On the day after Sherlock Holmes and John Watson were released from hospital, on the very day she learned the truth about Jim from IT, Molly Hooper went home and threw a shoe at her bedroom mirror.
It was a heeled shoe, nine centimetres at least, bold sunshine yellow, and it pinched something awful in the toe. One of her favourite dating shoes; it matched the flower patterned dress.
She lined up the shot with a careful sense of trajectory and velocity and the arc of her arm. The shoe connected heel first with the glass, a nine centimetre spike for a one and a half centimetre puncture. The wound radiated out from the centre in a bright starburst of splintering glass, perfection marred as the toe of the shoe connected and shards fell in tinkling heaps on the hardwood floor.
Molly stared at her reflection in the jagged edges of glass that remained. Her face was distorted, at wrong angles with itself, her left eye and the arch of her brow missing entirely where a large section of the glass had dissolved onto the floor. She reached out to touch the flimsy bit of particle board that had once supported the glass.
“That’s better,” she said. She left the glass on the floor, and dropped the shoe in the wastebasket on her way out.
Sherlock stopped by the lab only two days after his release from hospital. The bandages, the stitches, and the livid bruise across his right cheek still looked new. Molly entertained, briefly, the thought of Sherlock Holmes with a facial scar.
He wanted to see the bodies of the snipers. Molly let him in to the morgue wordlessly, and brought him a coffee without being asked. Black, only one sugar. She wondered if he’d notice.
He gave the coffee a perfunctory sip, turned back to the dead man, then looked up at her sharply, eyes narrowed and mouth puckered in distaste.
She said, “We were out of sugar. I gave you the last one.”
He sighed, and didn’t touch the coffee again.
She didn’t buy a new mirror.
On the fourth day after Sherlock’s release from hospital, the coffee had two sugars, and Molly was wearing lipstick.
She wheeled the body of Lindsey Ellsworth into position, played nervously with her hair, and tried to pretend that Sherlock’s stare didn’t hold anything like disgust.
“Tell me about Jim,” she said.
The momentary flash of surprise in his eyes was almost as painful as the story that followed.
Her cat was waiting, warm and loud and eager for attention, when she returned home that evening. Molly gave him three absent-minded, careless strokes before stepping around him and into her bedroom.
The broken mirror cast endless distortions of her face.
She walked gingerly toward it, the crunch of splintered glass under her feet loud in the oppressive stillness of the place. She was suddenly glad she hadn’t cleaned up.
The face that peered back at her out of the jagged edges and angled planes of the mirror was almost unrecognizable. She stared at the image, reached up to touch the soft reddened skin below her eye, poked it a bit with her blunted nail. Her finger appeared to be sliced neatly in two by the cracked glass, as though seen refracted through water.
Molly stared at the stranger’s face in the mirror, and thought about Jim. Jim, who loved to watch Glee, who had suggested the name for her cat, whose favourite snack was raw carrots covered in Nutela. She thought about Sherlock, who smiled and complimented her hair at just the right moments. She even thought about John Watson and his cane.
She thought of her father, with his warm winning smile and his big booming laugh and his many friends, and the way his hands gripped so hard that they left bruises, and the way all his teeth showed when he said, “Don’t tell anyone, little Molly. Good little girls keep their daddy’s secrets.” She wondered if Sherlock already knew about that, too.
Molly watched the twisted woman in the mirror. She thought, I am tired of being silent.
Everyone wears a mask. Molly Hooper knew this, knew it perhaps better than most, because she was always conscious of it in herself. But she wasn’t always so good at seeing what other people’s masks were. That, she supposed, was Sherlock’s job. Molly dealt mostly with dead people, and she thought at times that she might prefer them. Most of them were perfectly honest for the first time in their lives.
She knew Sherlock’s mask now. The smile and the kind comments were cast off quickly enough, once he got what he wanted. She knew Jim’s mask, too. Actually, she thought bitterly, she didn’t know anything of Jim but the mask.
Her own mask was a very old one. She’d had it as long as she could remember. It was chipped in places, faded in others, with new layers of paint laid on over the old patterns. It was a good mask, a kind, sweet, self-effacing, wholesome sort of mask. She’d worn it so long that she almost stopped noticing how it pinched around her eyes and nose.
