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.
Sherlock's side of the first few months.
John has moved out of their flat.
It’s what Sherlock assumed would happen, and he’s glad he didn’t waste any equipment surveilling 221B. But it’s still a lonely thought, John somewhere else, some blank nowhere he can’t see and can’t imagine, their home, their furniture gathering dust. That’s in Mycroft’s report too, that John has failed to get rid of Sherlock’s things. There isn’t much else. His brother’s messages are sparse and unemotional. How did Molly put it? “Not one of the humans down on the ground.”
The message that brought him here, to a little flat just outside Nice, France, was similarly brief--an address, and nothing more, delivered with his new false passport and a secure emergency phone. It was somewhere to be while he figured out what to do next, and it didn’t endanger anyone, so he’d gone along with it.
But he’d been holed up here busily not endangering anyone--including international criminals--for a long time now. There had been few leads, nothing strong enough to pick him up and take him elsewhere. He had a collection of new data to sort through today, but it’s hard to find anything worthwhile amid all the noise and vague rumors that usually trail off into nothing. He snarls at the thought and jumps up from his chair to pace. He’s been doing a lot of pacing lately.
After a moment he sits back down with a thump and flips the laptop open. He double-clicks a little icon on his taskbar and stretches his arms above his head while he waits for the window to load. He rolls his neck, but he knows that no amount of stretching and rolling will smooth the tension from his spine and shoulders. It settles there in the night during the dreams he can’t remember, and if it doesn’t leave during the first catlike stretch of waking, it doesn’t leave at all.
A scratchy image of the St. Bart’s morgue appears on his computer. Someone is finishing up an autopsy with their back to the camera, but it’s nobody he knows. He sighs, but leaves the feed open and reaches for the stack of papers that were delivered to his flat this morning.
He has to reread the first page three times to retain what it’s saying. He hates this place. He can’t focus in all the quiet. He looks back up at the camera feed; Molly is there now, standing on the other side of the gurney and speaking to her co-worker with a pleasant smile and a low voice that come over the speaker as just a staticky murmur. He wishes idly to hear what she’s saying.
It’s a sudden, foolish thought that seizes him, and Sherlock knows that if he takes a moment to think it through, the impulse will pass.
He doesn’t take the moment before reaching for his phone.
Molly does not react to his text in the way that he was expecting, in that she does not, in fact, react at all. He leaves the camera feed open all day while he pages through his stacked papers and snapshots, which is going to be hell on his internet usage but oh well. She comes and goes--her position may be in the morgue, but she has business elsewhere surprisingly often, between paperwork and lab work. It is extremely inconvenient.
If John were here he would say that Sherlock is irritated because he is not used to being ignored, least of all by Molly Hooper. And then Sherlock would snap back that John has always possessed a special talent for sniffing out the painfully obvious, and then John would possibly lose his sense of humor and disappear behind the newspaper.
Even the John in his head is not comforting.
He slumps in the chair in front of his laptop, dissatisfied, as she turns out the lights in the morgue for the day with only a brief pause at the door to look at her phone. He doesn’t know what he expected, really, since she can’t actually respond, but it doesn’t stop him from sulking a bit. The camera goes dark; the dull glow of backlit black is not enough to light the little flat. Sherlock sits in the dark for several long minutes, hands steepled, staring at the screen but seeing the papers and photographs he has spent the day poring over.
Suddenly his mind snaps back into its place behind his eyes.
“Prague,” he says out loud to absolutely no one. After a moment of the echoing silence, he blinks fully awake and looks around, remembering where he is.
He frowns self-consciously at the empty room and the dark computer screen. Then he jumps up a little too quickly and sets about packing. There is a flight leaving in an hour and a half for Prague--if he’s fast he won’t have to spend another night in this awful flat, he thinks.
He convinces himself for an hour and a half more that it’s where he is that’s wearing on him, instead of where he’s not.
He is in Prague when he thinks to text her again, staking out a largely vacant office building and puffing restlessly on a cigarette. If it were a case at home, a stakeout in London, he wouldn’t need the cigarette. When he was in France he thought that as soon as he had a lead to chase he’d be all right, but this isn’t that much better than sitting in his Nice flat. Sherlock stares out the window through his black binoculars and wonders if it’s always going to be like this.
He takes another drag and pulls out his phone. His fingers hover over the beginning of John’s number, but it’s a moment of indulgence and not an actual consideration. He puts in Molly’s number instead because he doesn’t want to just put the phone back in his pocket.
