion with his friend, it would be best to keep things cordial.

“I’ll be absolutely fine,” Sherlock replied. “I may even take some time to reorganise my Mind Palace.”

By this time, John had managed to flag down a cab and, having greeted the driver, turned back to Sherlock before getting in.

“Yeah, well, as long as you don’t spend all night trawling the web for signs of criminal activity, or arguing with nut-jobs on conspiracy theory sites,” he grinned.

“Give my love to Rosamund,” Sherlock replied, ignoring the dig.

As the black cab pulled out into the waiting line of traffic, Sherlock turned to head in the opposite direction. He only lasted a few seconds before he took out his phone and swiped to the unread text message.

Home about 8. I have mince pies, cheese footballs, gingernuts and Bailey’s. Be better if I didn’t finish them myself – MH

She had included a smiley face emoji, which Sherlock should have found hateful. But, for a while now, he hadn’t. Well, she was the exception to this rule – as with so many other of the rules he had set for himself over the years, and more and more as this year had gone on.  

The truth was, Molly had invited him over to hers several days ago. He hadn’t promised he would go, but he hadn’t exactly said he wouldn’t either; he should probably have been more emphatic about that – although to do that, he would first have needed to make a decision.

The invitation was friendly, casual – but it absolutely terrified him. It was exactly what he didn’t need, exactly what he had been trying to avoid, because the fact was that he no longer trusted himself. He couldn’t afford to put himself in a position where there was even a chance he could do something stupid, something that would invariably hurt Molly again.

He had managed to navigate his way through the last few months with more luck than judgement. In the immediate aftermath of Sherrinford, he had assumed that he probably destroyed the last vestiges of friendship that existed between himself and Molly; that he had obliterated her trust and lost every ounce of he regard. Although he was not to blame for the circumstances, Sherlock knew he could have behaved better during that phone call – when he could bear to reflect on it, he could hear his flippancy, his arrogance, his belittling of something that he now realised was incredibly precious, and of which he was completely undeserving.

The lead-up to that first conversation after Sherrinford had been agonising, and when he was finally face to face with Molly, all articulacy deserted him. He’d fumbled some sort of apology, and said something about what he’d said on the phone being “not entirely untrue”. Molly had replied that she knew he his intentions had been good in wanting to save her, that she understood there were different permutations of love, and that they should probably draw a line underneath the whole episode.

In short, she’d made it easy for him – easier than he deserved. Perhaps it was because he had left it too long, given Molly time to find that pragmatism that he so admired in her, given himself time to try to rationalise everything. Perhaps if the raw hurt had still been there, it would have been a different conversation – possibly with a different outcome. It was only after that conversation, when he was alone again, that he realied that perhaps ‘drawing a line’ wasn’t what he wanted; it felt too final, like a door was being closed,

Sherlock picked up his own cab a couple of streets on, arriving back at Baker Street just in time to find Mrs Hudson leaving her flat, struggling to lock the door while balancing giftbags. He took them from her arms, earning a surprised look in response.

“Oh, thank you, dear,” she said, returning her keys to her handbag. “What’s got into you this evening?”

“Nothing!” Sherlock replied, immediately realising how defensive it sounded. He quickly recovered himself. “Next time I’m happy to let you continue in your struggle.”

“I’m just off to a little get-together with my Zumba ladies,” his landlady told him. “What time are you going out?”

Sherlock inwardly rolled his eyes (but at least it was inwardly this time).

“I’m not.”

Mrs Hudson looked at him as though he was being a particularly trying toddler.

“Oh, Sherlock, you can’t just stay in by yourself on Christmas Eve!” she cried.

For a moment, he was worried that he was about to be invited to spend Christmas Eve with a dozen elderly ladies tanked up on G&Ts.

“Why not? I’ve coped with it every year up to this point,” he protested. “And on the occasions when I haven’t been free to do so, believe me Mrs Hudson, staying in by myself is exactly what I craved.”

Mrs Hudson tutted at him, shaking her head.

 “Go on, get yourself out!” she insisted. “Do something with your evening!”

“I intend to,” Sherlock replied. “It’s currently sitting in a half-finished state on the kitchen table.”

“I know what you should do!” she said, as she tucked her hair into her woollen hat. “Why don’t you go over to Molly’s? I know she’d like to see you. Take her some Christmas cake if you like, dear; it’s in a tin on top of my fridge.”

“I know,” he told her with a small smile. “It’s very good.”

Mrs Hudson gave him a long-suffering look, but Sherlock could tell that he had time on his side here; Hudders was in a hurry, so she’d have to give up the argument sooner or later.

“You should really think about it, Sherlock,” she told him, smiling at him with the kind of earnestness that he found it very difficult to be glib with. “It’s the time of year for it, isn’t it?”

He didn’t dare to ask what it was that she thought it was the time of year for; he probably wouldn’t like the answer.

 A few minutes later, he was safely installed in the kitchen of 221B, fire ablaze in the sitting room hearth (he’d have to thank Hudders for that in the morning), goggles and gloves on, and Bunsen burner ready. Sherlock scrolled back through his notes on his laptop, reminding himself of his earlier results and the remaining tests he wished to run.

His phone buzzed on the kitchen counter, and his heart leapt to an embarrassing degree. He flipped up his goggles and waved one glove off his hand to pick up the phone and open the text.

You have unused data on your plan this month. This will roll over into next month’s usage. Why not call us about switching to a plan that works for you? To stop receiving these messages, reply with STOP.

Sherlock let out a low grunt before returning to his experiment. It had been bad enough before, but now all he could think about was Molly’s text. Maybe he should have replied. He could have said that a case had come up - but it was a lie that would inevitably be exposed the next day around the dinner table, and that would be more than a Bit Not Good. And lies were no longer an option, anyway; although he hadn’t said it out loud to Molly, Sherlock had vowed to himself that after Sherrinford, he would be nothing but honest with her.

How’s that working out? he heard Mind Palace John asked.

He had assumed that after That Phone Call, Molly would want to put some distance between them, but the reality was exactly the opposite. She made no effort to avoid him, and always seemed pleased to see him. And once he understood that he wasn’t completely persona non grata, Sherlock found himself looking for opportunities for them to be in the same place at the same time. He hadn’t liked to admit that was what he was doing, but he knew full well what it would look like to even an objective observer. Extra hours in the lab of Bart’s, doing work that they both knew he could be doing at home; coming by when Molly was babysitting Rosie; turning up with take-away food just after she got in from work.

He knew what was happening to him – no, what had happened to him - and that’s why he’d needed to put an end to it.

It wasn’t difficult to increase his workload; there was never a lack of cases jostling for his attention – he just had to lower his standards. Significantly lower his standards. Some of the crimes were so mind-numbingly boring that Sherlock had wanted to repeatedly bang his head against the nearest doorframe - and even John started to query why he kept taking such pedestrian cases.

But it kept him busy, meant that should Molly ask, he could tell her that he was working and it wouldn’t be a lie. And he started doing more lab work at home, hence the half-arsed piece of work in front of him.

With a sigh, Sherlock poured a measure of sodium hypochlorite into a beaker, setting it down on the bench beside him. The kitchen table was an unruly mess, nothing like the nice, clean, ordered lab at Bart’s. Years ago, Molly used to clean up after him after he left, but these days she would smile and throw cleaning cloths at him, reminding him that he needed to return equipment to the cupboard. And more often than not, they would leave together, after which he would walk Molly to the Tube, or they would go for food – or he would get an invitation to come back to hers.  

The sample needed to be diluted as per the previous experiment, and Sherlock reached for the beaker of tap water he’d poured earlier.

Back to hers. Sherlock thought about Molly’s original invitation to come over tonight, and the recent text; he imagined a tree adorned with a variety of mismatched and probably slightly odd decorations, terrible Christmas music coming from her laptop, and Molly in the reindeer pyjamas he knew that she owned (bolthole days all those years ago were dull, and the contents of no drawer remained a mystery).

It would be so easy to stop what he was doing right now and hail a cab. But then where the hell would he be? Two months of careful distancing completely undone because he…he missed her.

Bloody Christmas.

Sherlock added the 250ml of water to the sodium hypochlorite and-

“Ohh…shit!”

Apparently, that wasn’t water.

Almost right away he started to feel dizzy, disoriented. Sherlock coughed, spat, rubbed his eyes and tried to reach for the actual beaker of tap water, but already his limbs seemed to be unwilling to cooperate with his thoughts. He tried to make it to his phone, but all he managed to do was clumsily swipe it onto the floor.

His eyes rolled back in his head, his legs went completely from under him and everything went black.

Chapter Text

He opened one eye to find himself staring at the bottom half of a chair leg; his other eye was squashed shut against the living room floorboards. Sherlock tried to push himself up with his elbows, but his head was swimming and the effort required felt ridiculous. Instead, he heaved himself onto his side, and then eventually his back; he stared at the ceiling for a few moments, trying to get his eyes to focus, but the overhead light was offensively bright, and he found he had to close them again.

“Congratulations, Sherlock, this is a new one even for you,” said a familiar, supercilious voice.

Sherlock’s eyes snapped open and he was presented with upside-down view of his brother.

“Mycroft?” he mumbled, trying to roll himself onto his elbow. “What happ…oh God, I remember.”

“Yes, you managed to accidentally chloroform yourself,” Mycroft smiled. “Quite the achievement.”

Sherlock hauled himself into a sitting position, shuffling across the floor until his back was against the front of the sofa. His brother was perched on the arm of the new yellow chair, and Sherlock wished he had the strength to tell him to get off and sit somewhere else.

“Wait, are you-” Sherlock began, when his eyes focused again. “Is that the Christmas cake Mrs Hudson gave me?”

Mycroft raised his eyebrows, his smile almost a challenge. A saucer was balanced on his knee, and he daintily sliced into the dark, fruit-laden cake with his fork.

“A little dry for my liking,” Mycroft replied. “But a good effort nonetheless.”

Sherlock grimaced at him before dropping his head into his hands and raking his fingers through his hair. Then a thought entered his head and he whirled around to face his brother.

“H-how are you even here?” he demanded.

It didn’t make sense. Sherlock knew that with only inhaling the toxic fumes indirectly, he could only have been knocked out for a few minutes – and yet here was Mycroft, making himself at home and taking liberties with one of the few decent things he had left to eat.

“How could you know that I was in trouble?” he went on. “I find it hard to believe that you were coincidentally dropping by to wish me the compliments of the season.”

Sherlock waited for an answer, but Mycroft just gave a Sphinx-like smile, and pushed the cake crumbs around with his fork. What the hell was going on here?

Eventually, his brother spoke.

“Think about it, Sherlock. Think about the most likely scenario here.”

Keeping his eyes on Mycroft, Sherlock swallowed, urged his brain to climb up a few rungs out of its current mire of confusion.

“Oh Christ, I’m not dead, am I?” Sherlock said suddenly, eyes wide. “Because that would make this a particularly shit Christmas.”

Mycroft gave a wry laugh.

“I’m flattered that you would see me in the role of St Peter, brother mine,” he said.

Sherlock glared at him darkly.

“I was actually thinking more of Cerberus, the hound of Hades,” he replied. “But I appreciate that you would enjoy the admin involved in guarding the gates of Heaven – not to mention the regular opportunities for schadenfreude.”

Mycroft set down his plate and fork, and crossed one knee over the other.

“So, what happened here tonight?” he asked. “I thought Mummy warned you about playing with household chemicals?”

Sherlock splayed a hand over his face for a moment, pressing the pad of his middle finger between his eyebrows.

“I had separated the sodium hypochlorite from a bottle of toilet bleach, and I’m fairly sure that I accidentally combined it with some isopropyl alcohol from some hand sanitiser I took from the hospital,” he said, picturing the identical beakers on his kitchen table.

Mycroft tilted his head to one side.

“Yes,” he replied. “I believe you were a little…distracted.”

Sherlock hauled himself onto the sofa and turned on Mycroft.

“Not distracted, just tired. Not concentrating,” he explained. “And – hang on a second, how do you even know all this?”

There was a stand-off for a few moments, while Sherlock looked for clues in his brother’s irritatingly haughty expression. There was an odd familiarity about this whole thing; a vividness that also somehow seemed unreal.

“Oh, I get it!” Sherlock said finally. “I see what this is! None of this is real, is it? I’m having some sort of bizarre, chemical-fuelled dream!”
Mycroft laughed again.

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, would it?” he said. “And I believe you learned some interesting things about yourself during your brief narcotic-soaked sojourn as a Victorian gentleman. Not just about yourself, I might add; your mind did some things to Dr Hooper that were rather…illuminating.”

“Shut up, Mycroft!” Sherlock growled. “Given that this is apparently all in my head, I could very easily shove you arse-first out of the window.”

Mycroft gave a long-suffering sigh.

“Well, that would be a shame,” he said, studying the back of his well-manicured hand. “I thought you and I might go on a little trip together. No pun intended.”

“How about I just stab myself in the eye with your cake fork and wake myself up?” Sherlock retorted.

“Humour me, Sherlock,” Mycroft replied, with a watery smile. “You never know; you might find it rather enlightening.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes as he got to his feet.

“What are you going to do? Twitch your nose and we appear somewhere else? Make us vanish in a puff of smoke?”

Given his brother’s fondness for the dramatic, this seemed right up his alley.

Mycroft stood, too, brushing invisible crumbs from his pinstriped trousers. He took a couple of deliberate steps towards Sherlock, then gestured over his shoulder, a stillness coming over him as he spoke.

“Walk through the door, Sherlock.”

