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An Avalanche Of Detour Signs

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--

"He's dead," says Molly, "isn't he?"

She's ten years old, tucked up next to her older sister, and there is a boy dead on the side of the swimming pool. She knows this, even though Flora's got one shaking hand covering her eyes--people don't move the way that boy did, not if they're alright, not if they're healthy. There are certain things you just know, and Molly may only be a little girl, but she isn't stupid. People are crying and someone is screaming and Flora's hand is shaking, shaking like her voice as she calls out for one of the other swimmers (her boyfriend, Molly thinks, but she can't be sure, and Flora isn't telling). So the boy's dead; there's no other explanation that makes sense.

"He's dead," she repeats, struggling to push Flora's hand away. "I know he's dead, why won't you let me see?"

"C'mon, Mols," Flora says, whispers, really, and turns her toward the door. Molly gets one look over her shoulder as she's dragged from the room--waxy, dripping skin, just for a second, and then a flash of a boy her own age, a little older, maybe. He blinks at her, shock-stunned, but there's something in his eyes that makes her nervous. There's nothing funny about dead people, after all, is there?

She forgets about it, or tries to. After all, it's true what her mother says: it's not the kind of thing a girl her age should be worried about.

--

Morgue Attendant, the badge reads, and she runs her fingers over and over the lettering, proud despite herself. It's a weird position to take, she knows, but it's better than job hunting, better than staring at the biochemistry degree she settled for when she realized medical school wasn't for her and fancying herself a failure. Molly's willing to do the jobs no one else wants to do if the exchange rate is a sense of purpose; Molly's willing to spend a fair portion of her time with corpses if it means feeling less like one.

"I thought you wanted to be a pediatrician," her mother says, sniffing disdainfully, when Molly tells her. "I know you're--ugh, 'finding yourself,' and all that rot, but a morgue is no place for a young lady."

You wanted me to be a pediatrician, Molly thinks, not for the first time. She'd wanted nothing of the kind, actually, thanks very much, but it's not worth having that argument again. Molly isn't sure why it is that people assume that she likes kids simply because she likes the color pink, what it is about the floral pattern of her favorite skirt that means she's above being taken seriously--it couldn't be farther from the truth, but it's not like anyone has ever bothered to ask. She's aware that she doesn't exactly cut an intimidating figure, but her mind's top-rate, and yet, somehow, that doesn't seem to matter to anyone.

She'd thought medical school would help. Instead, it had made everything worse, heightened everyone's expectations of her and the way they never quite aligned with her image of herself. She was never able to shake the feeling that everyone was laughing at her all the time, that they looked at her and saw some flaw she couldn't identify, and when her father passed, her willingness to put up with it passed along with him. She'd done the rest of the work required to secure a biochemistry degree and left school as quickly as possible, and this is just…the next step, or something like it.

"It's just a job, Mum," she says, instead of any of this, moving to the stove to turn the kettle off. "A paycheck's a paycheck, you taught me that."

"But it's dead bodies," her mother groans.

"Yeah, that's the perk," Molly says, light, the kind of joke no one ever likes. "Quiet lot, aren't they? No bitchy customers, I'm looking forward to it."

Her mother sputters, makes her apologize, but when she wakes up the next morning there's two texts from her sister waiting for her. Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life, says the first, followed immediately by, …even if it's the last day of someone else's :).

Molly shakes her head, laughs, pulls on the clothing she'd laid out the night before and hits the door. It's the first day of something, at any rate. She'll just have to go and find out what.

--

She meets Sherlock Holmes for the first time two weeks later, in the middle of filling out the check-in paperwork for what remains of a nasty double homicide. Stamford turned green when the bodies were brought in--one bashed-in head, one slit throat, none of it pretty--and Molly didn't think twice before she offered to do the intake for him. He looked at her askance, but Molly's never been squeamish, and it's not like there's anyone on the whole floor who doesn't know she's overqualified for the position she's taken on; after a minute he nodded, shuffled away, and she’s settled into the quiet hum of doing a job.

It's not that Molly likes dead bodies, exactly. She's just…indifferent, maybe. They don't give her any trouble.

In any case, she's doing the intake reports when the door opens. DI Lestrade comes through first, and Molly smiles at him; she'd met Lestrade her second day at Bart's and likes him well enough. He's not like that Sergeant of his, Donahue or Donavan or something, who'd looked at Molly like Molly was something sad and pitiable. That's another benefit to the corpses--no judgement.

"Good morning, Detective Inspector," Molly says.

"Not really," says Lestrade, blanching, and Molly doesn't even have time to figure out what he means before someone is sweeping in behind him.

Tall, Molly thinks first. Then: Are those even human cheekbones?

"Right," Lestrade says, "Ms. Hooper--"

"Molly," Molly says automatically, still blinking at the stranger, who looks more and more like an alien with every passing moment. She doesn't see Lestrade's smile until it's fading, and by that point, it's too late to smile back.

"Molly, then," Lestrade amends, "this is Sherlock. Sherlock, Molly."

"Do go do something else, Lestrade, you're putting me off," says….Sherlock, apparently. An odd name, Molly thinks, but then again, he's clearly an odd guy.

"What," Lestrade says, affronted, "by standing here?"

"The standing, the talking, call it what you like." Sherlock’s got a little folding magnifying glass out now, is holding it about half an inch from the first victim's gaping head wound. Without looking up, he waves his hand in the universal gesture for shoo, and Lestrade rolls his eyes, mouths something that looks decidedly unprofessional at Sherlock's back, and slips back out the door.

Which leaves Molly with Sherlock and two dead bodies. Isn't that nice.

"So you're, uh," Molly tries, after a moment of silence. "You're…with the police, then?" Sherlock says nothing, so she tries again: "Must be nice, working with DI Lestrade. He's very, uh. Nice?" Sherlock remains silent; Molly gives up after that, figuring it for a lost cause, and goes back to her forms.

Thus her surprise when, five minutes later and out of absolutely nowhere, Sherlock stands up straight, shoves the magnifying glass in his pocket, and snaps, "Stamford. I will need lye, peroxide, and the victim's last four known addresses. Oh, and a speculum, if you can manage it."

"Um," Molly says, managing to keep from dropping her clipboard through force of will alone, "I'm…not Stamford? I'm Molly. And, also, um, why? Do you need those things? Because I can't just let you--"

"Oh, god, a new one, really," Sherlock drawls, as though Molly's very existence is personally offensive to him. "I really don't have time to coddle another of you lot--Lestrade, handle this, will you?"

"You sent him away," Molly says, brow knitting together. "You told him he was putting you off."

"Hmm," Sherlock says, as if to himself. "And he listened, interesting."

"Seriously, what did you want with the…lye and the speculum and--oh, god, you're not some kind of maniac, are you? Lestrade wouldn't have brought you in if you were a maniac. Right?"

Sherlock sighs heavily and turns on his heel; when he looks at her his eyes are unfocused, but then he blinks and….oh. Oh, okay, well, that's not particularly comfortable. Molly is overcome by the sudden urge to cover up, which makes no sense at all--she's fully dressed, dressed well, even. She takes a step back as Sherlock takes a step forward, swallows hard.

"Now would be a good time to say 'I'm not a maniac,'" she murmurs, and Sherlock's eyes narrow further; Molly has about half a second to think Well, if you're going to get murdered, I guess a morgue's about as good a place as any, before he opens his mouth.

"Molly Hooper," Sherlock says. "Turning 26 in four days, not married, not dating, father deceased within the last year, mother living on his pension because they burned their savings on the treatment. Cancer, then--liver? Doesn't matter, I suppose. One sister, older, married, two children, a boy and a girl, not in the city, you feel guilty that you don't see them more. Recently graduated from…Imperial, was it? Yes, yes. One cat, thinking about getting another, named something like Fluffy or Bootsy, in running late to work this morning you forgot to feed her--oh, you didn't know that, well. Now you do. In any case, I imagine that's about enough to be getting on with, don't you?"

"I," Molly says, blinking. "You--I. Uh. How--"

"Obvious," Sherlock says. "Did I miss anything?"

"My," Molly says, "my cat's name is Atticus, actually."

"There's always something," Sherlock says, sounding--well, it's more disgusted than disappointed, but the twist to his mouth is gone as quick as it came. He turns, his huge coat honest-to-god billowing around him, and stalks toward the door.

"I thought--speculum and, and lye," Molly says, more than aware that she is babbling but not really in any state to stop herself--how had he known about any of that? "Didn't you need….those things?

"Unnecessary," Sherlock says, already halfway out of the room. "Afternoon."

"Sorry," DI Lestrade says a moment later, sticking his head in the door. "I mean, I don't know what he said, but I know him, so I assume it merits an apology."

"It, um, yes," Molly says. "Yes, he--is he always like that?"

"Pretty much," Lestrade admits. "Sometimes he's worse, the whole Yard hates him, but. Well. Solves the cases, doesn't he?"

"I wouldn't know," Molly says. She fingers the edge of one sleeve, still trying to process. "So he…he just knows everyone's whole life story, then? The minute he meets them? That's how he works?"

"Ooh, played that trick, did he?" Lestrade says, sympathetic. He reaches down absently, probably just looking for something to fiddle with, and winces when he realizes he’s holding a scapula. "Seriously, sorry, probably shouldn't have left you in here alone, he just gets a bit….grating. If it helps, the first time I met him he told me my wife'd been cheating on me with one of the other teachers at her school. He's just like that, Sherlock."

"Good to know," Molly says faintly. In the distance, there's the sound of something crashing violently to the floor; Lestrade swears under his breath, rolls his eyes.

"That's my cue," he says, "sorry again," and just like that Molly's alone, save the corpses.

--

The Sherlock thing is…well, it's just a thing, isn't it? Things happen sometimes, and it's not like it developed overnight, and it's certainly not like Molly's unaware that it's ill-advised and poorly considered, that she'd be better off without it. Sherlock Holmes is, by all accounts save Lestrade's, a menace, and even Lestrade will only upgrade him to "Well, he's not always an occupational hazard." It's idiotic, the whole thing, the way she gets flustered and tongue-tied when he enters a room, the way she keeps trying; it's idiotic and it's pathetic and it's humiliating and Molly knows better, she really, really does.

But on the other hand…well, on the other hand, it's not like Molly Hooper's dating pool is so impossibly large. Corpses are good enough company if you're looking for silence, but they're not exactly relationship material, and everyone else Molly deals with on a daily basis is too old, too married, or both. Her mother keeps telling her to find herself a nice doctor and settle down, and Molly doesn't know how to explain that that isn't enough, not even close, and anyway every doctor she knows is 55 or Stamford, which would be too weird to even consider.

So that leaves Sherlock, and Sherlock's like no one Molly's ever met before. She'd be willing to bet Sherlock's like no one anyone's ever met before, and there's a certain appeal to that, for all it's a double edged sword. He sweeps in and out of her morgue--because it is her morgue now, for all it shouldn't be, for all she's not really qualified, it's amazing what a little applied competence will do--and acts like he owns it, and Molly…well. Molly lets him, doesn't she? She snaps at Stamford when he scatters crumbs on the table and she scowls at Marla from downstairs when she moves things about, but Sherlock comes in empty handed and leaves with an arm and a leg--literally--and Molly lets him go.

"Who's this Sherlock you keep talking about, then," Flora says, a warm June afternoon, like she's inquiring after the weather. She's just in the city for the day, Flora, visiting for work and sparing an hour for this, and Molly has no idea what to say to her. How on earth is she supposed to explain someone she doesn't understand herself?

He steals body parts, she thinks, and sometimes eyes, and he's almost always awful when he isn't saving the day. Last week he reorganized the entirety of the morgue's records into an online database without permission, and I know he only did it for his own ends, but it's making my life easier and it's nice to pretend. Sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror I imagine him standing next to me, which is stupid for a hundred reasons, the worst of which is that I can't imagine him staying still for that long. He knows everything about me without asking and I don't think I've ever even seen him eat. Lestrade likes him, and Lestrade's a trustworthy sort, isn't he? I think I'm in love with him. I think I'm in love with the idea of him. I think I'm losing my mind..

"Just someone from work," Molly says, and Flora smirks, rolls her eyes. It's…well. It's awfully telling, no matter which way you slice it.

--

She meets John Watson on a Tuesday morning, eyes wide and amazed, Sherlock's hand steering him around like he's a marionette. That's awfully telling, too.

--

It's not until the third time Sherlock calls her John--Molly knows he's not doing it on purpose, swears he is in the same thought, thinks fondly of a time when she was saner than this, when she had it together--that she decides it's time to let it go. She's been edging up on this conclusion since the whole thing started, really, inching closer since the day with the lipstick and the coffee, but being mistaken for a military man creeping towards middle age is just the last straw. She meets her own eyes in the mirror, a glass of wine sitting on her bedside table, and takes a deep breath.

"You are a grown woman, Molly Hooper," she says to herself, holding her own gaze, "and this is silly, and it stops right now. Right. Now."

And, for awhile, it does stop. Not all of it, of course--she still stutters when Sherlock comes into a room, because there's some wire labeled "Embarrassment Control" that's been tragically cut in her brain--but most of it, at least, dials down. She no longer has dreams that are as heartbreakingly pathetic as they are impossible, and she stops trying to impress Sherlock Holmes, because it's as plain as the nose on her face that he's only ever impressed by himself. She stops, because she has to stop, and it's a little lonely but it's healthier, probably, and certainly the least sad option.

She starts going for drinks with some of her old friends from uni, and then, to her own surprise, with Sally Donovan--Lestrade and the rest of the yard show up sometimes on those nights, and Molly remembers that she likes having fun, likes talking to people who are neither dead nor on the knife-edge of insanity. She sleeps with a guy who works for some accounting firm, goes on a date with a broker whose interest in her gets slightly unsettling when he finds out what she does for a living, and it's…good. It's fine. It's how people get through the day, isn't it, this sort of thing? This is just what people do.

"You've still got it for him, don't you," Lestrade says, sounding resigned, one night at the bar. They're the last two standing in the whole place; Sally and Anderson have fucked off somewhere, and everyone else is either slumped in a booth or gone for the night. "Or, sorry, I don't mean to pry, I was just…wondering."

"I haven't the faintest idea what you're talking about," Molly says, drunk enough to be an even worse liar than usual, and Lestrade snorts.

"Detective, remember?" he says, tapping the side of his nose, and then his mouth turns down at the corners. "Even if I'm not much of one, some days."

"Don't say that," Molly says, listing towards him a little. He's playing with his wedding ring, twisting it round and round on his finger; Molly's not really sure what that's all about, isn't sober enough to wonder about it much. "You're a great detective, and you're. You know. It's fine, everyone at Bart’s really likes you! And the Yard likes you, and your closing rate's great, isn't it? I see you in the news sometimes. You're good!"

"Mmm," he says, noncommittal. "Can I ask you a strange question?"

"Sure," Molly says, and adds, "well, depends how strange. Y'know that bloke I was dating, the, um, the broker guy, he asked me…things. About the, uh, my job."

"What kinds of things?" Lestrade says, perking up slightly. "Oh, god, maybe I don't want to know--"

"You definitely don't want to know," Molly says. "I mean, everyone at work was either horrified or bored to death, and given the average pulse rate in that place..."

Lestrade laughs. It's a real laugh, too, his head thrown back, his shoulders shaking, the noise loud enough that the bartender turns to glance at them. Molly's so surprised--no one ever thinks she's funny, not really, not properly--that she doesn't notice what a nice laugh he has until he's more or less stopped.

"See," he says, waving his beer at her, "see, that, right there. You're, I mean, look at you, and you're always so nice, and you're funny. You could do so much better, is all."

"That's…not a question," Molly says, trying to decide if she wants to take the compliment at face value or bristle at the judgment it's riding on.

"I know it's not," Lestrade says, "not in question at all, is it, that. I just--what's in it for you, then? Because he's, I mean, you know how he is, and I know you're not--oh, hell, nevermind."

Molly narrows her eyes and takes a sip of her drink, considering. Lestrade--Greg, she thinks, unbidden--has clearly abandoned the line of inquiry, settled instead for staring down at the bar morosely. He's still twisting his wedding band, using his thumb to swipe at it, and it occurs to Molly that she doesn't actually know very much about him. He seems like a happy person most of the time, but then again, so does she; he seems well-adjusted, nine days out of ten, but even Sherlock can sham normal when he wants to.

"Poor bastard," Sally had said one night, a few weeks back, nodding over at Lestrade alone at the bar. Anderson had nodded, and Molly hadn't bothered pushing it, had figured it was police business or something like it. Now, looking at the slump of his shoulders and the set of his mouth, Molly wonders if they aren't in similar boats--she recognizes that expression, even if she'd rather not.

"Something to be said for a lost cause, isn't there?" she says finally, surprising him. "In a…oh, I don't know. I'm not stupid, and I'm working on it, and sometimes I think it's just that I know it wouldn't, you know? Work, I mean. Maybe it's sad, but there's a certain, I dunno, solidity in that."

"Saddest thing I've ever heard," Greg says. "Or story of my life, whichever you'd rather. Ta, and all that."

"Are you alright?" Molly says, honestly concerned, and Greg shakes himself, just slightly, rubs a hand over his face before throwing her an unconvincing smile.

"Right as rain," he says. "Just a bit of a downer drunk, you know how it is. Think I'm going to call it a night."

"Yeah," Molly says, "yeah, me too."

She lets Greg walk her outside, stands with him as he hails a cab, and it's--maybe she's just drunk, or maybe he's just drunk, but Molly finds herself warm despite the chill in the air. She's suddenly awash with a fierce rush of affection for this man, silver-haired and sad around the eyes when he doesn't bother to hide it; there's something about him that makes sense to her, though she'd have a time of it explaining what.

"Goodnight, Detective Inspector," she says, when he's let her take the first cab. He winces, and Molly feels it at the back of her mind, a niggling, wriggling something, the whole ride home.

--

Two days later, her computer won’t start; when she calls IT, they send a tech up to fix it for her. He’s a short, dark-haired guy, not exactly her type, but cute enough that she finds herself glancing over at him a few times. When he catches her looking, he shoots her a shy smile.

“I’m Jim,” he says, giving her a little wave from behind the mess he’s made of her computer tower. “You’re, uh. You’re Molly Hooper, right?”

“One and the same,” Molly says cheerfully. “Don’t tell me my name’s gotten around down there, I swear I’m usually good with computers.”

“No,” Jim says quickly, flushing a little, “no, god, not at all. Uh, sorry, it’s just--it was on the ticket, and you’re, you know. Wearing a name tag? So I just figured, sorry, I didn’t mean to--”

“Hey, don’t hurt yourself, it’s fine.” His blush only deepens, and it’s cute, actually, kind of. Molly’s not used to being on the receiving end of the behavior she typically classifies as both “her own” and “crazy,” but she would’ve expected it to be uncomfortable, as awkward as it always feels from the other side. Instead it’s...kind of flattering, honestly, the ability to fluster someone else.

Jim’s staring down at the machine again, and his face is beet red; from long experience, Molly figures he’s thinking either God, why did I say that or God, what do I say now, and she’s intrigued despite herself. She clears her throat softly, a cue more than any attempt at a pointed remark, and smiles invitingly when Jim looks up.

“So, you’re new here, then?”

“Is it that obvious?” Jim says, and there’s the shy smile again--he really is quite fit, Molly thinks, for all he’s a little shorter than she’d normally go for. “Just started last week. My Mum’s appalled; I think she thought computer engineering was a more glamorous field of employment than this.”

“Yeah, well, believe me, there’s no conversation that beats, ‘Hi Mum, I’ve taken a position riddled with corpses,’” Molly says, not even thinking about it, and is surprised when Jim laughs. It’s...strange, just for a second, high-pitched and manic, before it settles down into a normal enough chuckle; Molly figures people can’t help the way they laugh, and, anyway, she’s gratified.

“Look,” Jim says, “I, um, this is probably really forward of me, but. Um. I’m going to have to take your computer downstairs, and I’ll have it back in an hour or two?”

“...okay,” Molly says, after a moment’s pause. “Which part of that was supposed to be forward?”

“Shit!” Jim says, all in a rush, “god, sorry, sorry, I swear I’m sometimes more, just, um. I wanted to know if you maybe...later. After work or...or another time, anytime, really, oh my god please stop me talking--I was wondering if you’d like to have coffee?”

Black, two sugars, please, Molly thinks out of nowhere. There’s a sharp spike of humiliation, just for a second, the resurgence of an embarrassment long since buried, but a rush of power comes on its heels--she could do that, right now, if she wanted to. She could behave as badly as Sherlock does, could be cold and callous just for the sake of it. She wouldn’t do, of course, but the fact that she could is startling, staggering, and she finds herself smiling, standing up a little straighter, pushing her hair back out of her eyes.

“Yeah,” she says, “yeah, sure. I think I might really like that.”

--

They do go for coffee; Jim pulls out his phone and shows her his blog page, laughs when she tells him she likes it, actually blushes when she says, “No, really, it looks great, you must be ace with computers.”

“It’s a hobby,” Jim says, and then his eyelids flutter, and he adds, “the blogging, I mean. Obviously being ace with computers is, you know, my job--which isn’t to say that I’m better than anyone else, of course, just that I try hard, I wouldn’t want to--”

“Hey, stop, you’re fine,” Molly says. “Honestly, I deal with enough genuine egomania to know it when I see it, don’t worry.”

“Do you now,” Jim says, leaning over the table with interest. He’s a good listener, Jim; it’s refreshing, in its way. “Obnoxious colleagues, then?”

“You could say that,” Molly says, laughing on it. “Obnoxious....well, he’s not really a colleague, come to that. More like an, um...hmm, no, I suppose friend doesn’t work either. He’s a detective, though, just an amateur, except that he’s--you know, I think he has a blog too, now that I think of it. Google Sherlock Holmes, will you?”

It’s strange, that moment, the moment after Molly says Sherlock’s name; just for a second, Jim’s face contorts, cheeks puffing out like he’s trying to hold back some sort of desperate giggling fit. The expression is gone before she can blink, and she wonders about it while he types, but it is, after all, a funny sounding name. After a minute Jim turns the phone around so they can both see, and she forgets about it.

“‘The Science of Deduction,’” Jim reads off, eyebrows up. “Sounds a bit dull, doesn’t it?”

“Oh, god, that’s the worst word in the world to describe Sherlock Holmes,” Molly says.

“It says here he’s...documenting kinds of tobacco ash,” Jim says, and he is laughing now, a soft chuckle under his breath. “This is not sounding thrilling, I hate to tell you.”

“Come off it,” Molly says, amused protest more than anything else, “no, look at the cases, or there’s John’s blog somewhere too--look, he solves all these crimes and sometimes he beats up on bodies in my morgue, there’s nothing dull there.”

“I’m not sure I’m conviiiiiinced,” Jim says, drawing out that last word in a teasing sing-song, and Molly laughs, throws a napkin at him.

It goes well, the date; Jim’s kind of awkward, but he’s sweet, and they end up getting dinner as well as coffee. Molly isn’t normally the kind of girl who gets asked out on a whim in the middle of her workday, and she’s certainly not normally the kind of girl who agrees, but this is nice. There’s something very unassuming about Jim, and he really is an incredible listener, and when he says, “I’d like to do this again, if, um, if you want to,” Molly lets him kiss her, opens her mouth just enough for his tongue to flick inside.

--

They flirt for a week and a half before they go out again. Jim drops by the morgue with coffee once or twice, and Molly finds herself inventing excuses to phone the IT Department, grinning to herself when Jim picks up. They exchange text messages--nothing consequential, just little jokes, quips, the occasional brief rant from Jim about people who download viruses like they don’t know better--and it’s fun, in a way things haven’t been fun for Molly in awhile. Jim gets less awkward as he gets more comfortable, and Molly likes that about him; it makes her feel like she’s doing something right, and when he asks her if she’s free on Friday, she tells him yes.

“So where’re we going, then?” she asks, when they’ve left the restaurant and loaded themselves into a cab. Jim’s been very close-mouthed about the whole thing, promising her a surprise and blushing when she pushes the point, but surely now they’re close enough to it that she can ask outright. “Not that this air of secrecy hasn’t been appealing, but you’re going to have to tell me eventually.”

“Am I?” Jim says, feigning innocence, and then he laughs and leans across the cab to kiss her. Molly closes her eyes, lets him; Jim’s perpetually chewing gum, and he tastes like sharp peppermint, overwhelming and close.

“Yes,” she says, when she pulls away. “That’s just how it works, you know, surprises.”

Is it,” Jim says, “well, you learn something new every day,” and he grins at her, unmoved and unmoveable, until the cab pulls to a stop.

“Oh my god,” Molly says, when she looks out the window and realizes where they are. “Jim, is this--are you taking me to Koko’s?”

“Yeah,” Jim admits, ducking his head. “I didn’t want to tell you first because, I mean, I know there’s a bit of a...reputation....but a friend of mine is playing here tonight, and I thought you might. Like it? Don’t be angry, okay, if you don’t have fun we can totally leave.”

Molly looks out the window of the cab, nervous; she’s heard about Koko’s, of course, because it’s just the kind of club you hear about. She’s never been, because if you’re following the gossip, it’s also the kind of club you probably don’t want to do more than hear about, but, well. Jim looks excited, is almost vibrating with it, and he’d been so happy to have a surprise for her, and it is nice to see him more comfortable. He’s already said they’ll leave if she doesn’t like it, and she’s trying to do new things, isn’t she? Dating Jim is, in and of itself, an exercise in that, so she might as well go ahead and take the plunge.

“Let’s go,” she says, and Jim grins rapturously at her, reaches over her head to pay the cabbie and then grabs her hand and drags her towards the door.

It’s not actually terrifying, as it turns out, just a little seedy and clearly rife with drugs. Molly does her best to avoid really looking at anyone’s face, because she’s done the workup on too many overdoses and she’d like to avoid any future moments of recognition, but other than that it’s fine. Jim gets them drinks, a G&T for himself and something light and fruity for her, and Molly almost tells him she’d prefer a vodka tonic, thinks better of it. She sips at her pink whatever-it-is and lets Jim lead her out to the dance floor, where he bypasses four couples and three security guards to usher her backstage.

“Can we do that?” Molly says, and Jim laughs, head tipped back, throat bared, like she’s hilarious.

“I told you,” he says, “a friend of mine’s playing tonight, come on, he’s just dying to meet you,” and, well, that’s awfully gratifying, so Molly swallows the rest of her objections and goes.

Jim’s friend turns out to be a bassist named Sebastian. He’s got dark eyes and a beanie pulled low over his forehead, is dressed in clothes that look as though they haven’t been washed in years; he’s a surprise to Molly, having gotten to know clean-cut, well-groomed Jim, but she covers it, trains her eyes to the cigarette in his hand instead. It’s hand-rolled, and Jim snatches it out of his fingers before he’s even said hello, takes a long, satisfied drag.

“Seb, Seb, you must start smoking better cigarettes, this is foul,” he says. “Oh, and, of course, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to--”

“Molly, yeah, I figured,” Sebastian says. He reaches out to shake her hand, and Molly takes it, feeling a little unsettled; there’s something off-putting about this, but she can’t put her finger on what. “Pleasure. Jim here never shuts up about you.”

“Oh, do piss off,” Jim says, but then he giggles, the high-pitched manic one again, and Molly turns to glance at him. He looks, for a second, like someone else, but then he’s blushing again, ducking his head, and Molly feels herself relax. “I do, maybe, talk about you a bit.”

“Well, likewise,” Molly says, even as she realizes it’s...not actually true at all, is it, she’s only known Jim two weeks, hasn’t really mentioned him to anyone. To cover this, she adds, “So you two must know each other pretty well, yeah?”

“You could say that,” Sebastian says, taking the cigarette back from Jim. “‘Course, the tosser never does come see me play, so how well could we know each other, really?”

“Oh, don’t do that,” Jim says, “I’m here now, aren’t I, I’ve even brought a date! Is it my fault you’re always scheduling your little musical dalliances inconveniently?”

“Hmm,” says Sebastian, grinning, “loaded question, innit?”

“You do have a way with words,” Jim purrs, and that’s when Molly clears her throat, because...something’s not quite right here, even if she’s not sure what it is. She doesn’t know if she’s got a right to be discomfited or not, but she’s realizing very suddenly that she doesn’t actually know this man she’s out with particularly well, and she takes another sip of her drink, tries to figure out what’s wrong.

“Think you’re making the lady uncomfortable, Jimmy,” Sebastian says, and Jim....it’s almost a spasm, the little shudder, like he’s being pulled back away from something, or toward something. Molly can’t make any sense of it, but at least when he turns toward her, his smile is familiar.

“Sorry, love,” he says, blushing again, “really, god, I’m sorry, Seb and I go way back is all, almost like brothers, really--don’t laugh, Sebastian, you know it’s true.”

“Sure I do,” Sebastian says, still grinning, and stubs out his cigarette. “Well, we’re on in a few, best go get set up. Nice to meet you, Molly.”

“Um, yes, you too,” Molly says, not really meaning it, before he’s gone.

The rest of the night goes like this: Molly finishes her drink and has another, and then a third, and then a fourth. She and Jim sit across from each other at a corner table and talk, and he’s funny and sweet and shy, reaching over to take her hand, and her nervousness melts away into fondness, the soft, spreading warmth of the alcohol easing the process. Sebastian’s band plays for three hours, all grunge-dirty rock and roll, and when Jim pulls her onto the dance floor Molly leans into him, lets him spin her about. He’s a surprisingly good dancer; when Molly says as much, Jim pulls her close and, against the shell of her ear, whispers, “Oh, Molly, I’ve got all sorts of hidden talents.” He’s hard against her; she can feel it through her dress, through the thin linen of his pants. She grinds into him a little, because she’s drunk enough to admit to herself how hot she finds that, and Jim sucks what’s bound to be a hickey just behind her ear.

When the set closes--a strange, slowed down rendition of some BeeGee’s song that Jim seems thrilled by--she says, “So, I was thinking we could maybe, um, get out of here?”

“Any particular destination in mind?” Jim says, and his voice is rough with intent and Molly....god, Molly wants.

“My flat,” Molly says, and Jim grins at her, bright and eager, and pulls her out to the street.

And the thing about fucking Jim is...Molly’s no a stranger to sex, is she, for all she’s got the terrible tendency to get flustered and shy in conversation. Sex is just bodies, and Molly knows her anatomy, knows what works; she’s had a handful of serious relationships, has indulged in one-night stands occasionally since college, and she knows what she’s doing, no question.

But fucking Jim is like fucking a shadow; he moves so quickly that it’s hard for her to keep up, changing tactics and pace in the space between breaths, and it’s hot until it’s distracting, overwhelming. He pushes her up against the doorframe of her living room and kisses her like he’s drowning, and then he pulls her down onto the sofa and runs his hands up and down her sides, slow and careful, and then he picks her up and carries her to the bedroom, tosses her over the sheets like she’s a ragdoll. It’s all Molly can do to follow, let alone lead, and when he slips three fingers into her with no warning at all she gasps, says, “Slow down, Jim, Jesus,” and Jim looks utterly thrown for a second before his expression slips into regret.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, pulling his fingers back out, “sorry, sorry, we can go slower, I’m sorry, I just thought, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” and Molly smiles at him, feels guilty, reassures him that it’s fine, they’re fine, she just wants to enjoy this, really, honest.

But she doesn’t enjoy it. It’s--technically, it’s quite good, because Jim’s not huge but he’s not small either, and he certainly knows what he’s doing. She comes twice before he does, sharp, quick orgasms that punch up through her whole body, leaving her shuddering....but. But Jim’s eyes don’t quite focus on her, and maybe it’s just that they’re both more than a little drunk, that’s probably what it is; the way his hands skip and flex against her breasts in the middle, like he’s surprised at them, that’s probably the alcohol too. Certainly the alcohol is to blame for the way Jim’s accent sounds...strange, suddenly, mangled around the words, “Yes, yes, that’s it, so good,” and obviously the way he shudders when he comes is just...pleasure, isn’t it, of course.

“That was amazing,” Jim says, afterwards, and his voice is sincere but his face is still wrong, twitching, like he can’t remember how the muscles there work. Molly should find that gratifying, almost does but can’t quite manage it; there’s a feeling at the base of her spine that’s nearly sickening, but, again, it’s probably the drink.

He leaves half an hour later, following a phone call that sends him into what appears to be an absolute panic, hissing “Family emergency,” and “So sorry, you were lovely, are you free tomorrow, I’ll make it up,” with his hand over the phone. He kisses her once before he goes, and that’s wrong too, the peppermint flavor gone, leaving the taste of him unfamiliar.

She rolls over after she hears the door shut, glances out the window to watch him walk out into the street. She expects that he’ll hail a cab, but instead a black car pulls up next to him, the door opening from the inside; Molly catches a glimpse of blond hair, just for a second, before Jim’s folded himself inside and the car’s pulled away.

The clock blinks three, and Molly falls asleep because she might as well. In the morning she’ll be sober, and things will look different, she just knows it.

--

She doesn’t have to go into work until noon the next day, and she sleeps until nearly ten, which is shocking. Molly has a very finely-tuned internal clock, has for years; even when she wants to, she can’t normally stay asleep past seven. She’s so disoriented by the light filtering in through the window that it takes her nearly ten minutes to realize she’s missed most of her Saturday morning, and by the time she showers, dries her hair and makes a frantic run to Tesco’s, she ends up late for work.