I’ve started smoking again, he types, because he can’t tell her about Prague or the unsatisfying stakeout. He can’t log on to watch her reaction, and she probably isn’t paying any more attention to her phone than she was the first time, but it’s enough of a connection back home to last him. He puts his phone away and puts his binoculars back to his eyes.
It takes two weeks before he can confidently put a bullet in his target’s head. It only takes two days to confirm he’s definitely one of Moriarty’s men, but the rest of the time to make sure he has all the information he can gather from observation. It is long, tedious work, much more suited to Scotland Yard.
But there’s no Scotland Yard on this case, he reminds himself. No Lestrade, no forensics lab. And no John.
It’s fine, it’s only that he’s not used to doing all the work himself. He frowns, smoking unobtrusively under a streetlight outside his target’s home. Normally, for instance, Mycroft’s people could be relied upon to take care of this particular part.
“Good evening, Mr. Branham,” he says as the man stops in front of his door with his keys. Sherlock drops his cigarette and grinds it out beneath his shoe. “I was hoping to have a few words with you about a mutual acquaintance.” He smiles politely and Mr. Branham blanches. “Shall we step inside?”
Just twenty minutes later he is walking back out, down the deserted street, shoving a gun impatiently back into his jacket pocket with a bored curl of his lip. With the other hand, he reaches for his phone.
Molly is brushing her teeth when she hears a text ping, after these weeks of waiting. She runs into the bedroom from the bathroom and digs her phone frantically out of her purse, her purple toothbrush hanging out of her mouth.
I’d hoped taking down an international crime ring I’d at least be talking to people who knew what they were doing. Am thus far disappointed.
She smiles through toothpaste foam but wonders at his daring to send something like that, secure number or not. But then, Sherlock’s choices are often less than ideal when the world is boring or irritating him. She wonders if she should have a word with Mycroft, but decides against it. It isn’t as though he could make Sherlock do anything, and she’s a little too scared of him to try broaching the subject of his meant-to-be-dead brother a second time.
Instead she just stands there chewing absently on the head of her toothbrush and imagining him.
She doesn’t get it quite right. She doesn’t imagine his cheap canvas coat or the specks of still-wet blood on his shirt, his close cropped hair, his face thinner than it once was, thinner than it should be. But she gets the restless stride right, the resentful set of his jaw, the cigarette hanging limply from his fingers.
She smiles out of the corner of her mouth because it’s so him, and she scrubs at her smarting eyes because it’s so him. She wishes she could help. She worries, she can’t help it. She feels stupid. She’s glad he can’t see her.
No, she isn’t.
Molly and Sherlock keep track of each other.
Mollyhooper.co.uk hints that there might be a more confident Molly that shows up whenever Sherlock isn't around--that's also where I got her coworkers, Meena and Caroline, if you're wondering. :)
He doesn’t know how it came around to watching her in the morgue like a fish in an aquarium. It’s something to stare at while he thinks, as one might a fireplace. And all right, maybe it makes London seem not quite so far away.
He understands perhaps a little better than he used to why some people leave the telly on all day for company. Television is no comfort to Sherlock; it’s too full of idiots for his taste. Even when the only channels are in languages he doesn’t speak, he can still hear their shrill stupidity in the foreign syllables, and no matter how low the volume is, it’s still too loud for proper thinking.
The morgue, however, is usually quiet, the only sound his camera’s unreliable microphone can gather a low murmur or a brief conversation called across the echoing room. Some of the morgue attendants play music on their lonely shifts late at night, and Sherlock hits the mute button or shuts his laptop. Molly does not play music, and when she is in the morgue alone it is mostly blessedly silent except for the click of shoes on the floor and instruments on the tables.
Sometimes she hums or sings some radio hit under her breath. Sherlock doesn’t bother to mute it when she sings. It doesn’t grate like the other attendants’ stereo.
He never knew before that Molly liked to sing to herself. There are a lot of things, it turns out, that he didn’t know about Molly.
The shrinking, squeaking, stuttering Molly with which he is familiar is a version apparently reserved for him. Around other people, she stands ramrod straight and speaks with the sort of firmness cultivated by those who have to fight to be taken seriously. She smiles when she makes small talk with her coworkers, but her chin is high as she discusses business.
She’s cornering one now with a clipboard loaded with papers. Sherlock has seen the expression she wears before, on John, and doesn’t need to turn up the volume on their crackly voices to know what’s being said. Some paperwork, some little time-consuming drudgery at the end of a much more interesting project, has not been completed, or has been completed sloppily. She is pointing to spots on paper after paper with the end of a pen, her shoulders square and her mouth a kind but businesslike line. Her voice, what he can hear, does not mumble or squeak.
