She doesn’t go out and bring Sherlock in off the pavement, but she makes sure it gets done. She calls certain numbers she’s been given and it happens. She isn’t the one to clear away Moriarty’s body from the roof either. She doesn’t know until later, from Mycroft, Sherlock’s brother apparently, that there was a body at all. Although she figures it would have to end that way. She wishes she could have seen it, seen the hole out the back of his head, known for sure.
She is responsible for the autopsy. Normally you’re not supposed to do autopsies on people you know, but most people in the morgue knew him. And she was the only one willing to work with him in life, so it was fitting that she be the one to work with him in death. She requests it and her boss signs it off without pressure from Mycroft. Mycroft does, however, cause the morgue cameras to malfunction, or so says the text she gets five minutes later. They wheel in the cart with the body bag and leave her alone with it.
She unzips the bag. His face is white and covered with blood, dried blood streaming down from his gore-matted hair. His eyes are closed.
She takes a faltering step backward and covers a strangled sob with her hand. She was unprepared for the sight and it feels burnt onto her eyes, like the starburst from a flashbulb.
“Sherlock,” she weeps, staring at his body. “Sherlock.”
He opens his eyes and sits up in the body bag, his eyes looking alarmed and confused and uncomfortable and more clear and pale and blue than ever against the contrast of the blood.
“Molly?” She doesn’t look at him, squeezes her eyes shut, but the picture of him still and pale and bloody is still there. “Molly? I’m okay. I’m alive, remember? I’m fine.”
“I know,” she says. But she doesn’t stop crying. He pulls his long legs awkwardly from the bag and climbs down from the cart. The proper response is to put his arms around her, but it takes him a moment to manage it—he just stands there, arms suspended strangely at his sides as though he hasn’t quite made up his mind to do it yet. Then he closes the distance between them with one determined surge and folds her stiffly in his long arms, his wool coat crusted with streaks of dried blood, dried blood flaking down out of his hair.
Molly doesn’t care. She wraps her fingers around the lapels of his coat and puts her face to his chest and cries. She doesn’t think about how strange this might have been a month, a week ago. She just cries and he holds her with a sort of false confidence that’s more genuine than most of the smiles he’s given her. When she stops crying he lets go of her—no squeeze or pat or murmur of reassurance—and she lets go of his coat and wipes her eyes, and they get to their work.
He’ll be leaving by tonight. He doesn’t know where he’s going yet, but they have to prepare a body to bury and he has to get out of sight. Not even she will know where he’s going.
Not even she. Molly does not know why she feels like some last exception. She’s only Molly Hooper.
When it comes time for him to leave—late that night, after most people have gone home—he merely stands at the door for a moment and looks down at her. She looks up at him.
“You don’t have any idea where you’re going?” she asks again, for lack of anything else to say.
“Some idea,” he says curtly. He’s found his way back to his careless, heartless old self since the events of the morning, or is at least pretending he has, and if it’s a little brittle and unconvincing Molly doesn’t say so. There’s a long moment of silence, but Sherlock doesn’t turn to leave, so Molly takes a brave breath to speak again.
“Are you... ever going to come back?” she asks meekly.
There’s a flash of distant pain in his badly-shielded face that she pretends not to notice. When it passes the shield is better than it was.
“Maybe,” he says. “I intend to. But I have work to do first.”
She wants to ask him what sort of work, how long before he’s done, but she feels she’s run out of her allowance of questions. Maybe she wouldn’t like the answers anyway.
“Well. Just so you know. If you need anyone back at home—I mean, down here. I know you’ve got your brother, but he seems awfully... not, you know, one of the humans on the ground.” She smiles weakly to make how terribly she’s put it into a joke. Sherlock doesn’t smile back.
“No,” he says. “He’s never been that.” He doesn’t say “I’ve never been that,” which is more what she was expecting. And then he adds a halting, experimental “thank you,” which she really wasn’t expecting.
“Goodbye, Sherlock,” she says quietly.
“Goodbye, Molly,” he replies. With one final hesitation, he turns around and steps through the door.
She goes to the funeral, and it is as awful as she thought it would be. John looks haunted. He greets her when she arrives but does not talk much. She is standing with him when Greg shows up, and she sees John’s fists clench. Everyone sees John’s fists clench, including Greg, as the two men stand and look at each other.
“All right then,” says Gregory Lestrade after a moment, lifting his chin. “If you want to hit me I won’t stop you. I did my duty as an officer but not as a friend. I shouldn’t have doubted him.” It’s a speech that’s clearly been practiced at least once, and it’s followed by a long, tense pause. If John punches Greg at Sherlock’s funeral Molly isn’t sure she can stand it.
But then John nods, a small, tight bob of his head, and Greg nods back at him. Molly tries not to exhale too loudly in relief.
There’s not many more than them. Mrs. Hudson, of course, and two others she thinks she recognizes from the force, and a few more whom she figures must have been clients. His brother does not come. It is a modest graveside service, nothing more. Molly watches as they lower a casket, containing the dressed-up body of a man who’d had even less in the way of friends and family than Sherlock. It turns out it didn’t matter much anyway—nobody but Molly got a look at the corpse. Not even John wanted to see. He’d already seen enough.
None of that matters when they throw the first shovelful of dirt on the casket. She cries. Because however you slice it, he’s gone, isn’t he?
Mrs. Hudson, on the other side of the grave, is crying too, soft sobs into her handkerchief, John’s arm around her. John is not crying, but that’s somehow worse. He stands very still and stiff, his eyes glued to the casket, and his breathing is subtle and ragged like he can’t quite catch his breath.