There are lights on in the morgue. Molly’s gut twists up with guilt, because she’s never late and it’s probably Stamford in there, frowning down at the schedule, tapping a biro against the top and wondering if he should call her; she bursts through the door with a “Sorry, sorry, I’m so sorry, I overslept,” and then shrieks and drops her bags when she runs directly into Detective Inspector Lestrade.

Christ,” Lestrade says, “oh, god, I am--I’m just, I’m so sorry, here,” and he bends double, trying to rescue the shopping Molly hadn’t had time to run home. There’s an orange rolling under one of the coolers, a bag of crisps flung towards the door, and he’s still talking--“Seriously, I’m really sorry, I didn’t think anyone staffed here on Saturdays, which was...stupid, in retrospect. I’ll replace whatever can’t be salvaged, alright?”

“It’s...fine,” Molly says, because Greg can’t exactly return the ten years he’s just shaved off her life, and everything else is negligible. “I, um. Good to see you and all, but what are you doing here, exactly?”

“Um,” says Greg.

“Um?”

“Look, it’s...embarrassing.”

“Right,” Molly says, “well, okay, so here’s the thing: normally I’d leave it at that, but seeing as this is a morgue I’m fairly certain I...can’t, actually? As, you know, a professional.” Greg looks at her blankly, and she sighs. “I want you to think, for a minute, about the kinds of things that might be classified as ‘embarrassing’ in the context of corpses. I’ll wait.”

There’s a half second pause. Then: “Oh. Oh, Christ, no--”

“Calm down, I don’t think that’s what you were doing,” Molly says. “But, you know. You see my point. I’m going to need a little more information than ‘embarrassing’ if I’m to let you leave.”

“I could just leave anyway,” Greg points out. He’s still on the floor, casting around under one of the coolers for the lost orange, so Molly’s not really taking it all that seriously. “With or without your permission. I’m a Detective Inspector, you know.”

“I do, yeah. In fact, since you’re not the only friend I’ve got at the Yard, I could just call up Sally and ask her why--”

“Okay, okay, you win,” Greg says, standing up with the orange clutched in one hand. Molly is definitely not going to eat it--the space beneath the coolers has long since been marked Here There Be Dragons on her mental map of the building--but it’s nice to know that she won’t have to fish it out with a broom handle before it starts to smell. “I...ugh, oh my god, sorry, I think I’m going to need to wash my hands--”

Molly does her utmost not to laugh at the expression of horror on his face; his hands are streaked with grime, and he’s clearly just remembered all over again where he is. “Sink’s over there, and it’s medical soap, so don’t stress too much about it. You can, uh, you can just bin the orange.”

“Clever woman,” Greg mutters. “Very wise.”

He does, in fact, bin the orange, and Molly unpacks herself to the extent she can, settles in for her workday while he washes his hands. “You done yet?”

“Stalling,” he calls back, and then turns off the tap with a sigh, walks over to her. “Right, okay, so. How do I...sometimes my job gets...or, no. It’s just, usually when things are rough at work I can get some peace at home, and, you know, vice versa, but at the moment it’s kind of...bad all around, yeah? Or not bad, exactly--well, no, some of it’s definitely--look. I just, I needed somewhere quiet, is all, and I know how that sounds so just, just please don’t. I didn’t figure anyone would notice.”

“Oh,” Molly says, “well. Okay, then.”

“Yeah, I know--wait, what?” Greg’s looking at her like she’s an alien; Molly smiles at him cheerfully. “What? You’re just...okay with that, with me sneaking in here and--”

“Well, no, I’d rather you hadn’t snuck in, but you are, y’know, Detective Inspector, you’ve access, it’s not really sneaking, is it? You wanted somewhere quiet. I get that.”

“You do?”

“Do you think there’s anyone doing my job who doesn’t have a healthy appreciation for silence?” Molly asks, honestly wondering. “I can’t imagine doing this otherwise, it’d drive you mad. So, yeah, I get it.”

“Oh,” Greg says. He looks deeply confused, like she’s made him tea and biscuits when he was expecting a gunshot to the head. She would laugh if it weren’t for the circles under his eyes, visible now that she’s really looking.

“You want to talk about it?”

“Defeats the purpose of the whole silence thing, doesn’t it?”

“A little,” Molly admits, pushing herself up on her hands to sit on the edge of one of the lab tables. “But, on the other hand, talking about it might make you less likely to need the silence thing, you know?”

“Fair point,” Greg says. He runs a hand over his face and sighs, leaning back against the opposite table. “Well, it’s--this case we’re on is just, it’s bollocksed, it’s a complete mess, this flat on Baker Street that’s blown up--well, I’m sure you’ve seen the news. And Sherlock’s, naturally, gone completely round the twist, it’s like he’s talking in codes and there’s John, plodding along after him like it all makes perfect sense--which isn’t fair, I know. It’s not fair, and he’s really, he helps us a lot, Sherlock, but I’ve got his brother after me now too, trying to get hold of him, and Sally won’t shut up about how bad an idea she thinks he is, and meanwhile my wife’s left me--”

“Wait,” Molly says, “what?”

“His brother,” Greg says, “seriously, I know it’s hard to imagine, but Mycroft is much worse--”

“No,” Molly says. “No, I meant--your wife left you? Left you? And you’re talking about Sherlock? What happened, are you alright?”

“Oh,” Greg says. He blinks, and then he makes this noise that’s not quite a laugh, and in that moment he looks so tired that she has to glance away. “God, sorry, that’s--I forgot, that you wouldn’t know. It’s...it’s not the first time, sure it won’t be the last. We’re not exactly, uh. It’s not a great marriage, let’s put it that way?”

“How so?”

“Well she cheats on me,” Greg says, all on one breath, like it’ll kill him if he spends too long on saying it out loud. “Which is, I suppose, the real problem: she cheats on me, and I know it, and I pretend not to know it because it’s easier, and I work more, and she cheats on me, and I miss it, and Sherlock tells me, and I confront her and she packs up her things and leaves and then comes back a week later like it never happened! So. You know. There’s that.”

Greg,” Molly says. She’s fairly certain it’s the first time she’s used his given name aloud, and she’s not sure if it’s that or her tone--shocked, concerned--that makes him jump. Either way, his eyes, distant a moment ago, focus sharply on her, and then he actually flushes, just a little. He doesn’t move, doesn’t fidget away from it, but there’s a flood of color in his cheeks that wasn’t there before.

“Sorry,” he says, “Jesus Christ, I really am sorry. I didn’t mean to come in here and just--well, actually, I didn’t mean to come in here at all, but I couldn’t think of anywhere else I could go where I could legitimately claim to be working if anyone caught that I’d skived off.”

“I really don’t mind,” Molly says. “Why do you stay, though?”

“Here? Because you told me I wasn’t allowed to leave.”

“No,” Molly says, and laughs a little when he makes a face at her, “no, sorry, that’s true, I did say that, but I meant--your wife. If she cheats, why do you stay?”

“Dunno,” Greg says, and then, when she just looks at him, not buying it, he sighs. “Oh, god, you’re like some kind of--I love her, alright? I can’t help it, I know it’s bloody stupid, you don’t have to tell me that it’s--but I can’t help it, we’ve been together since we were practically kids, you can’t just turn off being married to someone for fifteen years. So go on, tell me I’m an idiot, it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.”

“I’m not going to, actually.” Molly raises her eyebrows when Greg gives her a doubting look. “Oh, honestly--are you the only person who never gossiped about my mad crush on Sherlock Holmes, then? You and, let’s see, possibly that Gregson fellow who comes round sometimes when you’re busy, but only because I’m honestly pretty sure he doesn’t know I’m alive. I’m not going to judge you for loving your wife; what on earth makes you think I would?”

Greg...well, if Molly thought he looked surprised before, it’s nothing compared to what’s happening now. He’s opening and closing his mouth like some kind of fish, looking at her like she’s suddenly confessed to a string of terrible murders; after a second, hilariously, he actually leans back to try to get a better angle in looking at her, as though that’s going to help him sort through whatever he’s thinking. Molly rolls her eyes at him and reaches into one of her shopping bags, grabs a clean orange and tosses it to him. He catches it, clearly on autopilot, and then says, “What?”

“Vitamin C is an antioxidant,” Molly says. “And antioxidants prevent wrinkles, like the one you’re going to get if you keep looking at me like--yeah, that, right there. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that your face might stick that way?”

“I,” Greg says, and stops. “No, you know what, I am going to--I’m going to thank you, now, because. Right. Thank you, Molly.”

“You’re welcome,” she says, “not that I really did anything. You want to stay for a bit? Enjoy the quiet?”

“I should probably get back,” Greg starts, looking tempted anyway, and that’s when Jim comes through the door. Molly had...rather forgotten about Jim, actually, in the wake of being late to work and startled half to death and told of Greg’s martial woes. His eyes flick across the room, land on Greg, and then blink so rapidly he looks inhuman. For a second--and it really is only a second--he looks almost disappointed.

Molly’s skin crawls, a little, looking at him. She’s not entirely sure why.

“Hi,” he says, smiling--the shy one again, that’s nice--and crossing the room to kiss her on the cheek. “I just wanted to thank you for last night, that was...magical.”

“Uh, right,” Molly says, leaning away from him a little. “Jim, this is Greg--uh, Detective Inpsector Lestrade, sorry--”

“Greg’s just fine,” Greg says, smiling at her and holding out his hand to Jim. “Nice to meet you.”

“Pleasure’s mine,” Jim says. “Detective Inspector, ooh, that must be an interesting job.”

“It has its moments,” Greg agrees. His eyes flick from Jim to Molly, and Molly’s got no idea what he’s thinking, isn’t sure she wants to know. “So you two are...together, then?”

No! Molly thinks, surprising herself. They’re not together, and, she realizes, she doesn’t want them to be; she’ll have to break it off, then, there’s nothing for it. Before she can figure out a dodge to the question, though, Jim says, “It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it, Molly?” and she is utterly trapped by politeness.

“Um, yes,” she says. “I...I guess it does.”

“Right,” Greg says. He looks confused now, eyes flicking between them again. “So, uh, congratulations, then? Unless you’ve been together for ages and I just, y’know, didn’t know--”

“No, Jim and I have only been out twice,” Molly cuts in hastily. “And the second time was just last night, it’s not. We’re not. It’s very new.”

“That’s why I’m here, actually,” Jim adds. “I thought the Fox? Tonight? Drinks and dinner? I’ve got reservations for six-thirty.” The Fox, Molly figures, is as good a place as any to let someone down easy; she nods, silent, and Jim beams at her. “Brilliant. I’ll pick you up at six, then--”

“I can just meet you,” Molly says, because as desperate as she is to get rid of him, she doesn’t really fancy the idea of a cab ride with him right now. “At six-thirty. At the Fox. I’m--I’ve things tonight, first. To do, I mean.”

“Okay,” Jim says. He runs a hand down her spine, and Molly doesn’t shudder, but it’s a close thing. “See you there, then. Good to meet you, Detective Inspector. Good luck on whatever you’re working on.”

He leaves, and Molly lets out a long breath; when she looks back at Greg, he’s giving her a hard, worried look.

“Alright, what’s he done to you?”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Molly, I’ve worked more domestic violence cases than I like to think about,” Greg says, voice flat. “And I know...I know what it looks like, alright? When there’s a threat. And I can, look, please believe me, I can get it handled, you don’t have to live with it--”

“Greg, no,” Molly says, honestly stunned. “It’s--no, we really have only been out twice. I, god, I didn’t mean to look...I just, I want to break up with him, is all. We, um. We...things got physical--sexually, not...not assault, and it. Wasn’t great. That’s all.”

“Wasn’t great like, not enjoyable, or wasn’t great like against your will?” Greg says. His voice is still flat, serious, and Molly realizes all at once that it must be his Police, Open Up voice. He’s not bad at at, striking the right note of understanding-but-authoritative, and she almost smiles. “Because there’s a difference.”

“Yeah, I know,” Molly says. “He didn’t...it wasn’t like that. He just, it didn’t...ugh, god. I don’t know how to...he didn’t do anything wrong wrong. It just didn’t feel right? There’s nothing you need to be worried about, I’m just going to end it and move on. Everyone has bad sex sometimes, I think.”

“Truer words,” Greg says, and sighs. “Alright. Sorry, it’s just--I’m probably a little paranoid, honestly, my line of work being what it is.”

“So you can’t just turn off being a copper, then?” She’s teasing, but Greg gives her a look that is so worn-down, so impossibly jaded, that the smile slips from her face.

“Wish I could. It’s...y’know how once you’ve seen something, like, let’s say there’s a chip in the paint on your wall, right? And you must’ve walked by it a hundred times without even noticing, but once you know it’s there--”

“It’s all you see.”

Greg nods at her, sighs. “Yeah, well. It’s a bit like that, police work. It’s not that you’re trying to see things, right, so much as that you can’t...not see them. Does that make sense?”

“Completely,” Molly says, “but then, I try to avoid making eye contact on the Tube in case some poor bugger ends up on the slab before I’ve forgotten the face, so you probably, um. Shouldn’t go by me, sense-wise?”

“Christ, I’d never even thought of that. Does that happen?”

“What, recognizing the bodies?” Greg nods, and he doesn’t look horrified or disgusted, just curious. That’s new; normally Molly tries to avoid talking about the grittier bits of her job, since they tend to make people uncomfortable. “Oh, sometimes. Scared me something awful, my second week here--they brought this guy in and I knew I’d seen him before, just couldn’t place him. Spent the whole day trying to figure it out before Stamford realized and sat me down, told me I’d probably just laid eyes on him in passing, you know? I remembered, after that--he’d been in line behind me at the pharmacy a few days before.”

“Ugh,” Greg says, and he shudders, but it’s...sympathetic, somehow. “And I thought working homicide was bad.”

“Working homicide is bad.”

“Yeah, but I never get traffic tickets,” Greg says, grinning at her. Molly ducks her head and laughs, and he stands and stretches, cracking his neck. “Right, well. I really should be getting back, crime waits for no man and all that. Thanks for letting me...well, thanks in general, in fact.”

“My morgue is your morgue,” Molly says, and his grin goes a little wider.

“I’ll keep that in mind. Bye, Molly.”

“Bye,” Molly says, as the door snicks shut behind him. She’s not sure why, but she doesn’t stop smiling for hours.

--

Sherlock comes in towards the middle of the afternoon, John Watson in tow, carrying an old pair of trainers in a plastic bag and demanding use of her lab. Molly lets him in and leaves him to it, because there’s being past a crush in theory and then there’s being past it in practice, and Sherlock can be a little...distracting, sometimes. She goes back to work, pops up to check on them after an hour or so has passed.

"Any luck?"

"Oh, yes,” Sherlock says, and before he gets the chance to say anything else--not that he would have, necessarily, but it’s always nice to try for optimism--the door opens.

“Oh, sorry, I didn't--” Jim says, which is, frankly, a bad surprise, and bizarre to boot. Under normal circumstances, Jim doesn’t come down to the morgue at all; to have him pop by twice in one afternoon is a little more than Molly’s prepared to handle.

"Oh! Jim, hi,” she says, and then, when he just raises his eyebrows at her like he’s waiting for an invitation, she adds, “come in, come in."

Her train of thought for the next thirty seconds goes as follows: The way I acted before made Greg think something was...wrong. Sherlock is more observant than Greg--Sherlock is more observant than anyone--Sherlock’s right here. I’m breaking up with Jim tonight either way. I wonder if Sherlock Holmes has ever been jealous of anyone. I wonder if he’d be jealous of Jim. I wonder if I’m being completely stupid--oh, god, Jim is standing too close to me, why does that bother me, what is happening to me? Maybe Sherlock would be jealous. No harm in finding out, is there? Distracting either way, right?

"Jim, this is Sherlock Holmes,” Molly says, and then, with the pressure of the whole situation canting up to an unbearable level in her mind, finds she can’t quite pull up John’s name. She knows it--hell, she’d greeted him by it not an hour ago, but what comes out her mouth is: “And…uh, sorry--"

“John Watson. Hi," John says, sounding irritated, after a pause. Molly’ll have to figure out a way to make that up to him when she’s not trying to be two people at once; surely something will come to her.

Jim, adding insult to injury, ignores John entirely. He moves, Molly thinks distantly, a bit like a lizard; she wonders why she’s never noticed that before. "So you're Sherlock Holmes. Molly's told me all about you. You on one of your cases?"

That’s...a bit more self-possessed than she’s used to from Jim, actually. Attempting to rally--attempting to draw Sherlock’s attention, too, if she’s honest--she adds, "Jim works in IT, upstairs? That's how we met. Office romance."

"Gay," says Sherlock.

"Sorry,” says Molly, “what?"

Sherlock blinks, the way he does when he thinks the people around him are being particularly thick. "Nothing. Um, hey."

"Hey," Jim says, and Molly shudders, because that’s the voice he’d used last night with Sebastian, with her, too, low and throaty and not his normal accent at all. She’s able to cover it by jumping when Jim drops a dish and promptly falls all over himself picking it up. "Sorry, sorry. Well I'd better be off. I'll…see you at the Fox, 'bout 6-ish?"

"Yeah," Molly says, but Jim’s not looking at her. No one, actually, is looking at her, and his hand is on her back, and Molly’s skin is crawling all over again, worse even than earlier.

"Bye," Jim says, and Molly says "Bye," just to be rid of him, but then he adds, "It was nice to meet you,” still staring at Sherlock, and she feels like a complete idiot.

There’s a long pause before John, clearly done waiting around for Sherlock to display some basic courtesy, sighs and says, "You too."

Jim does that thing again, the one where he blinks too quickly, and then vanishes the same way he’d come. Molly doesn’t turn around and stare after him, because she’s busy staring at Sherlock, feeling something like hysteria bubbling beneath the surface. She’s not sure what’s wrong, exactly, and she’s even less sure when she hears herself saying, "What d'you mean gay? We're together." Because it would be a relief, wouldn’t it, if that’s all it was? He’d certainly seemed close to Sebastian, and if it was just a sexuality issue complicating things in the bedroom then...then fine, honestly. He wouldn’t be the first guy Molly’d dated who’d turned out to be gay--or bisexual, come to that, Jack had definitely been an equal-opportunity bloke--so why is this bothering her, exactly? Is she honestly ridiculous enough to still be working the jealousy angle?

Sherlock, being Sherlock, wastes no time in jumping to being an utter prat. "And domestic bliss must suit you, Molly, you've put on three pounds since I last saw you."

"Two and a half," Molly snaps.

"No, three,” Sherlock says, even as John mutters, "Sherlock."

“He's not gay!” Molly says, and there are tears in her eyes, and what is she upset about, what’s gotten into her? Why does she know for a fact that it’s not a sexuality issue, and why does her skin still feel too hot under the place where his hand was, and why is she replaying last night, the way he’d pushed into her and growled into her ear, the way she had, just for a second, felt hunted? “Why d'you have to spoil--he's not."

"With that level of personal grooming?" Sherlock says, sounding bored, and Molly notes, distantly, that he’s maybe less observant than Greg after all.

"Because he puts a bit of product in his hair?” says John, “I put product in my hair," and Molly is much, much too far gone to point out the obvious flaw in his reasoning there.

"You wash your hair, there's a difference,” Sherlock says, and then, apparently without the inclination or time to bother with a modicum of acknowledgment of the fact that he’s upsetting her: “No no, tinted eyelashes, clear signs of taurine cream around the frown line, plus around his eyes, then there's the underwear--"

"His underwear?"

“Yes,” Sherlock says, “visible above the waistline, very visible, very particular brand. That, plus the extremely suggestive fact that he just left his number under this dish here and I'd say you'd better break it off now and save yourself the pain."

And Molly flees, because she has to, because if she stands here any longer she’s going to burst into tears or throw up or...or something. She shuts herself in the toilets and spends a long time trying to breath through it, more frightened of her own reaction than she is of anything else; she’s not sure how she’s supposed to manage it, feeling unmoored without any root cause, without any way to make sense of it. She keeps trying to think about something, anything else, and ends up cycling back to last night--why had she had so much to drink, exactly? What had made that seem like a good idea? And why had she brought him home with her, after the business with Sebastian? Why doesn’t she want to be in a cab with him, if she’d been happy enough to invite him into her bedroom? Why does she feel like she’s lost something, like she’s stepped off the edge of a cliff--it’s not like it was the worst sex she’s ever had, even if she doesn’t remember bits of it, even if the whole thing had been shrouded over with an almost otherworldly pathos.

She meets him at the Fox at six, and can’t even wait until their entrees come to call it off. He just looks at her, eyes flat and uninterested, and it’s almost....familiar, the expression, though she can’t figure out why. Molly leaves him in the restaurant and goes home, locks the door behind her, and waits. Eventually, she’s sure, the sixth sense dogging her heels will quiet.

--

Three days later, there’s a knock on her door at a quarter past ten. Molly looks up from her book, looks at the clock, and frown; after a moment’s thought, she goes to the drawer in the kitchen where she keeps odds and ends, items without homes, and grabs the mace she keeps tucked in the back. It’s probably paranoid, but then again, she works with death every day, sees women just like her laid out across the slab--she’s got mace in her purse, in her desk at work, and here, just in case.

Of course, then she looks through the peephole and sees a head of familiar silvered hair. She smiles and unlocks the door, feeling rather silly about the whole thing, until Greg lifts his head and lets her see his face.

“Oh my god,” Molly says, taken aback, “who’s died, then? You can just tell me, it’s better to just tell me--”

“No one’s died,” Greg says, and then...winces. “Or, well, no, that’s not--I’m, god, Molly, I’m so sorry, I’m going to go about this wrong, but I’m--oh, Christ, I didn’t even check, are you. Are you still seeing Jim?”

“I...no,” Molly says. “No, we broke up, why does that--wait, has Jim died?”

Greg....Christ, Greg looks like someone’s punched him, or maybe like he’s going to be sick. His face is washed out with something like horror, and Molly’s going to shake it out of him if he doesn’t say something soon.

“Can I just,” Greg says, “can I just--I, no, Jim hasn’t--god, no, we have to, you can’t call him that anymore, it’s, Jesus. Okay. Can I come in, please?”

“Yeah, of course,” Molly says, stepping aside to let him through. “Greg, what’s wrong?”

“I,” Greg says, and shakes his head. “Fuck, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I’m--I’m here as myself, of course, because I didn’t think, this isn’t the kind news I’d want Anderson or, or Sherlock, god forbid, but--but I’m here as Detective Inspector, too.”

“It’s just a little mace!” Molly says at once, reflexive. “I’ve never used it--but I would, if it came down to it, but you can’t....you can’t be here to talk about that.”

“Don’t stop carrying the mace,” Greg says, too quickly. “Never, do you understand me, Christ, I can’t believe I didn’t think to bring that, thank god you have some, 45 minutes going at it with Donovan about a security detail and I didn’t think of mace--”

“Okay, I’m officially frightened,” Molly says, taking a step back. She tries for levity, but it’s the truth, so it comes out tremulous, unsure; Greg makes that face again, the one like he’s going to be sick, and then sits down heavily on her couch and rubs a hand over his face.

“You’re going to want to sit down, Molly.”

It’s funny, what happens to his voice, to the set of his shoulders, to his expression in that moment. He goes from being her friend--because he is a friend, Greg, has been for a while now--to an officer of the law. There’s a firmness to his tone that she’s only ever heard when he was in the middle of a big case, or arguing allowable misdemeanors in the name of justice with Sherlock, and she feels the nerves fluttering in her chest kick up to a high enough gear that they go entirely still.

She sits. She says nothing. Eventually, Greg opens his mouth.

“Molly,” he says. “Oh, Molly, where do I even--the bombings, in the news the last few days, the one at Baker Street and, and the tower block?”

“Yes, I know about the bombings,” Molly says, “what’ve they got to do with me?”

“They haven’t,” Greg says. “But they’ve got...well, they’ve got everything to do with Jim Moriarty.”

Molly blinks, and blinks again; all at once, everything is too loud and too fast to process. Greg’s talking, but it can’t be anything important--can be something important, is probably something very important, but. But Molly’s a detail-oriented person, and she’s quick for all she isn’t Sherlock bloody Holmes, and they’re flying around her, the little signs that something wasn’t right. It’s the moment with the stranger in the car, it’s the way he was with Sebastian, it’s how his accent shuddered over certain words--nostalgia, he’d said over coffee that first night, and the vowels had been wrong, just for a second, and she hadn’t thought--and god, god, his eyes at that last dinner, the way his fingers always seemed to land on her pulse points, she hadn’t thought anything of it, she’d assumed it was coincidence, stupid, stupid, stupid--

“Molly,” Greg’s saying, “Molly, are you still with me?” and she isn’t, not really. Her vision’s narrowed down to a pinpoint of white, and there are certain words flitting in and around it, slow at first and then faster, faster, everything he’s said on vicious, unrelenting repeat--bomber and consulting criminal, John and Sherlock and Semtex, something about an art museum, a kidnapped child, a murdered blind woman, psychopath, psychopath. She’s never done this before, broken the world down to pieces like this; everything’s still white but it’s not managing to block out the memory of Jim’s hands on her, inside of her, and she’d open her mouth if she wasn’t sharply aware of what was, so recently, inside of it. She wonders how many people are dead because of this man whose taste is fresh enough to be easily recalled on her tongue, how many people he’s killed himself, and her stomach flips and flips, refuses to be stilled.

Greg’s not touching her, is sitting on the other edge of the couch; he’s very trained-police-officer in that, very I’ve-been-briefed-on-this-procedure, and Molly is so grateful she might be sick. She doesn’t think she could handle it, not right this minute, maybe not ever; she wants to shower for a hundred years, wants to trade her skin out for a fresh set that makes her feel less like crawling out of it. She’s occupied, all at once, with trying to map every inch of her body that’s clean of Jim’s touch; she can’t, which is horrifying, but not so horrifying as the ticker-tape of words still pushing to be parsed, not so horrifying as the name Carl Powers.

“What did you say?” Molly says, and Greg blinks, surprised. She wonders how long they’ve been sitting here; she wonders why it didn’t occur to her to pay attention. “Just now, or before, what did you--”

“I asked if you were with me,” Greg says, slow and careful, both hands where she can see them. “It’s okay if you’re not, I know this a lot to take in all at once--”

“No,” Molly says, “no, before that, you said...you said Carl Powers, why did you say that? Why would you say that?”

“Oh,” Greg says, eyebrows up, “I--according to Sherlock, that was Moriarty’s first victim. Some kid in a pool, did it with the shoes, apparently, though how--Molly? Molly!”

Molly should answer him, because it’s the polite thing to do, because he’s gone to the trouble to come here and deliver this himself, because he’s a guest and a friend and you don’t turn your back on that, but. But Molly remembers, now, where she’s seen eyes like Jim’s before, remembers a glance over her shoulder at twelve years old, a waxy, dripping body and the humor in the gaze she’d only caught for a second, and her stomach’s not flipping anymore. It’s flipped, and she can’t even make it to the bathroom, ends up retching violently into the kitchen sink, her body jack-knifed over the counter.

It doesn’t help, is the worst thing. It’s humiliating--but then, god, isn’t everything, won’t everything always be--and it hurts, burns acid-sharp up her throat, and it doesn’t help at all.

When she’s done, she steps away from the sink, shaking all over, and she can’t look at Greg and she can’t look at the mess she’s made and she can’t look at herself. Nowhere is safe, because even the blackness beneath her own eyelids is a danger zone, running over everything Jim ever said to her, still a running tally of touch, and how many times had he pulled out his phone and sent a text, how many lives was that, exactly? He’d been in her flat, hovered over with a shy smile that--and god, that too, that too, all the things about him that reminded her of herself and she’d been a pawn, all of it, everything, the whole screaming, sobbing, shaking mess of it--

--but that’s her, isn’t in, sliding down to the floor with her back against the cabinets, and she’s not sure how she got here at all.

“Oh, god, Molly,” she hears Greg say, distant, worried, and he’s just Greg now, just her friend, all the professionalism stripped out of his voice. He sounds laid bare, and Molly tucks her knees up against her chest and wraps her arms around herself, drops her head so he can’t see her, because this is, this is--

“Is he going to kill me?” she hears herself asking, which is a stupid, stupid question, because of course he is. He killed an old woman for mentioning the timbre of his voice, so she’s mincemeat, isn’t she; Molly’s not an idiot for all she’s been one lately, and the pieces there are obvious, easily put together. She’d fancied herself being beyond fear of death, thought she was too intimately acquainted with it to find it frightening, but she was wrong there too, wasn’t she--the howling urge to hide almost drowns out everything else, but not quite.

And then Detective Inspector Lestrade says, “No, Molly, he’s fucking well not,” like it’s some sort of edict, like a man with the full force of Scotland Yard behind him, and something eases, just a little. It’s not enough to lift the weight, not even close, not by a long shot, but she’s able to catch one breath, and then, after a few minutes, another. It’s something, and when she finally looks up Greg doesn’t look frightened or horrified or embarrassed for her. He just looks sorry, like the cop he is all over again, and Molly swallows hard and steels herself, tries to get it together.

“Right,” she says, and it’s shaky and awful but at least words are coming out; that’s something, a little victory to hold onto in this messy, shuddering collapse. “So, um, sorry, I’m sure you weren’t--I’ll, I’ll be okay, thank you for telling me.”

“If you think I’m leaving you here alone tonight, you’re crazy,” Greg says, flat. “If you want privacy, that’s one thing, I’m more than willing to respect that, I’ll spend the night on the front step if you like, but the hell if you’ll be without a police escort until we’ve got things a bit more sorted. And don’t apologize, not to me and not to anyone. This isn’t your fault, alright?”

Molly doesn’t necessarily believe him, though she recognizes that he’s probably talking more sense than she is, right at this moment. She can’t bring herself to answer him, but she doesn’t look away, either, and after a minute Greg sighs and crouches down to sit next to her.

“Can I stay, then?” he says, quiet, careful. “On the sofa, of course, I don’t mean to--but your safety is important to the case--no, you know what, sod that. Your safety is important to me, and right this second you’d be the only person I’d be willing to trust with it, actually, but I think I’d need to teach you to fire a gun first and that’s probably not something either one of us should be attempting right now.”

“What,” Molly says weakly, trying for levity, “you mean this isn’t what people normally look like when they’re requisitioning a firearm?”

Greg laughs, just a little, and it’s obvious that he’s humoring her, but equally obvious that he’s doing it for reasons rooted in nothing but kindness, and. And Molly’s not above needing some kindness every now and again, for all she’s a sucker for lost causes and bad bets--she’s always found it kind of funny, the way people judge her for that second tendency the wrong way. They look at it like a weakness, and it is, in a sense, but not the way they mean; it’s rooted in a vicious, cyclical need for self-reliance more than anything else, even if it’s a bit of a back-door way to go about it. It’s about finding something unattainable, if she’s honest, so she can know the pleasure of the chase without having to worry after the result.

Just now, though, Greg is smiling and so kind and Molly’s...tired. She’s tired and she’s lonely, has always been a bit lonely, really, and it was a choice in its way, that empty place in her heart, but not tonight. Tonight she feels empty everywhere, feels that hollow ache spread like a virus, and if Greg’s willing to be something warm and solid and safe, Molly’s not going to turn him down.

She nods, just once, not really trusting her voice, and Greg smiles, nods back, says, “Thank you,” like she’s doing him the favor. She doesn’t understand that, and she doesn’t have to; Greg gets her up off the floor and puts her to bed, and he must handle that bit of it, the way he handles everything else.

--

Things don’t go back to normal, but then again, they do; it’s becoming hard for Molly to spot that particular line of demarcation, becoming more and more apparent that it was always drawn in sand. She goes to work and no one tries to kill her, and she goes to the supermarket and no one tries to kill her, and she calls Greg and thanks him once, twice, as often as she can, for the armed officers who are ensuring that no one tries to kill her at home. No one at her office knows what happened, not properly, not enough of the details for it to matter, but Sherlock knows, and John. They pepper her with questions, which is to say that Sherlock peppers her with questions and John more or less plays referee. She answers them as best she can, and tries, hard, to go back to her life.

But she can’t, is the problem. Things go back to normal, but then again, they don’t, and she can’t manage it at all.

Molly has dreams, the first few weeks. She dream of beaches, of Jim rising like a nightmare from the sea; she dreams of being chased down an alleyway by a masked man, with the walls getting steadily closer. She dreams of her own bedroom, sometimes, of Jim slipping under the sheets and curling around her, of his skin peeling away to reveal the lies underneath, blood on his hands, on his lips, and wakes up screaming and sweat-soaked and sobbing by turns. She finds herself jumping at small noises and drifting towards corners, and once, when she flinches in the middle of some question Sherlock’s asking, John Watson gives her a hard, considering look and then drags Sherlock out the door.

But the world keeps spinning, doesn’t it, for all it feels like it’s been dragged out from under her, and not everything hinges on Jim Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes. They two of them, Molly knows, are really very nearly as bad as each other; anyone whose sanity was balanced between their knocking shoulders would be bound to be dragged under eventually. It’s true, what Greg keeps telling her--it’s not her fault this happened, and it’s not her fault she didn’t see it, and she didn’t do anything wrong.