Her coworker is nodding wearily, eyes glazing over. Sherlock recognizes that look too; the other pathologist will go along with her corrections, not because she’s intimidating or she’s in charge, but because he knows she’s too stubborn to be worth resisting.
Molly has never asked him to do a single pen stroke of paperwork. Sherlock knows he should be pleased, if anything, at getting out so easily, but instead he’s just a little frustrated and he’s not sure why.
The coffee here is different. I don’t like it. Molly laughs silently at her phone and tucks it back into her lab coat pocket. Does he hope she’ll materialize in whatever foreign place he is, with a styrofoam cup of familiar hospital coffee? She wishes she could--black, two sugars, popping into his hotel room or abandoned warehouse or smoky nightclub or wherever he is.
She hopes he’s okay. She doesn’t suppose he’d be texting about coffee if he weren’t.
One of her coworkers, Meena, sticks her head in the morgue door.
“Molly? New one coming in. Can you get it? They need me up in the lab.”
She frowns a ‘You owe me’ frown, and Meena ducks her head sheepishly.
“All right, go on,” says Molly, and Meena waves a quick thanks and disappears again. Molly runs a thumb over the outline of her phone in her pocket, and goes to get some rubber gloves.
Sherlock is sitting behind the steering wheel of a Russian cab, dressed in a slouchy cardigan and beat-up porkpie hat, smoking steadily and keeping one eye on a large building across the street. He has been at this cabbie plan for three days longer than he was expecting and it’s making him tetchy. He has his laptop open on the front seat and the black and white camera feed up and is casting it idle glances now and then.
It’s a slow day in the morgue, it seems. Molly is sitting in a chair against the wall, legs crossed, elbow propped on knee, chin settled in hand, reading a paperback book. Sherlock hooks a forefinger over the bottom of the steering wheel and stares down at the laptop screen for a moment. It’s not just the way she speaks and acts around her coworkers that’s different, it’s even how she acts alone. She holds herself differently, with ease and assurance and good humor.
If there’s anything Sherlock Holmes isn’t, it’s stupid. He knows why Molly might possibly act differently around him. Of course he knows. But how was he to know all this? It’s enormously frustrating--a data set that is by its very nature available to everyone except him. Observation affecting result.
“Quantum science,” he murmured to the windshield, returning his gaze across the street. The field of theoretical physics on the whole was of no interest to him (too intangible) and he had deleted almost everything he had once learned about it one rainy Sunday, but the quantum metaphor was, unfortunately, often applicable. Thus disguise, thus surveillance--but he’d never thought to look deeper than the observed in Molly Hooper.
Sherlock’s target comes out of the door he’s watching, looking about for a taxi. Sherlock switches on the light and takes the cab out of park. He drives toward the man, and reaches over without looking to close the lid of the laptop.
Already sick of stakeouts, says the next text a couple of weeks later. She gets it while queuing for the hospital canteen and thinks about stories John told her once about stakeouts they’d done together. Sherlock’s patience, so short with the rest of the world, was surprising when he had a door or window or street corner to watch, John had said. That was a while ago now, though. Molly hadn’t seen John since the funeral.
“What were you smiling about?” says her friend Caroline, queueing up behind her with a tray. Molly quickly hits delete on the text and drops her mobile in her pocket.
“I wasn’t smiling.”
“Well, not just then. But you were sure smiling when you pulled out your phone. Got a nice text, did you?” she says, grinning. “Seems you get a lot of texts these days.”
“Don’t be awful,” replies Molly, reddening just a little. “You know I hardly ever get texts.”
“Yeah, cos you don’t like to text,” Caroline says, rolling her eyes. “Certainly never return mine. But ‘hardly ever’ is different from ‘never,’ which used to be closer to the truth. Who was that from?”
Molly takes her tray back in hand and moves forward along the counter, chin lifted imperiously.
“Give it up, Caroline, I’m not telling you a thing,” she scoffs.
“If I had a secret boyfriend I’d tell you,” Caroline grumbles.
Molly doesn’t blush at her friend’s unwitting implication like she might have done once. It used to be she made more of things with Sherlock than they were, but now it would be making less.
The truth is so much more important now.
He is inside the ceiling of his flat when he finally slips and gives away the fact of his secret camera.