00000000

Before he opened the door, Sherlock could hear voices, including a child’s, which rung out above the others. Instead of emerging in his own hallway, he found himself in another hallway altogether; one that he vaguely recognised. The voices were coming from a room off to the left, and Sherlock could see flickering light spilling out from under the door.

“Our parents’ house,” Sherlock said, quietly, more to himself than to Mycroft, who was standing at his shoulder.

The wallpaper and some of the hallway furniture were different, but he knew it well enough. His eye was caught by the photographs; framed pictures of him and Mycroft in school uniform – he himself was no more than eight years old in any of them, gaps in his teeth, and sporting the dimples that his mother always banged on about adoringly.

“Why are we here?” he asked Mycroft. Suddenly, he felt afraid of what he might find on the other side. He couldn’t place the year exactly.

“Go ahead, Sherlock, go inside,” Mycroft replied. “They can’t see or hear you. This is in your head, remember?”

Sherlock approached the door, hearing each floorboard creak in its old familiar way. Tentatively, he reached for the handle. As he stepped into the room, he was assaulted by noise and spectacle; a huge Christmas tree festooned with lights and decorations, foil concertina lanterns and paperchains hung from every available picture rail, music spilling from…he remembered that stereo – it was the first cassette player his father ever bought.

His breath caught in chest as he saw his mother and father, or rather the younger versions of themselves. Both were wearing paper hats, and his father was wearing a bowtie covered in holly sprigs – and both of their eyes were creased with laughter. Off to the other side of the room, his eyes fell on the figure perching on the sofa – dressed in Sunday Best, and no more than fifteen years old, was his brother. He could recall Mycroft at thirteen, rather overweight and self-conscious about it, but a couple of years later, he had already slimmed down and looked like a prototype of his current self. If he was calculating correctly, this Christmas marked the end of Mycroft’s first term away at school.

All three members of his family were watching the child obscured from him by the tree. Sherlock felt himself holding in his breath, felt his heart pounding in his chest, as he allowed himself to walk slowly past the teenage Mycroft. He almost jumped in shock when his younger self suddenly leapt up from his seat on the floor and started waving his arms in excitement. Sherlock stood back, watching as the curly-haired boy tore the plastic wrapping off his latest gift.

“I remember that,” he breathed. “But I never expected Mummy and Dad would buy it – I thought they would say it was too expensive.”

Mycroft – the middle-aged version – was standing by him now, surveying the scene along with him.

“Mmm,” he replied. “But this was the first Christmas in the new house, the first Christmas after…Eurus was taken away. They went all-out for this one, although I suspect it was the last thing they felt like doing.”

Sherlock blinked, his gaze moving between his parents. They had done a remarkable job of suppressing their grief, burying their anguish – and all for the young boy currently pulling wrapping paper off his next present.

“You bought me a chemistry set,” Sherlock murmured, watching his younger self examining the box. “My first.”

“Yes,” Mycroft replied. “I believe you wanted an Action Man, but I like to think that my decision to overrule you was rather prescient. Although judging by what you did to yourself tonight, perhaps the Action Man might have been the safer option.”

Sherlock couldn’t help looking at his younger self, looking for the signs of trauma, the damage, the beginnings of the man he was to become. But what he saw was an ordinary eight-year-old boy, rosy-cheeked and beaming with excitement, thrilled by his new acquisitions.

“I suppose you’re trying to show me that there was a time when I enjoyed Christmas?” he asked Mycroft. “It’s rather a fatuous point. Yes, I was happy, but it was a delusion – had I known, had I understood the truth, it would have been very different.”

Mycroft folded his arms, watching his younger self unwrap a cassette Walkman.

“Perhaps,” he conceded. “But it was happiness nonetheless. And it was what Mummy and Dad wanted for you – you were their world, Sherlock.”

Sherlock squinted at the gift his brother was unwrapping.

“Is that Phil Collins?!” he asked, pulling a face.

Mycroft sighed.

“Yes. I asked for Madonna’s Like a Virgin, but Mummy didn’t want to ask for it at the little record shop in Horsham.”

Sherlock snorted, exchanging a small smile of familial understanding with his brother.

“We’ve seen what we need to see,” Mycroft said. “Time to move on.”

Sherlock threw a glance across to Mycroft.

“Move on to where?”

His brother nodded past his shoulder, and when Sherlock turned, he found that the room in which they were standing had been transformed. The same living room, but different décor, a new three-piece-suite – and an entirely different atmosphere. There was still a tree, and a row of Christmas cards standing sentry on the mantelpiece, but there was a stony silence in the room. With a heavy heart, Sherlock recognised the scene. He was at the centre of it again, but this time he was a teenage boy sitting on the sofa wearing a defiant expression, facing down his mother and father; Mycroft, now a young man, hovered by the fireplace, hands clasped behind his back.

“Christmas Eve, 1993,” Mycroft said. “Do you recall? You had just been kicked out of school.”

Sherlock nodded, watching the fifteen-year-old version of himself insolently stare off into the distance while his parents tried to reason with him. His grandfather, father and Mycroft had been boarders at the school from the age of fourteen, and he had just well and truly destroyed the family tradition.

“I hated that school,” Sherlock commented. He knew, however, that was scarcely an excuse for his behaviour either at school or in his parents’ home, and the agonies to which he subjected his mother and father.

“You were unhappy, yes,” his brother said. “Angry, too, and frightened by not knowing where that anger stemmed from. Although you had no memory of it, you had suffered a great loss, a loss that you didn’t have the opportunity to properly grieve.”

“I wasn’t allowed that opportunity,” Sherlock retorted.

Mycroft gave a small nod, absorbing the barb.

“Mummy and Dad asked me to intervene,” he said eventually. “They wanted me to persuade you to see the bigger picture, the value of ‘sticking it out’ at that school. I suppose they saw that it did me some good. But when I found you behind the greenhouse with certain…illicit substances, I knew immediately it wasn’t going to work.”

Sherlock bowed his head, felt a pressure building behind his eyes. He didn’t need Mycroft to remind him what had happened next; it was the first time he had ever witnessed his father cry.

“You told them,” Sherlock said. It wasn’t accusatory; just re-running the tape.

“Only after I caught you the second time,” Mycroft pointed out. “I didn’t have a choice – you were fifteen, a mere child. You were lonely, I recognised that; anger and fear aside, prodigious intelligence can be very isolating. It’s unusual for the likes of us, brother mine, to find another person who can truly understand, who sees and accepts us for all of our flaws and our emotional shackles.”

Sherlock didn’t need to look at his brother to know that he was looking at him pointedly.

“There are extraordinary rare breeds to be found amongst all of the goldfish,” his brother added.

Sherlock gave a short bark of laughter.

“Mycroft, that is a horrible analogy!”

His brother shrugged, and smiled a haughty smile.

“This is all in your head, remember? So, actually, it’s your horrible analogy. Shall we continue?”

Before Sherlock had the chance to come up with a rejoinder, his surroundings seemed to dissolve around him, and he found himself standing in the hallway of 221B. He opened his mouth to speak, but Mycroft put out his hand and ushered him back against the wall. Sherlock heard footsteps coming up the stairs, but it was a tread he didn’t recognise – high heeled shoes, but the wearer wasn’t used to walking in them. Then Sherlock saw the top of the visitor’s head, recognised the silver gift-topper in her hair – and his heart plummeted five feet to the floor.

“Mycroft, no…” he said in a quiet gasp, barely able to lift his gaze again.

“One you’d rather forget?” his brother enquired.

“I can’t-” Sherlock replied. “It’s – look, I know I was a complete arsehole, and I really don’t need to see it again to-”

“I’m keen to see it, though,” Mycroft replied, as Molly approached where they were standing at the top of the stairs. “I understand it was quite a watershed moment.”

His heart thundering, Sherlock forced himself to look at Molly. She paused at the top of the stairs, bulging gift bags in both hands, and he saw her take a deep, fortifying breath. God, she was nervous – he’d never considered that. As Molly walked through the front door, Sherlock felt his brother nudge his elbow, and he reluctantly followed her as far as the doorway. Immediately, he caught sight of himself seated at his desk, saw his reaction to Molly entering the room.

“You cover it well, I have to admit,” Mycroft said.

“Cover what?” he demanded, without looking around.

“What Dr Watson and Detective Inspector Lestrade are spectacularly failing to cover.”

Sherlock watched as Molly took off her coat and adjusted the strap of her dress, never taking her eyes off him for a second. The dress, the hair – it wasn’t Molly, he’d thought that then, but it was only now that he could see just how ill at ease she was; how much she was prepared to throw at this to…well, to produce the result she wanted. He desperately wished he could tell her to turn around and walk out of the door, to make her understand that he wasn’t anywhere close to being worth it.

“Oh, this is interesting!” Mycroft said, leaning against the doorjamb. “Deduction time, I see. Seems rather inappropriate, given the occasion. Ah, so you think Dr Hooper has a boyfriend? Can’t possibly imagine why that would provoke such a reaction in you, Sherlock.”

Sherlock found her could barely raise his eyes from the floorboards, shame coursing through every vein in his body. When he looked up, he saw the face of his fresh-faced younger self, so full of arrogance and bravado - and he wanted nothing more than to punch that smug bastard square in the mouth. From his current view, he could feel the awkwardness in Molly’s posture, see the tips of her ears turning pink. God, what right did he think that he had to do this to her?

He raised his hand to cover his mouth, feeling his breath hitch.

“Good lord, Sherlock, did you really just insult the poor woman’s mouth and décolletage? And after all the effort she clearly went to.”

They continued to watch the scene play out, and as Sherlock saw his younger self being hit by the lightning bolt of realization, he could recall exactly how that had felt. A gut-punch, a hard slap of awakening.

“Oh, Sherlock,” Mycroft stage-whispered. “You really had no idea.”

Sherlock blinked again.

“I…I knew…I had been aware that Molly may have…” he stammered. “But I didn’t know…I mean, I thought it was only-”

“A superficial crush?” Mycroft continued. “Well, that would be understandable. You did get the looks of the family, but you tend to lose your sheen once you open your mouth.”

In a way, that had been exactly his thinking all those years ago. It seemed inconceivable that anyone, particularly someone like Molly, could actually have such a strong, deeply-felt attachment to him. Could care for him, despite the fact that she received nothing in return. Less than nothing, in fact, given the way that he took her feelings and performed a public vivisection on them.

“So, it turned out that your adolescent jealousy was actually aimed at none other than yourself,” Mycroft said. He didn’t phrase it as a question, Sherlock noticed.

“It wasn’t jealousy,” Sherlock protested huffily.

“No?”

“No,” he replied quickly. “I just thought that Molly was…better than all that.”

“Better than what?” Mycroft queried, his eyebrow raised. “Romantic feeling? The basis of all life on this planet?”

Sherlock found himself at a loss for words, but at the time he had been horrified by the realization that he was not above jealousy, that losing Molly’s undivided attention was a problem for him. And not just because of the lab privileges either.

They stopped talking long enough to catch the end of Molly’s reproach of him, the words of which had never left him, that still stung and which still held weight with him. The word ‘Norbury’ might remind him when he’s getting above his station, but Molly’s speech was the thing that reminded him not to be needlessly cruel.

Sherlock watched as he placed a kiss on Molly’s cheek. He remembered wishing that they didn’t have an audience – not because he actually planned to kiss her kiss her, but so he could feel less self-conscious and could give her the apology she deserved. Instead, he came across like a chastened schoolboy kissing his maiden aunt (though he never forgot the soft floral scent that had greeted him).

And then there was that bloody text alert. At the time it was part of a bigger game, and he hadn’t given it a second thought, but now…he couldn’t comprehend how Molly must have felt when she left 221B, how she could possibly have faced him in the morgue a few short hours later.

“It changed things, didn’t it?” Mycroft prompted, watching as the younger Sherlock exited the living room in search of his coat.

“Yes,” Sherlock replied quietly.

He couldn’t begin to explain to his brother how much. After this horrible episode, he saw Molly in an entirely different light; he was more careful with her feelings, yes, but he suddenly understood that what he saw as her weaknesses were actually her strengths. Sherlock had known she was brilliant in a work capacity, but she was also far stronger, far more complex than he gave her credit for being. In short, it opened up a door that he’d never been able to properly close.

It had started to alter his view of romantic attachments, too, although he didn’t realise it for a long time. Previously, notions of love had seemed frivolous, ridiculous, shallow, but Molly had shown him depths to romantic feelings that he hadn’t considered. Although for a long, long while he still couldn’t see himself as the recipient of such feelings, he could at least understand what others around him – notably John and Mary – could take from them.

But when he and Molly spoke those words to each other during that terrible phone call, his education was finally complete. Not only did he understand, on an abstract level, the all-consuming nature of love, but for the first time he was himself utterly consumed by it. Powerless, vulnerable and terrified by the reality of what it could do to him. The problem was, ten months on, that terror hadn’t quite left him.

“Can we go now?” Sherlock asked his brother, his voice little more than a whisper.

“It’s your chloroform-induced delusion,” Mycroft replied. “Go ahead. Although I do have one question – what was the gift that Dr Hooper gave you, hm?”

He was too ashamed to tell his brother that he didn’t open it; he couldn’t bring himself to throw or give it away, so he buried it at the back of his wardrobe, like a bad dog burying the evidence of his crimes; as far as he knew, it was still there. Molly never asked about it – why would she want to revisit that horror show?

“One final destination,” Mycroft told him. “This one should still be fairly fresh in your memory.”