Greg tells her other things, too, of course. Sherlock loses interest in the whole affair after a week and a half, declaring “He’ll be back,” in a tone that is clearly not taking into account the panic attack it leaves Molly breathing through in the bathroom, but Greg doesn’t, and neither does Scotland Yard. Moriarty blew up a tower block and a Baker Street flat, murdered an old woman and plotted the death of a daytime telly celebrity, kidnapped three adults and a child and wired them with explosives, and that’s just the stuff they know about. He’s a wanted man in every sense of the word, and Greg, in particular, is out for blood.

He shouldn’t tell her about the investigation, but he does anyway. She shouldn’t tell him about the tazer she’d obtained through, of all people, Mrs. Hudson (“My boys told me what’s been going on, dear,” she’d said, pressing the thing into Molly’s hand when Sherlock had her round for interrogation-oh-I-mean-tea, “nasty business, it sounds like. Best to be prepared!”), but she does anyway. It’s...buoying, maybe, something solid amidst the wreckage, something to listen for over the sounds of the squall; Molly finds herself hinged on Greg’s visits to the morgue, slipping her closed files like he’s some kind of spy, grinning at her over his shoulder like he knows how ridiculous the whole thing is. And it is, of course, entirely ridiculous, as ridiculous as the way he’d looked down at the tazer and then up at her like she was some kind of, of hero, like he was proud, or sad, or both. It’s ridiculous, but it helps all the same, and Molly’s not got her feet on the ground yet but she’s at least getting closer to earth.

It’s been a month when it all goes rather badly awry.

The Yard gets a lead on Moriarty, or what they think is Moriarty, anyway--it’s the third time, so Greg has his doubts, or so he says. It’s all they talk about these days, the Moriarty business; everything else is beginning to feel a little dangerous, a little uncomfortable. Greg’s still wearing his wedding ring, and Molly doesn’t ask, because for all her sense of humor’s a little off, she knows uneven ground when she walks on it. There’s something here, churning under the surface, but Greg’s married and Molly’s terrified, so they talk murderers instead, eat sandwiches Greg sneaks in over the back counter at the morgue and shoot the deeply confidential shit, and it’s fine, until it’s not.

“Off to chase down another red herring, then,” Greg says, a wrap-up to lunch on the last of the good days. “Wish me luck, I suppose, not that it’ll matter.”

“Luck!” Molly calls after him, absent, and goes back to work.

There’s a man brought in a few hours later, a bullet through his temple, no ID, no fingerprints, a sharp suit and freshly dead; Molly wouldn’t think anything of it, not really, not in her line of work, except. Except it’s Lestrade who brings him in, and if Molly were Sherlock Holmes, she’d know it was his bullet from some minuscule, inextricable sign, from the residue on his hands or a fleck of blood on his collar, just so. She’d be able to look at him and see the whole scene played out in front of her, because that’s just what Sherlock does--it would be an open book, Greg and the body laid out between them, as easy to read as everything else.

But Molly isn’t Sherlock Holmes; Molly’s a woman who makes her living on death, and for all the things that Sherlock would see are invisible to her, not everything is. Greg looks like someone who just killed in the line of duty, but then again, not quite--there’s a set to his shoulders, his jaw, that’s harder and somehow more frightened than it should be for that circumstance. The man is obviously one of Moriarty’s--the ones with the sanded fingerprints almost always are--and Greg’s avoiding her gaze, but it’s not shame, exactly, and it’s not fear either, looks more like resignation--

--and Molly looks down at the body, at the hole through his temple, a single bullet, a definite kill shot, and thinks, He killed this man in anger. He killed this man for me.

For a second--and it’s a long, awful second, the kind of second that takes years to pass--Molly is, god help her, glad. It eats at her stomach, the feeling, guilt and shame wrapped thick around it; this is not how she is supposed to feel, not how anyone is supposed to feel, when someone turns up like this in their morgue. She wonders--not for the first time, but with more weight behind it then ever--as to the possibility that psychopathic tendencies can be sexually transmitted. Certainly it’s ridiculous, but then again, it’s not like there’s much a bar for study; perhaps Molly’s been left permanently twisted, doomed to spend the rest of her life slipping farther and farther down the slope.

But then again, that doesn’t explain Gregory Lestrade, whose hands are shaking, whose feet won’t be still. That doesn’t explain the way their eyes meet over the corpse, the way he looks like she feels, like he’s going to be sick--it doesn’t explain the rough-raw howling edge to the way his mouth twists, to the way she grits her teeth. It’s all spilling over, how close they are to this, and it’s too close and too much and god, god, when did Molly’s life go off the rails like this, exactly? There are so many things she wants to say that she can’t say any of them, so many threads she can’t work out and Greg right at the center of them all, wedding band on his left hand and traces of the gunpowder Molly knows they’d find in an autopsy on his right. There are too many threads and too many angles, too many ways to read the way he leaves and too many parts of both of them to be frightened of, and Molly doesn’t know how to navigate these waters--

--but, when it comes down to it, she knows someone who does.

--

The second time Molly falls in love with Sherlock, it’s on purpose, and worse.

The thing is, she knows better, now. She knew better the first time too, in that this-is-silly-get-a-grip way everyone does when they fall victim to an unrequited crush, but now...now Molly knows about John, knows what’s there even if Sherlock himself doesn’t, and worse, she’s seen the flipside of this coin. She’s fucked the flipside of this coin, sweet and warm and hiding a multitude, an encyclopedia of sins, and Sherlock shouldn’t be appealing in that wake of that discovery. His intellect should be terrifying, and his callousness should set her teeth on edge, and the fervor with which he throws himself into his work should make her want to wall herself up in her apartment and never, ever leave. Molly is too smart to be this stupid, too smart to throw herself headlong into this spiraling disaster, but maybe insanity is contagious after all.

So she falls for Sherlock again, swallows down the way he looks past her, the way he treats her like she’s nothing. If anything, she’s grateful for his dismissal, which is sick in and of itself--if Sherlock showed a flicker of interest in her, she’d run, assuming herself to be a pawn in this game she can’t seem to extricate herself from, and isn’t that telling. God knows she’s running from Lestrade, who is nothing if not a good man, a good person; it’s a comfort, at least, that he seems to be running from her as well, on the same stunned, unsettled page. He stops coming by for lunch and Molly stops texting him, and there is a tacit agreement between them that they won’t speak of Moriarty again. She sees him at work sometimes, stopping in for autopsy results or playing watchdog for John and Sherlock, and it’s so much easier to think about Sherlock’s impossible, staggering genius, about all the ways she’ll never have him, than it is to properly take in the new lines around Greg’s eyes.

She goes out for drinks with Sally once, a month and a half after the incident with Lestrade and the corpse. It’s a mistake, and she knows it well--Sally asked her to come after witnessing yet another embarrassing Sherlock moment, and Molly knows what’s coming, she really does. Hell, she maybe even wants it; she knows better than anyone that she’s in a bad way, fucked up and fucked over and in need of a kind of help she has no idea how to ask for, to even verbalize for herself.

But it’s still a mistake, because Sally Donovan is funny and quick and a good listener and, underneath all that, possessed of the ability to be quite cruel. Molly’s always known that about her, because people aren’t so hard to read, dead or alive--she suspects that Sally’d gotten tough because other options weren’t available, had grown up into someone who slides all to quick to cutting out of necessity rather than desire, but they’ve never been quite close enough for Molly to ask. She’s a good person, Sally, except when she isn’t, and true to form, she leans across the bar and narrows her eyes.

“Alright,” she says, “I’m just going to say this flat-out: if you’re going another round with the Holmes thing--”

“Can we just not, please,” Molly says, because she doesn’t want to have this conversation after all, because her skin suddenly fits too tight. “I just--it doesn’t matter, let’s talk about something else.”

“It bloody well will matter when we find you dead in an alley somewhere!” Sally snaps, throwing her hands in the air. “I swear to god, Molly, I thought you were smarter than this, I thought that after--”

“Seriously,” Molly says, “this conversation is not happening, I’m not doing this.”

“You have to face facts,” Sally says, “and the facts are that he’s a freak, okay, no matter what Lestrade thinks, no matter what John fucking Watson thinks, he’s a freak and he’s always going to be a freak! God, I feel like I have to have this conversation a hundred times a day, and y’know what, if you want to keep throwing your lot in with murderers and thieves--”

“That was an accident,” Molly hisses, stung, “you know that, Christ, do you have to be so--”

“Honest?” Sally says, dangerous. “Realistic? What happens when he gets bored just solving cases, Molly, hmm? What happens when he turns around and there’s you with ‘Willing Victim’ painted on your forehead in indelible ink?”

“He’s not like that,” Molly hears herself saying, which is just, Jesus, even as it comes out of her mouth she knows it’s textbook, knows it’s exactly what she’d be saying if he was like that, but it’s still easier than everything else. This particular brand of humiliation is so much less raw than her other options, is so much better than saying At least it’s familiar, or At least I’m always expecting the worst or It’s not like I really want it to happen. It’s so much less painful than the truth, because she knows the truth even if she doesn’t like to look at it, even if she avoids it in the mirror each morning: Actually, Sally, it turns out I’ve got ‘Willing Victim’ painted on my forehead whether I wrote it there or not, so why don’t you just fuck off and let me lose my mind in peace?

“You’re an idiot, if that’s really what you think,” Sally says. “You and Lestrade both--”

“You shut up about Greg,” Molly snaps, suddenly and definitively at the end of her rope. “You want to call me stupid, fine, it’s not like I don’t know--do you think I’m blind, Sally, I don’t think Sherlock’s a lunatic but even so, it’s not like I don’t know I haven’t a chance! Jesus, I don’t even know that I want a chance, but that’s never your question, is it, that’s never anyone’s question--but sod it, you know what, fine, necessary evil or whatever you’d like to call it, but don’t drag Greg into this. My god, is it really so appalling to know someone kind-hearted enough to see the best in people? Is it really so terrible to have a boss that trusts a man who, oh, right, solves half of your cases and regularly saves the lives of coppers--and yes, he’s difficult to deal with and yes, alright, I’ll admit that at times he’s bloody terrifying, but it’s Greg who handles that so you don’t have to, so you can just--you can just shut your mouth about him!”

Sally is staring at her, open-mouthed...or, no. Sally is staring not-quite-at her, her eyes fixed on a point just over Molly’s head, and Molly knows what’s going to happen before she even turns around. Sure enough, there’s Greg, blinking at her like he’s never seen her before in his life, and this, this is the benefit of Sherlock, right here. At least with him, the humiliation is expected, planned for, contingency plans on contingency plans; now Molly has no idea what to do, and, utterly without a map, opts for flight.

She’s made it all the way out into the street when she realizes she’s left her coat inside. Swearing under her breath, she rubs her arms to warm herself against the December chill and wonders if she can manage to get a cab before she freezes to death. She doesn’t have time to find out, though, because Greg’s bursting out the door a moment later, calling, “Molly, Jesus, hold on, don’t just run off like--oh.”

“Um,” Molly says, “yes, hi, I was just going to--cab, home, you know, work in the morning--”

“Christ, you must be freezing,” Lestrade says, shrugging out of his coat and draping it over her shoulders like it’s nothing at all, like she didn’t just make a complete tit of herself in there. “You should consider investing in a coat of your own, it’s nearly Christmas, you’ll catch your death like this.”

“I, um, I have one, actually,” Molly says, eyes fixed on the ground. “I...I left it, it was just, um. Thank you and, and forget it, I’ll just go back in--”

“Don’t really advise that,” Lestrade says, a corner of his mouth quirking up. “Been years since Sally was talked to that way by anyone but me, I think she might actually try to kill you.”

“Yeah, not sure I love my odds, there,” Molly says, and Lestrade snorts.

“Are you kidding?” he says, and it’s all warm, easy humor, afternoons in the morgue and late night text messages about murderers on the loose, all the mess she’s been trying to dodge. “My money’s on you. I just can’t afford to lose a good officer on short notice.”

“I’ll try to avoid that,” Molly says, and finds she’s not sure how to say anything else.

She’s still staring at the ground; after a minute, Greg sighs and pokes her in the shoulder. “Hey, Mols--Molly. Just...just stop, alright? You’re okay, it’s...I should be thanking you, actually, I mean to be thanking you, that’s what I came out here to say. Been awhile since anyone stood up for me properly, and I’d kind’ve thought I was above needing it, but I...wasn’t. I’m not. So thank you, and please stop acting like I’m going to, I don’t know, laugh or something, because that was--that was really nice, and I really, just, thanks.”

And...god, that wasn’t what Molly was expecting at all, was it? She looks up against her better instincts, and Greg’s smiling at her, his face as open and honest as his voice when he reaches out to tuck the coat a little more tightly around her shoulders. She smiles back, hesitant but less frightened than she’s been in weeks--she remember, belatedly, that this was always one of the things she liked best about Greg, the honesty there, the warmth.

“You alright?” he asks, and oh, that’s a loaded question. Molly decides to meet honesty with honesty, and sighs.

“Not...really,” she admits. “But I don’t, god, I don’t want to talk about it or anything, just--no. Not really. Trying, though. You?”

“Trying,” Greg says, tone musing more than definitive. “Yeah, think we’re in about the same boat there. At least it’s the holidays, right? Some comfort in knowing we’re not the only miserable saps in the world.”

Molly smiles, almost laughs--she can’t help it, because he’s not wrong. “Any plans for Christmas, then?”

“Heading up to Dorset, I think,” Greg says cheerfully enough, waving down a passing cab. “You?”

“My sister’s, maybe,” Molly says, pulling a face--a long weekend in Guildford is not exactly her idea of a good time. “Maybe staying around here, I’m not sure yet. I’ve a whole week to figure it out, right?”

“Yeah, ‘course,” Greg says, easy, as the cab pulls up. He opens the door for Molly and grins at her when she climbs inside, and it’s only when he pulls the sleeves of his sweater down over his hands that she remembers she’s wearing his coat.

“Oh, god,” says Molly, trying to shrug out of it, “sorry, I forgot, here, let me--”

“Tell you what,” Greg says, “you keep it, alright? Call it a Christmas present. It’s an old coat anyway, had it for ages, and you can’t exactly abuse your position at Scotland Yard to make someone pop home and grab you another.”

“Which you, of course, would never do,” Molly says, a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Obviously not,” says Greg, “I’m a good and proper copper, I’ll send a whole squad,” and Molly does laugh then. He smiles down at her, leans over so his arm’s resting on the roof of the cab, runs a hand through thick, grey hair. “You get home safe, yeah? I’ll rescue your coat, assuming Sally hasn’t burned it yet--I’ll have someone bring it by the morgue tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Molly says, too quickly, and then, “Greg, thank you.” It comes out more sincere than it should for something like a borrowed jacket, comes out like her gratitude for the police that still check up on her and the night Jim turned out to be Jim and the man dead on the slab with a bullet through his forehead; Molly is, apparently, hellbent on embarrassing herself this evening, whether she likes it or not.

But Greg’s face shifts, just for a second, crumples out of genial and friendly into that
worn-through expression she keeps catching when she’s not supposed to. She blinks and it’s gone, replaced with an easy smile that’s, hey, maybe a little forced, and Molly stares, trying to work him out.

“Thank you,” he says, overly sincere himself, before he shuts the door of the cab and slaps it like it’s a police car. Molly....oh, god, Molly doesn’t know what to do with that at all.

--

The next day, on a rare afternoon off work, Molly goes down to Covent Gardens and tries to get her Christmas shopping done. She wishes, even more this year than she does every year, that she’d thought to do it sooner; the place is teeming with life, humanity on humanity, and Molly’s not loved crowds since everything happened with Jim. It’s too easy to think about what could be concealed in the press of bodies, how simple it is to hide in plain sight, and she spends the first twenty minutes walking close to the wall, handbag clutched to her side, so hyper-aware of everything around her that her eyes feel screwed into her skull.

After twenty-two minutes, she’s given the unanticipated gift of someone trying to pickpocket her. She see him following her, watches him out of the corner of her eye, and when he makes his move she turns around smoothly and gives him a quick glimpse of the tazer in her bag. The whole thing takes less then five seconds, and he melts back into the crowd, looking equal parts shocked and terrified; I’m what’s hidden in plain sight, Molly thinks, unbidden, and everything’s easier after that.

She buys her sister a dress she’ll never wear, a pair of shoes to match, the kind of outfit that screams night on the town as opposed to married professional with children, we’ve a lovely home in Guildford, thank you very much; it’s more than a little passive-aggressive, but Molly knows she’s going to get a spa weekend she’ll never have time to use in return, so. For her brother-in-law she buys a briefcase in an antique shop, supple, worn leather and dark navy fabric, very old-world class, the kind of thing that’ll fit right in at the public school where he teaches; the kids are harder, and she ends up picking up a set of Tamora Pierce books for her niece and a complicated wooden puzzle for her nephew.

She figures she owes Mrs. Hudson for the tazer, so she drifts around between the shops, looking for something fitting. She lingers for awhile over a tasteful little piece of window art, delicate blown glass and carefully structured panes; in the end, though, she figures anyone handing out illegal weaponry and living beneath John and Sherlock doesn’t have much use for such things, and gets her a pair of sound-blocking headphones instead. She picks up a few little things for the people at work--a glasses case for Stamford, who’s forever losing his, and a rounded tin of popcorn for the IT department, who’ve been treating her with particular care for the last few months--and finds she’s enjoying herself.

She’s trying to decide on something for John and Sherlock--even ignoring her own twisted hangups there, what do you get the man who knows everything and the man who follows him about congratulating him on it?--when a display catches her eye. She stops to look, and it’s a small shop, dust on the sign, probably been here for years; there’s a pair of gloves and a scarf sitting on top of a table by the window. And the whole place looks like Greg, doesn’t it, when she steps inside; it’s all understated and unassuming, muted colors and warm lights, and he’s the type to put value on a good, steady pair of leather gloves, on a scarf that would match his good coat--the coat she hasn’t absconded with--perfectly.

“How much for the set?” she finds herself asking, and then, even when the answer is higher then expected, “Yes, I think I’ll take them.”

--

The panic doesn’t set in until four days later, when she gets caught up in a conversation with a coworker about what she should buy her boyfriend for Christmas.

“Well, I mean, we’ve only been dating a month,” Angie says, twirling her hair around a finger. Molly actually rather hates Angie, because she’s one of those people who makes the entire conversation about her, regardless of whether you’d asked or not, but it’s too late now. She nods politely, scrawling her signature across the form that brought Angie down here in the first place, and tries not to tune her out. “So it’s kind of--well, you know, I’m sure, we’ve all been there. Do I even have to get him a present? Or, well, I mean obviously I have to get him something, but on the other hand, can’t be sure if I really mean it long-term, so. Creative sex, maybe? Dinner? Oh, I don’t know.”

And suddenly Molly’s thinking of the gloves and scarf sitting in her apartment, wrapped up nicely in red paper with a bow, because--because Jesus, Greg’s married, and they haven’t even properly spoken in months, and what is she saying with a gift like that, exactly? Is she saying Thank you for the coat, that was kind of you? Is she saying I saw these and I thought of you, Happy Christmas? Or is she saying I’ve decided to just go ahead and bypass creative sex, dinner, and determining your interest in either one to declare long-term intentions I don’t even know that I have? Christ, that would be embarrassing, and not in the pre-determined, almost affirming way things with Sherlock always are; that would be truly and properly embarrassing, embarrassing like the scene she made at the bar, only more official, only worse.

“I’d go with dinner,” she tells Angie, and spends the rest of the afternoon quietly working herself up into an absolute state. When, the next morning, John Watson says, “Oh, by the way, we’re having a few people ‘round for Christmas tomorrow, you should come,” it feels like a tailor-made solution, and Molly lets herself change out the card, write Dearest Sherlock, Love Molly xxx because it’s the safer option.

--

The first thing that goes wrong at the Christmas party is that Greg’s there, not in Dorset after all; Molly sees him out of the corner of her eye and pointedly doesn’t look at him, because she’s, Christ, she’s wearing his coat. She hadn’t meant to, had fully intended to shrug on one of her own over the dress she’d selected--a little black number with earrings to match, the kind of outfit that always makes her feel pretty--but every piece of outerwear she owned was either too long or too short to work. Greg’s coat, on the other had, was warm and plaid and too big on her and just the right length, and she rather liked the contrast it created.

And, well. And maybe it felt a little like battle armour, and maybe she’d figured that she wasn’t going to get another chance to wear it with the guarantee that he wouldn’t see her, and oh, god, she’ll just have to keep her eyes on Sherlock, won’t she, and pretend she’s not embarrassed at all.

“Having our Christmas drinkies, then?” she says, trying to get out of the damned thing as quickly as humanely possible.

“No avoiding them, apparently,” says Sherlock, ever unhelpful, and Molly keeps looking at him while Mrs. Hudson takes up the slack and makes a joke. He is, unquestionably, handsome; it’s not much of a leap, never is, to wind the fuzzy, nonsensical blanket of her unfounded feelings around her.

Of course, then Greg touches her arm and asks if she wants a drink and it’s like a bloody electric jolt, instant and all-consuming, and it’s all she can do to drag her eyes away. That’s the second thing that goes wrong, Greg and his fingers brushing against her arm and the way he hurries into the kitchen to pour her a glass of wine--it’s hard to think through the cloud of two different sets of feelings, especially when she only really understands one of them.

She makes a terrible, ill-thought out joke to Mrs. Hudson--wrong turn number three--and takes the drink that Greg hands to her mid-apology gratefully.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you,” she says, which is, at least, honest; the lovely thing about Greg is that even when Molly’s in over her head, even when Molly’s mortified, he’s never difficult to talk to. “I thought you were going to be in Dorset for Christmas?”

“That’s first thing in the morning, me and the wife,” Greg says, “we’re back together, it’s all sorted,” and his smile is...strange, enthused but also a little unsure, even before Sherlock opens his mouth.

“No, she’s sleeping with the PE teacher,” Sherlock says, like he’s bored, like it’s boring. Greg’s face does twelve things at once, flickers from surprised to resigned to putting the pieces together to heartbroken in a matter of seconds; that’s the fourth thing to go wrong, and Molly keeps talking, trying to distract everyone from it, trying to give Greg the moment of quiet he’d once come to her morgue looking for.

The business with the present, then, is the fifth thing to go wrong, and that...well, that goes rather wrong enough to go down in the history books, doesn’t it?

“Oh come on,” Sherlock’s saying, and Molly’s gut is already churning, practically Pavlovian by now, “surely you've all seen the present on top of the bag? Perfectly wrapped with a bow, all the others are slap-dash at best. For someone special then. Shade of red echoes her lipstick, either an unconscious association or one that she's deliberately trying to encourage. Either way, Miss Hooper has loooove on her mind. The fact that she's serious about him is clear from the fact that she's giving him a gift at all, though it would suggest the long-term hopes of the over-forlorn. And the fact that she's seeing him tonight is evident from her makeup and what she's wearing, obviously trying to compensate for the size of her mouth and breas... “

He trails off, staring at the card with horror, and Molly’s, Jesus, Molly’s going to cry right here in the middle of 221B, and it won’t even be for the right reasons. Because Sherlock humiliating her is old hat, isn’t it, nothing new there, that’s just what he does, but--but god, she hadn’t known that, hadn’t realized, about the present, about the wrapping. And he’s right, isn’t he; she’d spent a good deal more effort on Greg’s gift than anyone else’s, taking care with the corners, and then she’d panicked and changed the card because Angie, of all people, was right. A present like that sent long-term intentions, sent a message that Molly wasn’t yet ready to communicate but that she did, bloody hell, that she did mean. About this very good, very kind, very married man, because it didn’t matter that she’d ended up giving the thing to Sherlock, she’d wrapped it up for Greg, and that’s...that’s more than she’s prepared to deal with right now, is maybe more than she’s prepared to deal with ever.

“You always say such horrible things,” she says, aware that her voice is breaking and Greg is right behind her and just, just not caring, because what the hell has she been doing all this time, letting herself see this as something comforting, something safe? Sherlock is nothing if not an absolutely terrible bet, and when she says, “Every time, always, always,” she’s speaking to herself more than anyone else.

And then the stupid bastard apologies and asks her forgiveness and kisses her on the cheek like it’s, like it’s some kind of kindness, like he’s doing her a favor, and Molly has had enough. She’s had enough and she’s got her mouth open around a reply, around something that will be bitter and cutting and uncalled for in this context and so, so entirely fair in the grand scheme of everything he’s ever said to her, every little insult, every pointed jab, every grating, callous moment--

--and out of nowhere, like he’s timed it, there’s a throaty female moan.

“Oh!” says Molly, “oh, no, that wasn’t--I didn’t--” because that, that would be the icing on top of the cake, wouldn’t it, to spend one more second of her life giving this man the idea that she enjoys being his punching bag, but Sherlock doesn’t look surprised.

“No,” he says, “that was me.”

What,” says Molly, even as Greg snaps, “Oh my god, really?”

It turns out to be Sherlock’s phone that’s made the noise; two minutes later, he’s shut himself up in his bedroom and won’t come out, and twenty minutes after that Molly and Greg get near-simultaneous phone calls, summoning them each in for work. They share a cab, both of them huddled in misery against their respective windows, but when Greg gets out at Scotland Yard, he stops himself shutting the door and leans down to smile at her.

“I just wanted to tell you,” he says, quiet, “that you look better in that coat than I ever did, and that dress was...is. Well. Sherlock Holmes isn’t always right. Happy Christmas, Molly.”

Molly does cry, then, once they’ve started moving again, in the back of a cab on the way to Bart’s on Christmas Eve, silent and stoic as she watches the world drift by.

--

For New Years, Molly gets herself a therapist.

It is, she realizes after two sessions, something she should have done the moment she found out about Jim; after four sessions, she realizes it’s something she should have done the day Carl Powers died. The history of Molly’s life is written in blood and skin cells and pool water and unmet expectations, both for her and from her; the history of Molly’s life is written in other people’s words, and it’s enough, now. She’s had enough.

She keeps about her business, of course, because it’s not as though your life stops when you admit that you need some help with navigating it. She wishes, vaguely, that someone had thought to mention that to her sooner; a number of things would’ve been easier, if she’d known. She goes to see Dr. Finchley one a week, talks about Sherlock and Jim and Greg and then, eventually, about Flora, about her parents, about that day at the pool when she was 12 and the way everything looked different, after. Dr. Finchley is kind, attentive, uses words like trauma when she speaks of Jim and subconscious when she speaks of Sherlock, advises that Molly take some time before she jump into anything with anyone else.

Greg goes on a holiday with his wife to try and mend things, sends Molly a text at two in the morning on his third day gone that says you ever feel like you don’t even know why you’re trying? Molly phones him at once, and they talk for a few hours--Greg’s voice breaks twice, bursts of grief there and gone again, and Molly’s glad to be able to be a friend to him. There are still feelings under the surface, same as there always were, but Dr. Finchley says that’s alright; she doesn’t have to feel like they’re forcing her hand, she can act if and when she feels ready, and Molly’s surprised at how true that is, once she takes a step back and looks at it.

She’s even gladder to be a friend to Greg two weeks later, when she comes back from her lunch break to find an unexpected email.

From: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk, webmaster@johnwatsonblog.co.uk
Subject: Fwd: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

please deal with this before one of this lot does -SD

-------------------------------------------------------------------

From: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk (...)
Subject: Some lot of trained investigators you are

Seriously, am I the only one who’s noticed that the boss is sleeping in his office?

-

From: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

Well NOW you’re not, Anderson, christ. you’d think the freak was catching, have a little tact

-

From: j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

tact or no, i’ve seen it too. think it’s the real thing this time? because, sympathies and all that, but i for one am not up for doing another round of cold cases and overtime if it isn’t the LAST round

-

From: s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

Agreed.

-

From: c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

seconded

-

From: a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

Here too

-

From: p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

i’ll drink to that

-

From: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

oh for FUCK’S SAKE, come off it! Let a man have a little privacy, we’re not animals.

Oh, and Jones, Bradstreet, Algers, Anderson, I know for a fact all four of you have other shit to be doing, so why don’t you get on that? thanks.

-

From: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk, j.algar@scotlandyard.gov.uk, s.hopkins@scotlandyard.gov.uk, c.bradstreet@scotlandyard.gov.uk, a.jones@scotlandyard.gov.uk, p.youghal@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Some lot of trained investigators you are

Christ, Sally. Sorry.

 

Molly stares at the email for a minute, stares at it a minute more, and then clocks out of her shift an hour early and goes down to New Scotland Yard. She finds John Watson already there, his arms folded and his back against the glass front wall of Greg’s office. From behind the closed door, she can hear him talking in low, understanding tones, and she takes a deep breath before resting her hand on the doorknob and slipping inside.

“Um, hi,” Molly says, “sorry to bother you, but I just...you know. Thought I’d drop by. You okay?”

Greg looks up at her, and it’s like all his strings are cut at once, which Molly hadn’t thought was a thing that actually happened to real people. Everything collapses--his expression, his posture--and he groans as he lets his head drop. He fists one hand in his hair and rubs the palm of the other against his forehead, and Molly feels something she hadn’t even known was there go soft in her chest.

“Greg, what happened,” she says, and is surprised by the care in her voice. It’s deeply apparent that John is, too; he freezes, blinks, twitches the corner of his mouth down and then turns to stare at her.

“Uh, right,” he says after a second, “so, okay, I’ll just...leave you alone, then, shall I? Right, yes, good. Greg, I’ll...well, I’ll see you later, I suppose. Right. So. Bye!”

He leaves in a flurry of well-intentioned confusion, and normally Molly would be embarrassed by that, but not today. Today Greg’s got about a week’s worth of clothing badly hidden about his office and a two-day beard, shadows under his eyes and a hand still fisted in his hair, and there are more important things to worry about. He looks as beaten-down as she’s ever seen him, which is, honestly, shocking. To see Greg heartbroken is one thing, but to see him world-weary like this, the full weight of the sadness that lingers sometimes around his eyes...Molly can’t imagine the things he’s seen, the things he’s had to do, and on some level she’d simply assumed that his spirit couldn’t be beaten.

But that’s silly, Molly realizes as she walks around to sit on the edge of the desk, and maybe even a little childish. Everyone’s spirit can be beaten; for particularly resilient people, that makes it that much worse.

“Come on,” she says gently, nudging him in the shoulder. “Door’s shut, no one’s going to hear you but me. Tell me what happened.”

So Greg tells her. About the holiday spent hiding out at the pool and bar, avoiding Eliana’s eyes when they crossed paths; about how he went back to their room to try to talk it through on the fifth night and found her already packing; about the fight they’d had, hurling blame back and forth across the king-sized bed like knives; about how he’d packed his own bags and left his wedding ring on the bathroom counter, finished once and for all. He tells Molly about the airport, how he hadn’t even gotten the chance to move his flight up before he got a call from Sherlock’s brother, and about Dartmoor, where he’d apparently been exposed to some kind of intense, mind-altering fear drug. He tells her about coming back to London and realizing that he and Eliana hadn’t talked about the division of things, that he’d taken off for parts unknown without so much as sending her a text message and come home to find her still living in their house--

“--which, I mean, of course she was,” he finishes miserably. “She should be anyway, when I really think about it. I’m sure she’s paid more of that mortgage than me, we had joint bank accounts for ages and she’s always made more, but I just. I dunno, I thought I’d come home and she’d be gone, which was stupid, it’s her house too, and now...well, if it’s her house as much as it’s mine, I can’t just go and kick her out.”

Molly sighs and puts a hand on Greg’s shoulder, fingers flexing absently against the worn wool of his sweater. It’s almost definitely dirty--hell, it feels dirty--but Molly doesn’t mind. “Sometimes you’re a distressingly good person, did you know?”

Greg’s forehead is resting against the palm of his hand again, his arm bent at the elbow, holding himself upright; he rolls his head to the side, just a little, to give Molly a tired sort of glare. “Flattery will get you nowhere.”

“Where am I trying to get, exactly?” Molly asks, gently enough. “I don’t want anything from you here, Greg. I do wish you’d told me, but only because my sofa is a lot more comfortable than--where’ve you been sleeping, in this chair?”

“Hotel, the first night,” Greg says, yawning on it, “and then I...I mean, two holidays in a row isn’t exactly cheap, and I’m going to have to pay a solicitor, god. So, yeah, the chair, mostly. Floor last night, not that it helped. My back’s killing me.”

“I’m not surprised,” Molly says. “How about it, then? My sofa until you get things sorted? I promise I don’t snore or sleepwalk, and I’m sure I can get Stamford to fix you with something for your back--and Greg, before you tell me you couldn’t impose, I’ll remind you that you’ve watched me vomit in a sink.”

Greg’s mouth, which had been open around what was undoubtedly some sort of prideful, courteous protest, snaps shut. After a second, he makes a strange little noise; Molly narrows her eyes, worried, but then he bursts out laughing, his shoulder shaking under her hand.

“I’m sorry,” he gasps, “I’m sorry, I really am, I swear I’m not--I just, I have, I have seen you vomit in a sink and I didn’t even--not that that was funny, Mols, please don’t think that’s what I mean, that was bloody awful, but I just. I don’t know why I didn’t call you! Or my mates from the East End, or, or my parents, god, I haven’t told my parents. Which, probably better, it’ll kill my Mum--oh, Christ, I’m getting divorced.”