Well, she thought now, staring at the woman in the cracked mirror, the woman who was not smiling, whose eyes were no longer red or puffy. Everyone else is taking off their masks. Maybe it’s the thing to do.
On the eighth day after Sherlock’s release from hospital, there was no coffee.
He came with John, this time, and they found Molly in the morgue with Mr. Jeremy Forrester, late of Gloucester Street, who was missing his left big toe and a good part of his brains. Sherlock was wearing that gleefully impish look that said he had a new case, and John was wearing his matching put-upon expression. Molly decided she was glad they were both here. Be good and don’t tell anybody, Daddy had said. She was glad she would have witnesses.
“I need to examine the body,” said Sherlock, in an absent way that indicated his statement was a mere formality and he was only making it for John’s benefit, anyway, and wasn’t it just pointless that he had to bother with such trivialities?
Molly swallowed hard, rubbed away the pinch at her nose, and said, “No.”
John stared at her in amazement. Sherlock looked both astonished and, beneath the surprise, angry, if only for a brief moment. The expression passed quickly and he regarded her coolly, but it had been there, and that was the important thing.
“You don’t have clearance,” Molly said. “Until you do, I can’t let you examine the body.” She felt small, exposed, vulnerable, and more powerful than she ever had in her life.
A slow smile spread across Sherlock’s face. “You’ve made some changes,” he said. He sounded almost genuinely impressed, and for a moment Molly entertained the possibility that maybe, with this mask—
And then she shook her head. “No,” she said, “that isn’t going to work. Come back when you’ve got proper authorization.”
And to her surprise, they did leave, with only a minimal amount of prodding. Sherlock was looking at her as though she’d betrayed him. And, just maybe, as though he respected her for it.
She waited until she was sure they were gone before letting the tears fall. When she’d finished crying, her eyes felt raw and her throat dry, but the pinching had eased almost completely.
Sherlock didn’t come back for Forrester at all, but when he next appeared in the morgue, he had authorization.
“Higgins,” she said, glancing over the paperwork. “All right, I’ll get him for you.” She ignored the roll of Sherlock’s eyes at the apparent indignity of his position.
When she returned with the body, Sherlock took the gurney from her with poor grace, sliding open the zipper on the body bag and beginning his examination instantly. He said nothing for the next eighteen minutes, and Molly made no attempt to start a conversation.
At last he stepped back from the body, held up a swab, and said, “I’ll need access to—”
Molly gave him her sweetest smile. She told herself the clenching in her stomach was the result of an unwise decision to have week-old leftovers for lunch, and that she was not nervous. She reminded herself that she was not wearing lipstick, and that she liked her mouth. And when she had done all of these things, she stopped Sherlock Holmes in mid sentence.
“It’s botulism,” she said, proud of the way her voice wavered only slightly. “I already tested. But that’s not what killed him.”
“No?” asked Sherlock. He sounded less sarcastic than usual, and he was looking at her very keenly, with a slight upturn to his mouth that seemed almost genuine.
“No,” said Molly, and she didn’t smile, and she didn’t look away. “He died only four hours after the bacteria entered his system.”
The hint of a smile on Sherlock’s face became a full, almost giddy grin. “I knew it!” he exclaimed, tossing the swab aside in a manner that was entirely out of keeping with basic hygiene protocols. Molly wavered, wondering if she should reprimand him, but he was already out the door.
She sighed, bent to retrieve the swab, and deposited it in the biohazard bin along with her gloves. She glanced at her watch, and considered the fact that Sherlock had left without testing the swab himself.
Molly allowed herself a smile as she headed upstairs for some coffee. Two creams, no sugar.
Three hours later, she got a text.
BANKER ARRESTED. SH
It was not a thank you, but it was more than she’d expected. Molly hummed to herself as she held the phone up to her shattered mirror and watched the words break apart into individual letters in the glass. Where the correct angles met, they formed new words entirely, in a language that did not exist.
She picked the glass off the floor. She threw away all her lipstick, because she’d never really liked it anyway. She set her relationship status to “single and not looking,” and she smiled.
Molly Hooper never did buy a new mirror.