Sherlock closed his eyes, pinching his forefinger and thumb into the bridge of his nose. He had more than an inkling of the scene that Mycroft was about to lay before him. Surely, he would wake up soon? Unless this was it, and these were the final, spiteful throes of his dying brain before he shuffled off to an ignominious end.

When he opened his eyes, he was outside his parents’ house and it was bloody freezing, his breath escaping into the frigid air in puffs of vapour. Beside him, Mycroft was dressed in his long wool overcoat and leather gloves.

“How come you get a coat?” Sherlock demanded, wrapping his arms around himself in a vain attempt to retain some body heat.

“I’ve no idea,” Mycroft replied. “Clearly the ‘me’ in your mind would be more adequately prepared for all eventualities than you are. Which would be fairly accurate.”

“Christ, I miss smoking,” Sherlock groused.

“Then why ever did you quit?”

Sherlock frowned as he briskly rubbed his hands together like an idiot.

“Complete sobriety seemed like the best idea,” he replied. “You know, after everything…”

“More to Dr Hooper’s taste, too, I imagine,” Mycroft mused, as he retrieved a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

Sherlock shot him a look, but didn’t reply, instead asking shirtily, “Can we at least go inside?”

“Decent enough view of events from the kitchen window, I should say,” his brother replied, gesturing for Sherlock to step up to the side of the house.

Through the window, Sherlock saw his brother in shirt sleeves at the kitchen table, a Christmas cake and a batch of mince pies dangerously within arm’s reach. Off to the side, he himself sat in the old kitchen armchair, legs crossed and hands bridged under his chin; it was two years ago, and he recalled exactly what he had been thinking about. Their mother was bustling behind Mycroft, telling him off about something that Sherlock hadn’t bothered to take in at the time.

“I can’t hear anything out here,” he told Mycroft.
“You don’t need to,” his brother replied. “In a short while your charming dealer friend will have put your nearest and dearest – including, might I remind you, a woman with child – into a toxified state. But I believe you had something else on your mind, too – something that temporarily distracted you from your single-minded and ill-conceived scheme.”

Magnussen had a complete monopoly on this thoughts that day, but Mycroft was right, something had happened that had disrupted his calculations and reasoning - he’d received a Christmas message from Molly.

Nothing earth-shattering, just a text wishing him a Merry Christmas and asking whether he was okay. He hadn’t replied. He couldn’t – because that would have meant lying to her. And he couldn’t bear to have what he believed would be his last communication with Molly be a lie, couldn’t allow that to be her final memory of him. Although other recent memories of him wouldn’t exactly have been ones for her to treasure, either.

“After all you did, after disappointing her so enormously, she apparently she still cared enough to enquire after your welfare. She still wished the best for you.”

Sherlock swallowed, felt himself nodding along to the sentiment.

“I can’t understand-” he began, looking away from his brother as, with horror, he felt the first prick of tears at the corners of his eyes. “After everything…I don’t…I don’t know why.”

There was a pause, and he felt Mycroft’s hand come to rest on his shoulder.

“You do know why, Sherlock,” he said.

He withdrew his hand, and the two men stepped away from the window together.

“Oh, I should have mentioned,” Mycroft continued. “I probably won’t be the only visitor to invade your subconscious this evening.”

“What do you mean?” Sherlock asked, still reeling slightly.

“Well, these things tend to happen in threes, don’t they?”

“Do they?”

“Time for you to return to Baker Street, Sherlock,” his brother said. “The night is still young.”

Sherlock watched his brother saunter slowly down the garden path from his parents’ house; his own feet, however, were suddenly rooted to the spot, and he felt an odd light-headedness start to come over him. Mycroft paused to stub out his cigarette in one of their mother’s ornamental urns, and glanced over his shoulder.

“See you back here on Boxing Day, brother mine,” he said. “Unless, of course, events take a rather different turn.”

Chapter Text

The next thing of which Sherlock was aware was a familiar, musty smell which, coupled with the slightly sweet disinfectant-like tang in his throat was enough to make his stomach lurch. Eventually, he realised that he was sprawled face-down on his sofa, arms and legs akimbo and his face turned into the backrest – almost as though he’d been dropped from a great height. The inside of his mouth felt dry and furry. Why did his sofa already smell so vile? He’d only had it since the refurbishment. He had his answer in the various notes of take-away food he could smell, along with an earthy fug of sweat – sometimes he just couldn’t bear to sleep in his bed.

Sherlock closed his eyes again, trying to filter and file away everything he had just seen and heard. His chest felt tight, as though his heart had contracted and couldn’t relax.

“Ahem,” a strange, nervous voice said apologetically. “Ah…Sherlock?”

Sherlock whirled around so quickly that he misjudged his centre of balance and ended up in embarrassing knot of limbs on the living room rug. He could feel his forehead beading with sweat as his eyes hastily scanned the room for the source of the voice.

The figure was loitering by the entrance to the kitchen, clad in a misshapen cable-knit jumper and a pair of brown cords that had gone slack around the knees. He clutched his arms around himself, clearly uncomfortable, and when Sherlock finally made incredulous eye-contact with him, he offered a timid wave.

“Anderson?!” Sherlock exclaimed, almost hitting his head on the coffee table as he sat bolt upright.

“Ah, yes,” the man replied, clearing his throat. “Hello.”

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Sherlock said, eyes rolling upwards to query the wisdom of whichever capricious being was doing this to him. “You’re my Ghost of Christmas Present?”

“Apparently, I am, yes,” Philip Anderson answered hesitantly. “Who…who were you expecting, out of interest?”

Sherlock put a hand on his throbbing temple and used the other one to feel his way back to the sofa, before collapsing there.

“Actually, I was hoping to God that I might wake up from this ridiculous pantomime,” he growled. “’Expecting’ is probably too strong a word. Why on earth would my unconscious mind give you, of all people, this role?”

“Um, none taken,” Anderson replied with a nervous laugh, before adding, “I assume it’s because you don’t particularly care what the hell I’m doing at Christmas. And for the purposes of this particular exercise, I suppose that’s an advantage.”

“I suppose it could be worse,” Sherlock reflected. “I could have got Donovan. Although at least she would probably have just punched me in the arm, called me a dick and then buggered off.”

“Yes, well,” Anderson responded, sounding slightly annoyed now. “It’s me, I’m afraid. I don’t suppose you’ve considered, however, that I know more about you than pretty much anyone – I studied you, your methods and your motivations so rigorously-”

“-some would say ‘obsessively’-”

“-rigorously during your two-year absence that I practically have a Masters degree in Sherlock Holmes. Ergo, it makes complete sense that your subconscious would choose me as your guide.”

Ergo, my subconscious has a masochistic sense of humour,” Sherlock replied darkly. “At least you’ve shaved off that beard. It made you look like you’d survived a shipwreck and been marooned on an island for several months.”

The other man quickly put a hand up to his face to feel his smooth jaw, immediately looking perplexed.

“Actually, I didn’t,” he replied. “I can only guess that you dislike it so much that your mind excised it from this…whatever this is. A dream?”

Sherlock gave a vague wave of his hand, which he hoped indicated that he couldn’t be arsed to explain it to someone who himself was part of said dream/trip/hallucination/descent into solvent-induced brain damage.

Anderson sighed. Sherlock could tell he was starting to get uppity now.

“Well, seeing as you’ve gone to the trouble to conjure me up and remove my oh-so-offensive facial hair, I may as well fulfil my role,” he said.

“What is there to see anyway?” Sherlock demanded, hearing a weariness in his own tone. “I already know exactly what everyone else is doing this evening.”

At this, Anderson folded his arms, irritably, staring down his nose at Sherlock, like a teacher whose patience is being tested by an annoying precocious twelve-year-old.

“Oh, really, Sherlock?” he replied. “Well, that shouldn’t surprise me, I suppose, given how you always know everything. But it wouldn’t be the first time your unconscious has brought me in to being, would it? When you were capering around Victorian London, trying to solve the Ricoletti case, you put me right there in the mortuary-”

“-where you were still a simpleton, as I recall-”

“And when Mary Watson shot you, who did your mind turn to for help to save your life?”

“Molly,” Sherlock replied, without thinking.

“And?” Anderson prompted, gesturing as though engaging him in a game of charades.

Sherlock rolled his eyes – God, he really was a strange, needy little man.

“Yes, alright - you,” he sighed, throwing up his hands in resignation.

“Precisely,” Anderson said. “So perhaps your unconscious mind recognises that I’m more useful to you than your conscious mind is willing to admit.”

“Let’s just get on with it, hm?” Sherlock said, tetchily. “If it’s alright with you, Anderson, I’d like to eventually get back to retching on my living room floor.”

He watched as Anderson walked across the room to stand behind John’s old chair, placing his hands on the backrest and patting it.

“You want me to sit in John’s chair?” Sherlock asked, sceptically.

When Anderson gave a nod in response, Sherlock heaved a gusty sigh and did as he was told. The second that he settled himself in the chair, he felt as though he’d had the wind knocked out of him, leaving him almost bent double with breathlessness. When he recovered sufficiently to look up, he realised that he was no longer in Baker Street – instead, he was sitting in the armchair by the window in John’s living room. The curtains were drawn, and the rug in front of the coffee table was strewn with several of Rosie’s abandoned toys. It was when he noticed the small Christmas tree, raised up on a table out of Rosie’s reach, that Sherlock acknowledged how long it had been since he had visited his friend’s house.

Sherlock could hear noises coming from the kitchen, the clink of crockery and cutlery being put away, the whir and swish of the dishwasher. He swiveled in his chair, on the verge of getting to his feet, when John came padding out of the kitchen, his thumb and finger pinching his temples. He looked beyond tired. Sherlock watched him disappear into Rosie’s bedroom, presumably to check on her, before returning to the living room. He looked as though he was heading towards the sofa close to where Sherlock was sitting, but then he stopped, took a deep breath, and instead returned to the kitchen.

A few moments later, John reappeared, carrying a bottle of whiskey and two cut-glass tumblers. Sherlock frowned, suddenly trying to recall whether John spoke of someone coming over on Christmas Eve. Not his sister, surely? The whiskey would hardly be the best idea.

Sherlock watched as his friend poured two measures, then drank his in one go. He set the glass back down on the coffee table, bringing his hands back into his lap.

“I know that I said I wouldn’t do this anymore,” John began, the fact that he was speaking at all taking Sherlock by surprise. “And you have to admit that I’ve done a pretty good job – it’s been…well, it’s been a long time. I’ve really been trying. But it’s Christmas, and it’s our first Christmas without you, and it’s bloody hard - so I hope you’ll forgive me, Mary, if I give myself permission to do this one more time.”

Sherlock felt his throat tighten as he took in the words.

“I’m not doing this quite as much, which is good, I suppose,” John continued, holding up his whiskey glass for emphasis. “Doesn’t always feel good, but you know…I’ve been seeing a new therapist for a few months now – another new one obviously, and this one doesn’t seem to want to kill me, so that’s progress, I guess”

John let out a short, strangled laugh, and Sherlock swallowed hard, feeling acutely that what he was doing was an invasion of privacy.

“Rosie’s doing great,” his friend went on, nodding to himself, as though trying to keep on track. “She’s…she’s incredible. She’s bright, she’s funny, she’s beautiful, she’s learning all the time and…she…she really, really reminds me of you. Every day. Just a smile, or when I’m trying to teach her something and she just gives me this…look, like she already knows, and I’m wasting my time. Though maybe she’s just copying Sherlock with that one.”

He gave another short laugh, before raising his eyes to the ceiling for a brief moment.

“God, we miss you,” John said quietly, his voice barely above a whisper. “We miss you…so much. We look at photos, and we talk about you every day. Molly’s been amazing about that. Sometimes I…well, there are days when I find it hard to talk about you, but Molly…she does it so easily with Rosie, and…well, you made a really good decision there, Mary – Molly is a brilliant godmother. You always saw things that I couldn’t.”

John scrubbed his face with his hand, before dropping his head down to focus on an unseen spot of beige carpet.

Sherlock felt his breath hitch, and that pressure building behind his eyes again. He thought about Molly with their goddaughter, how she always threw herself into the role, regardless of how long or hard her day had been. How being with Molly and Rosie had become one of his favourite places to be. He loved to watch them both, and, somehow, taking care of their goddaughter together (although, let’s face it, Molly was always in charge) seemed to make communication easier.

“I…I shouldn’t be seeing this,” Sherlock said, haltingly. “It’s not…this is not my business.”

“Are you sure about that?” Anderson asked, appearing by the bookshelves at the other side of the room.

“Ahh…Rosie’s godfather isn’t doing too badly either,” John continued, clearing his throat and attempting a brighter tone. “He’s…I mean, obviously, it’s been a pretty terrible year, and he’s had a lot to deal with, but…he’s kept it together. Not long ago, I think he would – Christ, I don’t like to think what he might have done. You’d…you’d be proud of him, Mary - our little boy’s all grown up.”

John laughed to himself, poured himself another half-measure.

“Well, maybe that’s going a bit far, but he’s a bit less of an insensitive cock than he used to be.”

Sherlock heard himself laugh, too, short and sharp, and saw his vision start to mist. He swiped at his eye.

“But...there’s something going on with him,” John went on. “I dunno what it is, but he definitely doesn’t want to talk to me about it. He’s…working a lot, and I mean a lot, even by Sherlock’s standards. This all just started a couple of months ago, once things started to settle down a bit with his family. Sometimes, I think…I don’t know…sometimes I think it has something to do with Molly, and what happened on that bloody island, but when it comes to Sherlock and women, I have finally realised that I have absolutely no bloody clue how his mind works.”