“Yeah, you are,” Molly says. She tightens her grip on his shoulder; he’s still laughing, choking on it, and she wishes she could soften the blow, because it breaks her heart to him wrecked like this. On the other hand, he’s always been honest with her even when the truth was hard, and she’s always appreciated it. “It’s going to be alright, though, eventually. You’ll see. Greg, come on, stop laughing, it’ll be okay.”

“No,” Greg says, “no, it’s--John. John offered their sofa, and I agreed, I must be out of my mind.”

In the end, he does go to 221B, arguing that it would be rude to decline the offer after accepting it that way; Molly, in a combination of morbid curiosity and full knowledge of what Sherlock took from her morgue yesterday, checks the time. It’s been two hours and forty-five minutes when there’s a knock at her door, and Molly thumbs her book closed and goes to answer it.

Greg looks like he’s seen a ghost, or possibly several ghosts. Molly’s...not really surprised.

“That bad, huh?”

“Worse,” Greg says, rattled, “so much worse, oh my god, did you know--no, I take that back, pretend I didn’t say anything, I don’t want to talk about it. Ever. At all. But when they’re really at home--d’you know Mrs. Hudson--no, no, stop me, oh my god, not thinking about it, not ever thinking about it, they’re all three as bad as each other, I should have everyone on the whole street sectioned, and there were--in the fridge--no, no, not thinking about it, not thinking about it.”

“You want a drink?” Molly says, amused but doing her best to hide it, and Greg says, “God yes,” as Molly steps aside to let him in.

They end up going through most of a bottle of vodka Molly’s had tucked in the freezer for ages, since Greg’s miserable and clearly in the mood to get pissed and Molly’s not about to let him drink alone. She sips on vodka tonics and he mostly sips on vodka, but he deigns to put ice in, and it’s not like he hasn’t earned it. She drinks less than he does, but ends up pretty pissed herself all the same, and finds she doesn’t much mind. Greg’s nice to be drunk with, even when he’s viciously unhappy and painful to look at; she never feels wrong-footed with him, never feels unsafe, either, and it’s novel, that kind of comfort.

“We got married in May, y’know,” Greg slurs at half ten, slumped up against the wall--Molly should really make him get some rest, but that would involve movement, so. “Ellie was all...white an’ puffy-like, y’know, god, I was so young. My hair has colors. In the photos, I mean. I told her I was gonna burn them, ugh, why’d I say that? Who burns photos?”

“Depends what they’re photos of,” Molly says musingly. “Had a photo of me and Jim, once. Burned that.”

“Too right,” Greg says, and belches. “Too fucking right, an’ good riddance.”

“But, um,” Molly says, rolling over on the sofa--why is she on the sofa? The sofa is for Greg--to look at him. “You shouldn’t, I mean. The stuff you said, you were...angry, and that’s. Good! Or not good but I just, you can be angry. It was. What she did. It was bad, it was like, really bad, because you’re so not. I dunno what’m saying anymore. You can be angry, that’s it, ‘sok to be angry.’”

Greg’s eyes are fixed on the ceiling; when he speaks, his voice is rough. “Been angry for years, though. Didn’t help, did it? Just kinda...pretended I wasn’t, I ‘spose. Worked more. ‘S my fault too.”

“But...not,” Molly says, brow furrowing. “B’cause you never, I mean. The cheating!”

“Yeah, but I did, too,” Greg says. “Just ‘cause it was a job and not a, a person, y’know. Still spending my nights with somethin’ else.”

“That’s bollocks,” Molly pronounces, and rolls off the sofa by mistake. She catches herself, barely--bruises in the morning, probably, but that’s okay, bruises are nice, since only living people get them--

“Did you just say bruises are nice because only,” Greg stops, almost-laughs, hiccuping on it a little, “because only live people, Christ, why is that funny and, and feet aren’t funny?”

“Feet?” Molly says. “It was feet in the fridge? Ugh, wonder what he did with the--”

“Don’ tell me,” Greg moans, slumping further down the wall, “no, no, no, no.”

“Sorry, sorry. Won’t.”

Greg hums out a forgiving sort of noise; his eyes are closed, and his hair is everywhere because he’s been running his hands through it all night. One big grey tuft is sticking up at the back of his head, and Molly’s glad Greg’s hair doesn’t have colors anymore. She likes it the way it is--it suits him. Greg with hair color would be weird.

“What’re you doing,” Greg says warily, and Molly jumps, startled. “Y’re all...quiet, but like. Thinky quiet. Detective thing.”

“That is just, that is nonsense.”

“‘S not,” Greg says, “whole course on it an’ everything, got special training in the silences.”

Molly’s not sure why that’s funny, but there’s no question that it is. She laughs, rolling around on the floor, and when she catches her breath Greg’s smiling at her, somewhere between indulgent and fond. It’s not his best smile by a long shot, looks dragged right out of him, but she figures it’s something to encourage, so she grins back. “You’re funny when you’re pissed.”

“I am funny,” Greg pronounces haughtily, “always,” and that sets Molly off again, if only because it’s so ridiculous to see him trying for ego.

Things stop being funny shortly after that, which is only to be expected. Greg trails off into silence and Molly lets him, wanders off in search of Atticus and maybe something non-alcoholic to drink. She finds the cat in the bathroom, sulking on top of the toilet the way he does when...well, the way he does about half the time, really, Atticus is tetchy as a rule, and she grabs water out of the fridge on her way back to the living room. She pulls the vodka bottle out of Greg’s hand--he’s devolved, in the last half hour, to drinking straight from it--and replaces it with a water, patting him gingerly on the head when he tilts his head up to give her a quizzical look.

“Cutting you off,” she says, swaying slightly on her feet. “Because if I’m all, um, y’know, like...tired like this, right, you must be knackered.”

Greg tilts his head, considering this. “Probably right. ‘s a good spot, though, this.”

“Greg, you’re sitting on the floor.”

“Better floor than my office,” he mumbles, taking a sip from the water bottle, but he lets himself be pushed and prodded to his feet, shoved indelicately toward the sofa. He sinks into it the minute he lands, makes a soft, rapturous little noise, and Molly rolls her eyes at the back of his head. “Okay, you were right, this is...mmm, soft.”

“At least you’re easy to please. Just, um, stay there, and I’ll get you...” and here Molly stops, because she’s suddenly realized that she doesn’t have much in the way of guest accommodations. There are extra pillows on her bed, of course, and a ratty old comforter she’s kept in the closet since uni, but Greg’s wearing jeans and an oxford, and he’d shown up her door with nothing but the clothes on his back. Even drunk, Molly’s pretty certain that Greg’s not been thinking straight the last few weeks, because it’s unlike him to do things like this, to act without planning ahead; she leaves the room without finishing her sentence, distracted, and digs around in her closet until she finds a pair of pyjama bottoms that once belonged to an old boyfriend.

“Okay, well, this should do it,” she says, indistinct through the stack of fabric in her arms, before she actually gets a look at Greg. He’s fast asleep, sprawled out over the sofa fully dressed, and snoring like a bellows; she smiles, can’t help herself, and tucks the pillow under his head, drapes the duvet over him. The pyjama bottoms she leaves on the coffee table, with a hastily scrawled note on top of them that says Wear me, I might fit you :), with the theory that he’ll wake up and find them if he’s uncomfortable.

She stands there for a minute longer than she probably should, tucking the blanket more carefully around his shoulders and feeling immensely creepy about it, but. Well, Greg deserves to have someone looking after him, doesn’t he? God knows he looks after everyone else--Sherlock and John, the cabal of unappreciative idiots at the Yard, even her, some days--and it’s not fair, hasn’t ever been fair, that no one’s been returning the favor. There’s no harm in ensuring he’s comfortable, and she fluffs the pillow once, twice, and is startled into making a small squeaking noise when he shifts and grabs her wrist.

“Hey, hey,” he murmurs, clearly mostly asleep, eyes still closed, “just...thanks, yeah? Because...thanks.”

“Sure,” Molly whispers, “sleep well,” and she heads to her own room, flicks off the light.

--

The next morning, Molly’s internal clock, long since determined to ruin her life, wakes her up 6:30. She groans into her pillow, feeling like she’s been hit by a train--hangover, maybe, she’ll figure it out later--and tries in vain to fall back asleep. At 6:45, she gives it up for a lost cause and stumbles down to the bathroom, and she’s been brushing her teeth for what feels like an hour when she remembers that she left Greg passed out on her sofa.

Toothbrush still dangling from her mouth, she tiptoes back out into the living room to survey the damage. It’s not too bad--there’s a pizza box sitting on the counter and pillows strewn here and there, but otherwise they didn’t leave much of a mess. Greg must have woken up at some point in the night, because his trousers and shirt are on the floor, and the pyjama bottoms have vanished entirely; Molly’s guessing that they’re hidden underneath her old duvet, which Greg’s almost entirely buried beneath.

He’s out cold, snoring almost comically, and Molly stands and looks at him for a minute, just because. It’s a little sweet, a lot hilarious, the picture he paints--he’s drooled a bit on the pillow and his hair is sticking up in tufts, unruly like she’s never seen it. His right arm is dangling over the edge of the sofa, knuckles grazing the carpeting, and Atticus is curled up on his back, glaring a warning at Molly.

“You are so predictable,” Molly whispers, not quite awake enough yet to register that it would be mortifying if Greg woke up and found her talking to the cat, and goes back to the bathroom.

She spits and rinses, showers because she’s up now and might as well; halfway through shampooing she remembers it’s Saturday, which is good news, considering. After a second’s consideration--on the one hand, it’d be nice to look nice, but on the other hand she’s hungover and has things to do--she throws her still-wet hair into a ponytail and tiptoes back to her bedroom. There is a pair of jeans in her dresser that she saves specifically for Saturdays that don’t involve work; that’s probably bizarre, she knows, but whatever, they’re more comfortable than anything else she owns, for all they’re threadbare and older than Atticus. She pulls them on, digs out a jumper to throw over them, and sneaks out the door, sparing one last look at Greg over her shoulder.

After a second’s thought, she goes back inside and writes a note on an index card--Errands, back in a bit, help yourself to anything you can find (not much in right now, I’m afraid!), don’t scratch the cat behind the ears b/c he will bite you. Call if you need anything! -Molly--which she leaves folded up into a little tent on the coffee table. She looks over her handiwork for a second--Greg really does look rather hysterically out of place under her pink and white striped duvet, doesn’t he--and leaves again, stays gone this time.

Molly loves Saturday mornings, even if she’d love this one more sans headache. Saturday mornings are the one time in her week where her time is entirely her own, where she’s not competing with dead bodies or Sherlock Holmes or half of London for a moment’s peace. She goes to the supermarket first, because she’s pretty certain her flat’s empty of everything but cat food and leftovers that’ve gone off; the pharmacy’s next, because she did get Stamford to phone in a scrip for Greg’s back, but might have casually neglected to mention that it was, in fact, for Greg’s back. Stamford’s always had a bit of a crush on her, she knows--not enough for him to mention it and certainly not enough to make things uncomfortable, but enough for the occasional favor--and it was just easier to gloss over that little detail on the phone.

It’s strange, though, standing at the counter and waiting; for the first time since Molly left Imperial, she regrets the fact that she’s not a doctor. She’s not sure what does it, exactly--maybe it’s the realization that she could’ve called John instead of Stamford, or maybe it’s the way the pharmacist reminds her of herself at work, haggard and over-busy even at eight in the morning on a weekend, wearing a white coat that looks like it’s seen more bleach then strictly wise.

Maybe, Molly thinks, it’s the fact that she’s been in therapy for two months now and is starting to feel a bit more like whatever self she set out to find. She puts a pin in that thought, saves it for later, and picks up a tooth brush for Greg as an afterthought.

The rest of her errands are easy enough, almost rote by this point, though she does make an atypical stop by the bakery near her flat to pick up coffee and breakfast, still too tired to even consider cooking. It’s 9:30 when she gets back home, and she finds Greg awake, but clearly only just. He blinks blearily at her for a second when he she opens the door, and then seems to recognize that she’s carrying about twice her weight in packages and lurches forward. There’s an awkward moment where she tries to assert that she’s fine through the crossiant in her mouth and he tries to assert his own ability to stay upright through what’s obviously a worse hangover than hers, but they manage it in the end.

“Hi,” Greg says, rasping on it a little but smiling all the same, when they’ve gotten the various bags on the counter. “I--hmm, hello.”

Molly arches an amused eyebrow; not a morning person, then. Good to know. “Morning. You sleep okay?”

“Slept great,” Greg says, real feeling behind it. He blinks rapidly, and then shakes himself all over; it’s the kind of thing she’s done herself, pulling all-night doubles at the morgue, and she hides a smile behind her hand. “So great, it’s--yeah. Great, you’re, that was great. Sleep. Excellent.”

“You’ve been awake four seconds, haven’t you?”

“Hey, no,” Greg says, “six, at least. Met your cat.”

Molly looks down; there’s a bitemark on his hand, bleeding a little, and she winces. “Oh, god, sorry. Atticus can be a little--sorry.”

“‘S fine,” Greg says, yawning. “Should’ve read the note first, he’s lovely otherwise. Atticus like Finch, or Atticus like...uh....”

“By all means,” Molly says, “name another Atticus, go on,” and Greg scowls.

“Could’ve done, if I was more, uh. Oh, I borrowed the...pyjamas you left...Christ, I’m not good in the mornings, sorry.”

“I’d kind of gathered that, it’s fine,” Molly says, smiling at him as she moves to unpack some of the bags. “I brought breakfast, if you like--croissants and donuts, wasn’t sure which you’d rather. Oh, and I grabbed a toothbrush for you, and Stamford called that scrip in, for your back? Picked that up too. I can just leave it out if you want to have a shower, there’s towels in the cupboard.”

Greg doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t say anything, and doesn’t say anything some more. When Molly turns to make sure he hasn’t passed out standing--secret narcolepsy would be about par for the course, considering the way her life typically goes--he’s staring at her, an unreadable expression on his face. Molly spares half a second to panic that she’s gone overboard somehow, been unintentionally overwhelming, before she summons her courage and says, “What?”

“I,” Greg says, “you...let me stay here.”

“That’s true,” Molly says slowly, “and fairly self-evident, but okay? Is that a...problem?”

Greg’s whole face has folded up into some kind of exhausted, confused mess; Molly’s not really following, but she figures she can wait him out. “No, no, it’s--it’s the opposite of a problem, but you brought breakfast and back drugs and I shouldn’t. Y’know. You don’t have to, I can manage it and I wouldn’t want you to go to...trouble, that’s it. You don’t have to go to any trouble.”

“Greg,” Molly says, raising an eyebrow, “you were sleeping in your office. I figured you could use a little help, that’s all. It’s no trouble; you’d do the same for me, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah, course I would, but I don’t want to just...take advantage, right?”

Molly tilts her head, considering the best way to go about this. Eventually, she decides on: “Right, okay. How about this: you can stay as long as you need, and if you’re taking advantage, I’ll tell you? Does that work?”

“I feel like I should be,” Greg says, and waves a hand. “You know. D’you want...rent? Or, I cook, kind of, not really but I could....learn--”

“Oh, for god’s sake!” Molly says, laughing on it. “You’re getting divorced, you’re a right mess, take a little help from a friend, yeah? I promise I’m not going to hold it against you--unless you don’t go shower right now, that I’ll hold against you, you smell a bit awful.”

Greg half-scowls at her, more in bemusement then anything else, and then says, “Uh, yeah, alright.”

When he comes back out, steam trailing after him, back in the pyjama bottoms and last night’s undershirt, he looks more himself. He’s rubbing the towel against his hair almost hesitantly, like he’s not sure if he should be taking the liberty or not; Molly smiles and looks back down to the paper, pushing the box of baked goods and a rapidly cooling cup of coffee over to him.

“Molly,” Greg says after a minute. She looks up again, and he’s got one elbow balanced on the counter, his shoulders curved towards her, and there’s a donut in his hand, a few bites missing. He sounds heartbreakingly honest, somehow, and there’s an expression on his face that she recognizes all too well from her own mirror. It’s a mixture of longing and loss, the look of someone with far too much to say and no idea how much of it they mean, and that’s...okay. That makes sense. She’s about there with him, really.

She smiles, as gently as she can, and puts the paper down. “Yeah?”

“This is,” Greg says, and swallows hard, looks away. When he glances back he’s smiling too, just a little one, playing at the very corners of his mouth; Molly lets that warm her, can’t quite help herself. “It’s just--this is a really good doughnut.”

--

From: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

Dunno what’s going on with you two, don’t care, but could you please tell Lestrade that you’re aware that he’s not a morning person. WE’VE all known for years, and if he keeps whining about how embarrassing it is to not remember where you keep your mugs or whatever, those of us who’ve been on stakeout with him may end up facing homicide charges.

Also, if you wanted to TELL us what’s going on with you two--not that we care!--that might be helpful.

Sincerely,
Everyone

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Cc: s.donovan@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Fwd: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

Are you aware that your office has a terrible gossip problem?

Hope we’re still on for drinks at 6:30 (Sally: as requested, John’s coming and Sherlock’s apparently been given a nice distracting experiment)

-Molly

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Fwd: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

Anderson’s a liar. I do not worry about where your mugs go. I swear they’re on my last nerve today, sorry he sent you that, will deal with it

I’m a yes for drinks, Sally said to tell you she’s going to be late and also something about her tosser of a boss, seem to have forgotten, very strange

-G

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Fwd: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

It’s fine! Just figured you’d want to know. Forgetfulness very unlike you: if result of head trauma, understandable, otherwise you may have rare, deadly condition known as ‘selective hearing,’ my sympathies to Sally et al.

And I’ve met corpses more appealing than Anderson, if it helps.

[Attachment:

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Fwd: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

just spat coffee all over myself in front of the press, christ, you’re worse than Sherlock

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Fwd: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

So long as I’m not worse then Anderson :)

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Fwd: Cannot believe I’m doing this:

Nobody’s worse than Anderson. who emails civilians to complain about their superiors???

I do actually have to work now though. See you and John @6:30

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Communication with civilians regarding your superiors

My office. NOW.

-

From: a.anderson@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Cc: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: (No subject)

Point very much taken. My apologies.

--

All told, Greg spends a month on her sofa.

He’s not there all the time, of course, and neither is she--work, in the end, will be the death of them both--but it’s enough time that they fall into certain patterns. They eat breakfast together almost every morning, Molly cheerfully reading a book or the news while Greg blearily combs the classifieds for flats; in the evenings, when they’re both around, they tend towards watching whatever happens to be on television or, occasionally, drinking at the pub up the street.

Greg is unhappy; he spends a night at his parents’ at the of the end of the first week and comes back looking downtrodden, though it’s frankly nothing compared to the way he’d looked when he’d returned from going home to pick up clothes. Molly worries about him, not so much that it drives her to distraction, but enough--he’s reading case files nearly constantly, bringing them back from the office and pouring over them late into the night. The Scotland Yard email chain she’d been forwarded itches at the back of her mind (I’m not doing another round of cold cases and overtime if it’s not the LAST round), but she doesn’t press the point, just tries to keep an eye on him.

Of course, then he comes back to the flat one night and he’s glowing, lit up wild and exuberant, because his team has arrested a long-sought crime lord who’s killed six coppers in the last decade. It’s the end of the second week, and Molly lets herself get dragged out to a celebratory pub crawl--a good portion of Scotland Yard is there, and John and Sherlock, though Sherlock vanishes after the first ten minutes. Greg’s holding court, because his late night reading sessions turn out to have been the hunt for the paper trail that cinched the arrest; this is his case, his victory, more than it’s anyone else’s.

Greg, of all people, doesn’t need minding, Molly remembers, watching him. He’s responding to attention by spreading it around, tossing credit to whoever’s in earshot and retelling stories of old busts, and Molly is proud of him in an entirely unselfish way, in a way she’s never been proud of anyone before. She grins at him when he catches her looking, mouths Congratulations over the top of her glass, and he beams back at her, mouths Thanks.

“So what’s going on there, then?” John says, when she looks back to him. “You two’ve been....awfully close lately, yeah?”

Ooh, there’s some judgment there--that’s the tone of a man ready to offer up relationship advice, of someone right on the cusp of a warning. She knows it well, because she gets it a lot; Molly knows people think she’s silly, knows John must think it more than anyone else. And she can see, if she looks at it rationally, how the whole situation must look to an outsider--even from the inside it’s rife with complications, tangled emotions piling up on one another, messy and hard to sort through. It’s just that it doesn’t matter; it’s just that it’ll get dealt with eventually, and for now there’s no reason to push.

But John Watson doesn’t know that, and Molly could, very easily, turn the tables on him. There are about 700 things she could offer up about John’s relationship with Sherlock that would cut more viciously than the tone behind awfully close, but it’s a nice night, and she’s happy for Greg, and she’s not a vindictive person by nature, so she smiles.

“Just friends,” she says, and then, unable to help herself: “You know how that is, don’t you?”

John looks, just for a second, honestly stunned. “Uh, yeah. Suppose I do, come to that. Sorry, just curious.”

He looks at her differently for the rest of the conversation, as they skate from the details of this case to rehashing an old one to Mrs. Hudson’s increasingly hilarious and unsettling gifts, and Molly finds herself wondering how many of their interactions have left him with the impression that she’s some kind of idiot. She’s surprised to find she doesn’t care; he can think what he likes, it doesn’t really have anything to do with her. She bids him goodnight after a few minutes, asks him to give Sherlock her best, wherever he’s gotten off to, and John looks gobsmacked all over again.

“I think I just radically redefined John Watson’s mental picture of me,” she says, sliding into the stool next to Greg. “Also, I’m fairly sure about half of your police force thinks we’re going out, but I’m guessing you knew that. You still basking in the warm glow of success?”

“Warm glow of booze, more like,” Greg says. He’s still smiling, but he sounds off, distant; Molly looks at him, really looks, and notices that he’s got his thumb pressed against the skin at the base of his left ring finger, rubbing absently.

Not unkindly--because she’s pretty sure he’s not aware that he’s doing it, and equally sure that he’d be embarrassed to notice--she says, “You want to call it a night?”

“What?” He jumps a little, visibly shaking himself out of it, and pulls his hands apart. “No, sorry--long day, you know, catches up to you. No, we’ve got hours to go yet--and yes, every last one of my colleagues seems to be of the impression that we’re together, sorry about that.”

“Why are you sorry?”

Greg gives her a disbelieving look. “Molly...Christ, just look at you. You’re young, you’re gorgeous, you’re bloody brilliant, and I’m nearly 40 and quite literally just out of a rough marriage. Oh, and currently homeless. That rumor’s doing me more favors than it’s doing you, that’s all I’m saying.”

Molly can feel herself blushing; she ducks her head, because Jesus, and hopes the dim light of the pub will hide it. “You talk such rot, has anyone ever told you that?”

“You,” Greg says easily, “right now, and this morning, and yesterday, and the day before that...”

Molly rolls her eyes. “Well, somebody’s got to. And any girl would be lucky to have you, Detective Inspector, or did you forget that you caught Lance Hileman today?”

Greg’s quiet, so Molly takes another sip of her vodka tonic and waits. When he does speak, his voice is rough. “Maybe I...Molly. I don’t want any girl.”

It would be very, very easy, Molly knows, to make this conversation go away. If she gave Greg an out, he’d take it; she could say “What, is this you trying to come out to me?” or “Yes, well, my point still stands, your participation isn’t really necessary,” or even just, “I know,” because she does, really, and has for awhile.

But Molly’s tired of being frightened, and she’s tired of playing dumb, and she is so, so tired of not talking about it--it won’t change anything, the confirmation that they’re on the same page, except erase the niggling doubt that he’s got one up on her somehow.

“Yeah, well,” she says, steeling her courage, looking away because there’s only so brave she can be, really, “I don’t want any guy, myself. But if we’re going to actually, y’know, talk about this, I don’t want you while you’re all...or, god, I’m sorry, that’s not what I mean, but. You should have the chance to get divorced and I’m still sorting some things, right? So I think, I think the friendship thing is good, so that we don’t, I don’t know, end up like those people who get together at the wrong time and....oh, god. Unless...unless you didn’t mean me, in which case please do me a favor and forget I said anything--”

“No,” Greg says, and he’s smiling at her when she dares to glance at him. “No, I...I meant you, and that’s--I’ve been trying to figure out how to say pretty much exactly that for ages.”

“Right,” Molly says, a little lightheaded, “so, good, then. That’s...that’s good, isn’t it? Friends, then, or? Yes, okay, that’s. Yes.”

“Stop looking at me like I’m going to run out of here screaming,” Greg says. He’s almost laughing, which is--if it were anyone else, Molly would assume she was being laughed at, but Greg’s not like that, hasn’t ever been like that. “I hate the idea that you’d, that you’d wait around for--and you shouldn’t, okay, if something comes along while I’m trying to sort through this mess then you should go for it, alright? Because I can’t...I can’t just turn it off, I wish I could, because I’d love to, I’ve been trying to for years, but I...fuck, I can’t help it, I love her, I’m going to get through it but I do, and you shouldn’t--the fact that you’d even consider is, really. I should be the one looking at you like that.”

“That made...almost no sense.”

“Nice try,” Greg says, “that made perfect sense and you know it.”

Molly smiles, and then she ducks her head in a laugh, because he’s right; she does know it. Greg slings an arm over her shoulder, easy with relief and drink, and she lets herself enjoy the warmth of it. This is a right mess, the whole thing, an utter disaster, a contradiction in terms, the kind of thing that anyone else would tell her was stupid and hopeless--but then, Molly knows from stupid and hopeless, doesn’t she? She knows what stupid and hopeless feels like, knows the hollow ache of it, the almost pleasurable twist of fantasy over reality, and this, here, is something else.

And what’s more: even if it wasn’t, even if Greg never got over his wife and Molly never got to place where she felt steady, she’d still want his friendship, his arm around her shoulders at the pub on a Thursday night. She’d still want to email him random nonsense in the middle of the day and she’d still want to wear his too-big, ugly plaid coat. She’d still want to be the person he called in times of trouble, and she’d still trust him with her life, and she’d still be achingly proud of his success and want him to share in hers and that’s...that’s its own kind of warmth, a beautiful thing in it’s own right, nothing stupid or hopeless about it at all.

--

The third week Greg stays, there’s a vicious meningitis outbreak at City of London School. Molly gets called in on her day off and doesn’t leave the hospital for 72 hours, catching what sleep she can on the cot Stamford thinks no one knows he kips out on sometimes. It’s...difficult, not in the least because of the quarantine rules for the corpses, not in the least because it’s made the news and caused a mild public panic, not in the least because there’s press constantly surrounding the hospital. None of that’s as bad as having a ten year old boy on the slab, of course. None of that’s as bad as waking up after twenty minutes of sleep to the news that another one’s died, as bad as walking by sobbing family after sobbing family on her way to and from the bathroom, but it’s something else to focus on.

When she’s finally, finally let off (“Think that’s the last of it,” Stamford said, wiping his brow, the same exhausted sorrow in his voice that’s been pooling in her stomach for days now, “go home, Molly, you look dead on your feet”) it’s 3:30 on Friday afternoon. Molly takes the Tube home, desperate for some contact with the constant drone of life, and ends up riding it two stations past her stop and having to double back. When she gets into the flat, Atticus glares at her and stalks away--probably been enjoying having Greg doting on him, selfish little shit--and there’s a note on the coffee table, folded index card, Greg’s handwriting.

Mols--

Dunno when you’re getting back, which makes sense, since you don’t know right now either; figured I’d leave this in case I was at work. Went to the store and picked up some things--there’s dinner for you in the fridge, if you want it. Call if you need anything. -G

And that’s...Molly feels tears prick up behind her eyes just from that, which is so ridiculous, which is beyond ridiculous, but. She’s so tired she can barely see straight and everything in her feels cracked open, raw and oozing, and Greg’s being kind even in absentia is a little more than she knows how to take. She takes her coat off and drops it on the floor, sits down on the sofa because it’s there, because standing up is more effort than she can bear to expend, and picks the note up again, stares at it for an amount of time she has no idea how to quantify.

The sound of a key in the lock pulls her out of it enough to look up, and there’s Greg--he hasn’t even taken his sunglasses off yet and Molly’s just, she’s done, she should move before something horrible happens, before she runs out of the energy even to hold herself together, but it’s already too late. It’s already too late, because Greg takes one look at her and pulls the sunglasses off, says, “Hey, you’re back--god, you look wrecked, that must’ve been awful,” and she shatters, draws one shuddering breath and can’t stop a sob from slipping past her defenses.

“God, sorry,” she chokes out, pulling herself to her feet, unable to keep it out of her voice, “sorry, sorry, just--sorry, I’m going to--I’ll just, the other room and you won’t have to--”

“I won’t have to what?” Greg says. He puts both hands on her shoulders to stop her fleeing; he’s got big, warm hands, Greg, and big, warm eyes to boot, and Molly is so tired. “I’m a grown man and you’ve had the kind of week half the guys on my team haven’t seen; you’re not going to send me running off by being human.”

And that, for whatever reason, does it. Molly tries to take a breath and finds that she’s crying, really, honestly crying, the kind of humiliating, ragged sobs she doesn’t even let herself indulge in when she’s alone. Greg just nods and leads her back to the sofa, sits them both down before he pulls her in, rubs the palm of his hand down her spine.

“You’re alright,” he says, “there was nothing you could’ve done for them, Mols, sometimes awful things just happen.”

“They were just,” she says into his shirt, “just, all of them, they were so young and there were so many--”

“I know,” Greg says, “hey, it’s okay, I know, I saw the news, you don’t have to explain,” and so Molly stops trying, stops thinking at all.

She cries for...a long time. At least, it feels like a long time; it’s possible that it’s no time at all, because she’s having some trouble discerning when one moment ends and the next one begins, has been for at least a day now. Greg just sits with her, rubs her back and doesn’t let go, calm like he’s not fazed at all. When she quiets a little, he starts talking.

“So, here’s a story: the second case I worked as Detective Inspector--this was before Sherlock, mind, much more peaceful job back then, but that’s beside the point--there was this family, and their little girl drowned in their swimming pool. Heartbreaking, the whole business, both the parents just devastated, except...I was so keen, back then, and something about it didn’t feel right. So I kept pushing at it, asking questions, and it turned out that it was exactly as it appeared; she’d drowned in their swimming pool, no question. It was only that her father had held her under that we’d missed. I put it together in the end, but he shot himself before we got to the house. Got me down for weeks, that case--it was the look on the wife’s face more than anything else, I think, like everything she’d ever known was just...gone. I tried to go out with my mates that night and ended up locking myself in the toilets so they wouldn’t see me lose it. Sometimes it gets to everyone, jobs like ours. Just part of doing them, I think.”

“Did I just,” Molly says--her voice is shaky but she has, at least, stopped crying, and she should probably move away from Greg’s chest, but she can’t quite bring herself to just yet, “did I just get one of your rookie speeches?”

“Maybe,” Greg admits. His chin’s balanced on the top of her head, and he’s still rubbing her back, and Molly’s all for the friendship thing and the space thing, she really is, it was her idea, but this is...this is nice. “They don’t get to hear all of it, though--undermines your authority a bit, I’m told, crying in toilets.”

Molly laughs a little, because...well, because it’s funny and she can’t cry anymore, can’t do anything else. She pulls back, since it’s high time she did, and Greg smiles at her, uses two fingers to tilt her chin up.

“See,” he says, “look at that, it’s not all awful. You’ve blackmail on me forever now, I hope you use it wisely. D’you want some dinner? I’d send you straight to bed--I’m sure you’re done in--but, from experience, sleep can be a little hard to come by after this sort of thing.”

Molly doesn’t even have time to consider that before her stomach growls; she winces, pressing her hand to it. “Yeah, dinner’s probably....I don’t even remember the last time I ate, god.”

“Hmm,” Greg says, peering at her. “Well, in that case, I shall manfully resign myself to eating the curry I left for you and find you something a little milder, yeah? I can do tomato soup, or cheese on toast, or both, if you like.”

“Oh,” Molly says, worried suddenly that she’s overstepping her bounds, that she’s asking too much, “god, no, it’s okay, you don’t have to go to any trouble.”

Greg’s fingers are still under her chin; he smiles at her, reaches one thumb up to rub against her cheek. “Tell you what: let’s call it rent, how’s that? I’ll just be a minute, you can stay right here, or have a shower, if you like. Sometimes that helps shake me out of it; sometimes it doesn’t, but at least it’s one less thing to do, right?”

“I...yeah,” Molly says, “yeah, that’s. Greg, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet, you have no idea if I can even cook.”

“Hard to cock up cheese on toast,” she says, too tired to properly engage her brain-to-mouth filter, and Greg laughs as he stands up.

“Wise, wise words. Go on, have a shower, I’ll have it all sorted when you’re done.”

So Molly showers, and is surprised to find that it does help, a little. She can’t close her eyes against the spray without seeing the hospital, the mothers bawling in the hallway, the bodies on the slab, but there’s something to be said for washing away the scent of antiseptic. When she comes back out of the bathroom, wrapped up in an old, familiar pair of pyjamas and a hoodie she’s had since uni, there’s a bowl of soup waiting for her on the coffee table, and Greg’s coming into the room with a plate in his hand.