Below him, four goons are ransacking his rooms, pulling up floorboards, cutting open the cushions of the ratty sofa. Sherlock can hold his own in a fight one-or-two-on-one, but he knows how to pick his battles. Thus he pushed aside one of the ceiling tiles and now here he is in the dark with an armful of valuable papers next to him, his legs stretched out in front along the length of a rafter, ankles crossed, and his laptop in his lap. When they’re satisfied they’ve found all his research, they’ll leave one man to wait for his return and he can take care of them then.
He would be waiting with his gun in his hand, but he’s familiar with the goons in question--he’s been tracking them as much or more than they’ve been tracking him, and he knows exactly how clever they aren’t. He isn’t worried.
Besides, Molly has just gotten a new corpse in, and an interesting one this time--brought in by the Yard, and not by illness or accident. Sherlock wishes the camera were at a better vantage point and weren’t so grainy.
He is nearly leaned over the laptop in eager attention--he hasn’t gotten to do an autopsy in so long!--until Molly actually unzips the body bag and starts describing circumstances of death to her recorder. He plugs in his earbuds and puts the left one in before unmuting. She’s two symptoms in before he thinks to squint a little closer at the man’s fingertips. It’s too poor a picture quality to tell, but by the time the scalpel has come out Sherlock is rolling his eyes.
“His fingers,” he hisses at his glowing screen. There is no pause from the ruckus below him at his noise and he pays it no attention. “Look at his fingers!” he hisses again. The grayscale Molly on the screen does not cooperate.
The audio feed cutting in and out on his left earbud keeps Sherlock updated on Molly’s growing puzzlement, and from his room below the thugs’ growing destruction, and between the two his teeth were grinding.
Finally, Sherlock stuffs a hand into his trouser pocket and pulls out his phone.
Stop wasting time with his the autopsy and look at his fingers, for god’s sake.
It isn’t that he doesn’t realize what he’s doing, it’s just that for the few seconds it takes to send the text, making her do things sensibly is more important than not mentioning the camera.
There is a lag both in the sending of the texts and in the camera feed, so he has a long minute or two to reconsider the decision he has just made before he sees Molly on his screen start at the chime of her phone. She takes a moment of hesitation before looking around--nobody else in the morgue--and quickly hitting stop on her recorder and peeling off her rubber gloves.
When she reads the text, her slowly dawning look of shock is actually very gratifying.
Of course, she immediately starts wheeling around in wild suspicion and he quickly fires off another text just before she starts stage whispering his name to the empty room.
“Sherlock? Sherlock?” she near-whimpers, looking around desperately with eyes bigger and rounder than he had ever seen on a human being who still possessed their eyelids. His mouth bunched up in ruefully to see her--in only a few moments her casual everyone-but-him posture had crumpled into his version of Molly. Her shoulders stood hunched in tense peaks and her head bobbed uncertainly a good three inches lower than before.
When the phone pings, she hurries to check it even quicker than before.
Camera on underside of top tier of industrial shelf against south wall.
She nearly falls over herself getting to the shelf, and shortly his screen is full of her face, pale and rapidly-blinking, as she inspects the camera stuck to its hiding place with a bit of putty.
“Can you hear me on this?” she says, right next to the microphone and much too loud in Sherlock’s ear. He winces and hurriedly turns down the volume.
Yes. Please don’t acknowledge my surveillance again. Mine is not the only camera you’re on.
She backs away from it very quickly, flushing, and then stands in front of the shelf for a long moment more, arms hanging awkwardly to her sides, eyes fixed decidedly not on the camera. Then she takes one halting step back, and then another, and then turns away and goes stiffly back to her autopsy (making notes about the corpse’s fingers before continuing).
Her back is to the camera this time, but the newly-returned bunch to her shoulders is unmistakable, and she does not speak to her recorder above a murmur.
Her phone pings again late that night as she is lying awake in bed. Four texts in twenty four hours, she thinks at the ceiling, when she’s never had more than two a week.
I hope you won’t take the camera down.
She holds the phone above her in bed and the screen illuminates her tentative smile. She wonders what could have reminded him that there was anything “not good” about secret cameras--she doubts he’d normally find anything wrong with it.
“I won’t,” she says quietly, even though she knows he can’t hear her. That is, she’s fairly sure. He’s never been at her flat that she knows.
Instead of that thought making her more nervous, to her surprise, she only laughs.
Everybody, even Molly, has a breaking point.
It is surprisingly (and perhaps a little worryingly) easy not to freak out about the hidden camera. It doesn’t make her as nervous as she might have thought; it’s too hard to keep in mind at all times that the one living person who scares her most might be watching. It’s much easier to remember it at intervals and be anxious a few minutes at a time. As for being angry--well, if she were capable of being really, deservedly angry with Sherlock, who knows where they would all be now?