At the mere mention of Molly’s name again, Sherlock felt his heart perform some sort of complex gymnastics sequence. Aware that Anderson was watching him closely, he blinked, keeping his eyes on John in a show of concentration.

“I think they’re okay,” John reflected. “Sherlock and Molly, I mean. I thought the fact that she forgave him would help everything to get back to normal, but…it’s not that there’s any animosity there at all, just…something doesn’t seem right. God, if you were here, you’d have it out of him in two minutes – you’d sort this all out.”

Sherlock swiped at his eye again. Although his grief couldn’t come close to that of his friend’s, he felt the Mary-shaped hole in his life every day in some small way. He missed her frankness, the unrelenting optimism that he used to openly mock – and yes, he missed the fact that she could diffuse his bluster with just a smirk or a good-natured put-down.

“We’re, ah, we’re all having Christmas dinner at Baker Street,” John said, speaking once again into the emptiness of his living room. “It should be nice, I think. Get everyone around a table again. Well, not everyone but…well, our little band of misfits anyway. I think everyone’s grateful to have Rosie there at the centre of things – gives the day a purpose. I’ll…I’ll be okay by tomorrow, Mary, I’ll do whatever I need to do to make it through the day, but…I need to have tonight.”

As Sherlock tried to compose himself, Anderson broke the silence.

“Nice that, despite everything that’s happened to him this year, he’s thinking about you.”

Sherlock dragged his fingers back through his hair, his curls a tangled mess when he looked up again.

“He’s probably not the only one,” Anderson continued. “Shall we have a look? I thought I might catch up with some old colleagues of mine.”

The room started to dissolve around Sherlock, and suddenly he was assaulted by a barrage of noise and bright light. People stood in loose groups, pushing past each other, calling over each other’s heads, suddenly erupting into howls of laughter. The smell of stale beer filled his nostrils and, coupled with the unusual number of police uniforms in the room, Sherlock deduced that he must be in-

“The Red Lion!” Anderson declared. “God, I miss this place - the old watering hole! They invited me to come along tonight, of course, but it’s the regular meeting night for one of my groups. I’m the Chair, so it wouldn’t really be right for me to miss it.”

Sherlock rolled his eyes. The only thing worse than being in a pub – full of already-idiotic people, intent on jeopardizing their remaining braincells – was being in a pub with, effectively, only Anderson for company.

Just then, a familiar figure brushed past him carrying two full pint glasses and holding a packet of crisps between her teeth. Sherlock watched as Sally Donovan squeezed past some other groups of drinkers before setting the glasses down on a high table – where Lestrade was waiting. Getting up from the sticky banquette seat he’d found himself deposited on, Sherlock retraced her route through the crowds until he was standing a few feet away, Anderson at his heels.

“So, you haven’t actually said what you’re doing tomorrow,” Donovan said, hitching herself onto a barstool.

“Not much,” Lestrade replied, after taking a sip. “Quiet one. Drop in on my mum in the morning, then having a meal over at Baker Street. John’s comin’ over, too.”

Donovan smirked.

“Christmas dinner for middle-aged rejects, then?”

Sherlock felt his pulse spike, and watched for Lestrade’s reaction, but his friend seemed to maintain an air of calm in the face of provocation.

“Mrs Hudson will be there, too,” he replied, matter-of-factly. “And Molly Hooper – you know, from Bart’s.”

“Yeah, I know the one,” Donovan replied, with a grin. “Has she put Sherlock out of his misery and shagged him yet?”

Instantly, Sherlock felt his cheeks start to burn, acutely aware that Anderson was no doubt studying his every reaction – researching his PhD in Sherlock Holmes, no doubt.

Lestrade rolled his eyes, gave a slight shake of the head.

“None of my business,” the DI replied. “Or yours. Or anyone else’s.”

“Okay, okay,” Donovan said, tearing open the crisp packet. “But if he’s ever gonna get his leg over, he’s gonna have to stop pining and tell her the truth.”

Lestrade reached over and took a handful of crisps, tipping them into his mouth.

“Not always that easy,” he said, gulping down another mouthful of beer.

Donovan groaned, shaking her head.

“You men are all the same.” she said. “Although at least that’s a sign that Freakboy is actually pretty normal when you get past the voodoo mind-trick bullshit.”

Sherlock felt Anderson nudge him.

“She and I used to-” he stage-whispered, conspiratorially.

“Don’t want to think about it,” Sherlock snapped, with a grimace.

“It was purely physical,” Anderson continued.

“Shut up!” Sherlock hissed. “Considering your former wife is now married to a Russian yacht-broker, it probably wasn’t one of your better life decisions.”

“Anyway,” Lestrade was saying, close by. “Why do you suddenly care so much about Sherlock Holmes’ love-life?”

Donovan shrugged, dipping her finger in the salty residue of the crisp packet.

“I guess he’s been a bit less of a tosser recently,” she replied. “And after all that shit from earlier in the year, I reckon even Sherlock Holmes deserves a bit of happiness. He and Molly can cut up a few bodies together, go for walks around graveyards – whatever floats their boat.”

Lestrade smirked.

“Aw, Sal, you’re turnin’ into a bloody softy in your old age!” he teased, nudging her elbow with his.

“With all due respect, boss: shut up,” Donovan said, Sherlock noting the slight blush rising in her cheeks. “And it’s your round.”

“Yeah, I know,” Lestrade said, smiling broadly as he eased himself off the barstool. “I’ll be sure to give Sherlock your love when I see ‘im tomorrow.”

Sherlock watched as Donovan scowled and gave Lestrade the finger; the older man laughed, before turning and weaving his way towards the bar. He realised then how quickly his pulse was racing, and hoped to God Anderson was as unperceptive and unobservant as he thought he was.

“Mm,” Anderson said. “Greg seems pretty upbeat, all things considered.”

Sherlock frowned.

“Why wouldn’t he be? He’s always like that.”

At this, a slight look of smug triumph passed across Anderson’s face – a surefire I-know-something-you-don’t-know.

“Oh, you didn’t know?” he said, with poorly-feigned surprise. “Lestrade’s ex-wife is spending Christmas in the Seychelles – getting married.”

Sherlock’s gaze sought out Lestrade amongst the hordes, finally spotting him leaning against the bar. He was staring down at the counter, clearly lost in thought.

“You’re not the only one who may not have the perfect Christmas, Sherlock,” Anderson commented. “But at least Greg knows he’ll be among friends.”

Once again, Sherlock felt a pang of guilt. Of course he didn’t know about Lestrade’s wife – how could he? He hadn’t said a word to him in weeks that wasn’t work-related, and he knew he hadn’t exactly been receptive to deep conversation lately (yes, even less so than usual).

“I was right, though, wasn’t I?” Anderson added, sidling up to Sherlock. “About Molly. I called that one years ago.”

Sherlock glowered at him. With several packets close to hand, he wondered whether Anderson’s peanut allergy could be activated in his unconscious mind, too. He was willing to give it a try.

“Well, why don’t you just say ‘I told you so’ and you can sod off and haunt someone who cares, hm?” he demanded.

“Happy to,” Anderson replied, blithely. “Although that would mean you’d miss our last little stopping-off point. Something tells me you might like to see this one.”

Immediately, Sherlock knew where - and who - Anderson was referring to, and he was powerless, too much of a coward, to refuse.

“What is it to be, Sherlock?” Anderson prompted. “Do you want to see her?”

Unable to raise his eyes to meet Anderson’s, Sherlock nodded nevertheless. Almost right away, he was aware of the sudden change in atmosphere, and something else that stirred a visceral reaction in him – the immediate sense of calm and stillness. And home.

But now, in the dimly lit hallway of Molly’s home, he suddenly felt as though he didn’t have a right to be there. Still, he couldn’t help himself – he wanted to see her; see what she was doing on Christmas Eve, without him.

Behind him, Anderson suddenly sneezed loudly, making Sherlock whirl around.

“Christ, Anderson!”

“Sorry,” the older man replied, shrugging. “Allergies.”

They both watched as Toby slunk by imperiously on his way from the living room into the kitchen.

“You’re in my head,” Sherlock said, irritably. “A figment of my imagination. How can you be sneezing at cat hair that also isn’t real?”

Now he wished he’d tried the peanut idea. He was about to respond when he heard Molly’s voice, and it halted all other thoughts.

“Hey, Tobes,” she said softly. “Dinner’s on its way, promise.”

Moving silently into the kitchen, Sherlock put out his hand to feel the wall behind him, stopping when his eyes fell on her. He’d been wrong about the Christmas pyjamas, but instead Molly was wearing a green Christmas jumper with her work trousers. As she set down Toby’s bowl and stood up again, Sherlock could see the jumper properly – the various elements of the periodic table were stacked to make a tree shape, with the words ‘O Chemistree’ printed above them

“Mm. Funny,” noted Anderson.

But Sherlock barely heard him, preoccupied now by the sheer rapidity of his heartrate, the sudden hollow feeling in his stomach. She was only a few feet away, and in another version of events he could have traversed the space between them in seconds, reached out and touched her. And then…then, he didn’t know what.

He watched as Molly lifted her phone from the counter just far enough to check for messages before setting it down. He tried to deduce her expression, but found he was struggling. Was she resigned to his absence, or was she hopeful still?

Molly flipped through her phone before setting it down on a speaker dock, Christmas music gradually filling the kitchen. She hummed to herself as she opened the fridge and started to take things out and make herself a quick post-work dinner – as she’d done for the two of them many times in the months after Sherrinford. He thought of the times that they’d sat together at the kitchen island, forks in one hand, phones or science journals in the other, exchanging work anecdotes or articles of interest they’d come across. Or cat memes, sometimes, in Molly’s case.

He thought of all of the looks he’d stolen when Molly was concentrating on the food on her plate, or engrossed in a paragraph. He could feel the shift, feel himself moving towards that point of no return. It had all felt so easy, so natural, like it could happen without either of them having to try. Of course, they’d inhabited this space together before, during his two-year ‘death’, but this had been different. No tension between them, the wounds of Sherrinford having knitted together surprisingly quickly, leaving apparently little scarring. 

“In a little while, she’ll probably go and get ready for bed,” Anderson commented, unsolicited. “Finish wrapping a few presents for tomorrow, maybe have a glass of Bailey’s and one or two of those gingernuts she mentioned. Check her phone a couple more times; eventually head for bed.”

He gave Sherlock a sideways glance, stroking his chin as though he still had a beard.

“Not a bad evening, just not the one she’d have liked.”

Sherlock watched as Molly served the omelette onto her plate, fanning her mouth when she discovered it was hotter than she expected. As a result, he was left staring at her lips, remembering all of those times – each one meticulously catalogued - when he’d wondered whether the world would end if he kissed her. It probably explained why, despite having never so much as hugged her before, his arms now almost ached with emptiness.

But kissing her would be the easy part – a physical act he was (at least distantly) familiar with. It was everything that came after that was too hazy, carried too many risks and unknowns; even he probably hadn’t considered all the ways that he could bollocks things up.

“It’s better this way,” Sherlock said, his voice almost catching on the words.

Anderson gave a sardonic snort.

“Oh really?! For whom?”

“It’s just better,” he insisted, knowing precisely how inadequate that sounded. “Nothing needs to change. Things are working, everyone is managing, life is…liveable. Molly is-” – his arm floundered around in her general direction – “…fine.”

As he continued to watch, Sherlock saw Molly pick up her phone again, check it, set it down. She stood there for a short moment, staring at the phone. Then she seemed to snap out of her reverie, pushing the phone underneath a pile of mail and starting to stack her dinner things into the dishwasher.

“Yes, looks like Molly is probably fairly used to ‘fine’,” Anderson said, folding his arms. “You never know, though, tonight might give her the little push she needs.”

Sherlock glanced across at him; something was being insinuated. Anderson – even this imaginary, slightly better-groomed version of him – loved nothing more than a knowledge advantage, however marginal.

“She had an offer of a date for drinks tonight,” Anderson continued, keeping his gaze on Molly. “It came after she’d already invited you over, so she politely turned him down, but, you know…she has his number. Something for her to consider in the New Year, perhaps?”

Sherlock swallowed hard, aware that now would be a very poor time to display any one of the gamut of emotions he was suddenly feeling. He immediately wondered what he would do right now if this were all real, if he really was standing in Molly’s kitchen, within touching distance.

“That’s what you wanted, though, isn’t it, Sherlock?” Anderson said. “Broadly speaking, anyway. You give her space, keep your distance; she eventually gets the message, realises it’s time to make some changes, and moves on. Bit painful for everyone at first, maybe, but best in the long-run, eh?”  

When laid out in front of him like this, it suddenly sounded utterly idiotic – and not just because it was coming from an idiot. If he could only wake up from this, he could start to order his muddled thoughts, apply some rationalism to the situation; five minutes in his Mind Palace would be all that would be needed to reassure himself about the course he had chosen. But he couldn’t possibly do this when Molly was right in front of him, being…well, Molly.

“So, ah, what do you think?” Anderson asked brightly, as though he was presenting Sherlock with his latest crackpot theory – or perhaps a nice watercolour he’d just completed.

“I need to go back,” Sherlock said, firmly.

“Absolutely, we can go back,” Anderson replied. “Happy to oblige. Although when I say ‘go back’, you’re, ah, you’re not quite done for the evening, I’m afraid. Wish I could do something about that, but the situation is a smidge out of my control.”

Sherlock sighed, trying to shift his gaze from Molly, who had just returned the kitchen in her pyjamas; but he couldn’t take his eyes off her, she looked so beautiful. This was exactly what he feared, why he couldn’t have gone there tonight.  