“Timed that well,” he says, “cheese on toast, fresh from the oven. You were right, it is fairly hard to cock up.”

“Told you,” she says indistinctly, suddenly so ravenous that she can’t bear it. She climbs over the back of the sofa like an absolute crazy person, doesn’t care how it must look, and when she swallows the first spoonful of soup, she makes a deep, satisfied noise from the back of her throat.

Greg laughs. “You know, if I’d known tomato soup from a can was going to be such a hit, I would’ve made it for you weeks ago. You want to watch a movie?”

Molly...doesn’t actually care, really, about anything but eating as much food as possible as quickly as possible. That said, she knows a leading question when she hears one, knows Greg’s steering her just as well as she knows that she, right now, could use some steering, and there’s no doubt in her mind that he knows what he’s doing. She nods, and he digs through her DVD collection until he’s unearthed To Kill a Mockingbird, scratching Atticus behind the ears as he puts it in.

“He hates that,” Molly reminds Greg, even as Atticus purrs and fails utterly to bite him. “Or he...did...”

“Nah, he’s just a hard nut to crack,” Greg says, hitting play and abandoning Atticus to sit next to Molly on the sofa. “We’ve had some quality time while you were away, though, haven’t we, Atticus?” Atticus gives Greg a considering look and then, true to form, stalks off to sulk in the toilet. For a second, Greg looks genuinely put out; then he laughs, shrugging it off. “Ah, well, you can’t win them all, I suppose.”

He stops talking after that, just puts his feet up on the table and his hands behind his head. Molly gets through about half of the soup and most of the cheese on toast before she feels herself drooping; a few minutes after that, she closes her eyes and more or less forgets how to open them again. She wakes up, a little, when she feels herself pitching to the left; she tries to jerk herself back to reality, because she’s done this so many times in the past few days that it seems like the only solution, but then Greg’s hands are on her shoulders again, easing her down.

“There you go,” he says, when her head is resting on his thigh, “you go ahead and hit that wall, it’s alright. You can sleep, it’s over.”

“Gonna,” Molly says, remembering through the fog that she’s just out of the shower, that she hadn’t bothered with the blowdrier, “hmm, your...leg, my hair’s all. Wet, because...yeah. Sorry.”

“I think my trousers will survive,” Greg says, “go ahead, I don’t mind,” and that’s the last thing Molly hears for awhile.

--

The next week, Greg finds a flat. It’s terrible, even smaller than Molly’s; there’s just a kitchen and a bedroom with a flimsy partition between them, a bathroom so small you can’t turn around without knocking an elbow against something, but it’s right on the Tube line he takes to work, and, of course, it’s his. He says that, the Might be small, but at least it’s mine, bit, so many times Molly starts teasing him about it, until she realizes he hasn’t lived on his own for basically his entire life.

“Oh, what,” he says, scowling, when she puts that together. “When was I going to do that, then? Ellie and I moved in together straight-away, and then we were married, and then, y’know, you’re more than up to date on the last few months.”

“I just can’t imagine it,” she admits, because they’re long past pretense at this point. “I’ve been living on my own since...well, since uni, really, I always ended up with roommates who lived at their boyfriend’s places before the year was up. Didn’t you want to?”

“What, live alone? Not really, no. Or, I mean, I suppose I did, but only sometimes, and it just didn’t seem like it was in the cards. I mean, I assumed I was going to be married for...for the rest of my life, honestly. Til death do us part, and all that.”

“Sorry,” Molly says quietly, because Greg’s got the face on again, the miserable, twisted-up one. “Shouldn’t have brought it up.”

He smiles at her, a little pained, mostly honest. “Hey, no. It’s alright--it’s going to come up. Part of living it, I guess. You like the flat, though?”

Molly doesn’t; Molly is pretty sure that there are rats in the flat, actually, and she wants better for Greg, and she’s also...maybe gotten a little used to having him around. But she can’t very well say, No, I hate it, I think it’s beneath you and also you should feel free to live on my sofa forever, I think that would be best for everyone involved. More importantly, he seems proud of himself, honestly pleased, and she’d meant it when she said he should have the chance to get divorced, so she smiles.

“It’s lovely,” she says, and he beams at her while she tries to ignore the sinking sensation in her stomach.

--

Greg spends three more nights on Molly’s sofa while he sorts through signing a lease, figuring out when he can go pick up the rest of his things from what is, now, unofficially his wife’s house. Molly wants to make the most of them, but she’s drawn the short straw and caught night shifts, so they mostly pass each other on their ways in or out the door, at cross purposes. Things have been different between them, looser and more honest, since the conversation at the bar, even more so since Molly’s mild emotional breakdown, and Greg emails her at work while he packs.

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: socks under the radiator

yours or mine?

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: socks under the radiator

Yours, which you knew already, because our feet are radically different sizes and my socks are all MUCH less black and boring than yours. Why are you awake at 2 AM?

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Re: socks under the radiator

can’t sleep

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: socks under the radiator

Is this about going to pick up your things? Because I’ve told you ten times, I’ll come with you, or John will, or we both will. You could make Scotland Yard do it, come to that, so long as you kept it quiet. Send Anderson to deal with it! He’s your sniffer dog, y/y?

Seriously, it doesn’t have to be whatever horrible confrontation you’re picturing. You never did tell me what happened last time.

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: socks under the radiator

last time someone else was there.

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: socks under the radiator

...okay, yeah, I can see how that would be awful. Tell you what: we can ‘case the joint’ beforehand, get breakfast after. My schedule jumps back tomorrow, so it can be a Saturday morning adventure! Or something. I do actually have work to do, though--try to get some sleep?

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: socks under the radiator

yeah, alright. in defense of law enforcement officials everywhere, we do not actually say ‘case the joint,’ what movies have you been watching?

thanks, mols.

-

She gets home an hour earlier than expected the next morning, a schedule mixup that has, for once, worked in her favor, and she lets herself into the flat as quietly as possible, afraid of waking Greg. The sofa’s abandoned, though, and there’s steam coming out from under the bathroom door, so she sets her handbag down and goes about feeding Atticus. She’s tired, looking forward to a nap, if not a full lie-in--resetting her sleep schedule is never pleasant, but at least she knows how it works--and she’s putting the cat food away when she hears a deep baritone voice break into song.

Molly stands stock-still for a second and then has to put both hands over her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud. Greg’s in the shower, and he’s singing Baby, One More Time, and that’s just...god, it’s probably just that she’s exhausted, but there has never been anything funnier than that in the history of time. Even that video of Sherlock fighting a sedative, which Greg had shown her the day after the business with the meningitis (“You must never tell anyone this exists,” he’d told her solemnly, pulling it up on his phone, “it’s the ultimate morale booster, I’m saving it in case there’s ever an actual zombie apocalypse,”) doesn’t compete with this, and Molly can’t even bring herself to move, because she’s afraid the threatening giggling fit will engulf her if she does.

Of course, then the water cuts off, and so does his voice, and Molly realizes too late that she’s going to get caught listening like the creepiest roommate of all time. She makes a frantic dash for her bedroom, but Atticus is in the way; she trips over him, yelps involuntarily and only just manages to catch herself on the sofa. This is why, two seconds later, Greg walks out of the bathroom humming, with a towel round his waist, to find Molly sprawled across half the living room, her face pressed into the armrest.

“Oh, god,” Molly says, and damn her stupid voice and the stupid laugh she can’t quite keep out of it, “sorry, sorry, I--oh, I’m sorry, I got off early, you. Um. I tried to...well. Hello!”

Greg opens his mouth, shuts it again, visibly thinks back on the last few minutes, and stares at her. He looks like he’s trying to decide whether to be embarrassed or not, and Molly can’t actually offer him any guidance; his dripping, bare chest isn’t much of a help towards keeping her focused, and she’s biting the inside of her cheek to keep the laughter at bay.

After a second, Greg smiles, shrugs, and reaches over her to grab the clothes he’s left sitting on the coffee table. Then, to her amazement, does a flourishing little bow, winking at her when he straightens up.

“And good morning to you, Ms. Hooper,” he says, before sauntering back into the bathroom and shutting the door. Molly, for her part, stands up, brushes herself off, and makes it all the way to her bedroom before she gives in, laughs so hard she cries.

--

“Before you ask,” Greg tells her the next morning from the driver’s seat of his police car, “there is a perfectly good reason for the Britney Spears.”

“I wasn’t going to ask,” Molly says, which is a lie. They’re on their way to Greg’s old house, using his police car because they’re hardly going to manage moving him out with a taxi, and Molly was just waiting for an opportune moment. It’s possible that, as the person in charge of controlling what music on her iPod’s playing as they drive, she was planning on engineering an opportune moment, but that seems unnecessary now. “But, if you’re offering, I was curious, I’ll admit.”

Greg gives her a sidelong look that says he’s having none of it, but then he groans, good-natured, and shakes his head. “There was this case, alright? Right when that song was big, and I got stuck working the audio surveillance for this nightclub. As it turns out, some things just stick with you.”

“Sure they do,” Molly says, “totally understandable, completely natural to be singing it in the shower over a decade later--”

“Oh, come off it.” He’s teasing, not seriously put off, and Molly grins down at her iPod, doesn’t risk looking at him. “I also happen to enjoy the song, I won’t be shamed for that.”

“You are the very pinnacle of manhood, I want you to know that.”

“Truer words,” Greg says, very sage, and then dissolves into laughter. “Christ, you’re impossible.”

“Mmm,” Molly agrees, “well, you know how it is. Spent a year in love with a complete tosser, dated a pyschopath, now my best friend’s a closet Britney Spears enthusiast; a girl’s got to keep up somehow.”

“Is that what I am?”

“A closet Britney Spears enthusiast? Yes, apparently, though I suppose you’d know better than I would. I’d be willing to hear you argue a defense.”

“No,” Greg says. They pull up to a stoplight and he turns to look at her, suddenly so serious that it’s almost frightening, his whole heart in his eyes. “No, I meant, your--you said--your best friend. Is that what I am?”

And it’s silly, it’s so stupid, but it’s all Molly can do to keep herself leaning across the car and kissing him. The idea that, after all this, he doesn’t know that is just...well, it’s bloody heartbreaking is what it is, and agonizing besides. Greg’s been living on her sofa for a month, knows her better than anyone, is the first person she wants to talk to in the morning and the last person she wants to see at night, and she’d assumed that it was just obvious, the way she felt. In fact, she’d known it was obvious, still knows that, they’ve talked about it, and she narrows her eyes at Greg, jabs him lightly in the shoulder.

“Of course you are,” she says, “don’t be completely thick. I’m helping you move, aren’t I? And, you know, there’s that saying--friends help you move, real friends help you move bodies--but, me being who I am, I think that goes the other way ‘round.”

“Right,” Greg says, blinking at her, “that’s...good, right. Okay. Great.”

They don’t talk for the rest of the drive, which Molly’s not going to bother with worrying about; Greg’s alternating between a sort of stunned, pleased expression and the sick, twisted one he always gets when he thinks about the divorce. He’s not hard to read, never has been, and she knows he tends towards needing time to sort through his thoughts, so she leaves him be. They make quick work of the house--Eliana’s a lovely woman, Molly’s sure, though that doesn’t stop the two of them from circling each other like mad dogs while Greg walks from room to room throwing things in boxes--and by the time they get back in the car, he looks like he’s balancing on the knife-edge of despair.

“Right,” Molly says, after a few minutes. “So, Baby, One More Time, that would’ve been--1999, yeah?”

“What?” Greg sounds like he’s talking through water; he shakes himself, tries again. “Oh. Yeah, I think so. Why?”

“Curiosity,” Molly says idly. She pulls her iPod out of her bag and starts flipping through, thinking about being 15, the singles she’d played on endless repeat with her Walkman between classes. It’s not hard to figure out which of those would’ve been playing in clubs around that time--Black Balloon is obviously out, and Unpretty’s a toss-up, but not one she wants to risk--and after a few minutes, she’s got it all figured out.

She plugs the iPod into the connector cable, fiddles with the setup for a second, and then Mambo No. 5 starts playing, the sound of it filling the car.

“You’re not serious,” Greg says, looking at her sidelong. “You can’t possibly think--”

“I don’t think anything, I’m just in the mood for some Lou Bega,” Molly saying, pitching her voice into a register that at least vaguely resembles innocence. When he continues to scowl at her, she starts singing along.

It takes a minute, but only just, before Greg cracks a hint of a smile. A few seconds later he’s grinning properly, joining in, belting out A little bit of Sandra in the sun like his life depends on it; by the time the song’s over they’re both nearly crying with laughter, Greg still trying to vocalize the trumpet line and Molly reaching over to hold the wheel so they don’t run off the road.

“You’re mine too,” Greg says, when he’s got his breath back. “My best friend, I mean. Christ, you’re the best friend I’ve ever had.”

He moves out the next day, properly moves out, takes his things and settles them in to that terrible, terrible flat, and it should hurt, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t, because Greg grins at her over the top of the last box and asks her inside, eats pizza standing over the counter with her, and then hands her a key, informing her in no uncertain terms that it wouldn’t feel like home if she didn’t have one. Molly stares at it, glinting silver against her palm, and thinks The best friend I’ve ever had like a mantra, like a siren song. She feels full-up, wants nothing more for him, for herself, than happiness, has never been more sure that that’s what she’s heading for.

She smiles. She hugs him, and he picks her up and spins her around, and god help her, it doesn’t hurt at all.

--

A week later, Jim Moriarty takes the crown jewels for a joyride. That’s when things start to go a little wrong.

--

“How the bloody fuck did he do it?” Greg demands, the fifteenth time in as many minutes, slamming the door of Molly’s refrigerator to punctuate the point. There’s a muscle in his jaw working, another one twitching just beneath his eye. It’s been three weeks since Jim’s arrest, two since the press started whispering about the inevitable trial of the century, and the pressure of the unsolved case is starting to get to him. Scotland Yard knows that Jim did it, of course, they just don’t have any idea how, and since Greg had been first responder, it’s his case.

“I don’t know,” Molly says, and waits for the inevitable--

“It’s not even our division!” Ah, there it is. “Which, I mean, obviously I’m glad to have it anyway, there’s no one who wants that maniac behind bars more than me--well, no one on the force, anyway.”

Molly raises her beer--it’s not what she’d like to be drinking, but then again, her main beverage requirement for the last three weeks has, for all intents and purposes, been alcoholic--in a vague toast. “Ta.”

“Ugh,” Greg says, collapsing back down into his chair, taking a long pull from the beer he’s just unearthed. “I’m sorry, I really am, I just--well, first of all, if I have to do another press conference I’m going to feed Anderson to wolves or something as a bloody tension release, and I’ve got the higher-ups breathing down my neck, and meanwhile I’ve twenty different tech analysts who swear up, down and backwards that it can’t be done and Sherlock being exactly no help at all, Mols, I swear, I swear I’m going to lose it and...and hold his head in a toilet or something one of these days. He acts like I’m hilarious when I go round to Baker Street, like it’s so obvious, like I’m thick--”

Molly sighs and leans across the table, pulling his bottle a little out of his reach. It’s his sixth one, and she understands, she really does, but she’s found it’s best to stop him before he goes too far down this particular road. “You’re not thick, Greg.”

“Well, I feel thick,” Greg says. “I really, you know what, I really did not picture my life being a runaround between two bloody lunatics.”

“That makes two of us,” Molly says, sighing, and Greg stops rubbing his forehead long enough to give her a concerned look. “Oh, don’t. I’m fine, he’s in prison, it’s fine.”

“Are you sure? Because we don’t have to talk about it, if it’s going to...you know. Draw it up for you.”

“Oh, yes, by all means let’s move on to any of the numerous other topics occupying either of our minds at present. Go on, pick one of them, I’m sure there are multitudes. I’ll wait.”

Greg makes a face that’s somewhere between a scowl and a laugh. After a second, with false brightness, he offers, “Lovely weather we’re having, isn’t it?”

“Tosser,” Molly says fondly. “It’s alright; I’m not planning on falling to pieces every time his name is mentioned, it’s not like he’s Voldemort.”

“No,” Greg warns her, “no, hey, don’t you dare, the whole benefit of not having kids was having absolutely zero Harry Potter references to suffer through--”

“Good reasoning, that, very mature.”

“You’re really alright?” And that’s a serious question, damn him, no humor behind it at all; Molly swallows hard, looks away. “Because, well. I wouldn’t be, I don’t think.”

“You’re already not.”

“Yeah,” Greg says, “that’s how I know.”

“Ugh, fine,” Molly says, “I’m...maybe not sleeping great, but it’s fine. I’m handling it, you know? I’ve bumped up my sessions with Dr. Finchley because that seemed like, I don’t know, the rational option, and I’m still carrying the taser--”

“Which I obviously have no knowledge of as an officer of the law--”

“Which you obviously have no knowledge of as an officer of the law,” Molly agrees, smiling at him. “I’ll swear it to my grave, don’t worry.”

“Don’t stop carrying it, though.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Alright, then,” Greg says, and punches out a heavy sigh. “D’you want to...I don’t know, go out or watch telly or send me back from whence I came, then? Something other than beating our heads against the same brick wall?”

“My head’s not beating against anything, actually,” Molly says, because it’s not. She’s...not happy about Jim resurfacing, obviously, but in some ways it’s a relief. She’d felt guilty about that, wondered if it meant there was something in her desperate for the drama of it, until Dr. Finchley had pointed out that it was probably something of a comfort, knowing exactly where he was. “That’s your head, mine’s entirely fine. Thus, I give you full rights to decide on the rest of the evening’s agenda, though if you make me go anywhere that involves changing my clothes, I will kill you.”

They go for a walk, in the end, stop for gelato at a little shop a few streets up from Molly’s flat. It’s a nice night, a bit chilly, and Molly’s always liked London in the spring; they take their treats out of the shop with them, wind up settling down on the front steps of a building that looks long abandoned.

“Hey,” Greg says after awhile, knocking their shoulders together a little. “I have to talk to you about something.”

“Okay,” Molly says easily. “If you want some of my stracciatella, though, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I told you not to order the caramel.”

“No, your ice cream is safe from me. It’s just--well, there’s word that they’re going to call Sherlock as an expert witness at the Moriarty trial.”

“Hmm,” says Molly. “Pity for the barrister.”

“Yeah, no kidding, but--Molly.” Greg stops, lowers his cone, and sighs. “Your name’s in Moriarty’s file, you know that, yeah? And Sherlock’s really only spent a couple of minutes with him, in the grand scheme, so there’s a chance--look, I don’t think they will, but there’s a chance they’ll call you up. To testify, I mean. I just wanted to make sure you had ample warning.”

“Oh,” Molly says.

She’s aware--hideously, achingly aware--of how frightened she sounds in that moment. It’s just...she hadn’t considered that as a possibility, and, of course, it is one; there’s the chance she’ll be called, even if it’s not a high chance. There’s a chance she’ll be called, and she’ll have to sit across from him in that courtroom, like it isn’t trying enough that his picture is plastered over the front page of every newspaper, is running on every television, leaving her jumpy and unable to focus whenever she sees it. It’s like he’s watching her, like his eyes are following her across the city, and while she knows they’re not--while she’s beginning to know that they never really were, that she was a game, a distraction, a tool tossed aside and quite literally nothing more--it’s still genuinely unsettling, still leaves her dreaming of his strange accent and incongruous hands.

“Oh, Molly,” Greg says, “hey, no, right here, with me. Sorry, I didn’t mean to--and honestly, I really, really don’t think they’re going to call you, pretty sure they’re only calling Sherlock because of the press. It’s open and shut, that part of it, we caught him literally red-handed. I just wanted--well. Back, before, the first time, you always...you always wanted to know, so I just figured. Y’know. That I’d tell you.”

“No, thank you,” she says, and means it. “It’s--you don’t have to apologize, I’m sorry, just, well. Gut reaction, I suppose? I know it’s silly to be frightened of him, he’s in prison, it’s a long time over--”

“It’s not silly,” Greg says. He reaches down with his free hand, twines his fingers with hers, squeezes once. “Hell, I think the whole of London is frightened of Jim Moriarty right now, and they’ve every right to be. The man is bloody terrifying, even for those of us who’ve never had the misfortune to go out with him.”

Molly lets herself sigh, lets her shoulders sag, just a little; it’s a moment of weakness, but it’s Greg, so that’s alright. “D’you ever--do you ever wonder if there’s something, I don’t know, wrong with me? That draws me to these, these....crazy people?”

“Well, first of all, I resent the implication that I am crazy,” Greg says. “I pride myself on being deeply and steadfastly sane--”

“Do you, now--”

And,” Greg says, the hint of a smile on his lips fading into a more serious expression, “no, Molly, of course I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you. I think Jim played you for fun, because he’s a psychopath but, obviously, also a genius, and what happened with Sherlock hardly counts.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because it happened to all of us,” Greg says, sounding honestly surprised. “I mean, maybe it wasn’t, you know, romantic for everyone--but me, you, John, hell, even Sally. Sherlock’s not...Sherlock’s not like anyone else, and it’s obvious right away, and of course he’s a complete prat, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I think it’d be impossible to know him without having some kind of reaction, that’s just--that’s just what Sherlock does to people. God knows I give him more leeway than I should.”

“I...oh.”

“Oh my god,” Greg says, staring at her. “Mols. Had you honestly--did you not know that? How could....but then, I guess you don’t see him at crime scenes, really, so you wouldn’t...Christ, okay. Look: I’ve never seen anyone, anyone, so much as meet Sherlock Holmes without looking like their whole world’s been upended after. Even when he’s shamming at being someone else he does that. He’s a natural anomaly--god, have you thought there was something off about you all this time?”

“There is something off about me,” Molly points out, lightly enough, and Greg rolls his eyes.

“No,” he says, “there are about a hundred things off about you, the morbid streak being both deeply hilarious and top of the list, but--Molly. Come on. You’re far, far too clever to keep seeing this business with Sherlock and Jim as anything but what it was: a coincidence. You’re not damaged, alright? You just got a bit unlucky, is all.”

Molly doesn’t say anything, because she’s not sure she can. She’s honestly never thought about it that way before, and the hard grain of truth behind it is both insanely comforting and impossible to ignore. Greg squeezes her hand again, smiling at her, and Molly puts her head on his shoulder because she can’t see any argument against it.

“You still can’t have any of my stracciatella,” she says, when she’s sure her voice will be even.

Greg’s laugh is more felt than seen, but real enough all the same. “Ah, well. You win some, you lose some. Imagine I’ll live, all the same.”

--

Jim goes free. Molly finds out via text message (“Fuck, fuck, he was acquitted, must’ve rigged the jury, FUCK, lock your doors, I’ll be there as soon as I can be -G”) and spends the rest of the day huddled in her flat, afraid to so much as answer the phone. It’s ridiculous and self-indulgent and Greg brings dinner with him, holds vigil with her, ends up spending another week on her sofa. By the end of it, Molly’s not sure which of them has drawn more comfort from it; Greg’s haggard in a way she’s not accustomed to, frayed at the edges, and she knows he thinks this is his fault.

“There was nothing you could’ve done,” Molly says, remembering the night after the meningitis outbreak, and Greg snorts.

“That’s bollocks. There was absolutely something I could’ve done; I just couldn’t bloody figure out what.”

He sneaks her into a police firing range the next week and teaches her how to handle a gun; she tells him she’s perfectly happy with her taser, and he nods at her, jaw tightening. “I know you are, and I don’t want you to carry a gun, god forbid, there are things I can’t just, y’know, turn my back on, but. I, look, I’m not saying this to frighten you, it’s just a precaution, but--should you find yourself in a situation where there are guns involved, I want you to know what you’re doing, alright?”

“So that I don’t shoot myself by mistake?” she says, trying for a joke, and he just looks at her, the eyes of someone who’s seen far too many accidents.

And the thing is, Molly knows Jim Moriarty rather better than anyone--even Greg, much as he tries--really gives her credit for. She’s seen what he’s capable of, the level of deception to which he’ll sink even for what was, essentially, a lark; it won’t matter, not really, how much she knows if he decides to come for her. But it’s clear that Greg needs this, that this is how he’s dealing with it, and that’s sweet, in its way. She lets him teach her, lets him show her how to work the safety and the right way to plant her feet, and he’s easier after that.

She’s not easier, though, not at all, not even a little. Dr. Finchley bumps up their sessions again, so they’re meeting twice a week, and prescribes her with a sleep aid when she finally admits that she’s barely able to catch any rest. Molly fills the scrip but can’t bring herself to take the pills, and she finds herself on Imperial’s admissions website late one Thursday night, turning an idea over in her mind.

“I’m thinking about going back to school,” she tells Greg over dinner the next week. “I--you know that, right? That I was at Imperial for a medical degree, before?”

“I...didn’t,” he says. “I can’t believe I didn’t, but I didn’t--Molly, that’s great, I think you should! Pathology, then?”

Molly wants to kiss him for not saying the word ‘pediatrics.’ Molly wants to kiss him for smiling at her, proud, across the table. Molly wants to kiss him for ordering a celebratory bottle of wine, and Molly wants to kiss him for the way he keeps his eyes on the door so she doesn’t have to, and Molly wants to kiss him for a hundred, a thousand reasons. His divorce is going through properly, and it’s messy and it’s wrenching but it’s not killing him the way she expected it to, and Molly thinks, Maybe. Molly thinks, Soon.

--

Two months after Jim walks, Molly flicks the lights out in the lab and pulls the door shut behind her. She’s going to meet Greg for lunch--something about some puzzler of a case and needing a break, she’d not actually read the whole email, because at least half of it was swearing about Sherlock sending some poor schoolmarm into a hyperventilating fit. Still, she’d seen enough to confirm time and place, and she’s on her way down the hall when she’s waylaid by Sherlock and John.

“Molly!” Sherlock says, and that’s the dangerous, heady, I’m atypically indulging in basic pleasantries because I want something from you voice. Molly’s long since gotten a handle on her feelings for Sherlock, but she’s aware that they’re not always within her control; she attempts, probably in vain, to rally a defense.

“Oh, hello! I’m just going out--”

“No you’re not.”

“I’ve got a lunch date,” Molly says, irritated, and Sherlock actually rolls his eyes at her, so quickly that she nearly misses it.

“Cancel it, you’re having lunch with me.”

What?” Molly says, because that’s hideously presumptuous and entirely unlike him and something she’d once spent nearly a year wishing he would say and what, and he pulls two packets of crisps out of his pockets, which doesn’t really help with the surreality of it all.

“Need your help,” Sherlock says, and the world rights itself. Then he adds, “It's one of your old boyfriends, we're trying to track him down, he's been a bit naughty,” and everything goes wrong all over again.

“It’s Moriarty?” John says, and Molly wants to smack him, could say “Of course it’s Moriarty,” right along with Sherlock, because, honestly, of course it’s Moriarty. She’s been waiting for this for months, and so has Greg, and Sherlock, she suspects, always is; the idea that John’s not been jumping at every noise is, actually, more than a little annoying.

As, of course, is the phrasing; Molly’s not normally one for splitting hairs, but in this particular case, it matters rather more than she’d like to admit. “Jim actually wasn’t even my boyfriend. We went on three dates; I ended it.”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, “and then he stole the crown jewels, broke in the Bank of England and organzed a prison break at Pentonville. For the sake of law and order, I suggest you avoid all future attempts at a relationship, Molly.”

And Molly...Molly sees red, just for a moment. Molly has never wanted to say Go fuck yourself, more in her entire life; Molly would very much like to throttle Sherlock, actually, for being such an insensitive, arrogant, unrepentant dick. There was a time, not so long ago, where that sentence would have crushed her--literally, actually crushed her, left her in pieces of self-doubt finally confirmed--and she is so angry that she can barely breathe. Who the fuck does this man think he is, exactly, treating her like this?

Except she knows who he thinks he is. He’s Sherlock Holmes, and he doesn’t see the world the way everyone else does; he’s Sherlock Holmes, and he’s cleverer than anyone; he’s Sherlock Holmes, and he’ll never be anyone but Sherlock Holmes, and that’s alright. She doesn’t need him to be someone else, someone kind and understanding, someone who’ll know her inside and out without having to ask--she has that person, now, knows the difference between the fantasy of it and the reality. And the difference, as it turns out, is quality--what she’d really wanted is as clear to her now as the fact that she’s got to do anything she can to get rid of Jim Moriarty, and she sighs, nods her head.

“I’ve just got to make a quick call,” she says, “I’ll meet you,” and John nods at her even though Sherlock doesn’t bother.

“Please tell me you’re calling with good news,” Greg picks up, not bothering with a hello. “Something like, I don’t know, it’s raining diamonds from the sky, or the zombie apocalypse has come at last.”

“Looking for an excuse to show your staff that video, then?”

“You’ve got no idea.”

“I’ve got some idea,” Molly says, looking over her shoulder to the closed lab doors. “He’s here, and in rare form, I might add. He thinks it’s Moriarty, though, whatever it is--he needs me to stay, I’m going to have to cancel lunch.”

“Ugh,” Greg says. “I mean, on the one hand, that’s great, because I don’t really have the time to get away in any case and hopefully he’ll figure it out, but....ugh.”

“Rain check?”

“Always,” Greg says. He sounds exhausted; Molly hates it. “I’d say dinner, but I’ve no idea where we’ll be in this case at that point.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Molly says. “Keep your chin up, yeah?”

“You too,” Greg says. “You more than me, actually, you’ve him to deal with.”

“Better me than you,” Molly says, and is surprised to find she actually means it. There’s a pause; when Greg speaks again, his voice is thick with an emotion Molly can’t identify.

“That’s...I....better someone else than either of us, I suppose.” He coughs, clears his throat. “Alright, well. Call if you need backup.”

“Obviously,” Molly says, “bye,” and she steels herself for battle, walks back through the lab doors.

The next few hours are...distressing. It takes Molly awhile to figure out why; when she puts a finger on what’s bothering her, she has to excuse herself and spend a minute in the toilet, because, god, she recognizes the way Sherlock’s acting. She recognizes the way Sherlock’s acting from her father’s last six months, and circumstances being what they are, Moriarty being who he is, that’s terrifying. Not really any of her business, of course, but...but then again, there’s the very good chance that it’s not anyone else’s, either.

“What do you mean, IOU?” Molly says, back in the lab. Sherlock has called her John twelve times in the last three hours; she’s not going to be bothered about it. “You said IOU, you were muttering it while you were working.”

“Nothing,” he says, “mental note,” and Molly gathers her reserves and acts.

“You’re a bit like my dad,” she says. “He’s dead. No, sorry--”

“Molly, please don't feel the need to make conversation, it's really not your area,” says Sherlock--Sherlock Holmes says that, which is just. Molly would laugh, honestly, if she wasn’t so worried, because god knows it’s more her area than his.

She presses on, though, because this is important. "When he was dying, he was always cheerful, he was lovely, except when he thought no one could see. I saw him once, he looked…sad."

“Molly--” Sherlock says, clearly bored, but Molly doesn’t care--Molly doesn’t have time to care, not if what she thinks is happening is really going on.

"You look sad. When you think he can't see you." And there it is, the honest shock on Sherlock’s face when he turns to look at her; it’s confirmation enough, and Molly feels her heart drop out of her chest. "Are you okay? And don't just say you are, because I know what that means, looking sad when you think no one can see you."

“You can see me.”

“I don’t count.” It’s the single most painful thing she’s ever said, because it’s, god help her, it’s true. In the world as Sherlock sees it, she doesn’t count, and in the world as she sees it, he was once an integral focal point. He’s not anymore, of course, hasn’t been in some time, but he’s still a permanent fixture, someone around whom her life operates. So this is the peak of it, then, somehow simultaneously the most humiliating and the most freeing moment of her life--she doesn’t count, and she’s never counted, and she knows it well enough to admit it aloud.

He just looks at her--again, confirmation enough--and Molly refocuses, remembers that this is Moriarty they’ll dealing with, that there are things that matter far more than her own embarrassment.

"What I'm trying to say is, if there's anything I can do, anything you need, anything at all, you can have me.” No, wait, that’s not what she means at all, and she self-corrects, even though she knows he won’t take it that way. “No, I just mean. I mean, if there's anything you need…it's fine."

“Wh--” Sherlock stumbles on the word, which is so unusual that it’s nearly breathtaking. And then, of course, he finishes up with, “What could I need from you?” which is just, really, the end of enough.

“Nothing,” Molly says, having reached the end of her rope. “I dunno. You could probably say thank you, actually.”

“Thank...you?” Sherlock says, like he’s never said it before. Maybe he hasn’t; that wouldn’t really surprise her.

"I'm just gonna go and get some crisps, d'you want anything?” She stops a second after she says that and reconsiders; yeah, on second though, she definitely does not want to get anything for Sherlock right at this moment. “It's okay, I know you don't."

“Well, actually, maybe I--”

“I know you don’t,” Molly says, and if she has a panic attack in the Bart’s toilets for the second time in her life, well, it’s not like anyone has to know about it.

--

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: can’t do dinner

can’t even leave the office, even odds amongst the lads that i’m getting fired, not that they know i know about the pool. john watson has punched chief superintendent, he and sherlock on the run from justice. not for punching. thinking worst day of my career? can’t go into it, but if you see either of them, call me

-

From: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
To: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
Subject: Re: can’t do dinner

Okay, not nearly enough information. Are you hurt??