She even tries to oblige him. With a little practice, both on set and off, she gets good at letting her voice carry unobtrusively while she records notes on autopsies, and casting smiles into empty space in the direction of the camera without arousing suspicion.
Oh, she knows she has a problem, all right?
For all that Sherlock is rude and oblivious and surveils people on hidden cameras without their consent, he’s also clever and brave and since John showed up there seemed to be something else, another gentler, more complex Sherlock that she seldom could catch straight on, like a speck floating in the corner of her eye. You don’t pick who you love.
He doesn’t have anybody else, she thinks, as she pats down her hair before she enters the morgue for the day. I’m all he’s got.
It’s only been two days since she got a text and she isn’t expecting another soon, but she keeps her phone in her pocket anyway. It’s a slow day; it’s just her and Meena in the morgue and no work to be done except for the forms and files from some things earlier in the week. She is working on that, doing her best to ignore the camera (he can’t possibly watch her all the time, he has other things to do and she’s not even interesting) when John comes in.
She was so accustomed to seeing him once that for a moment she forgets that she is no longer accustomed to seeing him, so at first she just stares, trying to figure out why his appearance is startling.
The moment she remembers is also the moment she notices how terrible he looks.
She hasn’t seen him for about six months now--there just hasn’t been much reason, and she’s been busy and he’s been... well. She always meant to go check up on him, but she just never managed it. Greg had, and he’d said John wasn’t looking so good, but that was to be expected, really.
She wonders if Greg has seen John looking like this.
He looks like he’s aged ten years since he last came in here with Sherlock, before all the heartache started, and he carries himself like a soldier who’s just marched eighty miles and is struggling to keep posture for an inspection. He is leaning on his cane. His eyes are haunted and bruised looking, and if she was worried about him before she is doubly so now.
“John?” she says, trying to be warm instead of alarmed. She gets quickly up from the desk and comes over to meet him. “It’s so good to see you. How have you been?”
His smile, crumpled and perfunctory, is even more upsetting than his frown. “Hello, Molly,” he says. “It’s good to see you too.”
“Oh John.” She leans forward on impulse and wraps her arms around him for a long hug. Over his shoulder she makes a meaningful eyebrow gesture at Meena, who nods and slips out of the room. “What brings you to St. Bart’s?” she says as she releases him. “You’re not on a case, are you?”
Molly sees him wince and immediately regrets saying anything. “I’m sorry! I just--Greg said he might ask you and...”
“No, it’s fine,” says John with a smile that’s probably supposed to be reassuring. “Yeah, he did, but I’m... I’m not...” he struggles to find words, but decides in favor of a halfhearted shrug. “I’m not,” he says simply.
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly. John doesn’t even try to smile this time. There is a brief silence which Molly quickly fills. “So did you get a job at the hospital here, then?”
He shakes his head. “No, not here. They did take me back, though, at the clinic where I’d been before.”
“That’s nice,” Molly says falteringly. She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to say and is beginning to wring her hands in spite of her best attempts not to.
Suddenly John sighs a gusty sigh and pinches the bridge of his nose. He somehow looks even more tired than he already did.
“I’m sorry about interrupting you at work, I’ll leave you alone but I, uh. I had something I wanted to ask you.”
“Anything,” Molly says sincerely. She waits while John gathers his words, his eyes closed. Finally he breathes deeply and opens them again.
“You did the autopsy, right?”
Molly goes cold.
If her moment of panic is visible, John gives no indication that he has noticed. He is looking at her, waiting for her answer.
“Yes,” says Molly. Her tone is more level and casual than she expects it to be.
John closes his eyes again briefly, and then sets his gaze on the floor somewhere just past her. He stares fixedly, and the hard line of his mouth she recognizes as his expression of barely maintained control.
“I never saw... it,” he says quietly. “Except for that one glimpse, I never--I didn’t identify it.”
“That’s... for the best,” Molly says gently. Her heart is hammering.
“Yeah,” he replies. John is not looking up, and he’s not blinking. His grip flexes on his cane handle, and his stare is ready to burn a hole in the floor tiles though Molly doubts he’s seeing them at all. “Yeah, maybe.” He takes a deep breath in through the nose. “I just wanted to ask you...”
The pause is just long enough to make Molly nearly panic. But then he wrenches his eyes off the spot on the floor and meets Molly’s.