“Anderson, please. Do whatever it is you need to do to get me back to Baker Street.”

Whatever the future had in store, it couldn’t be any harder than this.

Chapter Text

“I like what you’ve done with the place.”

It couldn’t be.

Sherlock gingerly uncurled himself from the foetal position he now found himself in, knees almost wedged under his chin in his chair, and craned his neck to look for her. And there she was, perching on the windowsill that overlooked Baker Street, suppressing a smile, her eyes alight with mischief.

“M-Mary,” he stammered, feeling for the floor with his feet.

“I mean, the flat is still a pigsty, but I love this new chair,” she continued, gesturing, as though she’d just come by for a cup of tea. “Didn’t think yellow was really your colour, but perhaps it’s not really meant for you...?”

Sherlock tested his legs, swaying slightly as he got to his feet. Taking incremental steps towards her, he had to remind himself that this wasn’t real, that she wasn’t actually there, however badly he wished it were otherwise. But it felt vivid and palpable, and he felt an overwhelming rush of emotion.

Mary was watching him with affectionate amusement.

“You look like a baby giraffe, Sherlock,” she grinned. “Either that or you’ve decided to go all-out on the Christmas sherries.”

If this was in his head, if he was no more physically there than she was, then what was to stop him from hugging her? He tested his theory, surprising her as he took the last few steps between them quickly and engulfed her in his arms.

“Easy, tiger,” she chuckled, rubbing his back. “You know, this is typical of you, you silly sod; I have to wait until I’m dead to get a proper hug.”

Her smile, as always, was disarming and infectious, and Sherlock couldn’t help himself.

“I…I know this isn’t real, Mary, but I…it’s so good to see you again,” he said, haltingly. “I never…even after everything that’s happened tonight, I didn’t expect…this.”

“What? You think I’d pass up an opportunity to come and haunt your arse from beyond the grave?” Mary grinned. “If anyone has earned the right to do that, I reckon it’s me.”

He nodded, aware that he was suddenly remembering the shimmering light and eerie sounds from the aquarium that had dominated his nightmares in the months after Mary was gone.

“Oh, Sherlock, there’s no need to look so melancholy,” Mary said, nudging him. “It’s Christmas, remember? Come on, come over and sit with me.”

She led him across to the sofa, sitting down and patting the cushion beside him.

“This reeks like a student house, by the way,” she said, screwing up her nose. “What have you been doing on this sofa?”

Sherlock frowned, defensively.

“Not that,” he told her. “If that’s what you’re implying.”

Mary gave a short snigger.

“Yeah, chance would be a fine thing, eh?”

She shifted around to face him a bit better.

“You look bloody awful, Sherlock Holmes,” she said, shaking her head slightly. “Such a waste of that gorgeous little mush of yours.”

She patted his cheek in a manner of sisterly teasing. God, he missed this.

“It’s not been a great year,” he replied, sighing.

“Tell me about it, mate,” Mary said with a sly smile.

 “Sorry, I didn’t mean-” – he took another breath – “It’s just…everything fell apart when you…”

“Died,” Mary put in. “It’s okay, you can say it. I’m completely aware of my deadness - I’m not having some kind of Bruce Willis Sixth Sense delusion here.”

“What?” Sherlock asked, puzzled.

Mary rolled her eyes; shook her head to tell him never mind. That used to mean that another trivial pop culture reference had just zoomed over his head. She gestured for him to go on.

“But I did what you asked me,” he continued. “I went to hell – right to hell - and I saved John. Well…it was sort of a mutual saving process.”

Mary was looking at him thoughtfully.

“Sherlock, you know when I said that, I meant the village in Norway, right? Hell?”

Sherlock blinked, eyes shooting up to look at her. She held his gaze earnestly for a long moment, then pinched her lips together in a smirk.

“Sorry - I’m messing with you,” she grinned. “Though you can’t really blame me – I really, really miss seeing your face when I do that.”

Sherlock let out a bark of laughter, leaning over to rest his elbows on his knees, and looking sideways at Mary. She was still grinning at him, but as they looked at each other, her expression began to shift into one more serious. She nudged his thigh with the back of her hand.

“I’m grateful for what you did for John, Sherlock,” she said. “That man…well, he’s a lot more complicated than he might seem. He’s stubborn, and he blames himself for everything – even the things he seems to be blaming other people for - and I knew he wouldn’t accept help of the conventional kind.”

She leaned a little closer.

 “’Course, it would have been better if you hadn’t nearly killed yourself in the process,” she added. “Two of us being dead wouldn’t have been much bloody help to anyone.”

Sherlock nodded, running a hand through his now-unkempt hair.

“I…I wish you could see Rosie,” he started, carefully. “See her growing up. She changes so quickly.”

“Mm,” Mary nodded. “They do that. I know…I know John will probably never understand my decision, but for what it’s worth…I know Rosie is in good hands. That I left her with people who will do all they can to give her a good life.”

He immediately thought of Molly again, started to drift to the small room in his Mind Palace that he had specifically set up for memories of Molly with their goddaughter. It was a little annex from the main room he had dedicated to Molly herself, which in itself had many extensions built on over the years. Molly with Rosie on her hip, making the baby some lunch; Molly singing softly to Rosie, completely unselfconscious, despite him being in the room; Molly reading Rosie a picture book – far too advanced for her – about great women in science.

“I…I try to be a good godfather,” he said, hearing his voice waver. “I’m still learning. But I do love her. Very much.”

Mary smiled, warmly.

“I know you do,” she said softly. “I always knew you would. How’s Molly, by the way?”

The sudden question took Sherlock by surprise, and he strongly suspected it was intentional – he knew Mary Watson’s methods. He tried to recover from the conversational ambush, sitting more upright, clearing his throat.

“She’s well,” he replied, evenly.

“Still putting up with you, then?”

Sherlock made a noncommittal humming noise, which he hoped would suffice.

 “Oh,” Mary replied, arching an eyebrow. “It’s like that, is it?”

“Molly and I have reached an understanding,” Sherlock said slowly.

“’Reached an understanding’,” Mary repeated, doing her best Sherlock Holmes impersonation. “Are we in a Jane Austen novel now?”

 Sherlock rolled his eyes, feeling his cheeks start to warm to an uncomfortable degree.

“We’re fine. It’s fine, it’s all-”

“Fine?” Mary interjected. “Well, that’s good to hear. You’ve clearly been very grown-up about all this, Sherlock. Not burying your head in the sand at all. Not running away or trying to hide from the obvious. Just facing it all in your best big-boy pants.”

Sherlock scowled.


“Mary, far be it from me to speak ill of the dead,” he said. “But shut up.”

“All right!” Mary replied, throwing up her arms in surrender. “I can take a hint, Mr Touchy. Shall we get on to why I’m here, then?”

“What? Taking the piss isn’t enough for you?”

Mary poked his leg in admonishment.

“Don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief,” she said. “I know you’ve had a long evening. And you’re going to feel like shit when you finally do wake up, you daft bugger. Am I allowed to ask how you ended up so distracted that you gassed yourself?”

“No!” Sherlock replied. God, he’d forgotten that it was like a war of attrition with her sometimes; if she didn’t get what she wanted first time, Mary Watson would just grind you down – smiling endearingly while she did it.

 “Suit yourself,” she shrugged. “But you need to come with me. Come on, on your feet, Lanky!”

Mary took his hand and yanked him off the sofa, pausing to take a look at him, to rearrange his dishevelled curls, to brush something from his jacket lapel. Once she was satisfied, she took his hand in hers again and led him to the living room door. Sherlock felt his heart pounding, acutely aware that he was about to be shown a vision, a projection of – presumably – his future. Or at least a future that a fictional Mary would choose to show him. As long as she wasn’t about to lead him straight to his headstone, then, he decided, it was probably going to be fine.

“We should have gone through the wardrobe,” Mary said, when they emerged on the other side of the door. “Might have led to Narnia. Although your wardrobe would probably lead somewhere far less wholesome, and I probably don’t want to see you’ve got hidden in there anyway.”

Sherlock was about to protest that there was nothing whatsoever untoward in his wardrobe when he realised that he was in an unfamiliar house, his back to the closed front door. He began to take in his surroundings – Victorian townhouse, high ceilings, airy and brightly lit. Stained glass in the front door cast colourful puddles of light on the stripped wood floor. No photographs on the walls of the hallway, but some prints and paintings instead, slightly quirky, at odds with the grand home, but in a way Sherlock found strangely pleasing.

The hallway was hung with paper decorations, and Christmas cards had been pegged to gold ribbons that hung from the picture rail. At the bottom of the stairs, a child’s bobble hat had been stuck on the post at the end of the banister, and a pair of mittens on strings hung over the rail.

He could hear voices coming from another room, further into the house, mingling with each other in a way that suggested a get-together.

Was this John’s house? The hat and gloves could conceivably be Rosie’s, although the artwork didn’t look to his taste.

Just then, he saw movement out of the corner of his eye and he turned just in time to see a cat pad silently down the stairs. It stopped at the bottom, cocked its ears towards the back of the house, then decided to head in the other direction.

No mistaking it, that was Toby. 

Which meant…

“This is Molly’s house?” he asked, turning back to Mary.

Mary nodded, hands in the pockets of her jeans.

“But…she’s moved,” he said, trying to fathom it out. “Why has she moved? Where is this?”

His first thought was that she had moved to another part of the country – after all, the house was bigger, would be more affordable outside of London – and he became immediately aware of a creeping panic setting in.

“Calm down, it’s still London,” Mary said. “Bit further out, that’s all. Nice area. Quite trendy, actually.”

It sounded hateful, but he didn’t say anything; it couldn’t be hateful, not if Molly had chosen it.

“Shall we go in?” Mary asked, standing by a closed door. “Sounds fun in there.”

He tried to move, but the soles of his shoes seemed to have sprouted roots that twined into the floorboards. In the end, he felt Mary’s hand in the centre of his back, giving him a little encouraging shove.

When he opened the door, the noise escalated, and he didn’t know where to focus his eyes first. In the corner, by the bookshelves that were built into a recess, was a six-foot fir tree, the base of which was entirely swamped by a sea of wrapped Christmas presents. Sherlock heard a familiar, trilling laugh, and his gaze swivelled to a brightly-coloured patchwork wingback chair not far from the tree, where Mrs Hudson was sitting, mince pie poised between plate and mouth. Sitting across for her – the supplier of whatever joke had tickled her – was Lestrade, ludicrously perched on a beanbag and holding a glass of something garishly pink and sparkling.

They looked a little older, Sherlock conceded, but how much older? He couldn’t tell. Lestrade had been grey (or a bloody ‘silver fox’, as he laughingly insisted on terming himself) the entire time Sherlock had known him, and Mrs Hudson …well, he’d never dared deduce her age in the first place (“younger than the Queen, and that’s all you need to know, dear” – not exactly narrowing it down). 

Keeping his back to the wall, Sherlock edged his way into the corner of the room furthest from the tree, giving himself a different view of proceedings. Mary silently followed him, perching on the arm of an unoccupied armchair. On the shelf at his eye level, Sherlock noticed a small, stuffed mouse riding a miniature plastic skateboard.

The room in which he was standing led around a corner into what was presumably a kitchen, but before Sherlock could properly get the lay of the land, he heard John’s voice ring out.

“Don’t run!” he called, apparently futilely, because a split second later a young girl came tearing around the corner. Sherlock could only take in the head of blonde hair at first, but when she stopped, there was instant recognition – the roundness of an infant had been replaced with more defined facial features, but it couldn’t be anyone else.

“My little girl,” Mary said, softly, behind him. “Just not quite so little.”

Sherlock stared at Rosie, all elbows and knees and gaps in her teeth. She had to be, what, six? Seven?  He watched as she came into land beside the sofa, immediately snatching up some kind of plastic sword before dashing off again. Seconds later, Rosie was back, but not alone – this time, she was hanging onto the collar of a very large, clearly very patient, Labrador Retriever. And trailing behind, shrieking with delight, was another, younger child – a boy.

Did John have another child? Sherlock glanced surreptitiously at Mary, hoping to be guided by her reaction, and immediately he saw her face, he knew he was off-track.

Confirmation came when he first heard Molly’s voice and then saw her enter the room, slinging the tea-towel she was carrying over her shoulder so she could use both hands to hustle the dog back out of the living room and away from the chaos. Sherlock watched her go to the smaller child, hoisting him on her hip and murmuring something to him as she picked dog hairs (or possibly cat’s) from his brightly-striped jumper. The boy’s expression was almost a mirror image of hers. With dark hair and eyes, he was about two years old, Sherlock gauged, possibly closer to three; his short legs not yet met around Molly’s waist as she held him.

It was only then that Sherlock noticed what should have been blindingly obvious – Molly was pregnant.

For a split second, it felt as though something was choking him from the inside; his breath just refused to come. He couldn’t bear to look at either her or at the little boy, but at the same time he couldn’t help himself.

“The children…” he said, hoarsely, trying to ignore the gnawing ache in his chest. “Are…are they…”

Mary looked up at him, those big eyes suddenly no longer playful.

“No, Sherlock,” she said, gently. “They’re not.”

He had to balled his hands into fists just to keep himself together, trying to recall every single exercise he’d taught himself for maintaining a cool exterior and keeping his traitorous heartrate under control. It worked in a Serbian prison, it served him well in an interrogator’s chair – it even gave him the upper hand with Irene Adler. But it appeared that his unconscious mind had presented him with the one thing that could undermine that training completely, could undo him absolutely. His conscious mind would never allow him to even consider it.