-

From: g.lestrade@scotlandyard.gov.uk
To: molly.hooper@nhs.uk
Subject: Re: Re: can’t do dinner

only my dignity & my reputation as an officer. christ, it’s been a bad day.

--

Molly closes up the morgue an hour early, schedule be damned. She’s going to go down to Scotland Yard and make sure Greg’s not bleeding from the head or standing on a ledge or something, it’d taken him far too long to answer that last email, and she flicks off the light and walks through the lab, trying to decide if the Tube or a cab will get her there faster.

“You’re wrong, you know,” a voice says out of the darkness. Molly jumps and gasps and reaches for her taser all in one breath, but it’s only Sherlock. That’s a relief for a second, until she remembers that he’s on the run from justice, and she freezes, nervous all over again. “You do count. You’ve always counted, and I’ve always trusted you. But you were right. I’m not okay.”

“Tell me what’s wrong,” Molly says, instinctive, automatic. Whatever’s going on here--whatever’s happened to Greg, whatever Jim’s done this time, whatever’s making Sherlock walk around like there’s a gun to his head--she can’t figure out how to deal with it without more information.

“Molly,” Sherlock says, “I think I’m going to die.”

Obvious, Molly thinks. She doesn’t say it, because she’s not Sherlock, hasn’t ever been Sherlock, but she thinks it all the same. “What do you need?”

And then...there’s an expression on Sherlock’s face that she’s never seen before, not on his face, not on anyone’s face. It’s worse that resignation, worse than fear, worse than doubt--Sherlock looks like a caged animal, just for a second. Sherlock looks hunted, and Molly can’t think of anything worse than a predator that would make him, of all people, look like prey.

“"If I wasn't everything that you think I am--everything that I think I am,” he says, “would you still want to help me?"

“What do you need?”

He takes a step forward, then another, leans right up into her space, and Molly’s reminded forcibly of the day they met. Now would be a good time to say 'I'm not a maniac,' she’d said, and she hadn’t known at the time how prophetic that was, couldn’t possibly have had any idea. Because Sherlock Holmes is a maniac, if a more-or-less benevolent one; Jim Moriarty’s a maniac too, malignant like the cancer that’d killed her father, toxic like the botchulinum that’d felled Carl Powers. Molly’s very reality has been shaded over by maniacs, and she swallows hard, stands her ground, because she’s older now than she’s ever been, and she’s walked this road too often to waste any more time being frightened of it.

“You,” Sherlock says, and her life, as she knows it, is over.

--

She goes to the funeral, because it’s necessary. When she thinks back through the cloud of the past few days, thinks past the new world order of now to who she was before Sherlock asked for her help, it seems like the kind of thing she would have done. It’s a graveside service, a spectacle, because Sherlock has become a spectacle; there is a tight band of those who actually knew him up near the casket and a hoard of gawkers beyond it, elbowing each other for room. Molly watches Greg, watches John, instead of keeping an eye on the crowd--she knows that, of everyone here, they’re the most likely to slide to the white-hot anger borne of grief.

John doesn’t cry, but he doesn’t have to; tears might actually be a relief, from John, might be less horrible than the set to his shoulders, the expressionless void that’s replaced his face. Greg doesn’t cry, but it’s clear that he has done, at some point in the last few days--that hurts, the idea of Greg crying, the idea of Greg hurting, the idea of Greg alone, so Molly tries not to think about it. Mycroft Holmes, who Molly’d once overheard saying “Caring is not an advantage, Sherlock,” doesn’t cry, but then again, he wouldn’t.

Mrs. Hudson cries. It’s one of the few things Molly’s able to focus on beyond the fact that it’s not Sherlock’s body in the coffin, beyond what she’s going to have to do to Greg when this is over--Mrs. Hudson cries, and Molly hopes that she can grow up into that kind of woman, who weeps with stoic dignity, who’s not ashamed of herself at all. She stands at the edge of the grave and doesn’t bother wiping her face, and Molly hates what this has done to her, what this has done to all of them, even if it was the only option.

Molly, of course, doesn’t cry for Sherlock. When Greg reaches over and takes her hand during the Lord’s Prayer, she spares a few tears for herself.

After--which is a hard word for Molly, just now, since that’s the way the world looks, divided into before (gelato on the front steps of an old building and a sofa that still smells faintly of Greg’s cologne, long nights at Bart’s and drinks at the pub) and after (Sherlock pacing her living room, too tall to look like he belongs, scratching at the back of his head like a nervous tic while he drops four lives in her lap)--after, Molly has a moment of cowardice and tries to sneak away. She weaves through the crowd, all of them muttering under their breath, snatches of words slipping back to her: fraud and Brook and riddance, it doesn’t matter, not really. She knows what they mean, the same way she would’ve known Richard Brook was the liar without any help at all.

Molly knows what she’s doing, what she has to do. Public opinion is an exercise in idiocy. There is danger everywhere you look. The best disguises are rooted in truth, and Jim Moriarty will always be an actor. The things she wants will have to wait; there is blood in her hands, if not on them, and Molly’s going to be a doctor.

“Molly,” Greg calls, “hey, Mols, wait!” and Molly has never hated the truth more, not once, not in her whole life.

“Hey,” she says, turning around, his hand on her arm--will he notice, she wonders, if she stands and stares at him, memorizes his face? She knows it, of course, has for ages, but that’s with constant exposure; how long does she normally spend looking at him, how much can she get away with now? Maybe she could put it off another day and take a photograph, just the one, correct the error she’d made in thinking that could wait, another day wouldn’t hurt anything, a few more hours, just a little more--

--risk, Molly, a little more risk, and it’s his life as well as Sherlock’s, as well as John’s, as well as Mrs. Hudson’s, you are not a schoolgirl and this is not a game. You must do this. You must. You must.

“I’m glad I caught you,” Greg says. His hands are in his pockets and Molly is so in love with him that it is actually physically painful and it doesn’t matter, can’t matter, not now. “I’m sorry I’ve been so scarce the last few days, just, you know. Work’s a bit of a disaster. Are you doing alright?”

“I,” Molly says, and finds she can’t even begin to answer the question. Greg sighs.

“Yeah,” he says heavily. “Yeah, me too. Christ, what a mess. D’you want to...I don’t know. Get something to eat, then?”

“Greg, I can’t.”

“Okay,” he says, unfazed, “yeah, maybe food’s not the best--”

“No,” Molly says, “I mean I...I can’t. I can’t, I’m sorry, I can’t...I can’t see you anymore.”

Molly’s been running this conversation in her head for three days; Molly’s mapped out every way it could go. She’s worked through what to do if he gets angry, what to do if he doesn’t; she’s got contingency plans for everything he could possibly say, every angle she could work out. But she wasn’t expecting him to laugh, just a brief exhale through his nose, the slight quirk of his lips to something that’s almost a smile.

“Okay,” he says, “I’ll play--not quite sure I’m following, mind--”

“I’m not,” Molly says, “oh, god, I’m not...I’m not playing. I can’t see you anymore, Greg.”

Greg opens his mouth again, but then he looks at her, really looks at her, and shuts it. He stares, and Molly knows this is why she can’t let herself have this, why this isn’t an option. Greg knows her better than anyone, and Greg is far more clever than he gives himself credit for, and Greg would work it out, eventually. Hell, she’d probably tell him; she wants to tell him now, wants it like she’s never wanted anything before--but. But it’s not hers to tell, is it? She’d trust Gregory Lestrade with her life without a moment’s hesitation, would happily hand it to him and know he’d protect it, because that’s just the kind of person Greg is. She’d trust him with her life, with his own, but Sherlock...Sherlock wouldn’t. Sherlock trusted her, and there’s not even any victory in that, because it’s a burden, not a boon; Sherlock looked at every available path and chose to walk this one, and that means it was the only one safe to follow, the only one with a favorable outcome.

“Molly,” Greg says, and his voice is so gentle that it cracks something open inside her, leaves sores that she can’t imagine will ever heal. He puts his hand to her cheek and she could kill him, actually, for being so impossibly, unfathomably kind; she closes her eyes instead, because if she keeps them open she won’t manage it, and she has to. “Molly, is...is someone putting you up to this? Have you been threatened? Because, look, I know Moriarty’s got you scared out of your wits and I don’t blame you, but he’s--well, we haven’t found the body, but we think he’s dead, and even if--there are places we can put you, Mols, safehouses, it’ll be alright. Just tell me what’s happened and we’ll sort it out.”

So she’s going to have to hurt him, then. He’s the best person she’s ever known, and she’ll have to hurt him to make him believe her. That...shouldn’t be a surprise, should it. She should have seen that coming.

“You told me,” Molly says, opening her eyes, taking a step back. “In the bar that night, you told me--you said you didn’t want me to wait around, that if something better came along--”

“Are you seeing someone?” Greg says, almost laughing. “Is that what this is about? Because, Molly, Jesus, fine, I can live with that, I don’t love it but I don’t expect you to--”

“I’m quitting,” Molly says, cutting him off. “I’m quitting at Bart’s, and I’m going back to school--”

“Fine!” Greg says. Anger, now, just a hint of it; good, then. That’s good. “Fine! Great! I want you to do that, I told you that, I think it’s great, what--”

“This is just,” Molly says, “it’s too much, alright? I have to...I can’t....this whole thing, Sherlock dying, Moriarty, all of it, it’s just made it clearer, I can’t, I can’t live like this anymore, I can’t keep walking around tangled up in other people! It’s too much, and you and me is too much, and it’s all, you have to understand--”

“No,” Greg says, and yes, great, fantastic, there it is; he’s properly angry now, and Molly will feel guilty for the rest of her life, but not as guilty as she’ll feel about the hurt underneath. She’ll feel guilty, and he’ll live, so that’s--fine. “No, no, I don’t have to understand a bloody thing, I don’t understand it and I sure as hell don’t have to, it’s--so you’re just. Done, then? Done? Just like that?”

“I’m sorry,” she says, and she wants to whisper it but she doesn’t, keeps her voice even, steady, her face impassive, and Greg’s eyes narrow.

“No you’re not,” he says, “no, you’re not, look at you, you’re fine! You’re fine, and that’s--what, everything, all of it, was it just a game, then? Or a, a stop-gap, or a rebound, god--no. No, you know what, fine, that’s fine, that’s, you--it doesn’t matter what it was, does it, because you pulled me out of a tight spot so I don’t really, I can’t really argue, can I! So fine, then! Great. Have a fantastic bloody life, Molly Hooper, best of fucking luck, Jesus Christ.”

He turns and walks away, his shoulders squared, quick, jerking step that’ll be harsh, heavy ones in ten minutes; in an hour he’ll feel guilty for the way he spoke to her, and then he’ll remember what she said and be angry all over again. He’ll torture himself, because that’s what he does, what he’s always done, because he’s decent to the depths of his soul and she’d played it on purpose, and she bites the insides of both her cheeks, hard, and hails a cab.

She would cry, honestly, when she climbs inside; she wants to cry, and she’s obviously just been to a funeral, so it would be excusable to whoever was driving, assuming they noticed. She would cry, but she recognizes that mop of jet-black hair, and of course it’s him. Of course he couldn’t resist the temptation of his own funeral. Of course he itched, afterwards, to make himself known.

“For what it’s worth,” Sherlock says, pulling them out into traffic, “I am sorry, Molly.”

“Don’t speak to me,” Molly says. She sounds older, more tired, than she’s ever heard herself before. “Don’t speak to me, don’t look at me, and don’t contact me until it’s done, alright? It’s--I will do this for you, Sherlock, and for our friends, but don’t ask anything else from me. I’d like to be able to forgive you when this is over. I’d like to be able to let it go. Alright?”

There is a long silence; when Molly clears her throat, Sherlock coughs. “You told me not to speak.”

“I will take that as agreement,” Molly mutters, and presses her face against the window, surprised despite herself; some things don’t look different from the other side.

--

The first six months are the hardest.

Molly quits at Bart’s, gives her two weeks and then begs off after one of them; Stamford hugs her goodbye, tells her to keep in touch, but she won’t. She’s already sent the application off to Imperial, and she works a few of her connections within the field, calls up a few of her old tutors and waits. When she’s admitted for the next term, picking up where she left off, she buys herself a bottle of cheap Merlot and drinks it alone in her flat, doing her best not to think about the victory pub crawl Greg had talked about when she first mentioned going back. It’s what she wants, of course, to be a proper doctor with a proper degree, to have a morgue someday that’s really hers, but it’s a hollow win. Molly’s proud of herself, but no one else is--she hadn’t thought it through, how awful that would be, and it’s bloody wrenching, as it turns out.

She calls her mother, who says, “Oh, honey, when I said I wanted you to go back to school, I didn’t mean for more of this corpse business.” She calls her sister, who is silent for a whole minute and then invites Molly up to Guildford for the weekend, and Molly, god help her, goes.

“Am I here for an intervention?” she says, when she realizes that Tom and the children aren’t home. She’s never been in Flora’s house without the clatter of her family underfoot; it really is, Molly reflects, a lovely home, if not to her own tastes.

“Sort of,” Flora says, smiling at her. “It’s just--I’m thrilled about your going back to school, of course, I think that’s brilliant, please ignore everything Mum says about it, but you sounded...not good, on the phone. And when I tried to think through what might be bothering you, I realized....I realized I had no idea, because I don’t really know what’s going on in your life, do I? I think I’ve been rather a terrible sister, and I thought we could, I don’t know. Take the weekend, and maybe try to make it up.”

“What about,” Molly says, startled, “I...your family, and--”

Flora sighs, and the six years between them are visible on her face, just for a moment. “Tom’s taken the kids for a little holiday, they’ve gone to see his parents. And you’re...Mols, you’re my family too. That’s more or less my point.”

They get wildly drunk the first night on sangria Flora makes herself, watch old movies they’d loved as kids and talk about anything that comes to mind. They end up on the topic of their father, and Molly realizes that in the four years since he passed, she mostly hasn’t let herself think about him. It was too painful at first--she’d always been closer to him than to her mother, and Flora had always aligned the other way--and after that, with her family far away and her life in constant upheaval, there hadn’t really been time. She’s shocked by the way it doesn’t hurt, now; there’s still a twinge there, a loss, but it’s muted with how nice it is to remember him properly. Flora tells her about the night he’d met her first boyfriend, a story Molly’s never heard before that leaves them both in stiches, and when she falls asleep in the guest bedroom, she feels more whole than she has in ages.

On Saturday, Flora takes her on what is more or less a shopping tour of Guildford. Molly doesn’t buy much, because part of going back to school is accepting a more limited budget and everything’s wildly overpriced in any case, but she enjoys it all the same. It’s a lovely day, summer blooming wildly like it never does in the city, and she remembers Greg talking about how nice it is to get London out of your lungs.

Of course, then she remembers Greg, and everything comes crashing back. It must show on her face, because Flora stops in the middle of the street and says, “Alright, that’s it. Tell me what’s wrong, then. I promise I’ll actually listen.”

So Molly tells her. Not all of it, of course; she omits the bit about the death certificate drawn up under false pretenses, the secret she’s holding close to her chest, but it’s enough. She tells Flora about Sherlock, the months of pointless longing, the constant drone of humiliation, and she tells Flora about Jim and everything that happened after. Flora knows some of it--everyone knows some of it, Sherlock Holmes and Jim Moriarty, and she’s horrified (Carl Powers, in particular, throws her) and sympathetic, apologizes a hundred times for not being there while it was happening. Molly is glad, actually, for the communication rift that’s been between them; the dump of information feels like a confession for all it isn’t one, leaves something a little easier around her heart.

Then Molly tells her about Greg. That takes....rather a lot longer.

“Well,” Flora says, when she’s finished. It’s gone dark, and they’re sitting in Flora’s back garden, glasses of wine and an abandoned tray of lemon squares on the table between them. “I still wish you’d tell me what happened to end it--”

“I told you, I can’t--”

“But I respect that you’re not able to right now,” Flora finishes smoothly, smiling at her. After a minute, in a very different tone, she adds, “Tom and I were separated once, you know.”

What?” Molly says, because she hadn’t had any idea, and her sister’s marriage has always seemed--and been talked about by their mother as--idyllic. “You--what, really?”

Flora nods, eyes warm. “For about three months, right after Michael was born. I went through a rather rough patch of post-partum--not that either of us knew what it was, at the time--and he took a number of job interviews in other areas without mentioning it to me. I found out, we fought, I kicked him out, and things had been less than ideal for a few years in any case. We filed for separation a few days later.”

“I had no idea,” Molly says, blinking. “Jesus, Flora. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t tell anyone.” When Molly gives her an incredulous look, she sighs, flicks at a crumb with one perfectly manicured nail. Flora is an investment banker, has traded on perfection for as long as Molly can remember; the idea that she’d kept this under her hat is more or less unfathomable. “Oh, don’t look at me like that. You were at school, and it was just after we found out Dad was ill. I didn’t want to say anything until I was certain it was going to happen, didn’t want to bother anyone.”

“But you...I mean, you’re still together, unless I’ve missed something, so what...”

“Fixed it?” Flora sighs again, gives Molly a small smile. “Counselling, mostly. Time. The space was good for us, I think; we’d had what you might call a communication breakdown, and the distance gave us the chance to recognize that. When we realized neither one of us wanted to lose the other, things were easier.”

“God,” Molly says, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, it worked out in the end. I actually think we’re much happier than we would have been otherwise. I only told you because...well. You love Greg, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Molly whispers. It’s the first time she’s admitted it out loud, and it hurts; she reaches out and takes a long sip of her wine, hoping the darkness will hide the fact that her hand is trembling.

“And, obviously, he loves you,” Flora says, and holds up a hand when Molly opens her mouth. “No, don’t--whatever’s happened, and however the business with his ex did or didn’t resolve, he obviously loves you. So...it’ll work out, if it’s meant to. You don’t have to torture yourself about it.”

“You can’t know that.”

“Have a little faith in your big sister, will you?” Flora says, winking, and Molly can’t help the laughter that bubbles up out of her. She’s missed her sister for all they’re different, for all Molly’s never going to want a lawn that’s been featured on a magazine cover and Flora’s never going to want a morgue to call her own. She hadn’t realized she’d lost this until she found it again, and she reaches out, pours them both a little more wine, and lets the conversation drift somewhere else.

Tom and the children come back on Sunday morning. Michael is exactly the whirling ball of manic energy she remembers, climbing on a chair to launch himself at her with sticky hands, but Octavia’s older and far more collected than Molly remembers.

“Aunt Molly!” she says, hugging her round the waist. “I read all the books you sent me for Christmas, and they were the best stories. Mum said I should send you a thank you card but then I forget. I’m sorry! But I wanna be like Alanna when I grow up, even though I liked Jonathan better than George--”

“Hey, now,” Molly says, “I think there’s plenty of benefit to George.”

“Ugh. Boys are gross anyway,” Octavia says, wrinkling up her nose while her father laughs behind her. “But if boys were gonna be not gross, they should totally be kings--but anyway whatever, Alanna should’ve been Queen of Tortall--”

“She’ll go on all day if you let her,” Tom says, leaning over to kiss Molly on the cheek. “I mean, we’re thrilled that she’s reading anything, of course, but I swear it’s all she talks about.”

“It’s fine,” Molly says, eying her niece with curiosity. “Tell you what, Octavia--if it’s alright with your mum and dad, maybe you and me can go to the library this afternoon, what do you think? I can think of a few other books you might like--and there’s more Tortall books, you know.”

Really?” Octavia says, eyes rounding. “Mum, Mum, Mum, can I, can I go with Aunt Molly, pleaaaaaaase--”

“Of course, darling,” Flora says. She’s talking to her daughter, but she’s looking at Molly, eyes warm and thrilled, like something she’s wanted for ages has finally slotted into place.

Molly goes up to see them every few weeks, after that. It doesn’t fill the void that everything else has left, but the other void, the one Molly hadn’t even known was there--that one starts to knit itself closed again, inch by inch, moment by moment.

--

Time passes. Term starts, and Molly falls into her coursework, spends late nights pouring over her texts and rereading her lecture notes. She finds a study group that works for her, ends up going out for drinks with them some nights; there’s not one of them she’d call a best friend, but they’re her friends all the same, and she enjoys spending time with them even if she doesn’t rely on their company. She gets bored, sometimes, because for all she’s busy it’s not....she’d gotten used to the rush of being tangled up with murder investigations, to the surprise of finding Sherlock raiding the morgue for entrails, and normalcy doesn’t quite compete. It’s alright, though, certainly livable, and she’s managing well, getting through the days.

Sometimes it’s awful. She sobs on Greg’s 40th birthday, thrown across the sofa like some kind of Victorian heroine, and feels ridiculous afterward; she finds herself picking things up in shops that she thinks he’d like, only to remember all over again that she has no way of getting them to him. Often--more often than she’d like--she imagines conversations with him, thinks about what he’d say. She wonders desperately about his life, and tries not to. It’s not like it’s helping anyone.

It goes on, though, her life. People, Molly realizes eventually, are complicated, but life is very simple: you just keep living it. It’s what people do.

It’s been nearly a year when there’s a knock at Molly’s door; Molly knows she’s not expecting anyone, so she grabs the taser out of her bag for all it’s three in the afternoon, old habits being what they are. She pulls the door open cautiously, the weapon hidden behind her back, and then drops both hands to her side in surprise when she’s greeted by Mrs. Hudson.

“Hello, dear,” Mrs. Hudson says, beaming down at the taser. “So glad to see that’s gone to good use, I did hope it would. May I come in?”

“I,” Molly says, “you--what?”

“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Hudson says, “bit of a shock, I expect, that’s alright, but let’s be shocked inside, I think that’d be better, don’t you? Maybe even shocked with some tea, I’d love a cuppa--oh, what a lovely flat, and a cat! I do like cats, don’t you? Can’t have one, of course, haven’t the patience, but they are lovely creatures. And I love the curtains, did you do those yourself? So many young people these days who haven’t a whit of respect for proper decoration, it really is appalling--oh, look, tea, how wonderful.”

Molly blinks; somehow, Mrs. Hudson is sitting at her kitchen table, a cup of tea Molly apparently...made her...in her hands. How did she manage that, exactly?

“Don’t look so surprised, dear, it’s alright,” Mrs. Hudson says. “Been a while since you’ve entertained, then?”

“I...yes,” Molly says, “but--oh, Mrs. H, it’s lovely to see you but...but you can’t--”

“Alright, love,” Mrs. Hudson says, putting her cup down. “Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? I’m no stranger to secrets--even before Sherlock and John, poor dear. Lived a long, long life, me, and I know the signs when I see them.”

“Mrs. Hudson--”

“And I got to thinking,” she continues, balancing her chin on her hand and looking at Molly with eyes that have, yes, clearly seen just about everything, “something about this whole business isn’t quite right, is it? I don’t have any idea what, mind, wouldn’t want to--best not to know most times, I’ve discovered--but I haven’t seen you in such a long time, Molly, dear, and at my time of life you can’t just let people fall away. So I thought I’d pop by, see how you’re doing. I always did like you, you know. Not many people who’ll put up with our Sherlock--speaks to your character, that.”

Molly thinks about speaking, but stops herself, looks at Mrs. Hudson for a second first. And she...god help them all, she knows, even if she’s being decent enough not to say it out loud. She knows; she might not know how and she might not know why, but she knows, must trust Sherlock’s sense of reality enough to assume it was necessary.

It is such a relief that Molly can barely breathe. It is so miraculous, not to be the only one, that Molly has to sit down.

“There we are, then,” Mrs. Hudson says, patting her fondly on the arm. “So you’ll come round to Baker Street for tea...once a week, let’s say? John’s by more than that, of course, but then he would be--don’t worry, dear, I’ll make sure you’re never scheduled for the same day. Least I can do, really.”

Molly stares at her, because she’s been taken, hasn’t she, expertly manipulated, and she doesn’t even mind. “I, uh....yeah. Yes, alright, that sounds...that sounds quite nice, actually, thank you.”

Mrs. Hudson beams at her, guileless and utterly without shame, and Molly finds herself beaming back. They sit there like that, smiling at each other across the table, for a long minute, before they get down to the business of catching up.

--

The second year passes more easily than the first. Molly’s not sure why that is, exactly--maybe it’s just that she’s used to it, now, has become accustomed to the constant weight of the lie on her chest, the way her heart lurches up into her throat whenever she passes someone on the street with silver hair. Maybe it’s that she’s got more people, now, than she did at the start; she goes round to Mrs. Hudson’s for tea once a week, has drinks with her school friends, pops out to Flora’s as often as she can fit it in her schedule. They talk more now, too, Molly and Flora, have repaired something that neither one of them had fully realized was broken. Octavia’s got her first email address and is deeply proud of it, sending Molly badly-spelled opinion essays on whatever book she’s reading, and Michael’s the star of his kiddie football team, so Molly goes to as many matches as she can.

She dates, a little. The first one, a set-up through one of Flora’s London friends, is so utterly horrid that she ends up laughing about it later; the second one is with a fellow medical student, about her age, with curly auburn hair that’s forever in his eyes. His name is Liam and Molly likes him, so they go out a second time, a third, a fourth. The sex is good, if not earth-shattering, and it’s nice for awhile, distracting, but she breaks it off when she catches him tracing a pattern between her shoulder blades one morning. It’s the kind of soft, tender touch that means this could be going somewhere serious, and Molly doesn’t love him, and can’t see herself loving him; Molly, of all people, can’t justify wasting time.

She sees Greg once, a bitterly cold October afternoon, rain pissing down on London. She’s working in a coffee shop, textbooks spread across a corner table, and she glances out the window and there he is, across the street, waving for a taxi. It’s a surprise, because she’s spent the better part of two years studiously avoiding anywhere she’s ever known him to frequent, but she’s so grateful for it her breath catches in her chest. He looks older, even from a distance; something about the way he’s standing speaks to a weariness he’d not had, before, and he’s soaked through, obviously freezing. Molly digs her nails into her palms until his cab comes, because the urge to go to him, to herd him into the warm, to just talk to him, is nigh-overwhelming.

“Why didn’t you?” Flora says, when Molly tells her about it later. “Go talk to him, I mean.”

“I can’t,” Molly says, and sighs when Flora makes a little tsking noise. “Come off it, Flo. I promise I’ll explain someday, alright?”

“Your life always reminds me of some kind of spy novel,” Flora complains, “it makes it impossible to keep up.”

“Maybe that was my plan all along.”

“You always were the more dastardly one,” Flora agrees. “Now hold on, Octavia wants to say hello.”

--

A few weeks into the third year--she knows it’s not healthy, charting time by how long Sherlock’s been gone, but she can’t quite help it--Molly notices a strange man staring at her from across a shop in Covent Gardens. She doesn’t think anything of it until a week later, when she sees him again while she’s grabbing a coffee; two weeks after that, he’s seated in a booth a few tables over from hers at the pub. She starts paying attention--really, properly paying attention--after that, and rapidly comes to the conclusion that she has a tail.

She’s not frightened, which is...surprising. It’s the kind of thing that should terrify her, but it doesn’t; she knows where her taser is, knows how to handle a gun if it comes to that, and as far as she’s concerned, the world’s already done its worst.

It’s a Sunday morning in June when she decides she’s had enough. Blakeney, as she’s privately taken to calling her pursuer, is sitting in the same coffee shop that she is, pretending to read The Eye of The Needle, and that’s just, really, that is the last straw. If he’s going to stupid and self-congratulatory, he honestly deserves to get caught. Molly picks up her handbag, curls her fingers around the taser tucked inside it, and crosses to his table.

“Right,” she says, when he looks up at her in what can only be described as horror, “so, um, sorry, but you’ve been following me for about six weeks now, and I’d rather like to know why.”

Twenty minutes and one frantic-sounding phone call later, Molly’s being ushered towards the backseat of a sleek black town car. The door is being held open for her, but Molly stops about six feet away from it.

“Sorry,” she says, “but you don’t honestly think I’m going to just...climb in this car, do you? With no information at all? Really?”

“I assure you, Ms. Hooper, your safety is paramount to me,” says a voice from within the car. It sounds familiar, and a moment later a man leans out of the gloom. It takes her a second to place him, but then she remembers--Mycroft Holmes. Sherlock’s brother. “Although I will admit to being rather put out at having to deal with this personally, you are certainly not the object of my ire.”

“Sorry, sir,” Blakeney says from behind her, and Mycroft gives him a look that is so chilling Molly feels a little guilty.

“You shall be dealt with later,” Mycroft says, and yeah, that’s not a great tone, Molly’s definitely going to feel bad about that for awhile. “Ms. Hooper, if you don’t mind? I am eager to speak with you, and I don’t have all day.”

“My books are still in the--”

“That has been taken care of,” Mycroft says. “They will all be at your flat when you are returned home--in, I suspect, rather better condition, though of course your marginal notes, etcetera, will be preserved. Do hurry up.”

“Oh, alright,” Molly says, and gets in the car. “What’s this about, then?”

Mycroft gives her an exasperated look. “I imagine you know very well what this is about, Ms. Hooper.”

“It’s Molly,” says Molly, “and no, I really don’t.”

This is, of course, a lie--there’s only one reason Mycroft Holmes would be bothering himself with her, and that’s if he’d figured out her part in Sherlock’s little deception. She knows that, is certain of it, but, well. She hadn’t trusted Greg with the truth, because Sherlock hadn’t--she barely knows this man from Adam, and for all he’s Sherlock’s flesh and blood, Sherlock hadn’t gone to him, either. She’d sworn to stay quiet until Sherlock himself gave her the all-clear, and this Holmes, regardless of his secret agents and his creepy town cars, simply isn’t good enough.

“Hmm,” Mycroft says, steepling his fingers and staring at her. She stares back, because she might as well, and after a second the very corner of his mouth quirks ever so slightly upward. “You’re not frightened of me.”

“Nope,” Molly says.

“That is, I believe, rather misinformed of you.”

“Maybe,” Molly says. “Or maybe I’ve figured that if you wanted to kill me, you would’ve done it ages ago, instead of assigning me a tail.”

“Ah,” Mycroft says. There is a long pause, and then he adds, “Well. I suppose I can see why he trusted you.”

“Who’s that?”

“My brother, of course. While I do appreciate your loyalty, it really is unnecessary; I know everything, I assure you.”

“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about,” Molly says, and Mycroft narrows his eyes.

“So I suppose you wouldn’t be interested to hear that he’s made contact?”

That, Molly thinks distantly, is a nice play. She feels her heartbeat pick up in her chest, and if Mycroft is anything like Sherlock, he knows it--in fact, if Mycroft is anything like Sherlock, he really does know everything, and there’s no point in lying at all. But a promise is a promise, and it’s the principle of the thing. She smiles sweetly at him.

“Of course I’d be interested, Mr. Holmes. For one thing, I know of several good psychologists I could refer you to, since your brother’s been dead over two years. I should know; I checked his corpse into the morgue myself.”

“A fact which has, of course, been stricken from the records for your safety,” Mycroft says, settling back in his seat. “Very well, then. If you insist on continuing to be tiresome, I shall simply explain what I feel is pertinent, and you may sit there and pretend to be ignorant of the whole affair.”

“I’d imagine that’s how a number of your conversations go,” Molly says. She’s playing with fire, but if he knows everything--if he’s striking things from records for her safety--then he’s aware that he’s indebted to her. She imagines that sort of thing matters, to a man like Mycroft Holmes.

He narrows his eyes so far they’re practically slits. “Yes. It is. My brother remains alive, I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know. He has apparently spent quite a bit of his inheritance, appallingly enough, on hair dye and plane tickets, though I do commend his attention to detail with his various aliases. He’s obviously been building them since we were children, which--though it does explain quite a number of things for me personally--is hardly relevant to this conversation.”

“What is relevant to this conversation?”

“Sherlock is currently in London,” Mycroft says. “He has spent the better part of the last two years tracking down and...disposing of....certain elements of James Moriarty’s criminal web. I have known of his whereabouts for the last six weeks, and it has become quite clear that he must remain in the city and finish what he’s started if he has any hope of returning to his life. Or, indeed, if national security is to remain unthreatened.”

“He’s not staying with me,” Molly says, automatic, and Mycroft smiles at her. It is...not a pleasant expression, not on his face, and it’s only ingrained politeness that keeps her from wincing.

“No,” he agrees, “certainly not. However, circumstances being what they are, it would be disastrous on...any number of levels, were his deception to be revealed to the public at large prematurely. When it became apparent to me that you had been involved in his initial escape, I assigned you a tail to ensure that he would have ample warning, should you slip and reveal any details. I do apologize for my agent’s incompetence; given the delicate nature of this case, I was forced to resort to enlisting a...trainee.”

He says the word trainee like some people might say the word leper; Molly ignores the opportunity to roll her eyes, because she’s honestly a little offended. “Hey! I wouldn’t--I mean. You didn’t need to tail me, because I didn’t know anything. Obviously I know things now, as you...told them to me....strictly in this conversation, mind, I’m as shocked as anyone to hear that he’s alive. Deeply shocked. It’s...shocking.”

Mycroft smiles again; it’s less obvious, and less unpleasant, than his last one. “Yes, Ms. Hooper. I am beginning to recognize that I should not have doubted you; my apologies.”