“Was it him?” he asks her. And his face is broken and pleading and she’s no longer worried, just heartsick. The question is the one she was waiting for but it doesn’t mean anything she thought it would mean. It’s just a last resort he thinks he has the answer to already but needs to hear from someone else.
“I just... I know what you’re going to say,” he says all in a rush. “I know but I had to ask, I had to... how sure are you? There isn’t any way it could have been...”
“Could have been what, John?” She’s going to cry in a moment. She can’t stand this.
“Not him,” he finishes, but it’s choked and he claps his mouth shut quickly over the end, like he doesn’t trust his voice any further than that. She sees his jaw clench and unclench and a hard swallow go down.
She clenches her jaw too as she shakes her head. If she opens her mouth the truth will fall out. She’s never been any good at lying, she’s never been directly asked about this, she’s never had to talk to John about this, of all people. She knows the darkness in his eyes is not suspicion but desperation, but it’s awful all the same. It’s awful, it’s awful, it’s more than her heart can take.
Thank goodness he doesn’t require her to say anything more. He just nods, and swallows again, and nods again.
“Yeah, I... Yeah.” He blinks once, hard. “Yeah, okay. That was all, really. I’ve been doing much better lately, I really have. But that was...”
Molly nods back at him, but still doesn’t open her mouth, still doesn’t trust herself. John smiles that tight, grim smile again.
“I’ll let you get back to work,” he says, and without another word, turns and limps back out of the morgue.
Molly stands staring at the doorway for a minute or so, until she is shaken awake by a ping from her pocket. She retrieves the phone dully.
You can’t tell him.
Molly shoves the phone back to her pocket, then stalks over to the industrial shelf against the south wall. She rips the hidden camera from its puttied place, and shoves it to the back of the shelf, behind some seldom-used boxes and bottles.
“I know,” she says savagely. She turns around and sets briskly back to work, tears stinging her eyes.
If she’s all Sherlock has, that isn’t her fault.
It is an unfortunate fact, which Sherlock learned when John was first getting him off cigarettes, that you seldom know how much you need something until you lose it. He guessed at the impact that losing John would have; he has made no such guess about his St. Bart’s camera. The camera must be face down on the shelf, because it is utterly dark; as for sounds, nothing more than an intermittent, staticky murmur makes it through the wall of supplies between him and the morgue.
It is a week and a half before he finally texts again.
He pretends unconcern for a full hour, and then breaks down and checks the feed. The camera has not been put back up.
At the end of the day, it is still down.
It isn’t even a matter of pride, really. Not here, not hiding like a rat in Places Undisclosed. If he knew what to say to get her to put the camera back up, he’d say it.
He just wants some sort of update. He assumes she’s angry, but it would have to be for a promise she made freely half a year ago, which bewilders him. He doubts it’s for insulting her intelligence by repeating the instructions about John--even if she were the type to consider it a slight, she wouldn’t still be angry.
But how is he to know what type she is anymore, really? He is unequipped to deal with this other Molly, who shows up only on camera and whom he’s never actually met.
He hopes she’s only angry. He hopes she’s all right.
At the end of the second week, he sends an encryped e-mail to Mycroft that just reads Molly?
His brother’s reply an hour later says only Fine.
Four days later he buys a paper from a stand and opens it up to find a white envelope falls out of the gossip page and the advice columns. In it are some printouts of CCTV snapshots, similar to a packet he got while he was staying in France; shots of John, of Mrs. Hudson, two of Lestrade. This time, though, there is also one of Molly, remarkably clear, as she sits on a bench and eats her lunch somewhere outside.
He lingers over all of them, but he leaves Molly’s picture out on the desk when he puts the rest away.
It takes an extreme circumstance--more extreme than usual, that is--to pull Sherlock and Molly back together.
It is a Thursday when John comes in. When the week ends and Molly still hasn’t reneged and put the camera back, it is for John that she is angry. She has never had to witness someone she cared about in such needless pain. She’s never had to lie to a friend either. She’s angry at Sherlock for making John suffer, angry at him for making her lie.
It’s to protect John, another part of her says immediately. But it doesn’t quiet her the way it used to. Because the angry part of her just asks when John Watson ever needed protecting? Or why he couldn’t be protected just as easily without all this pain?
She doesn’t really believe she has any new answers, but for once she has questions. She is angry. She’s okay with being angry--whether she’s right or Sherlock’s right or nobody’s right, she thinks John deserves someone being angry on his behalf. And maybe on her behalf too.
I’m sorry, says the text, and she finds herself sitting on her sofa at home in her pajamas that evening, looking at the text on her phone and thinking So what?