Watching Molly lead the little boy back into the kitchen with her, he now strained to hear those unseen voices, to isolate them from the general chatter and ambient noise. He heard one. Still indistinct, but the low tones of a man’s voice, someone other than John.

“Who…who is he?” Sherlock asked, his gaze trained on the floor.

Mary slowly stood, put her hands in her pockets again.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said softly. “You don’t know him.”

If that was supposed to comfort him in some way, it didn’t, particularly when she could hear that Mary was trying to disguise the sadness in her own voice.

He tried to block everything out for a moment, to draw a screen over the scene in front of him.

“Where am I?” he asked, fearfully. “What…what am I doing right now?”

At this, Mary gave a slight shrug.

“Working,” she replied. “It’s all you’ve really done since she got married.”

Sherlock felt his hand come up to cover his mouth; all of a sudden he felt another swell of nausea.

“You were invited today,” Mary continued. “You’re always invited. John’s probably given your apologies – you’ll add your own by text later on, once everyone’s gone home.”

He stared at her helplessly for a long moment, feeling himself sink deeper into the depths.

“I can’t-”

Sherlock bolted through the door, praying that he would find his living room on the other side of it, that he would finally surface back in the real world.

Instead, he was back in the hallway, with the pictures and the hat and the mittens and the stupid, stupid cat, who was now curled up on a discarded coat at the bottom of the stairs. He turned away until all he could see was blank wall. Silently, Mary joined him, closing the door behind her.

“I…I need to know what happened,” he said, turning to her. “Tell me how this happened.”

Mary looked at him, scanning his face, perhaps assessing whether she thought he could stand to receive the information. This made sense; he wasn’t sure himself that he could. But what was the alternative?

“Okay,” she said softly, plainly. She took him by the wrist and gently pulled him to sit down with her on the floor, their backs up against the wall next to the door. Sherlock brought his hands to his knees, felt his thumbs working into the hard bone of his joints.

“Molly asked you,” Mary began. “She felt that the two of you had become closer, that perhaps you were on the verge of something – so she told you again that she loved you, but said that she needed to know once and for all where she stood, whether you could see any sort of future with her. Said she couldn’t go on wondering, didn’t want to live in limbo any longer. It took you by surprise; you weren’t prepared for that kind of frankness from her.”

Sherlock swallowed thickly, quickly brushing his eyes with the back of his hands.

“What…what did I say?”

“You told her that you couldn’t give her the future she wanted,” Mary replied. “That you cared about her and valued her friendship a great deal, but it couldn’t ever be anything more.”

Something deep within Sherlock’s chest gave a sharp crack. He wanted to ask why he would say something like that, but it sounded all too like him for it not to be true.

“Molly accepted it,” Mary went on, softly. “Took you at your word, respected that decision. She did what she needed to do to come to terms with that – accepted a six-month teaching post up in Liverpool, and took herself away for a while. Long enough for her to grieve for you both, for you to establish separate lives again. You know Molly – she’s a romantic, but she’s pragmatic too; has that strong sense of self-preservation.”

He was openly crying now, the torment was too much; all he was achieving by trying to stem the tide was a wet jacket sleeve.

“So he…is that where he…came from?” he managed.

Mary’s gaze flicked to the door they had just left, before returning to him.

“No. She met him in London, when she returned. He’s a doctor; not long moved to the hospital.”

Sherlock hung his head, his vision blurred and his shoulders shaking. He felt Mary’s hand come to rest on his, on top of his knee; felt her lean into his side. She squeezed his hand, which only seemed to wring more tears from him.

Eventually, he looked up at her, the blood from his face gradually draining back to its normal place.

“Please,” he began. “Please, Mary, as my friend, I need you to tell me. What I’m seeing here…I need to know whether this is really how it’s going to be, whether it’s too late to…or whether things could change if I…I act differently?”

A tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth.

“Do you think you might want to act differently?” she asked.

He turned away, feeling a sudden, overwhelming wave of embarrassment and shame, knowing just how transparent he must seem.

“What are you afraid of, Sherlock?” she asked gently, giving his hand a little jiggle. “Tell me. And don’t give me any of that rubbish about putting her in danger – Molly’s a big girl, she makes her own decisions. She knows what being with you would mean.”

Sherlock took a deep breath, stared at their joined hands.

“I know what it’s like,” Mary continued. “Do you think I wasn’t terrified when I realised I’d fallen in love with John? That wasn’t part of the plan. I never expected it – certainly wasn’t looking for it. It’s scary when the path that you think is set starts to crumble away, but…maybe it’s a sign that it’s not your path any longer.”

He took this in, tried to order his thoughts.

“I’m…I’m scared of hurting her,” he replied, his voice little more than a whisper. “Being less than she deserves; letting her down. Not knowing how to…do this.”

He sensed Mary nodding, taking this in. Then…

“You worried about…?”

She performed a slightly filthy, playground-level mime with her fingers, and gave him a wink. When he looked at her in shock, she eyed him with amusement.

“I mean, that you might be a bit rusty?” she elaborated.

Sherlock wrinkled his nose, feeling the heat rushing to his ears.

“Isn’t it one of those things that’s like riding a bicycle?” he mumbled, trying to sound dismissive.

Mary gave a snort of laughter.

“And when was the last time you did that, either?”

He managed a small, wan smile.

“Aahhh, you’re surprisingly sweet sometimes, aren’t you?” Mary grinned, nudging him. “Listen, don’t worry about that. Just…let those things happen in their own time. And Molly will keep you right.”

Sherlock let out the breath he’d been holding.

“Probably best if you don’t mention bikes, though,” Mary added, clamping down on a smile. “Molly’s not going to be swept off her feet by that comparison.”

Sherlock let out a sniff of laughter. The notion of sweeping Molly off her feet was equal parts thrilling and pants-soilingly terrifying, but he felt a small measure of comfort knowing that Mary – even this fictional conjuring of Mary – believed he could do it.

But, he acknowledged, ‘could’ wasn’t necessarily the deciding factor.

“I…I need to know, Mary,” he whispered. “Is she happy?”

Mary looked at him, studying his face with an odd look of wonder, as though she was seeing him for the first time. Then she smiled, took a small breath.

“She didn’t just ‘settle’, if that’s what you’re asking,” she replied. “He’s a good man. But…you’re a good man, too. And you,” – she prodded his leg – “William Sherlock Scott Holmes, have the distinct advantage of being the love of Molly Hooper’s life.”

It was now his turn to look at her in faint wonder. Never before had he thought about himself in those terms – and the concept on its own would have seemed utterly risible to him until a short while ago. If he wasn’t careful, his status with Molly could feel like too heavy a weight of responsibility, too much to live up to, but he couldn’t – wouldn’t – allow it. He needed to justify Molly’s faith in him.

Mary got to her feet, holding her hand out to him again. He took it, a strange exhilaration flushing away the aches in his limbs.

“It’s time to get on with it,” she smiled, as they faced each other. “Go on. Go and be happy, Sherlock; tell Molly how you really feel, make a life with her, and start believing in Sherlock Holmes the man as well as Sherlock Holmes the legend.”

She smiled, straightening out his jacket for him.

“And then the two of you need to get started on making some terrifyingly brilliant babies,” she added. “Because Rosie needs a few cousins.”

There was unabashed mischief in her eyes, and Sherlock laughed, a final, rogue tear tumbling down his cheek. They watched each other for a few seconds, and Sherlock had to remind herself again that this wasn’t real; she felt tangible, present, as though she’d just popped out to get milk and now she was back.

“It’s been kind of fun, hasn’t it?” Mary said, with a smile that betrayed a little wistfulness. “I mean, a bit traumatic, obviously, and I didn’t want to make you cry but…it’s going to be exciting, Sherlock. An adventure worthy of both of you.”

Oh, she wasn’t wrong there.

“I should say, though,” she continued, “that if you chicken out, I’m going to come back and haunt you for real, and it will be bloody annoying. Experiments ruined, violin permanently untuned; your sock drawer just one big, disorganised mess. I will be one seriously vengeful spirit, Sherlock mark my words.”

He laughed again before allowing himself to be drawn into Mary’s arms, stooping so that she could rest her chin on his shoulder.

“It’s time to go back,” she whispered. “It’s been a hard watch for both of us.”

Sherlock felt the sadness in her voice vibrate against the skin of his neck. She pulled away, holding him at arm’s length.

“Look out for John for me,” she added. “Keep him busy, say something nice to him occasionally, and don’t let him buy terrible clothes.”

Sherlock chuckled, dipping his head to press a kiss to her forehead. With his eyes closed, he felt Mary’s hand gently pat his cheek one more time.

“Go get her, Sherlock Holmes.”

 

Chapter Text

The second he opened his eyes, he knew he was back; the nausea and wooziness that his unconscious brain imagined he would suffer were apparently nothing to the actual reality of a chloroform hangover. His throbbing, light-sensitive eyes presented him with a view of the flat he’d never had cause to see before – mostly chair legs, dust bunnies, and the dark and foreboding void underneath his sofa. Even though he knew he was alone, he turned over as quickly as his body would allow, looking for the spot on the windowsill where she’d been sitting. For a few moments he felt a strange, intense pang of loss, but it was swiftly banished when everything suddenly switched on, and his brain assaulted him with a rapid onslaught of images that left him with one clear, abiding, urgent priority:

Molly

But first, he had to do something about the repugnant, dull coppery tang he could taste, as though he’d woken up with a mouth full of pennies. Almost gagging on the bitterness, his instinct was to try to get up to find water. Sherlock tried to force his body to work with him. This was the one time when he needed his ‘transport’ to really do its job, and it was choosing this moment to be unbelievably bloody uncooperative. He willed his limbs to work as quickly as his heart was racing because, after months of determinedly trying to put as much distance as he could between himself and Molly, now she seemed unbearably far away from him. He couldn’t allow this situation to continue.

Forcing himself in a sitting position, albeit not a very steady one, he spotted his phone on the kitchen floor where it had fallen…how long ago? He crawled inelegantly towards it, flailing out a hand until it made contact. When he brought the screen close to his face, and his eyes had managed to correctly focus, he had to look twice: he had been out cold for less than ten minutes.

The realization sent a thrill of hope through his cerebral cortex. He hadn’t blown it. Not yet.

Of course, there was still time for that – particularly if he was going to be as violently ill as he suddenly felt.


With a knee-jerk urgency, Sherlock raced for the kitchen sink, bracing himself on the counter top when he got there. Don’t be sick, do not be sick! He didn’t have time to waste on this, and whatever he was about to go and do – and he still didn’t quite know what that was – it was unlikely to be enhanced by his smelling of vomit.

There was a brief but fierce standoff with the roiling contents of his stomach, but once he had gulped down one glass of water and thrown a second one into his face, he emerged victorious. After that, he delayed only long enough to dry his face on a tea towel, shove his phone into his pocket and quickly tame his curls in the hallway mirror (he daren’t look at his face too closely).

He clattered down the stairs and out onto Baker Street, where traffic was racing past, and where he tried in vain to summon a taxi – his ‘cab-conjuring trick’, as John called it, was failing him at a critical moment.

“It’s Christmas Eve, Mr Holmes,” a voice said. It belonged to one of the men who worked behind the counter at Speedy’s, who was standing outside the café smoking a ridiculous e-cigarette. “You’re gonna to be lucky to find a free cab at this time.”

Where usually he would have an instant retort to this, all Sherlock could feel in response was despondency.

“Anyway, where you off to on Christmas Eve at this time?” the man continued, in a tone of curiosity. “You got a date or something?”

Sherlock gave a short laugh at the irony of it all. He gave a hopeless shrug.

“Possibly,” he replied. “That is, if I’m not too late.”

There was a pause, as Sherlock scanned the lines of traffic, searching for an elusive lit sign on the top of a black cab. He was wondering whether he might have more luck if he went up to Marylebone Road when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

“Got a ride for you,” the man from Speedy’s said with a smile, thumbing in the direction of the café. “Mate of mine’s a mini-cab driver – that’s his car over there. Give him five minutes to finish his kebab and he’ll get you to her.”

Sherlock felt his heart leap.

“Tell him if he comes right now, I’ll double the fare.”

The café patron’s eyebrows shot up and his face took on an expression of wry amusement.

“That important?” he asked, smiling. 

“I…I think the rest of my life could depend on it.”

Less than two minutes later, he was speeding around the side-roads of west London, and all he could think of to help soothe his anxiety was that he was getting closer. But as that anxiety abated, his nerves began to intensify and he tried to tamp them down – no guts, no glory; no pain, no gain. No honesty, no Molly.  

The cab tipped him out by her front door, minus most of the contents of his wallet. Now, if he completely cocked this up, he was going to have plenty of time to reflect on his failure on the long, ignominious walk home. He was exhibiting all the signs of both stress and anticipation as he walked silently up to the front door; the pounding heart, the dry mouth, the sudden spike of adrenaline, the quick, shallow breaths. There was no underestimating the importance of this moment, and his body knew it.

Sherlock rang the bell and waited. He caught a warped reflection of himself in the brass door knocker, and prayed that he didn’t really look that terrible. In the hallway, he could hear Molly speaking softly to Toby, who would always wind around her ankles whenever she went to answer the door. There was a pause, and Sherlock imagined her going up on tiptoes to look through the spy-hole. Quickly, the chain was pulled across and the latch unlocked and opened.

“Sherlock?”

And there she was, dressed exactly as Anderson had shown him, complete with Christmas jumper; her hair pulled back in a ponytail as she wore it for work. She sounded – and looked - surprised. But the way she was looking at him…she was pleased to see him.