“Yes, well,” Molly says. “That’s, uh. Fine, then.”

“Of course,” Mycroft adds smoothly, “now that you are aware of the situation, I would feel more comfortable assigning you a full-time protective detail. Your awareness of the situation will allow me to concoct a suitable reason for said detail, and thus give me a much larger selection pool; you will not, I assure you, be forced to deal with another amateur.”

“Yes, god save us all from amateur details,” Molly says, and does roll her eyes this time. Mycroft looks genuinely unsettled, and she laughs, can’t help herself. “God, you’re really not used to this, are you? Go on, tell me, when’s the last time you were teased? Properly teased, I mean, not that fake sort that’s just high-class sucking up.”

“Hmm,” Mycroft says. “Discounting communication from both John Watson and psychopathic megalomaniacs--which I always do, as a rule--I believe...yes, July, 1987. The evening ended rather badly for him, I’m afraid.”

“You know, I think I might actually like you better than your brother,” Molly says.

“You would not be the first. By quite a large margin, in fact.”

She’s...surprised at herself, surprised at how comfortable she is with this, but. Well, it’s been awhile since she’s had any proper intrigue, and this is fun. There’d been a reason she’d loved the morgue, loved going over Greg’s cases long into the night, been so sure she’d loved Sherlock, come to that; there’s something about this world, the patina of death and danger layered over it, that makes her blood sing.

“So...that’s it, then?” she says. “I mean, the detail’s fine; I’d prefer a woman, if you can manage it, but I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t imagine I’ll actually be seeing them, so. Is there anything else?”

“Only the matter of your compensation.”

“Excuse me?”

“Your compensation,” Mycroft repeats, as though Molly is thick. “You have done my brother an incomparable favor, and seem willing to extend that favor--”

“Yeah,” Molly says, “about that. How long, d’you think, before he’s managed whatever it is he’s managing?”

“Another year, I should think,” Mycroft says, sounding bored. “Possibly less. Hard to know, with Sherlock, but there are a few things he’s put in motion that will take some time to come to fruition. Certainly shouldn’t be longer than that--and, obviously, if he dies, I will inform you, and our agreement will be terminated.”

“Terminated as in you’ll cancel the detail, or terminated as in a bullet in my brain?”

“The former, Ms. Hooper, I assure you,” Mycroft says, unpleasant smile back in place. “Now, the matter of payment--”

“I don’t want anything,” Molly says, too quickly. “Seriously, that’s not--look, this has been fun and everything, but I did it because it was the right thing to do. I don’t want money.”

Everyone wants money, Ms. Hooper.”

“Not me,” Molly says, even if, in her heart of hearts, she means not yours. Mycroft Holmes is a man with strings attached, she can see it in his eyes. “I’m just fine, thanks.”

“Hmm. You recognize, of course, that I do not require your permission. For anything. At all.”

That makes Molly angry; whoever Mycroft Holmes might be in the grand scheme of things, there are some things you always need permission for, and the implication that he’s above that rankles. “With all due respect, Mr. Holmes, I’m a bit past scare tactics at this point. I’ve not had the best few years, as I’m sure you’re aware. Frightening me into taking your hush money is not the best strategy.”

“‘Hush money,’” Mycroft says, as thought the words are unfamiliar. “How...delightfully crass. Very well, then. I shall come to a decision as to how to proceed, and inform you in due course.”

“You do that.”

The town car pulls to a stop, and Mycroft sighs, giving her a considering look. “Well then, Ms. Hooper. This, as they say, is your stop. I assure you that you shall be informed of any pertinent developments, thought it is, as always, best to assume that no news is good news. You have my deepest gratitude, as well as, one would imagine, my brother’s, though he is notoriously poor with the expression of sentiment. Good day.”

The door opens as if on cue, and Molly climbs out, reeling slightly. That was...unusual, to say the least. In the cold light of day, with the sound of tires peeling away ringing in her ears, she can’t believe she said any of that; her hands, she recognizes distantly, are shaking slightly, and she wonders where that came from.

“Adrenaline crash,” someone says. Molly turns, and there’s a woman standing in front of her, typing rapidly on a Blackberry. “It happens, especially with him. This way.”

Molly blinks, and then follows her, because she can’t really see any argument against it. The woman leads her up the street a bit, and then into what looks to be an abandoned building; inside, there's a very posh little sitting room. She looks around, wondering if the gold filigree on that mirror is actual gold, and then decides it probably is.

"Um, okay," she says, "it's--correct me if I'm wrong, but is this some kind of…Mycroft Holmes recovery room?"

The woman's still typing, but her mouth quirks up a little. "When it needs to be. That’s not why you're here, though."

"Oh?"

"No." The woman sighs and puts her phone down, looks Molly straight in the eye. "This will be your primary point of contact with Mr. Holmes. Should you need to reach him for any reason, simply come here and leave whatever message you need to. You can feel free to just walk in and speak; there are cameras, recording devices, etcetera."

"You can't just give me a mobile number?"

"Correct."

"Right," Molly says, "great. Remind me why I missed this kind of thing, again?"

"People tend to," the woman says, smiling slightly at Molly. After a second, she adds, "I'm Anthea, by the way. Mr. Holmes' personal assistant. You may be dealing with me again, though of course I can't offer any projections as to the likelihood of that."

"Uh, sure," Molly says. "Of course. So, um. Can I…go, then?"

"There's just one thing more," Anthea says. She walks over to a desk that looks like it's worth more than Molly's apartment and pulls a drawer open; there's a manilla folder inside, and she pulls it out, holds it up. "It was discovered, in our research, that you severed what was rumored to be a fairly significant emotional connection for the sake of the younger Mr. Holmes' safety. This is our file on Detective Inspector Gregory Lestrade--he is a particular favorite of Mr. Holmes', so I imagine you will find it fairly comprehensive. It was suggested that you might wish to see it."

"It was suggested that I," Molly says, and stops. "Wait, that's--that's Greg's file. Greg's classified government file, and you think I want to…just flip it open and have a read, then?"

"Mr. Holmes thought you might, yes."

"And you?" Molly says, because that seems pertinent, trust-level wise. "You think that as well?"

"I think that Mr. Holmes has a rather…unusual concept of what emotional attachment means," Anthea says, after a long pause. "Of course, there is also a full detailing of what Detective Inspector Lestrade has been up to, broadly speaking, for the last two years. That's in a separate section; you may feel free to just look at that, if you wish."

And Molly is tempted, just for a second, she really is. She's dying to know how Greg's doing, how he's managed, whether he's kept his head above water. She keeps herself up nights, sometimes, wondering about it--whether he's sleeping properly, whether his job survived the scandal, if he's still living in that terrible flat, if he's healthy, but.

"Sherlock's expected to be about another year, yeah?"

"That's what Mr. Holmes believes, yes."

"Then I'd," Molly says, and takes a deep, steadying breath. "Then I'd rather Greg filled me in himself, assuming he's willing to. Thanks all the same."

"Hmm," Anthea says; Molly thinks it's approval, but it's kind of hard to tell. "Fair enough. You can leave at your leisure, then; the way we came in will do. Thank you for your time, Ms. Hooper."

"Molly," Molly corrects, not that it'll matter. Anthea picks up the phone again and turns to go, and she's almost out of the room before Molly thinks of something. "Wait--Anthea."

"Yes?"

"You're…I'm assuming Mycroft has, um. Well. Quite a bit of influence."

"Yes."

"So," Molly says, "there's, um. There's an officer at Scotland Yard, Alex Anderson? And I don't, I really don't want anything bad to happen to him--if it's something bad or nothing at all, then please do nothing at all, but. If it's…possible, to, um. Transfer him? To a division where Greg won't have to deal with him? I would…I would really appreciate it."

"Certainly, Ms. Hooper," Anthea says, and the smile is back. Molly's pleased to realize that it's not the kind of smile people give her when they think she's silly; Anthea looks honestly pleased by her, which is nice. Unexpected. "I'll see to it at once. Will there be anything else?"

"No," Molly says, "no, that's all."

"Lovely, then. Good day," and she's gone, heels clacking against the tiled floor.

--

The third year passes in a blur, which surprises Molly. She’s gotten so used to time creeping by, to dragging herself through the days, that she’d forgotten what it was to feel them go by quickly. She’s not sure what it is that does it--her classes are harder than they’ve ever been, the inevitable increase to fever-pitch as she hurtles headlong towards graduating, and her calender is full of meet-and-greets, internship opportunities, the kernels of jobs she’ll be able to apply for once she’s an MD. So maybe it’s just that she’s busy; maybe it’s the fact that Octavia, eleven now and precocious as ever, has discovered the internet at large and started emailing her photos of cats about seven times a day. Maybe it’s that Greg starts showing up on her television again, running press conferences with the same ragged, exasperated disdain he always had for the media. Molly remembers all over again how much she loves the sound of his voice, and doesn’t bother flagellating herself for being a soppy idiot. She’s earned it, she imagines, by this point.

Maybe--definitely, if Molly’s honest with herself--it’s the fact that there’s an end in sight for the first time since Sherlock drove away in that stolen cab. It’s not a marathon anymore, but a sprint, and Molly can run a little longer if it means she’ll get to stop.

Three months after her awkward meeting with Mycroft, an unmarked envelope shows up in her mail. She opens it cautiously, all too aware that letterbombs are no joke, and a check falls out; the number written on it is so obscene that she shrieks a little, entirely involuntarily, in shock. There’s no question as to where it came from, and she takes it to the secret sitting room that she’s been told is her point of contact, leaves it on top of that ridiculously ornate desk.

“I told you no,” she says to the empty air, knowing full well that her message will be communicated to the proper channels. “But maybe I wasn’t clear, so, once again: no, Mr. Holmes. Thank you, but no.”

The second check is delivered via messenger about eight weeks after that; when Molly tries to refuse the package, she’s told she isn’t allowed to by royal decree. That’s hilarious, and also hopefully a lie; she goes to the mysterious sitting room again, hides the check behind the gilt-ridden mirror.

“Still no, Mr. Holmes,” she says. “Though I do admire the effort. Thanks all the same.”

The third check is presented to her at 9:15 at night, in the middle of her favorite coffee shop, by Anthea. Molly raises an eyebrow at the outstretched hand, the white envelope it’s holding--she’d raise an eyebrow at Anthea herself, but she hasn’t looked up from her phone.

“I told him no,” Molly says.

“Mr. Holmes’ personally dictionary does not include that word,” Anthea says, not blinking. “I strongly suggest you accept the money. If you do not, I assure you, he will find a way to give it to you anyway.”

“Got a strange idea of what the word charity means, doesn’t he?”

“Mr. Holmes does not consider this charity,” Anthea says. “I believe it falls more within the realm of...obligation. But, as it happens, yes--his idea of charity is certainly not in line with what the rest of the world might consider charitable.”

“Well, I, um. Release him from his obligation, then? Can I do that?”

“You cannot.”

“Right,” Molly says, “well, in that case, you can leave that with me and I’ll take it back tomorrow, or you can keep it with you and...actually, I was about to head out, meet a couple of friends at the pub. You want to come?”

That makes Anthea look up. “To the...pub?”

“Yeah,” Molly says, doing her utmost not to laugh at Anthea’s shocked expression. “What, I’m not hitting on you--not that it would be a problem for me if you were, you know, that way inclined, and actually I’ve a friend you might like if that’s the case, lovely girl--not the point.”

“What...is the point?”

“I don’t imagine you get a lot of time for fun,” Molly says honestly. “And I feel a bit bad that he made you come out here yourself--I’m sure this isn’t thrilling for you, the back and forth. Let me buy you a drink, make it up.”

“Charity?” Anthea says, quirking an eyebrow, and Molly grins.

“Obligation.”

There’s a long pause; then Anthea narrows her eyes and says, “One drink. I don’t have time for anything else.”

They have six drinks. Or, to be more precise, they have two drinks and then Anthea has four more with Carole, who Molly had texted while Anthea was in the toilets. She’s a friend of Flora’s, another investment banker but far more drawn to the high stress life; she travels a lot, complains when she’s in town that she can’t find a girl who understands her schedule. Anthea leaves with her, and Molly goes home feeling pleased with herself.

The next morning, she finds a postcard’s been slipped under her door. There’s a Georgia O’Keefe painting on the front--he thinks he’s so funny, Molly thinks, scowling, but I suppose once a Holmes, always a Holmes--and a message scrawled in hasty script on the back.

Well played, Ms. Hooper. -MH

“I wasn’t playing, you daft twat,” Molly tells the empty room two days later, on returning the actual original Georgia O’Keefe that had been delivered to her flat in the wake of the postcard. “I like Anthea! She’s lovely, and she puts up with you, I didn’t set her up as part of your weird game, people don’t work that way! You are out of your mind, you’re worse than Sherlock! And also no, for the hundredth time, I don’t want your money. Stop trying.”

The checks stop coming after that, though Molly is far from assuming she’s won. It’s been nine months since the afternoon in the town car, and when Molly sees Anthea socially--which she suspects is only continuing to happen for frightening, Machiavellian reasons, but she’s not worrying about it--she dodges certain questions, flatly refuses to answer others. Things are obviously coming to a head, and Molly lets herself get cautiously excited; she tries not to hope too much, because it’ll only crush her if she’s wrong, but she finds herself imagining it all the same, working through the possibilities.

Sherlock will come back, and Greg will figure it out on his own, be angry, hate her for the rest of his life, but at least she won’t be lying anymore.

Sherlock will come back, and Greg won’t figure it out on his own, and she’ll tell him, and he’ll be angry and hate her for the rest of his life, but at least she won’t be lying anymore.

Sherlock will come back, and he’ll tell Greg and Greg will be angry and hate her for the rest of his life, but at least she won’t by lying anymore.

Sherlock will come back, and Greg will find out through whatever means, and he won’t be angry, but he won’t ever be able to trust her again, but at least she won’t be lying anymore.

Sherlock will come back, and Greg will find out through whatever means, and he won’t be angry and he won’t hate her and everything will--don’t get your hopes up, Molly.

--

Molly goes down to get the post one morning in early April. The lobby is empty when she puts her key in the mailbox, when she bends down to empty it; when she straightens up, Sherlock Holmes is standing next to her, as tall and imposing as she remembers, having somehow entered without making any noise at all.

“Hello, Molly,” he says, and she yelps and throws the post in the air, because, well. It’s a bit of a surprise.

“You complete nutter,” Molly says, when she’s recovered herself. “Oh my god, what’ve you done to your hair? What’s happened to your eye? Also hello, of course, I’m assuming it’s safe for you to be here?”

Sherlock scowls at her. His left eye is blacked, and his hair is...almost not worth thinking about, honestly, a mottled amalgamation of several unhealthy shades of orange. She’d call it ginger, but that would be an affront to gingers everywhere, herself included. She folds her arms, waits.

“Obviously,” he drawls after a moment, “it is safe for me to be here; I would hardly have shown myself otherwise. My hair is nothing more than the unfortunate result of an assortment of dye jobs--they were necessary, if unseemly, and I have not had time to correct the errors that may have been made in the processes.”

“And the eye?”

“Ah,” Sherlock says, and winces slightly. “That was John.”

“Good on him, then,” Molly says, hiding a smile behind her hand; she’d have punched Sherlock too, in the circumstances. “Oh, don’t look like that--I’m sure he’ll come round. What’re you doing here, then?”

Sherlock narrowed her eyes. “I should think it obvious. I am returned to London--”

“Yeah, I know, have been for about a year,” Molly says. “Your brother’s been in touch.”

Mycroft,” Sherlock hisses, as if to himself. After a second, Molly realizes it was to himself, and softens a little. Sherlock’s always been mad, but he’s been doing god-knows-what for three years, probably alone; it’s clear that he’s even less used to human contact than usual, which shouldn’t come as a shock.

“Yes, that’s the one,” she says, not unkindly. “You don’t have to sound like he’s your arch-enemy; I like him, actually. A right bastard, don’t get me wrong, but he’s fun, in his way. Do you want to come upstairs? Tell me what you’ve been up to? I can probably rustle up a box of black hair dye, there’s a shop across the street--John may be less likely to hit you if you don’t look like you wandered out of the orangutan exhibit.”

“You’re...different,” Sherlock says after a minute, tilting his head and staring at her. Molly smiles.

“Three years is a long time, Sherlock. People change. Come on, come upstairs, tell me where you’ve been. God knows I’m curious.”

He comes upstairs, though he does run across the street first and buy the hair dye, and they eschew tea and biscuits for re-blacking his hair in her bathroom sink. It’s not the most normal thing she’s ever done by a wide margin, but it’s also certainly not the strangest, and she almost laughs as she combs her fingers through his hair. There had been a time when she would have literally tripped over her own feet do be this close to him; now, it’s mostly just hysterical.

“So, you’ve been abroad, then?” she asks, and Sherlock snorts.

“I have been everywhere. I have seen the whole world and everything in it. I have walked the earth.”

“Didn’t do much for your ego, did it?”

“Perhaps not,” Sherlock agrees, and goes silent again. He’s thinner than she remembers him, skin and bones, visible now that he’s shed his coat and scarf, and she wonders how much of his bravado is forced. “On the other hand, I have accomplished a significant amount, and rid the world of any number of criminals, so I believe the whole endeavor can be called a success.”

“Speaking of criminals, how’s Jim Moriarty? I figure he wasn’t dead, before, since the Yard never found a body--”

“Correct,” Sherlock says, “but it’s fine. I murdered him.”

Molly drops the hair dye. “You--Sherlock, you murdered him?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says. “Not entirely on purpose, but yes.”

“How can you murder someone by accident?”

“Jim Moriarty was a truly exemplary adversary,” Sherlock says, his eyes going distant. “Though my aim, initially, was simply to flee London until such time when I could identify and dispose of the agents he’d set upon John, Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade, it became rapidly apparent that the true extent of his network was far too large for that to be logical. As such, it was necessary that I disband said network from the inside out. He rapidly became wise to what I was doing, and attempted to stop me--I believe, in retrospect, that he found it a pleasurable way to pass the time.”

Molly, trying to ignore the way her chest had tightened at the word Lestrade, presses on. “And then you murdered him by accident? Can we go back to that, please?”

“Ah,” Sherlock says, still distant. “We began setting...traps, shall we say, for one another. ‘Deathtraps’ might be more accurate. It was a game, in its way--a truly exemplary adversary, Jim Moriarty. I did not intend for him to actually die, though I assume he did not share that particular trait in his own endeavors; he fell victim to a trap I expected he’d anticipate. I would say I simply ‘killed,’ him, but as it was premeditated and would, for anyone else, have unarguably been intended to kill, ‘murder’ is the correct term.”

“Um,” Molly says. “Well, alright, that is...terrifying, actually, that’s bloody terrifying, Sherlock, please promise me you’ll never tell Greg that story--say killed, if you have to, just not. Um. If you could just avoid ‘murdered’ in general, I think that’d be for the best.”

“But it’s the most accurate--”

“You know what,” Molly says, “when John forgives you, you can have this one out with him, alright? Just...not murdered. To Greg. Promise me.”

“I...promise?”

“Good,” Molly says, “now lean your head back, we’ve got to rinse this out.”

Twenty minutes later, his hair once again black and his left eye still swollen shut, Sherlock perches himself on the arm of her sofa and gets around to explaining what he actually came here to tell her.

“Tomorrow,” he says, “there will be an article in the Guardian. It will simultaneously reveal my deception and announce my knighthood, which is unfortunate, but necessary--Mycroft, of course, is thrilled, but what can you do?”

“Send the painting back?” Molly says, not really listening, and then feels herself blush when Sherlock cocks his head at her. “Long story. Never mind.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock says. “In any case--by tomorrow morning the world will know that I’m alive. I’m told that if I’m lucky, they’ll consider me a hero; if not I’ll be vilified, which everyone I’ve talked to seems to find abhorrent, though I’m not certain why. In any case: your name has been removed from all the pertinent documents, etcetera. No one ever needs to know about your hand in it. You’re done, Molly. Thank you.”

He gets a text message a moment later and vanishes without so much as saying goodbye; John, then. Molly’s not bothered--in all honesty, she’s glad to be rid of him. She stays where she is for a moment, reeling a little, and then gets the vodka out of the freezer and pours herself a shot.

She’s done. She’s done. She’s done, and tomorrow the world will know Sherlock’s alive; tomorrow Greg will know Sherlock’s alive, and she can...she can do something, even if she’s not sure what. She hasn’t let herself think about it, not properly, has only skirted the edges--she hadn’t wanted to jinx it, and now it’s here, and she’s got no idea what to do at all.

She stares at the vodka bottle for a long, long time. Then she sits down at her kitchen table and hits the books, because her coursework isn’t going to wait around for her personal problems to sort themselves out--she’d asked it to, once, and she won’t make the same mistake twice. At ten, she pours herself another shot and goes to bed.

Tomorrow everything will change, and life will go on, because that’s what it does. The fluttering, sick feeling in her stomach will quiet in time. Molly can handle this. Molly can handle anything. Molly’s proved that to herself, hasn’t she, once or twice.

--

The next day, Sherlock Holmes is the name on everyone’s tongue. Molly hears it on the radio in the cab she springs for to get to school, in the hallway between lectures; she sees it on the television in the cafe she stops at for lunch, scrawled across the front page of the copies of the Guardian that seem to be everywhere. Sherlock is all anyone’s talking about--Did you hear, that detective’s alive? Yeah, you remember, trial of the century, who could forget. No, I guess the Richard Brook thing was part of some big scheme? Yeah, faked his death, if you can believe it--not sure I do, but it says he’s been knighted, so who’m I to judge--and Molly glides past it, through it, tries not to think about it too much. She’s been through this before, when Jim was arrested, when Jim was acquitted, and there’s only one person’s opinion she’s worried about anyway.

She picks up her mobile to call Greg a hundred times, never quite gets up the nerve to put it through. She doesn’t know what she’d say. She doesn’t know if he’ll even answer.

Flora calls at half six; when Molly answers, says hello, she’s met with a long moment of silence. Then her sister says, “Jesus, Molly, that is a long fucking time to keep a secret,” and Molly can’t help but laugh. She hasn’t heard Flora swear like that since they were kids, and the fact that she figured it out so quickly isn’t surprising; she’s always been too bright for anyone’s good, least of all Molly’s.

“Yeah, well, when I said I couldn’t tell you--”

“Yeah, I’m getting that,” Flora says. “Jesus. Have you called him yet?”

“Who?”

“You know who.”

“What would I even say?” Molly asks, staring up at the ceiling and trying to hold it together. “I don’t know what you do in this situation, it’s not like there’s a precedent.”

“Hmm,” Flora says, “I don’t know, maybe try ‘Hi, I’m desperately in love with you and have spent the last three years suffering in silence, please come over and ravish me’?”

“Oh my god, are you drunk?”

“My baby sister helped cover up a fake death,” Flora snaps, “for a guy who’s been knighted for ‘Services to the Crown,’ which probably means like....like terrorism fighting or something, and she’s not taking any credit for it, and she didn’t tell me, fucking right I’m drunk!”

“Oh,” Molly says, nervous suddenly. “Hey, you’re not...you’re not angry, are you? Because look, I had to, I didn’t have any choice--”

“Molly, I swear to god, I love you to death but sometimes you are so bloody thick I could strangle you,” Flora says. “Of course I’m not angry, now hang up this phone and call Greg already, my god.”

Molly does hang up, but she doesn’t call Greg; she calls Anthea, who meets her at an upscale little bar Molly’s pretty sure she’s under-dressed for. Anthea, true to form, tells her not to worry about it and then spends nearly two hours finding new, creative ways to tell Molly to, essentially, man up. By the time they leave, Anthea is red in the face from yelling, Molly is red in the face from embarrassment, the bouncer is red in the face from dragging them outside, and there’s another one of Mycroft’s checks torn to pieces in Molly’s handbag.

It’s actually a pretty good evening, for them. Molly goes home feeling okay about everything--she’s not drunk, not even close, but it’s going to be fine, however it works out. She’ll go inside, have a glass of wine, and call Greg; he’ll probably tell her to piss off forever, but at least she’ll know, then. She’ll be able to move on. She won’t have to think about him anymore.

She’s not expecting to find him leaning against her door, though. That bit comes as rather a shock.

“Oh,” Molly says, which is just...not what she means to say at all. It’s all she’s got, though; Greg’s just as she remembers him and different, too, new lines around his eyes, his mouth, the faint, persistent indentation finally vanished from his left ring finger. His hair’s as grey as it ever was, if a little lighter round the back, and he’s still got those big, warm hands, those big, warm eyes to boot, and she stares at him, and stares at him, and stares at him.

It takes her a long minute to realize he’s staring back, not saying anything. She’s not sure if that’s a good sign or not.

“Hi,” Greg says eventually, only it comes out wrong, scraped raw, like he’s choking on it. He clears his throat, tries again: “So, uh. Right. I...I maybe shouldn’t be here, but I needed to...to be sure--and, look, if this is me...if this is me just, uh. Inventing things, then you...then I need you to tell me, alright? Because I’m not...I wouldn’t put it past me just now.”

“Okay,” Molly whispers, and Greg nods, closes his eyes for a second. She can see him swallowing, Adam’s apple bobbing with it, and wonders if she’s about to get told off; she wouldn’t blame him, really. She’s been expecting it for awhile.

“Okay,” Greg says, and then he tries to smile; the corner of his mouth lifts up for a second and then falls, like it’s not sure it remembers what it’s doing. “You know, the prat didn’t even tell me he was alive himself? Found out this morning with the papers, like everyone else. Right shock, that--nearly lost me my job, him dying, definitely lost me you. Arguably ruined my life, except that that doesn’t really, y’know, happen to people. Lives being ruined, I mean. Things just...change, don’t they, but I’m not going to lie to you, Molly, threw me for a loop, the whole business.”

“Greg--”

“But,” Greg continues, “the thing is, y’know, I read the story? Don’t envy the interviewer, I can’t imagine sitting down to do a proper heart-to-heart with Sherlock...and I got to the bit with what happened, right, what drove him to do it. ‘Sniper sights on his three closest friends,’ it said, and you know Sherlock and friends--John, of course, and Mrs. Hudson, and the third one...well, it had to be me, didn’t it? Logically?”

“Greg, I--”

“And then,” Greg says, and there are...Molly’s not sure, can’t be sure in the dim light of the hallway, but she thinks there are tears in his eyes. “Then I started thinking about it, really, properly thinking about, and even Sherlock couldn’t just find a corpse on a day’s notice. That’s just, you know, it’s not possible, not even for him, someone had to help him. And then I thought to myself, ‘Now, Greg, who do you know who’d’ve had access to corpses around that time? Who popped right out of your life out of nowhere? Who would’ve been able to keep that kind of massive bloody secret for all that time?’”

“Oh, god,” Molly says, and she’s crying, because it’s here, it’s here, he knows and he hates her and she’s never going to be able to fix it and she’d rather not know, actually, she’d rather have lived in uncertainty forever, perpetually on the verge of making the phone call, “Greg, I’m. God, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don’t--I didn’t have any choice, I wouldn’t have done it if I could help it but I had to, I had to, I’m sorry--”

“You’re sorry?” Greg says, and his voice breaks on it. “You’re--for god’s sake, he’s alive, isn’t he? He’s alive, and I’m alive, what do you mean you’re sorry? Christ, Molly, you saved his life, you saved all our lives, you’re a bloody hero.”

“I,” Molly says, “....what?”

Greg makes a noise that’s almost, not quite, a laugh; he runs a hand over his face, and those are definitely tears in his eyes, and Molly’s so happy that she’s not sure her body can hold it, that she’s not sure he’s even real.

“I was,” Greg says, shaking his head, “god, Mols, I was so in love with you that I didn’t...I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how to explain it, and you never pushed me or asked for anything and I just. I...I want to believe that you told me to go because of this, but if, if you didn’t, if you wanted rid of me then I can live with it but I need you to tell me before I--”

“I hated it,” Molly bursts out, “I hated it, I hated it more than anything, it was the worst thing I’ve ever done, of course I didn’t want rid of you. I missed you every day, I thought about telling you a thousand times but I couldn’t, I couldn’t risk it, of course it was because of this, how could you possibly think--”

“Thank god,” Greg says, “oh, fuck, Molly, thank god,” and then he’s got a hand on her cheek, is kissing her like she’s never been kissed in her life.

When she’s pictured this moment--and she’s pictured it a number of times, if she’s honest, late at night when she couldn’t keep a defense up and in the shower some mornings, when she woke up from the kind of dreams that couldn’t be ignored--when she’s pictured this, it’s always gone one of three ways. In the first version, she’d imagined Greg throwing her against the wall and growling into her throat; in the second, he’d wrapped her up and pulled her to him, like the cover of some cheesy romance novel. The third version had been an exercise in cliches, rose petals and whispered accolades, but she’s always tried to pretend that version never crossed her mind, because she’s more than a little embarrassed by it.

But what happens, what actually happens is something different, something new. Greg’s right hand is on her cheek, as big and warm as it’s always been, and his left is at her waist; his thumb is rubbing big, wide circles at her hipbone, pressing against the inch of skin that’s exposed at the corner of her shirt. He’s kissing her like he does everything else, honest and firm and like he means it, and Molly opens her mouth to his, puts her arms up and around his neck. She tangles her fingers in his hair, more to ground herself than anything else, and Greg’s hand slides to the small of her back, stays there.

Molly’s not sure how long they stand there. Molly doesn’t care how long they stand there, doesn’t care about anything, just now, except for the fact that Greg’s here and he’s not angry and he’s kissing her, which is so much better than simply ‘not angry’ that Molly can’t even begin to fathom it. They only stop because she feels his lips curve up in a smile, and it’s been such a long time since she’s seen that--the way that expression looks when he means it, the way he grins with his whole heart behind it--that she has to pull away.

“What,” she says, “what are you smiling about, what are you thinking,” and Greg laughs, leans his forehead against hers, takes a breath.

“If I told you,” he says, “how many times I’ve thought about this, you would...god, you would not want to be kissing me. It’s not smooth. It’s not even a little bit smooth.”

“Have you been singing Britney Spears in the shower again?” Molly says, which is definitely not the kind of sentence that should come out breathless, and Greg closes his eyes and actually shakes with laughter before he kisses her again.

“I missed you,” he says after a minute, pulling back, “god, Mols, I missed you so much it’s stupid, I missed you so much I don’t even know how to explain it--”

“Well, likewise,” Molly says. “It’s...I thought. I thought you would be angry.”

“I was angry,” Greg admits. He’s still got a hand on the small of her back, and he rubs his thumb against her shirt absently; Molly’s beginning to suspect it’s something he does a lot, the sort of habit he doesn’t even notice, and she’s not sure why that’s so thrilling. “That first year, especially--yeah, I was. Christ, I was really angry, but then...you have to keep living, you know? And some of that anger was for Eliana, I think, and some of it was for bloody Sherlock, and....but I didn’t know, Molly. If I’d had any idea...the idea that you thought I could be angry now is just, it’s ludicrous.”

“John punched Sherlock,” Molly says. “When he told him, I mean. So I wasn’t without...cause. For thinking that.”

“Yeah,” Greg says, “but the way I figure it, John’s probably wanted to punch Sherlock for ages anyway. God knows I have. Plus, it’s not like I thought you’d died, just that you didn’t want anything to do with me anymore.”

“I am sorry,” Molly says softly. “For...for the things I said, for making you think that I...that I never wanted to see you again. I wouldn’t have done, if I could’ve helped it, but I couldn’t think of another way.”

“Saved my life,” Greg reminds her, tone firm. “In the battle between ‘saved my life’ and ‘hurt my feelings,’ saved my life is going to win every time, hands down.”

“Doesn’t mean I feel good about it.”

“You should feel good about it. No, wait, you should feel great about it, did I mention about you being a hero?”

“You still talk complete rot,” Molly tells him, and if her voice cracks on it a little, well, it’s Greg. It’s not like he doesn’t know her.

“No one has said that to me,” Greg says, “in years,” and then they’re kissing again, Greg pressing her up against the door frame, slipping a hand up under her shirt. Molly lets him; hell, Molly finds herself unbuttoning his Oxford, pulling it open, and Greg makes a throaty little noise and pulls her closer.

“D’you want to,” she says eventually, “um. Inside?”

“Yeah,” Greg says. “Been sitting out here for hours, so inside would sound pretty great even I didn’t, uh, want to avoid causing a scene.”

“I never changed the locks, you know,” Molly tells him as they separate, and he blinks at her for a second before he bursts out laughing.

“Oh my god, really? I’ve been--god, and the cat was yowling for ages, it never even occurred to me that my key would still work.”

“You kept it?”

“Course I kept it,” Greg says, as Molly pulls her own keys out and unlocks the door, leads him into the flat. “Never deleted your emails either, stupid as that sounds. And I may have, uh, taken care of a bunch of traffic tickets for your sister--I put up an alert on the name Hooper, just in case, but she was all that ever came up.”

“Yeah, Flo’s not great about speed limits,” Molly says, setting her bag down on the sofa. Greg’s looking around the flat like he’s walked into a memory--which is probably how it feels, Molly realizes, and she smiles. “I, um. I got Mycroft Holmes to transfer Anderson to another division.”