She is angry at Sherlock on behalf of Sherlock.
Of course she knows he’s sorry. She doesn’t doubt it, funnily enough--he’s capable of feeling, she’s perfectly aware, and he spends all that feeling on a handful of worthy people. John, mostly. Mrs. Hudson.
You do count.
All right, then, maybe her as well, though it’s hard to believe. And who knows what being someone who counts to Sherlock really means in terms of regular peoples’ hearts?
You’re all he’s got.
But what does she owe him for that?
She doesn’t have an answer to that one either. She puts her phone back in her handbag, turns out the light, and goes to bed.
Sherlock sends no more texts for a long time.
He stops checking to see if the camera has been put back up, then a week later he stops trying to decide whether to check it. He has plenty of other things to focus on, after all; his trail of leads and threats and promises leads him through Scandinavia and then to the States. Here he feels more comfortable walking in the open without worrying as much about observation or recognition.
He does a lot of such walking, late at night, rather than sitting in his hideouts staring at his papers and his notes and his laptop.
The day comes when he is unpacking from yet another move, and he leaves Mycroft’s surveillance photos in their envelope in the bottom of his knapsack. After that, they don’t come out again.
One bleary Thursday, when Meena is out of the room fetching a lab report, Molly goes over to the shelf. She reaches behind the bottles and boxes and picks up the camera, a tiny black thing with its dried-out putty still sticking to it. She holds it between finger and thumb and peers into its lens. It watches her back.
“Hello?” she says softly. “Are you there?”
Her silent phone is heavy in her lab coat pocket. She stands and waits for a few long minutes, until she hears Meena’s footsteps returning down the corridor. Then she pushes the camera to the back of the shelf again and the supplies back in front of it and goes back to work.
Every day, though, she still puts her phone in her pocket.
Two months after John comes in to the morgue, Sherlock is in Baltimore.
He is lying on his back in an empty trainyard in the cold of an early February night, a dead man lying in a pool of blood about ten feet off and a nearly-dead one lying next to him, taking a few last gurgly breaths.
Theirs isn’t the only blood on the ground around them, or on the knife still clutched in his hand. He isn’t sure where his own knife has gotten to in the melee; this one he’d had to pull out of his own side just in time to slash his second opponent across the throat.
Even with the risk and the cold, it is overwhelmingly tempting just to sit here in this trainyard and recuperate for a few moments. he can already feel the adrenaline draining from him and he feels like he could sleep for days, right here on the ground. But with the crash comes a growing awareness of the pain in his abdomen and the blood wetting most of his right side now.
Sherlock’s cloudy thoughts begin to crystallize around the pain of his wound. There is too much blood and he can feel a heartbeat in his wound pumping more blood out. He pulls off the scarf around his neck with clumsy fingers, and pulls open his coat and shirt to wad it against the stab.
Get somewhere safe, comes the next thought. If the fight was heard, policemen or perhaps additional backup may be coming soon. Sherlock cannot afford to run into either.
His motel room is only a few blocks away, but it’s a long way with the cold and his injuries. By the time he gets to the motel he can barely stand up straight. It takes him three tries to get the key in the lock and he collapses on the bed as soon as he gets inside.
Needle and thread. He needs a needle and thread. And he hasn’t any alcohol, but he does have a lighter for sterilizing the needle at least. He retrieves his mending kit from the bedside table and then digs in his coat pocket for the lighter.
His fingers close around his phone instead.
He pulls it out and stares at it dully. After only a moment’s hazy contemplation, he punches in Molly’s number.
I’ve been stabbed. Any tips on performing sutures?
His laptop is already on his bed, along with a ream of scattered papers. He flips open its lid--amazing how even the smallest actions pull and throb in his wound--still holding his scarf to his side.
The camera feed is dark.
He ignores it and sets about pulling a needle from the mending kit. It’s more difficult than it should be; his hands feel far away from him and the needles are small and securely tucked in their cardboard holster. The lighter is nearly as difficult a proposition--he can’t quite manage to flick the wheel, and he grimaces in concentration around the needle held in his teeth.
“Sherlock?! Are you there, are you all right?”
Sherlock curses between his teeth and nearly drops the needle. He looks over to see Molly’s face filling his screen, creased in alarm. His quivering hands steady a little bit as he drops the lighter for his phone.
Alive. Sterilizing needle, be a mo.
He grabs the lighter again, inhales deeply, and clicks it on with the first try. He pulls his lips as far back from the needle as he can and holds the flame under it. He does not watch the screen, but he listens. The moment when Molly gets his text is clear from a gasp clearly audible even over his camera’s sketchy speakers.