“Molly, I…” he began. “I’m sorry for not returning your text, and well, for everything, and I…are you here alone?”

He had a sudden panic, his mind flashing back to what Anderson said about a Christmas drinks invitation.

Again, Molly looked confused, her brow furrowing.

“Wh-who else would be here?” she queried. “So, have you come for a Christmas Eve drink after all? I’d just sort of assumed you weren’t coming, so I was actually just about to get ready for bed…but do you want to come in?”

As soon as he was over the threshold and the door was closed, it took only a couple of seconds before his mouth started to override any rational thought process.

“Molly, please don’t marry a doctor,” he blurted, before he could stop himself. “I don’t want you to marry him, and don’t marry anyone else…wait, no, that last bit isn’t right.”

Now she was looking at him with an expression of deep worry, while at the same time, a pink blush had sprung up on her cheeks.

“Sherlock, what…what are you talking about?” she asked cautiously. “What doctor?”

As he tried desperately to figure out a better jumping-off point for the conversation, Molly came closer to him, held out the back of her hand to touch his forehead.

“Are you feeling okay?” she asked. “Where’s your coat? It’s only a couple of degrees out there. Wait…you’re not...oh god, Sherlock, you’re not high, are you?”

At this, he was mortified, but he shook his head vehemently.

“No! No, I…I wouldn’t do that,” he exclaimed, adding more quietly. “Not…anymore, not…not to you, Molly.”

She still looked unconvinced. He’d given her good reason over the years, of course.

“There was a trivial incident earlier this evening with an experiment in the kitchen at Baker Street,” he confessed, cagily. “Which resulted in an accidental haloform reaction. I may, ah, I may have been unconscious for a short while.”

Molly’s eyes suddenly widened in alarm.

“Oh God, Sherlock, are you all right?” she asked. “Why didn’t you go to a doctor?”

He felt himself smiling.

“I did.”

She gave him a look that said not funny, I’m worried about you, before leading him through to her living room and insisting that he sit down on the sofa.

“I can check you over,” she offered, turning to leave the room, presumably in search of medical kit. But Sherlock caught her arm before she could move, drew her down to sit beside her on the sofa. He had to say this now before he completely lost every last shred of nerve he had left.

“First of all, Molly, I’m fine,” he begun. “I felt slightly nauseous after it happened, but I need you to know that what I’m about to say is entirely unrelated to any chemical inhalation I may have experienced tonight.”

She looked at him questioningly, those beautiful brown eyes searching his face for clues as to where this was going. Sherlock took a deep breath.

“I said I was sorry for everything, and I meant it,” he continued. “You…you need to know where you stand, Molly, but I’m actually hoping you can tell me – once I’ve explained where I stand. Because I know where I stand, and I know that nothing is going to change that. I love you.”

At this, he heard Molly give a sharp gasp, but he needed to see this through.

“I love you, and I want to spend this and every future Christmas with you, and all of the other days in between. I want marriage and babies and dogs, and stupid Christmas decorations and traditions. I want to have all of that with you. I…I know that I’ve wasted so much time, that I haven’t been completely honest, but I’m changing that now. Molly, I do love you. Is…is it possible that you still feel the same way?” 

She looked at him, slightly open-mouthed. But it only lasted a moment before her lips started to uptick into a cautious, questioning smile.

“Sherlock…was…was that a marriage proposal?”

She was watchful, but there was a wonderful light in her eyes, and Sherlock felt a rush of elation as he realised that Molly probably wasn’t about to have him committed.

“It’s…I suppose it’s sort of a life proposal,” he replied, swallowing, trying not to pin too much on that spark of hope. “But, yes, I would like it to include marriage, providing that’s what you want, too…?”

He saw Molly’s breath stutter silently, but then she swallowed, frowned, seemed to draw herself up in her seat. Sherlock’s heart seemed to drop several feet when she appeared to shuffle away from him slightly. She was guarding herself against him, as she’d done so many times before.

“Sherlock, I…I need to know that this is real,” she said, fixing him with her gaze. “I need to know whether this is serious…that you mean it, b-because you can’t just say something like that and then take it back later. You know that, right?”

He ached with the need to touch her, to reassure her through his actions, but she had every right to an answer to those questions, every justification for asking them. So instead, he nodded, clasping his hands together in his lap. Her eyes were still searching his, and though it terrified him to be so exposed, he held that eye contact – he wanted Molly to see everything.

“Molly, I mean it,” he began. “Every word. I have loved you for a long time, longer than even I fully realised, long before my sister’s intercedence. I know that my recent behaviour towards you must have been confusing, and it was certainly unfair, and I have no real defence for it, except that I was frightened.”

He saw Molly’s brow crease slightly, briefly, in sympathy for him it seemed. Now it seemed faintly ridiculous that he could ever be frightened of this beautiful, kind woman, who knew him so completely and cared for him despite it.

“But the past couple of months have been some of the worst of my life,” he continued. “Which, considering the repressed childhood trauma and the events of earlier this year, I think you’ll agree is not an insignificant thing.”

They both managed a small smile at that, and Sherlock felt Molly’s hand reach out to his, immediately twining their fingers together. Sherlock looked at their joined hands, observed how her much smaller one seemed to nevertheless enfold his. Such a simple gesture, but her touch seemed to send a pulse of electricity up his arm and straight to his heart; despite seven years of friendship – and despite the nature of what he was now asking of Molly - this was the most tactile they had ever been with each other. The possibilities for the future were staggering.

“Trying to hide from it, to fight it, has only made me miserable,” he told her. “And continuing to do so will only result in a life of further misery. I have to confess that I had a little help in coming to my senses, but it means the only thing that frightens me now, Molly, is a life, a future, without you in it.”

Molly looked up at him, frowning slightly again.

“Sherlock…you know you were never going to lose me, don’t you?” she replied. “You didn’t…you don’t need to…you will always have my friendship.”

At this, Sherlock felt his face pull into a smile.

“I know,” he said. “And I hope we’ll continue to be friends. But given that I’m in love with you, Molly Hooper, I was rather hoping for something more as well. For one thing, I’m led to believe that the baby thing might prove rather tricky if not.”

And finally, finally, he saw the most beguilingly beautiful smile begin to spread across her face, heard her release a huff of breath. A few moments passed, while Molly seemed to be working out what had just happened, how, after months of near-estrangement, they had so suddenly arrived at this point.

“So, we’re…we’re really doing this?” she said, eyebrows raised, biting down on her lip.

Sherlock recognised that combination of nervousness and excitement, and at the same time he couldn’t help his attention being drawn to Molly’s lips. It was becoming absolutely imperative that he kiss her very soon. He lifted their joined hands to his mouth, watching her the whole time as he pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles.

“I want it more than anything,” he confirmed. “And it would vastly improve my view of Christmas.”

Molly grinned.


“Well, seeing as it’s for such a good cause…”

Sherlock felt himself holding his breath as Molly inched along the sofa towards him. Slowly, she brought her hand up and slid it along his jaw until she was cradling it, the pad of her thumb resting perfectly on his cheekbone. His instinct was to close his eyes, to lose himself in her touch, and another time he would, but he wouldn’t miss this moment for the world. Achingly slowly, Molly leaned in closer, her steady gaze encouraging him to do the same. Sherlock felt for her other hand, taking it a fraction of a second before Molly’s lips made contact with his, and everything else around him ceased to exist. And then he did close his eyes, lost in the sensation of his bottom lip catching between hers, the taste of it, the perfect, perfect application of just the right amount of pressure. Everything now was a stimulant; the soft puff of her breath between kisses, the scent of her skin, the gentle movements of her fingertips through the hair above his ear. 

Apparently, they were going to be good at this.

At least he hoped so.

“Molly, is it…,” Sherlock whispered, when there was a moment of brief separation. “Am I doing it…right?”

Molly leaned back for a moment, looking at him with fond amusement. Clearly it wasn’t something she’d been asked before – or at least not since she was about twelve. But she seemed to quickly realise that he was asking it in all earnestness, and she nodded vigorously in response. He wanted to assure her that while has not a complete novice, he had never before had reason to care whether the other person was enjoying being kissed – and Molly deserved the very best he could give.

Sherlock felt his whole body relax again, Molly’s assurance giving him the confidence to mirror her actions, moving his hand to cradle the back of her head and pulling her closer to deepen the kiss. He heard a lovely little hum and giggle of appreciation, which resulted in a very sudden rush of blood southwards. There would be plenty of time for that, he reminded himself, trying to force the bicycle metaphor – and Mary’s gleeful grin – from his mind.

Keeping hold of his hand, Molly got to her feet. Slowly, giving him enough time to object if he wanted to, she came to stand over him, eventually bringing her knees down to rest on either side of his thighs. Gently, she settled into his lap, her eyes never leaving his as she wound her arms loosely around his neck. Sherlock wrapped his own arms tightly around Molly’s middle, hugging her close to his body, and when he looked up at her, he almost felt drunk on dopamine. He knew, too, that he was probably wearing the most ridiculous, half-witted expression at that moment – but someone could have plastered it across the front of The Daily Mail, and he wouldn’t have cared.

His thumbs traced slow circles on Molly’s hips, caressing her through her ridiculous Christmas jumper. He couldn’t help himself.

“I love you,” he said again, marvelling at how easy it now seemed.

Molly smiled, reaching up to gently move a rogue curl away from his forehead. She pressed soft, deliberate kisses to one cheek, then the other, before looking at him once more.

“I love you, too,” she whispered, before bringing her lips down to meet his again.

This went on for several more minutes, with Sherlock’s thumbs eventually finding their way under the ridiculous Christmas jumper, and Molly’s nimble fingers first playing with and then dipping inside his shirt collar. There was no sense of urgency, and that was just what they both seemed to need.

“It’s, um, getting late,” Molly said eventually. “Are you staying?”

She asked the question a little shyly, as though fearing she might be pushing him too far, too quickly.

“If the offer of Christmas treats is still on the table…?” he replied, with a raised eyebrow.

Molly narrowed her eyes at him; the possibilities for dual meaning not escaping her for a second.

“Well, bearing in mind your little lab accident earlier on, I think we should probably skip the alcohol,” she replied. “But ginger is supposed to be good for nausea, and I’ve got just the thing for that.”

A few minutes later, Molly’s little coffee table was arranged with a spread of Christmas snacks, alongside two mugs of hot chocolate. The rest of the evening was passed with a lot of talking and a good deal more kissing – in fact, Sherlock came to the conclusion that the one thing that could possibly improve the experience of kissing Molly was kissing her when she tasted of gingernut biscuits and marshmallows. He was looking forward to testing that theory, though, when other seasonal specialities came around.

0000000000

When Sherlock awoke the next morning, it was to the sound of a short, angry buzz from his phone, a muted text alert. He ignored it, but now that he was semi-awake, he took the opportunity to appreciate the current situation. The last thing he could remember before falling asleep was being spooned around Molly, all of his senses entirely consumed by her. She was still in his arms, but more loosely so, which wouldn’t do. Sherlock edged his way across the mattress and gathered Molly to him more closely, aware that certain parts of his anatomy were substantially more ‘glorious’ than they were on most mornings.  

His phone buzzed again.

Sherlock felt Molly stir, stretching a little in his arms before peering over her shoulder at him.

“Good morning, Molly,” he said, his voice still deep and thick with sleep.

“Morning,” she replied, shifting slightly as he leaned far enough to place a kiss on her cheek. There was some very definite friction going on south of the equator, and Sherlock heard Molly giggle. “Is that my Christmas present, Sherlock?”

“Not if you keep wriggling like that, no,” he replied, gently nudging the part of anatomy in question against her backside for emphasis.

They hadn’t, yet. He supposed they could have last night, but neither of them seemed in a particular hurry – there was more than enough new territory to explore for one evening. Sherlock was happy to surrender control to Molly, and was more than content with the slow, sleepy kisses and touches that were shaping the beginning of their Christmas Day.

Sherlock was just taking time to appreciate the fact that Molly had chosen to sleep only in her Christmas jumper and pants when his phone buzzed yet again. He fired a look of contempt over his shoulder at the device, which suddenly seemed a lot less vital to his existence than it did a few hours ago.

“Maybe it’s urgent,” Molly suggested, sliding her bare leg away from where it had been hooked around his waist. Sherlock caught her leg and put it back in place.

“Impossible,” he muttered, nuzzling into the warmth of her neck.

But there it was again, only thirty seconds later.

With a frustrated grunt, Sherlock threw his arm behind him and grabbed for the phone. When he unlocked it, a series of text messages popped up - all from John.

The first was sent the previous evening:

How’s the festive experiment going? – JW

The rest were from that morning, beginning an hour ago.

Sherlock, are you at home? Mrs H worried - JW

Then:

Mrs H says you’re not answering your door. Are you OK? – JW

Followed by:

Sherlock, please, it’s Christmas Day - stop being a dick and answer the door. She thinks you’re dead on the floor – JW

 And then:

Sherlock, unless you’re *actually* dead on the floor, you need to answer this text and speak to Mrs H – JW

The next one made Sherlock’s eyebrows rise a little.

Five minutes, Sherlock. Then the boys from Speedy’s are breaking down the door – JW

He tilted the phone so that Molly could see it. She swatted him on the arm.

“For God’s sake, tell them!”

“Tell them what?” Sherlock asked, amused. Then he was struck by the idea that telling might not be the most effective way. Shifting up in the bed, he pulled Molly against his chest and quickly snapped a photograph.