Greg, who’d been in the process of taking his coat off, freezes. After a second, he turns to stare at her, obviously gobsmacked. “You what? You--that was you?”

“I can get him transferred back, if you want,” she adds, beginning to worry that she shouldn’t have mentioned it. “We’re friends now, sort of, me and Mycroft, it wouldn’t be hard--but he was always making your day worse, and I couldn’t talk to you and I just figured--”

“Molly,” Greg says, “just, Christ, Molly, I bloody well love you,” and they both stop talking for awhile.

When they kiss this time, there’s heat behind it--there’s no question where this is going, where they’re headed, and they’ve already wasted so much time. Molly pulls Greg towards her bedroom by the lips, and he follows her easily, guides her backwards; they both know the layout of this flat by heart, and Molly doesn’t bother reaching behind her to open the door, knows without opening her eyes that Greg will get it. He does, keeps the arm he’d swung around her to get at the doorknob circling her waist, and Molly undoes the rest of the buttons on his Oxford, eases it down over his shoulders.

They get stuck, a minute later, when Molly reaches to undo Greg’s belt at the same moment he tugs at the hem of her shirt. His arm knocks against hers and she bites him, just a little, by accident; they break apart, both blinking, and then Greg grins at her, shakes his head.

“Right,” he says, “okay, so maybe--clothes first, yeah?”

“Probably smarter,” Molly agrees, and pulls her shirt off.

That doesn’t end up getting them anywhere, actually; Molly doesn’t even get the chance to experience the fleeting moment of embarrassment that always accompanies showing this much skin, because Greg’s eyes go wide and hungry, and his hands are on her again a second later. He skates both palms down her sides, along the path of her ribcage, and leans down to suck a kiss into the curve of her collarbone. The noise Molly makes is...not attractive, breathy and too sharp, but Greg seems to like it--she feels him smile, feels his head dip lower as he reaches around to undo her bra.

“So we’ve decided to...to skip the, the clothes thing, then,” Molly says, as he slides a hand underneath the newly loosened fabric to cup her breast.

“Clothes,” Greg says, clearly not listening, “right, yeah, those’re bad,” and Molly laughs, does her best to hide it in his hair.

“Come on, then,” she says, and falls backwards onto the bed, pulling him with her. He follows her like he doesn’t know how to do anything else, and she hears the sound of his shoes thudding against the floor as her head hits the pillows.

“D’you remember,” Greg says, as she snakes both hands down to pull at his undershirt, dragging it up over his head, “that, just, that bloody awful Christmas, and you were wearing that...god, I don’t even remember what it was now, just that it was black and it, Christ, it fit you, I’d always known you were fit but you, that night--I went back to my office and had a wank, after.”

“No you didn’t,” Molly says, stunned into stillness; Greg’s pulling her trousers open now, tugging them down, but he stops long enough to offer her a sheepish grin.

“I did,” he says, “yeah, I sure did. Had a wank in my office at Scotland Yard with an open murder case on my desk, I couldn’t help it, you were just--I couldn’t’ve got anything done, otherwise. I had to.”

“That’s,” Molly says, and Greg snorts.

“Bit mad, yeah, I know--”

“I was going to say,” Molly says, “um. I was going to say really...really quite hot, actually.”

“Oh,” Greg says, and then he grins at her, wild and incandescent, like she’s a case he’s finally, finally solved. “Oh.”

“Are you really,” Molly says, kicking her trousers clear, “I mean, really, right now, are you surprised that I want to have sex with you? Really?”

“Decent chance that’ll always be a little surprising,” Greg says, muffled as he lowers his head again. “Still not sure I’m awake, come to that--if I wake up tomorrow and Sherlock’s still dead--”

“No,” Molly says, “no, absolutely not, his name is never allowed to be mentioned while we’re in bed, no.”

“Deal,” Greg says, and then he’s got one of her nipples caught between his teeth, and Molly forgets about everything but how good that feels, how much she never wants him to stop.

It’s quick after that, except that it isn’t; it’s nearly an hour of fooling around before they even get around to finding the condom, which Molly doesn’t realize until she’s fishing around for the box she always keeps in her bedside drawer. It’s not quick, but it feels that way--Greg’s teeth drag over her hipbone, and his tongue flicks up and inside of her, and she finds herself slid low at one point, jaw as close to unhinged as she can get it, sucking him for the simple pleasure of watching him arch off the mattress. By the time he’s properly inside her, thick around and actually quite a bit bigger than she’d ever dared to expect, she’s already come twice, is as wet as she’s ever been in her life. She wraps her legs around her waist and cants herself up, hard, and the noise Greg makes is aching and choked raw and beautiful, almost as hot as the way his fingers spasm against her her thigh.

It’s enough--it’s more than enough--for a few glorious minutes, the way he drives into her, keeps a hand on her thigh to steady her and uses the other to trace unsteady, staccato patterns into skin beneath her breast. It’s more than enough, but Molly’s already come twice, wants to go again when he does; when his breathing quickens she slides a hand down between them, brushes two fingers against her clit.

“Bloody fuck,” Greg chokes out, when he realizes what she’s doing, and he’s coming a moment later, hard enough that she can feel it through the condom. That throws her over, the way the moan scrapes out of his throat, the way his stupidly toned biceps tremble with the effort of holding himself up, and they ride it through together, Molly biting down on his shoulder to keep herself from actually screaming it out.

“Wow,” Greg says. It’s some time later; he’s slipped out of her, thrown the condom towards the trash, but other than that neither one of them’s moved. Molly not sure she could move if she wanted to, but since she doesn’t want to, that’s alright. “That was...wow, Mols.”

“Mmm,” Molly agrees, tracing an aimless pattern into the skin above his shoulder blade. “Up to your standards, then?”

“I think my standards have been--” Greg stops, yawns hugely, and finishes, “incomplete. Put together wrong. In need of rewriting.”

“Is that so?”

“Looks that way,” he says, and offers her a lazy grin. “Any ideas as to where I could find someone to help me out with that?”

Molly stares at him for a second; then she bursts out laughing, entirely without other options. “Now, see, that? That was quite smooth, actually. Well done.”

“Flatterer.”

“You always say that,” Molly says, too easily, and then...remembers. She freezes, the three years between them crashing back down, but Greg’s still smiling at her, so maybe it’s alright.

“We’re going to have to catch up properly,” he says, eyes sliding shut. “Not...not right this second, I don’t think, because I think it’s safe to say my mind’s been a bit blown, but. Later. Wanna know what you’re, uh. All the things. You’ve been up to.”

“You are so falling asleep on me, aren’t you?” Molly says, amused now, moment of uncertainty abandoned, and Greg cracks one eye open.

“Maybe,” he admits. “‘M not, y’know. Young as I was...uh, nope, you know what, think I would’ve needed a good sleep after that even when I was like...fifteen.”

“Having a lot of sex at fifteen, were you?”

“Oh, loads,” Greg says, and his yawn cracks a little this time. “Quite the party animal, me, envy of all the lads. Loads of sex.”

“Really?”

“Nah,” Greg says, laughing drowsily on it, “had one girlfriend before Eliana and I was thrilled if I got her to hold my hand. I was a bit weird, honestly. Spotty as all hell, too.”

“You were not,” Molly says.

“I was,” he says, “don’t tell anyone at the Yard, they’ll go on about it for years.”

And he’s actually asleep before Molly can say anything to that, breathing going slow and even like a switch has been flipped. He’d passed out on the confession of being a spotty teenager after three years of silence, and that is just so...so not what Molly was expecting, and everything she was expecting, and so much better than anything she’d have let herself expect in any case.

She grins at him, not that he’ll see it, and flips off the light. He’s right; they can catch up in the morning.


Epilogue

Coroner, the badge reads, and she runs her fingers over and over the lettering, as proud as she’s ever been in her life. Graduating from Imperial had been one thing--Flora waving from the back and Greg leaning against the wall at the end of the first row, grinning like a madman, in full uniform so no one would tell him to sit down--but this, here, is something else. Molly’s going to get to go back to her morgue, and it’s going to be properly hers this time; you can go home again, but bigger and better, fully qualified.

“It’s bloody early, Mols,” Greg slurs, next to her. “And my day off, and...and basically Christmas. ‘S a badge. ‘S very impressive. Sleep?”

You can sleep,” Molly says. “I’m not stopping you sleeping, I’m being very quiet.”

“Smugness has a sound,” Greg tells her, cracking one eye open and doing a frankly shoddy imitation of a glare. “Loud as hell, smugness. Not that you haven’t earned it, mind--”

“Too right.”

“See,” Greg says, “see how loud that was, whole room sounds smug now, ‘s very hard to sleep through.”

“That,” Molly says, “is the sound of you talking rot. I could see how you’d get it confused, what with how you hear it all the time--”

“Ooh,” Greg says, opening his other eye. “Now that’s crossing a line right there, that kind of behavior. Might even call that slander--this hour of the morning, definitely slander. Illegal, you know, slandering people, ‘specially before eight.”

“You going to arrest me, Detective Inspector?”

“Thinking about it,” Greg says, and then he adds, “Doctor Hooper,” because he’s cottoned on to the fact that it maybe, kind of, still turns her on a little to hear it.

“Hmm,” Molly says. She puts the badge down and offers Greg a slow, sly smile. “Answer me this, then: how early is too early to finish what we started last night? Legally speaking, I mean. Since you’re the authority and all.”

“That,” Greg says, propping himself up on an elbow and leaning toward her, “is playing dirty, definitely going to have to arrest you,” and Molly’s genuinely looking forward to starting her day off right when her mobile rings.

“Oh my god, really?” Greg says, collapsing back on the pillows as Molly fumbles for her phone. “Just, who is it, it’s your sister, isn’t it, it is always your bloody sister when this happens, it’s like she’s timed it--”

“Hi, Flora,” Molly says, rolling her eyes at Greg.

Greg just sighs and mutters, “Evil, fucking hell,” into his pillow. This turns out not to go well for him, because Flora says, “Is that Greg I hear? Hope I didn’t wake you--put him on, though, I need to talk to him.”

“She wants to talk to you,” Molly says, and Greg groans.

“No she doesn’t,” he says, “‘m not here, I’m in....in....Bali.”

“Bali? Really? That’s the best you can do?”

“Russia, then,” Greg says. “Scotland. America. The Black Lagoon, I don’t care, anywhere that isn’t here--”

“I can hear him, you know,” Flora says.

“I do know,” Molly agrees. “And I’d stop him, but then again--well. Are you or are you not calling to attempt to abuse his Scotland Yard privileges?”

There is a telling silence from the other end of the line. Molly smirks, and Greg groans again.

“Oh, god, just give it here,” he says, and then, when Molly’s handed him the phone, “What, Flora.”

There’s silence for a few seconds; then Greg says, “No, not in jurisdiction,” waits another moment, says, “Flora, what is it you think I do, exactly?” and falls silent again. Another, longer pause, during which Greg gives Molly an extremely long-suffering look, and then, “Scotland Yard does not care about--no, there is no one embezzling funds from a Homeowner’s Association, lifting the petty cash is not--aren’t there police in Guildford? Anywhere? Can’t you call them?”

“Oh my god, give her back,” Molly says. Greg hands the phone over gratefully and then actually buries his head under the pillow, and Molly bites down on a laugh. “Must you torture him, Flo? It’s not like we won’t, you know, actually be there for Christmas tomorrow, might be nice if he wasn’t afraid for his sanity.”

“I’m not,” Greg says, muffled, and then, “Nope, check that, bloody terrified for it, carry on.”

Flora just laughs, tinny through the speaker. “He just makes it so easy. I promise to be nice when you get here, though I can’t speak for Tom--he’s more than a little put out that Greg’s got Michael cheering for West Ham, just warning you.”

“Oh my god, he’s six,” Molly says, “is this really a concern?”

“Apparently,” Flora says, even as Greg mumbles, “Yes.”

“You don’t even know what we’re talking about,” Molly hisses.

“West Ham,” Greg says, not without smugness. “Tell her to tell Tom that that’s what he gets. Chelsea, nobody should grow up supporting Chelsea. It’s not right. Poor kid’ll turn out impossible.”

“Alright,” Molly says, over the sound of Flora making a faintly outraged little noise, “much as I love playing the go-between for your psychotic footie drama--”

Chelsea,” Greg mutters again, apparently to himself.

“Flora, did you call for a reason?” Molly finishes. “Other than torturing my boyfriend? Is there really something that can’t wait until tomorrow?”

“Oh! Yes, actually,” Flora says, and there’s the sound of rustling paper. “Sorry, got distracted, it’s just--we got a weird letter this morning, wanted to check with you about it.”

“What kind of weird letter?” Molly says, sitting up a little straighter, and Flora clicks her tongue.

“Not sure, exactly,” she says. “I mean, I could have the legal department at the bank look it over, but, uh, it looks pretty standard, it just doesn’t make any sense--”

“Flora, what--”

“It says I’m not allowed to buy or accept as a gift some piece of...property from you. Address is in Muswell Hill, and Mols, I swear if you bought a house without telling me--wait, oh my god, does this say by royal decree?”

“Oh, he did not,” Molly mutters, and a moment later there’s a knock at the door. “I am going to kill him--Flo, have to go, explain later.”

“Who the bloody fuck--” Greg starts, and then the knock comes again and he sits up a little straighter. “Oh, hell, that sounds official.”

“Yeah,” Molly says, “it does, doesn’t it? I’ll deal with it, hold on.”

She throws on a dressing gown--it’s not a great dressing gown by a wide margin, and her pyjama bottoms are polka-dotted and less than classy, but whatever. If Mycroft Holmes is going to send agents to harass her before eight on Christmas Eve morning, they deserve to find her in less than classy attire.

“Please tell me he didn’t buy me a house,” she says, when she opens the door and finds a man in a sharp suit behind it. “Please, please tell me that.”

“Mr. Holmes would very much like it if you came with us,” the agent says, unfazed. “He suggested that you might wish to bring Detective Inspector Lestrade, though it is only your presence that is required.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I’ll wait,” the agent says, impassive. “For hours, if necessary.”

Molly sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. After a second, she holds up a finger to the agent and turns around, other hand still on the door.

“Greg,” she calls, “Mycroft’s done something cracked, there’s a car here to take us away.”

There is a long, long pause. Molly wonders for a minute if he’s fallen asleep again after all; when he does answer her, he sounds deeply put out. “Ugh, hold on a minute, then. I’m not wearing any pants.”

“I’ll just...wait downstairs, shall I?” says the agent, and Molly smiles at him.

“Yes,” she says, “I think that would be best.”

--

Molly and Greg spend the car ride to Muswell Hill alternating between rehashing Mycroft’s last few attempts to “repay” her--Molly puts quote marks around the word even when she’s thinking it, because the lunatic obviously sees it as good fun at this point--and staring at each other in slightly panicked silence. Greg, Molly knows, is just this side of terrified of Mycroft, not that he’ll ever admit it; she’s just worried about what he might have done. Last time an agent showed up at their door, it was to deliver a diamond the size of a grape.

Molly hadn’t even bothered taking that one back to the secret room. She’d given it to Sherlock instead, enjoying the way his face lit up with unholy glee when she explained that she was tormenting his brother; if Mycroft was going to ignore her repeated refusals of his money, the least she could do was force him to deal with Sherlock in return.

“What if it’s not a house,” Greg says eventually. “What if it’s, I dunno, a shopping complex or something? A bank! God, what if it’s a hospital? That’d be just like him, wouldn’t it, finding out about the job at Bart’s and buying you a hospital--”

“I’d still want the job at Bart’s,” Molly says. “Left some things unfinished there, didn’t I? Plus, as you’ve already noticed, I’m awfully fond of the badge.”

“You’re off your head,” Greg says, but at least he’s smiling now, some of the tension slipping from his shoulders. He takes her hand, threads their fingers together. “You’d take that badge over a whole hospital, then?”

“In a heartbeat,” Molly says, grinning back at him, and then car pulls to a stop.

As it turns out, it’s a terrace house. Molly was expecting...well, something hideously lavish, honestly, too gigantic to be logical by any stretch of the imagination. Instead it’s small and understated, the kind of place she’d have picked out for herself, even if the bricking does look to be a slightly different color that that of its neighbors. It’s tucked away on a quiet little street, and there’s a huge red bow on the door, an envelope sticking out from beneath it.

“I am going to murder him, Greg,” she says, walking up the front steps, “I’m going to bloody murder him, can you get me off on...on justifiable homicide, that’s a thing, yeah?”

“Definitely a thing,” Greg says. He glances up and down the street, then up at the house, and whistles under his breath. After a second, he slips an arm around her waist, rests his chin on the top of her head. “Lovely neighborhood, though, not that it matters. Bet it’s gorgeous in the spring. Go on, then, open the letter, let’s see how bad it is this time.”

The letter itself is handwritten on Mycroft’s almost frighteningly non-specific stationary; the top corner just reads, Mycroft Holmes - Official, but Molly’s used to that by now, has come to expect it. What she’s not expecting is the pile of papers it’s sitting on top of--what she’s really not expecting is what it says.


Dear Ms. Hooper,


Enclosed please find the deed and construction information for 2122 Wood Vale, Muswell Hill. When it became apparent to me that you were hell bent upon refusing my tokens of gratitude, it was decided that I would have to resort to a method of payment you could would be incapable of refusing. As such, please be advised of the following:


a) This home was build specifically for your use, and, indeed, in your name; the previous 2122 Wood Vale has been torn down and replaced. As such, there are no previous homeowners, and you cannot return the property to them.


b) I have determined, through means of exhaustive research, which of your friends and acquaintences might be willing to accept a house from you as a gift. They have all been banned from accepting said gift. In fact, this piece of property cannot be given away or sold for a period of ten years; such activity has been embargoed, for your safety.


c) As I would not wish to repay you in a way that would risk your bankruptcy, a trust has been set up to cover tax, significant repairs, and so forth. At the end of the aforementioned ten year period, should you choose to sell the property, said trust will be dissolved. If, of course, you opt to live in the home, the trust will continue to cover tax, etc.


d) My brother will advise you to burn it down. I strongly advise that you refrain from doing so--even if you do nothing more than let it sit here for the next decade, sell it, and donate all the proceeds to charity (which, again, I advise strongly against, as I suspect you would be doing it solely out of spite), your credit score will improve accordingly. Also, I don’t believe Detective Inspector Lestrade (yes, hello, Detective Inspector, I assume you are reading as well) can simply turn his back on cases of arson, now can he?


In all honesty, Ms. Hooper, while I have enjoyed our little exchanges immensely, I really would consider it a favor if you would simply accept this and allow us both to move on. It is quite sincerely the least I can do, given the fate you prevented my brother--and, in many ways, the nation--from befalling.


Your point of communication has been shut down, though I do imagine I’ll see you again, possibly in conjunction with my brother’s seemingly endless antics.


With Deepest Gratitude,
Mycroft Holmes

There is an addendum, at the bottom of the note, in rather different handwriting.


P.S. Molly, just take it. Seriously. You earned it, and it’ll make my life easier.
P.P.S. Oh, and if you ever so much as BREATHE to MH that I added a post-script to one of his handwritten letters, I will be removed from my job by means of swift death, and I will come back as a vengeful ghost and haunt you for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, just so we’re clear. -A

Molly lets out a long, low breath. Behind her, Greg shifts a little, tightens his grip on her waist.

“What does he mean, ‘for your safety?’” he says eventually, and Molly sighs.

“I think it’s the Mycroft Holmes equivalent of an in-joke.” She almost laughs when Greg shudders a little; she would laugh, if not for the circumstances. “Yeah, I know.”

“One day,” Greg says, “we’re going to move to the moon, alright? You and me and maybe, maybe Octavia can come visit sometimes, she’d probably like the moon--but none of these nutters, we’ll leave them all here.”

“You say that like they wouldn’t just find us.”

“It’s wrong to crush a man’s dreams like that,” Greg informs her, and slips back into stunned silence again.

Molly flips through the stack of papers, because she might as well--construction receipts with her name on them, the deed with her name on it, the access information for the trust with her name on it--and does her level best not to actually have a heart attack. There is a key taped on the last page, next to a perfectly accurate version of her signature on something she certainly never signed, and she takes another deep breath as she pulls it free.

“Okay,” she says. “So. Um. Okay. This is....um. Wow.”

“Uh,” Greg says, sounding as shocked as she feels. “Should I just...assume he forged your signature, then? On official financial records?”

“Best not to think about it, I’d imagine.”

“Right,” Greg says faintly, “right. So let’s just...have a look inside, then?”

“Yeah,” Molly says, “yes, that’s...probably what we do now, isn’t it,” and she unlocks the door.

It’s lovely, as it happens, all warm tones and muted colors, a big picture window in the living room, a small but serviceable garden. Mycroft didn’t furnish it--and thank god, because who knows what Mycroft Holmes would deem appropriate furnishings--but there are appliances, a washing machine in a small side room, a fridge and a range in the kitchen. Molly and Greg split off after the first few minutes, Molly going upstairs to find three bedrooms (Really, she thinks, doesn’t say, what point is he trying to make here) and Greg drifting down to the basement.

“There’s a huge gun safe down here,” he calls up the stairs a few minutes later. “A bloody huge--oh, Christ, what if there’s weapons inside, where’d you put the paperwork, maybe there’s a code--oh, it’s open. And...yeah, empty, thank god. Never mind!”

Molly doesn’t answer him; Molly can’t answer him, actually, because there’s a room at the end of the hall, door open like it’s waiting for her. When she steps inside, she makes an embarrassing little noise that she’s glad no one hears; it’s an office, gleaming cherry-wood bookshelves built into the walls, a window seat tucked into one corner. He’s had a cat bed left at the far edge of the room, the bastard, like he knows as well as she does that this is where Atticus would choose to sulk.

It’s perfect. It’s a perfect house. Mycroft Holmes built her a perfect house, in her name, that she can’t get rid of or give back--Mycroft Holmes has repaid her, permanently and irrevocably, and what’s more, it’s clear he could have done so all along. He’s been playing along with her refusal to accept for her comfort, nothing more, which rather negates her original objection to taking the payment in the first place; she’d assumed he was a man with strings attached, and she hadn’t been wrong, exactly. It’s just that she’s the one holding the strings, in this case. It’s just that she’s the one who pulled them first, and this is simply how he’s deemed it appropriate to cut them.

She gave up her life for three years. In exchange, he’s built her a home. That’s...Molly’s got no idea how to deal with that. She’s not sure she ever will.

She goes downstairs, and Greg’s standing in the middle of what would be the sitting room, if this was their house. If they decided to live here--if Greg let his lease run up the way they’ve been dancing around, if Molly packed up the flat she’s been living in for half a decade, if they threw their lots in together that last, final inch, the way she wants to so much, the way she’s still quite not sure he’s after--if they decided to live here, this would be the sitting room. This would be the sitting room, and they’d put a little table under the window in the kitchen, and Molly’s old, threadbare sofa, the one that’s seen so much of both of them, the one so much her reality seems to have started on--that would go in that office, on the far wall.

Greg smiles at her, tilts his head. “That a good face or a bad face you’re making?”

“I have,” Molly says, stepping forward and into his arms, where things are familiar and comfortable and warm and home, “no bloody idea.”

“Yeah,” Greg says. He slides a hand up into her hair, lets the other one drift down the length of her spine, and she tucks her face into the curve of his neck and takes a long, deep breath. “Yeah, Mols, that makes two of us.”

--

The rest of the day more or less screams by; Molly knows Greg’d been eager to sleep as long as possible because their Christmas schedule is completely bollocksed, packed wall to wall. She's been with people over the holidays before, of course, but not quite this seriously, and between the last minute shopping neither one of them’s had time to do and the Scotland Yard thing they have to make an appearance at and the vague approximation of packing for Flora’s and dinner with Greg’s parents, Molly doesn’t have time to think about the house until it’s almost time to go over to Baker Street.

Shit,” Greg says, towards the end of dinner; his mother, who is, barring Mrs. Hudson, easily the most bloody-minded septuagenarian Molly’s ever met, gives him a dirty look. “Sorry, Mum, sorry, it’s just--Molly, can you, um. Come over here for a minute? “

Molly follows him to the corner of the room and raises her eyebrows. “What’s up?”

“When’s the last time we were at my flat?”

“Uh,” Molly says, because that’s a good question. “...God, I have no idea. Uh. ‘Bout a month ago, maybe? Might even be a little longer than that...huh, hadn’t really thought about it.”

“Me neither,” Greg says, “but it was...what, the night after the Antilion case, yeah?”

“Yeah, I think so. Why?”

“Because I just got a text from my landlord telling me that they’re fumigating tomorrow,” Greg says. “Oh, god, they’ve apparently been putting notices on the door, but since I haven’t been getting there--”

“Oh my god,” Molly says. “Oh my god, how much stuff do you even--wait, fumigating for what?”

“Termites, apparently,” Greg says, “so, I mean, thank Christ we haven’t been sleeping there, that’s disgusting, and I think most of my things are at yours, but I need to, uh. Go grab the rest of what could be damaged, and--”

“You need me to run interference with you parents,” Molly interprets, and Greg makes a desperate, scrabbling sort of face.

Please? Look, I know it’s not ideal, but they’re still a little put out that we’re not spending tomorrow with them, and it’ll only be--”

“Greg,” Molly says quietly, because oh. Sometimes--not often, especially not anymore, but sometimes--Greg falls back on old habits, assumes things that would never be a problem for Molly are going to be huge fights. It crops up a lot around this sort of thing especially; Eliana had, apparently, hated the Lestrades, though Molly can’t imagine why. “I like your parents, remember? And even if I didn’t--which I do, they’re lovely--I love you, and I don’t want all of your wordly possessions coated in chemicals. Go. It’s fine. I’ll meet you at Baker Street?”

“You,” Greg says, kissing her soundly, “are perfect,” and he flees, grabbing his jacket and tossing apologies to his parents over his shoulder as he goes.

Molly ends up spending two more hours with the Lestrades. She really does like them, and it’s possible she’s been waiting for an opportunity to seek photos of Greg-the-spotty-teenager, not that she’s planning on copping to that. Greg’s father drifts upstairs after the first hour, because, “Always nice to see you, Molly, but I’m nearly eighty, that’s as much festivity as I can take,” so Molly helps Mrs. Lestrade with the washing-up, having been soundly waved off when she offered to just do it herself.

And, well. There’s something Molly quite likes, isn’t there, about this generation of women, about Mrs. Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, too. She’s never been close with her own mother, who’s always favored Flora, who’s probably always going to be aware that Molly liked her father best; it’s nice, standing in the dim light of the kitchen with Greg’s mother and talking about nothing at all. There’s a subtle, quiet strength in the life Mrs. Lestrade’s led, a copper’s wife through and through, a teacher for nearly fifty years, and Molly’s always a little amused by how much of Greg is visible in her frankness and perpetual calm.

“He’s mad about you, you know,” Mrs. Lestrade says, when they’ve finished. “Can’t imagine you don’t know, come to that--so don’t you hurt him, alright? Not sure he’d make it through another round of heartbreak.”

“I wouldn’t,” Molly says quietly. “Not again, anyway. Not if I could help it.”

Mrs. Lestrade beams at her, and it’s Greg’s smile; Molly grins back, hugs her goodbye. “Don’t you let him hurt you either, mind--you’re a good girl, Molly Hooper. Paul and I didn’t figure on getting new family so late in life, but we’re glad of it. Happy Christmas.”

If Molly blinks back tears on the way to Baker Street, thinking of family, of homes and houses, of the bits and pieces of her life she thought would never knit back together, well, that’s alright. She’s a grown woman, after all. There’s no shame in it.

--

Greg’s beaten her to 221B, which is readily apparent from the moment she walks through the door. There’s the sound of a terrible row drifting down the stairs, and Greg’s voice--”Oh for god’s sake, Sherlock, calm down, no one’s actually been--no, don’t throw it, Jesus Christ, how do you two make it through the day on your own?”--is easily distinguishable above the din. Molly pushes into the flat to find John and Sherlock both red in the face, standing over a Cludeo board that looks to have a large gash through its middle; Greg’s got a hand on each of their chests, holding them apart, and Mrs. Hudson’s sipping tea calmly in the far corner.

“Molly, dear,” she says, “come in, come in, good to see you. Happy Christmas!”

“To you too, Mrs. H,” Molly says. It seems to break the spell; Sherlock scowls and tosses himself down onto the sofa lengthwise, turning his face away from the room, and John throws his hands in the air and stalks off toward the kitchen.

Greg just raises his eyebrows at Molly, coming round the table to kiss her hello. “We are never coming here for Christmas again.”

“It’s not Christmas until there’s a proper row,” Molly counters, leaning around him to hang up her coat. “Your flat going to survive?”

“Who knows? But my things are safe, if that’s what you meant--left them on your kitchen table, I’ll move them when we get back from Guildford.”

“It’s fine,” Molly says, because it is. They’re going to have to talk about the living situation thing anyway; this’ll only bring it to a head that much faster, which is probably for the best, all things considered. “What’re they on about, then?”

“No idea, I just got here myself, walked in on it,” Greg says. “You want a drink?”

“Sounds like I’m going to need one,” she says, and follows him into the kitchen to say hello to John.

The row turns out to have been, unsurprisingly, about a game of Cluedo; Molly suspects, from both the volume level and the fact that John yells out “I think he’s bored out of his mind,” when Molly asks him how Sherlock’s doing, that it was also about quite a bit more than that. In the eight months he’s been back, Sherlock hasn’t taken on a single case. They’d both thought it was for John’s sake at first, but John had shrugged and shaken his head when Molly asked him, said Sherlock left in the mornings and came back at night, that he certainly hadn’t asked the mad bastard to stop consulting. Greg had asked Sherlock about it, eventually, in the middle of begging his advice on a nasty serial murder, and Sherlock had simply invited him out for the day.

“We just walked around,” Greg said that night, contemplative, hands pillowed behind his head. “Talked to some people, went to some very unsavory parts of town, but mostly we just walked. I think he’s...apologizing.”

“To who?” Molly asked, and Greg sighed.

“To London.”

At the time, Molly had thought that was...sweet, for Sherlock, if a little ill-advised; it’s clear now, though, that it’s all come to a head. John scowls at Sherlock and Sherlock scowls at John, and Mrs. Hudson does her level best to cut the tension, but it’s slow going. The whole thing is an exercise in discomfort, and all in all it’s a relief when Molly’s mobile goes off in her pocket.

“Hi, Stamford,” she says, perplexed, even as Greg’s phone goes off next to her, “I thought I wasn’t starting for another week, what--”

“You’re not,” Stamford says, “or you’re not supposed to, it’s only--there’s been an incident, six people dead, looks like poison, and no one else is available to do the autopsy but me, and the wife and I are supposed to--”

“Oh my god, are you really trying to drag me in? Right now?” Molly says, at the same time Greg says, “What, really, on Christmas?”

Their eyes meet; Molly mouths Poisoning? and Greg nods, grins at her.

“Right,” she says to Stamford, talking over the sound of his apologies, “never mind, I can do it. Might be a few minutes before I can get up there, and I’ll expect time and a half--”

“Of course, anything you want,” Stamford says, but Molly’s more interested in the way Greg says, “Be there as soon as I can,” his eyes still bright with excitement and fixed on her.

“Alright,” she says, hanging up, “well, we’re off then.”

“Poisoning,” Greg adds, and everyone glances to Sherlock, whose whole body has tensed up on the sofa. “What d’you say, boys? You up for it?”

There is a long pause, but Sherlock says nothing, and eventually John sighs. “Just go, my god. Go on, Happy Christmas, thanks for coming.”

They stumble down the stairs, far too exuberant for the circumstances, and Molly says, “We’re still going to my sister’s tomorrow, you know,” as Greg waves for a taxi.

“Course we are,” he says, “obviously, in the morning, first thing.”

“And we’re going to figure out what we’re going to do with the house--”

“I was thinking we could just live in it,” Greg says, and then freezes. “Or. Um, oh, Christ, I said that out loud--look, it’s your house and you, you earned it, Molly, and if you’d...but if you’d want to live with me and you want it, then I’d, I think it would be--oh, bugger, I went about this wrong.”

“You want to live in the house,” Molly says, and Greg lowers his arm, stares at her. “You want to live in the house with me.”

“Well, yeah, of course I do,” Greg says, “but if that’s not what you want--”

“Of course it’s what I want,” Molly says, “how could it not be what I want, obviously it’s what I want,” and then they’re kissing like stupid, crazy teenagers, the middle of the street on Christmas Eve, poison and Cluedo and autopsies forgotten.

At least, they’re forgotten until a familiar voice drawls, “Please control yourselves. John, make them stop.”

Molly and Greg break apart, and John and Sherlock are standing on their front steps. John’s grinning hugely and wearing a battered jacket, fur around the hood, which Molly hasn’t seen for years; Sherlock’s tucking his scarf around his neck, a smooth, familiar gesture.

“Decided to join us?” Greg says, one arm still around Molly’s waist, the other going back up to flag the taxi coming up the street.

“Yes, well,” Sherlock says, as the taxi pulls to a stop, “we decided we could do with a spot of murder.”

“After all,” John adds, “it is Christmas,” and that’s it, the final piece, the last thread knitted together; and just like that, Molly’s home.