After a few minutes Greg comes over and taps her on the shoulder.
“Do you need a ride home?” he murmurs. Molly takes a deep breath and nods.
“Thank you,” she says. “Yes.” She looks around. The rest of the mourners are gone by now. Greg and John make eye contact and nod again, and then Greg puts an arm across Molly’s back and turns her gently away from the grave.
“I did what I had to do,” he says quietly as they make their way across the quiet cemetery toward his car. “But I wish I could tell him that I’m sorry I doubted him.”
“I never doubted,” Molly says, even quieter than he. But it’s loud enough to be heard, for him to look up from the trodden grass and at her. It isn’t kind, she knows; it isn’t Greg’s fault for doubting. There’s no more reason to believe in Sherlock’s innocence now than there’d ever been, really, except that once he was dead he became to them all a friend, not a colleague or a suspect, and it was suddenly impossible to disbelieve him. He is still disgraced to the rest of the world, and it is generous and risky for Greg even to be here.
But she doesn’t add anything else, and she doesn’t meet his eyes, and after staring at her for a few seconds, Greg looks back down at his feet. The rest of the walk and the drive to her flat are silent.
It feels empty in the hospital without him, even though he didn’t usually visit more than once a week or so. It feels empty everywhere, as if she can tell what a London with Sherlock Holmes feels like contrasted to a London without. And although her coworkers try not to discuss the ‘Holmes scandal’ around her, she hears them sometimes, dredging up some new “it makes sense now, of course, but I always thought” from their experiences with him. As a rule none of the lab workers spent much time with him; they let her take the shifts when he’d be working a case. But Molly is too tired to be angry. She’s tired a lot, these days.
It is a few months later when one day at work, her phone pings.
She seldom gets texts or calls except to call her in to work, so she usually just leaves her phone in the front pocket of her handbag when she’s working. She actually assumes that the sound belongs to someone else’s phone until it’s time to go home.
The text there is from a number she doesn’t recognize.
It’s quiet here. Nothing like London.
She stands in the doorway of the lab, her hand on the lightswitch, and stares at it.
There’s one name that comes to mind, of course. But she can’t really believe he would. It must be a wrong number, she decides.
She still stands there looking at her phone for a long minute before she leaves. On the tube on the way home she takes her phone back out and stares at the text again. She puts it away. Takes it out. Puts it away again.
It’s obviously a wrong number.
She goes home and feeds Toby, has supper, gets ready for bed. Just before she turns the lights out, she sits on the edge of her bed and takes her phone out again.
Who is this? she texts to the mystery number.
Immediately she gets a text back from her service provider.
number does not exist
Well she knew it was a wrong number, didn’t she, it could hardly be anything else. It could hardly be a text from a dead man, a man in hiding, who laughed at loneliness and called sentiment a fatal weakness. And that isn’t fair either, no more fair than what she said to Lestrade, because she’s knows firsthand he’s human. She’s seen Sherlock laid low, hunted, loneliness making his voice rasp, sentiment boiling in his eyes.
It’s been months, and she’s started to be able to act normal. But she still has to repeat to herself “It doesn’t matter as long as he’s safe” silently over and over until she goes to sleep to keep herself from doing something stupid like crying.
She drops her phone in the pocket of her lab coat the next day instead of leaving it in her handbag, although she pretends that it’s an arbitrary decision, nothing to do with her wrong-number text, nothing to do with anything.
There are no texts. She even checks a few times, in case she didn’t hear it chime, but there’s nothing. She feels like an idiot. She tries not to think about it.
There are no texts the day after, either. She puts it in her pocket again, but only checks once.
On the third day, she puts her phone in her pocket again, but mostly so she won’t have to admit she was ever hoping for anything. At 11:26 the phone chimes and for a moment she doesn’t place the sound. When she does, she tries to be casual about retrieving the phone, but nearly drops it in the process.
I’ve started smoking again, the text says.
She finds her way to a chair and sits staring at the text.
Sherlock? she texts back after a few moments.
number does not exist
She blinks once at it.
“I’m going to lunch,” she announces suddenly to anyone listening, standing up. One of her coworkers working on something across the room looks up curiously, but Molly doesn’t stop to explain herself. She just takes off her lab coat on the way to the door and drops it on a table without breaking stride.
She heads for a side of the building usually used for smoke breaks, and confirms that nobody is around using it or that or any other purpose before she lifts the phone she is still holding tightly in her hand and punches Mycroft’s number in.
“Sherlock,” she says, as soon as he answers. It isn’t a question.
“My brother is dead, Miss Hooper,” he replies cooly. She bites her lip, but won’t be dissuaded.
“The dead don’t text,” she says.
There is a short pause.
“Having these conversations is not a risk I am willing to take,” says Mycroft, his tone more clipped now.
“Then we’d better make sure we only need to have one,” she answers. Her tone is mild, but she's still surprised at herself and has to fight the urge to apologize.
There is a lengthy silence. She hears him sigh.
“It’s a one-way line. Untrackable. If you’ve been texting him back, he’s not been getting them.” Another silence. “You’re all he’s got,” adds Mycroft, which is not what she was expecting to hear.
“He’s got you,” she says. “He’s got John.”
“He doesn’t have John right now,” says Mycroft. “And it’s been a long time since he admitted to having me. I help him, but he doesn’t confide.”
A pause. “I’m all he’s got?” she says.
“Yes, Miss Hooper,” replies Mycroft. “You are.”
By the time she has finished processing that, Mycroft has hung up.