“Sherlock, are you…did you just take a selfie?!” she asked, bemused.

“Actually, we took a selfie. It’s the modern way,” Sherlock replied with an arched eyebrow, as he quickly attached the photo and thumbed out a message.

Festive experiment a resounding success. Might be a little later than planned for Christmas Dinner. Give Rosie a kiss from us both - SH

John’s response came through less than a minute later, but by that time Sherlock was already squarely focused on other things. In the middle of it all, Molly asked him what he had meant the previous evening about ‘having some help’ in coming to his senses; he said it wasn't important, that he would tell her later. But as they shared tea and toast in bed a short while later - not long before Molly decided to divest him of his t-shirt and herself of her Christmas jumper - Sherlock made some silent promises. He would be civil to his brother on Boxing Day, and he would say something nice(ish) to Philip Anderson the next time he saw him. He would take special notice of John when he saw him later, and he would try to ensure that Lestrade had other things to think about on Christmas Day (although that now seemed fairly likely anyway, given John’s propensity to gossip).

And later, when he and Molly were having some tea and toast in bed to restore their energy, his head full of all that he'd promised her, Sherlock hoped that Mary would now agree that he was well and truly getting on with it.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

His sleeping habits had changed a lot over the past few years - more regular hours, longer and better-quality sleep. Deeper sleep, too; six years ago, he would have been woken by even the subtlest of disturbances in his surroundings, ever on his guard, his brain never truly switching off. But now, unless he was actively working a case, Sherlock was fully able to embrace the joys of a good night’s sleep. The only irony, of course, being that the past few years – and further significant changes in his life - hadn’t exactly been conducive to that.

All this meant that there was absolutely no warning before the assault began.

“It’s Christmas! it’s Christmas! it’s Christmas!!”

“Mummy! Daddy! We’re awake!”

This alarming verbal tirade was accompanied by a physical one that was no less startling. Sherlock just had time to cover his more delicate parts before a small human landed on top of him, quickly followed by another, slightly smaller one. Something inanimate also landed perilously close to his head, soft with random pointy corners sticking out of it, and he could feel another heavy-ish thing being hauled over his legs and onto the bed.

His eyes darted to the alarm clock by the bed, and then Sherlock winced.

“I thought I made it clear to you two reprobates that Christmas doesn’t begin until after seven o’clock,” he mumbled thickly.

He heard Molly chuckle, felt her shifting, with some difficulty, across the bed to be closer to him. Her left hand slid under the covers to rest on his stomach, her nose tucking into the crook of his neck.

“Two problems with that,” she murmured, so that he could feel her smile against his skin. “They can’t tell the time, and even if they could, they don’t care.”

“Can we open them now?” the older boy asked, completely ignoring his parents.

“Please?” his younger brother added.

The things that had been unceremoniously hauled onto the Holmes marital bed were, of course, two very large, bulging stockings. They hadn’t seemed quite so gargantuan when he and Molly had filled them the night before, but Sherlock reluctantly shifted into a half-sitting position to avoid being brained by their older son swinging his stash of presents.

“Careful of Mummy, both of you,” Sherlock warned, as the two children bundled under the covers next to Molly, fighting to get in beside her.

He helped Molly into a sitting position, stretching his left arm around her shoulders and feeling that familiar warm contentment as she leaned against him. Sherlock’s right hand automatically snaked around to rest on her belly, which now almost needed a postcode of its own, let alone a bed; next Christmas, there would be a third stocking to think about, and in approximately six weeks, another new Holmes to welcome into the world.

As they watched their sons excitedly delving into their stockings, and the bed becoming increasingly strewn with torn wrapping paper, Sherlock felt Molly’s hand coming to rest over his, her wedding ring bumping over his knuckles. It had been a frenetic few years, and in most respects life was unrecognizable. Two (and a half) small additions to the household, a legal commitment to each other alongside the one that was more deeply, implicitly understood, and of course a change of domestic address.

As soon as he had walked through the door of the Victorian townhouse, Sherlock knew that Molly would love it – and also that she wouldn’t mind that it was, at the time, a crime scene (thankfully, the murders in question had been committed elsewhere). It hadn’t escaped his notice that, over time, the house had more and more come to resemble the one he had dreamt about that night, as Molly found time to add touches that she liked. Now, it had become a pleasing jumble of old and new, his things and her things, baby equipment and endless plastic toys piled in with medical curios and souvenirs from particularly memorable cases.  

There was just the odd moment, usually when he was alone, where Sherlock would turn the corner and expect to find Mary Watson in his hallway. He should probably have found this distressing, but after the initial twinge of sadness, it would always leave him with a strange sense of peace and calm. It would remind him to say something nice to John, or to invite he and Rosie over to dinner.

“That was a big one,” Molly smiled, with a gasp, taking Sherlock’s hand and shifting it around to the side of her bump. “Are you ready to do it all again, Mr Holmes?”

Sherlock snorted.

“Not really, but I expect we’ll cope. We could always sell one of the bigger ones.”

“Um, you were the one who barged into my house that Christmas Eve saying you wanted babies,” Molly retorted with a smile. “Amongst other things.”

She had a point. And everything he told her he wanted on that night he now had – including the houseful of gaudy Christmas decorations (draped everywhere, so that he walked face-first into them wherever he turned), and festive traditions that made absolutely no sense to him (their children followed Molly’s family tradition of sending their letters to Father Christmas up the chimney).

And that was not all.

“Nicky!” their older son cried, suddenly rolling off the bed and skittering across the floor in bare feet to the bedroom door.

“Wait, no, not the-”

But it was too late - the door was opened and ninety pounds of bloodhound came lumbering into the room. The dog was immediately embraced by their five-year-old, who was without doubt viewed by the Holmes canine as its primary master. Nicky (short for Copernicus, Molly’s hilarious joke at Sherlock’s expense) was supposed to be a noble, tenacious tracker dog, a valuable addition to Sherlock’s case-cracking arsenal – but in reality, he was hopelessly soppy and preferred life as a spoilt family pet. On the few occasions when Sherlock did bring him along on a case, Nicky had generally risen to the occasion - but he was slow to get going, easily distracted by passing females, and often needed pushing. So not unlike John, in many respects. But also like John, once he was in Sherlock’s life, he wouldn’t have been without him for the world.

“So now we’re all here,” Sherlock sighed, watching the present-related carnage continue.

“Mm, not quite,” Molly replied, helping their younger son with a particularly tricky piece of Sellotape.

“Toby’s got more sense,” he said, picturing Molly’s cat enjoying the peace and quiet of the living room. These days, he was so aged and infirm that Sherlock wasn’t even allowed to shoo him off his chair. 

Molly turned in Sherlock’s arms, taking his face in her hand and giving his cheeks an affectionate squish.

 “You shouldn’t complain,” she added, placing his hand on her belly again. “After all, Christmas has been pretty good to you.”

Molly was, as always, completely right. Sherlock still remembered in brilliant detail that first Christmas Day, and the days and weeks that followed it; when alone with Molly, he had quickly turned into a delirious, lovestruck idiot, completely addicted to her company and her touch. And he’d kept in mind the advice imparted to him by the Mary of his subconscious – he let the other stuff happen in its own time, and Molly did keep him right. More than right.

With a parting kiss to Molly, Sherlock extricated himself from the bed, ruffled his sons’ curly heads and padded down the hall to the bathroom. Call of nature taken care of, he returned to the bedroom bearing mugs of tea, nearly tripping over the dog on his way to the bed – no chance of drinking the tea safely, though, with all of the frenzied activity.

No sooner had Sherlock eased himself into a seated position under the covers again than their younger son launched himself full-force towards him, this time Sherlock reacting slightly too late to prevent a small, bony knee making contact with his most vulnerable area. He took a sharp intake of breath, catching Molly’s look of concern tinged with amusement.

“Daddy, was that your testimals?” the three-year-old asked, with a tone of scientific enquiry.

 Now Molly was sniggering.

“You realise, Dr Hooper, that the only benefit to teaching them the proper anatomical terms is that they can now – near enough - correctly name the afflicted body part while they maim me?”

Molly leaned into him, checking to make sure their sons’ attention was on their presents.

“If it’s still sore tonight, I’ll kiss it better,” she whispered, with a devilish smile.

Probably just as well he wasn’t holding his mug of tea at that point.

“And you said we shouldn’t get each other anything for Christmas…” he replied, matching her smile with a roguish one of his own.

They always did end up getting each other something for Christmas, though, whatever was said beforehand; something small and idiosyncratic, and usually come across by chance. From where he was sitting in bed, Sherlock could see last year’s present from Molly – a leather-bound first edition of The Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, printed in the early part of the twentieth century and unearthed by Molly at the Southbank Book Market. He had read the whole book almost in one sitting, and was now seriously looking into whether there was enough space at the bottom of the garden for a starter hive.

The book sat on the shelf beside a small, lacquered wooden box. On Boxing Day, six years earlier, while Molly was still asleep in his bed at Baker Street, he had finally found the courage to go looking in his wardrobe for that unopened present, still wrapped in red paper and gold ribbon. The oak box that he unwrapped, with its hinged lid, contained an antique field microscope; brass, with a small selection of Victorian-era slides that still bore the original owner’s handwriting in archaic, swirling script. To this, Molly had added a collection of new slides, which she had assembled herself, containing recent lab specimens she thought would interest him. When she had woken up that Boxing Day morning, Sherlock hadn’t hesitated in expressing several years’ worth of delayed gratitude. And even though he had examined each slide many times in minute detail over the years, he still went back to them from time to time, because…well, just because.

“We should get moving, Sherlock,” Molly said, stretching a little. “Or else they’ll all arrive and we’ll have nothing to feed them.”

Getting moving was now easier said than done for Molly, and Sherlock had queried her wisdom in offering to host Christmas dinner at their house while nearly eight months’ pregnant, but she’s insisted it would be fine – and it meant that their sons could play with their new acquisitions while they got everything ready. In a few hours, John and Rosie would arrive with Mrs Hudson and Lestrade, and the mayhem would really begin in earnest.

A few more minutes spooned around Molly in the warmth of their bed was just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps the boys would play quietly on the floor for a little while – miracles had happened in his life before, after all…

“Who wants to go with Daddy to the park to try out your new pocket magnifiers?” Molly asked brightly, earning a look of mild horror from Sherlock.

“What?” Molly smiled, all casual innocence. “They were your idea.”

“Yes, so you said, but you were a willing participant, if I remember rightly.”

Molly rolled her eyes.

“I was talking about the magnifiers, not our gorgeous children.”

Sherlock sighed, pouting slightly and earning an indulgent look of mild sympathy from his wife.   

“Yes. Because they keep stealing mine.”

On more than one occasion, he had turned up at a crime scene, unfurled his investigation kit and found a blank space where his magnifier should have been. One time, he had found in its place his younger son’s toothbrush, something that John, Lestrade and half of Scotland Yard found far more amusing than he would have liked.

“Detection can be an indoor activity, too,” he pointed, glancing outside at the decidedly frigid weather conditions. “I’ve solved countless cases without even leaving my chair…or my bed.”

“I know, I know, you’re a very brilliant man,” Molly replied, patting his hand fondly. “But Nicky needs a walk anyway.”

Sherlock groaned into her neck, feeling her puff of laughter against his temple.

“Oh, stop being a Scrooge,” she told him, drawing his face out of her neck to place a kiss on his nose. “It’s Christmas, and everyone in this room loves you very much.”

And he would give his life for any one of them in a heartbeat. Sherlock tipped his face up to catch her lips with his before she could pull away, kissing her with as much passion as felt appropriate in front of the audience present. (Although the dog had, unfortunately, seen much worse, on one occasion when the bedroom door was accidentally left open. Sherlock still didn’t like to think of it).

“Urgh, no kissing!” their older son piped up, momentarily distracted from hitting his brother with a foam-rubber pirate cutlass.  

Molly giggled, and Sherlock look up, narrowing his eyes at his young doppelganger, who held his gaze with a defiant grin.

“No kissing, eh?” Sherlock said slowly, pulling back the edge of the duvet. “Well, young man, let’s see how you feel about…this!”

And with that, he dived over the covers, hearing a shriek of gleeful surprise just before he pinned his son down and started to plant big, wet (and bristly) kisses all over the little boy’s face. Within seconds, the younger boy had joined in, throwing himself on top of Sherlock and laughing with delight. Although he couldn’t see her at that moment for the tangle of torsos and limbs, Sherlock heard the wonderful, musical sound of Molly’s laughter – it never ceased to amaze him that he could be the source of her happiness.

There had been moments when he still felt like an impostor, felt as though the floor could open up underneath him and rob him of his domestic bliss. And it was domestic bliss, he couldn’t deny it. The past six years had presented him with challenges unlike any he’d previously known, had forced him to dig deep within himself for resources he’d never before tapped - but every time he’d been tested and could have failed, he didn’t. Because it mattered, and because he no longer had to face any of it alone – Molly was his lodestar, his constant, his anchor, his comfort. She diffused his brooding with terrible jokes, and reminded him – convinced him - that he had as much worth as a man as he had as a puzzle-solver.  

Ten minutes later, he was thunking down the stairs in search of the dog’s lead, and it hit him again. He stopped halfway along the hall, and looked over his shoulder. There was nobody there, of course, but it was that same sense of a benign presence, almost as though he could feel someone smiling behind his back. Sherlock stood there for a long moment, just allowing himself to think and feel. Even if she wasn’t really out there in any form, however intangible, she had still played a considerable part in his happiness – and if she was, Sherlock hoped she knew she would always be welcome in their home.