“Oh, oh god. How bad is it? Go to a hospital! Where were you stabbed?”
He can see her restrain herself with difficulty from babbling; her hands flap like nervous birds until they mutually capture each other and hang hooked in front of her chest. He keeps his eyes on Molly, waiting breathless, to ward against his blood-loss drowsiness and the discomfort of his singeing lips. It is a long minute for both of them before he can pick up his phone again.
Side, under ribs. Lost maybe .5 L blood, by clothes. Still bleeding. Hosp not safe
“Oh god. Oh god,” she mutters. But then Molly closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and settles herself. “Are you reclining? Are you keeping pressure on it?”
“Of course I’m keeping pressure on it!” Sherlock snaps at the screen. But he copies her deep breath and reclines on the bed as slowly as he can, wincing all the way down.
Yes, he texts.
“How’s your light?” says Molly.
She gets the text as he’s measuring out some thread from the little cardboard spool in the kit. Upon reading it, her anxiety starts to bubble up again.
“That’s... fine. No it’s not, it’s not fine, you can’t sew up a stab wound with a mending kit! You don’t even know if it hit any organs or arteries!” She’s biting her lip and her hands are fluttering a little again. He’s pretty sure it didn’t, but no, he doesn’t know. Knowing or not doesn’t expand his options.
Nothing for it. Sewing now cant text. Keep talking.
The request (or command) seems to surprise her. “I don’t... What am I supposed to talk about?” The camera shakes a bit as she backs up and sits down in a folding chair. “Um, it’s”--she checks her watch--“quarter after six here. I have the first shift so there shouldn’t be anyone in for a while. I don’t know where you are, so, um, I don’t know what time it is there.”
A pause. His eyes are fixed on his unsettling work so he doesn’t see her. Maybe she blinks hard or licks her lips. “And it’s, uh, February. February fifth. I mean, I know it’s February fifth where you are too, but you... you used to lose track of the date, so.” She’s right. He hadn’t been aware of the date.
“John didn’t invite anyone over for Christmas Eve this year but, you know. We came anyway. Mrs. Hudson and Greg and all. Even his sister Harry was there. She’s--well. She’s what you’d expect from John’s stories. I mean, she’s nice!” she adds hurriedly. “Not much like John. Kind of loud.”
Sherlock grits his teeth and keeps his fingers focused on his task and his mind focused on the sound of Molly’s voice. He wishes he had some morphine.
“John is... he’s struggling. But he’s better than he used to be. Better than he was the day he came in to the morgue.” Sherlock’s eyes are pulled up from his bloody work to where Molly chews her lip in black and white on his screen. “It was... a bad day that day, I think. Out of the ordinary.” Knowing John’s soldier stoicism, more likely the slipping of a good mask. He can see that Molly knows that as well as Sherlock. He looks back down to dab with his scarf at his flooding wound and continues stitching.
Molly’s silence continues for several long seconds during which Sherlock’s ragged breathing sounds louder than should be possible and the stitches burn as though the needle were dipped in lemon juice.
“I’m sorry too,” Molly finally says, in a voice soft enough to crackle over the microphone. Then, to Sherlock’s relief, she breathes deeply and moves on.
“Mrs. Hudson’s still keeping your flat empty. Or maybe she can’t rent it, I don’t know. I doubt it. Mycroft’s been helping keep the press away from her, she told me. They’ve pretty well gotten over it by now--the press, I mean. I guess she still gets the odd passerby taking pictures, but mostly everyone’s moved on. You were in a ‘year in review’ bit on telly in December, though.”
Sherlock rolls his eyes, mostly out of the comfort of old habit. He pauses to press a clean part of the scarf to his surgery site. “I’m glad they’ve stopped,” Molly is saying. “I couldn’t stand it.”
That takes his gaze again from his work, because there’s a Molly he doesn’t hear very often, angry Molly. It’s different from the flustered, stuttering anger he’s seen once or twice, though--it’s quieter, a low, simmering buzz entirely alien to his knowledge of her and entirely fascinating.
“They don’t even know you,” she says. “They’d never met you, they’d never met Moriarty. They were taking one woman’s word for it.” She is more heated now, and Sherlock can’t help it if his eyebrows rise a little. “And my coworkers, too. They never even spoke to you if they could help it! But afterward they kept saying how they always wondered, they could always tell. But they couldn’t!”
One small hand is actually balled into a fist. Sherlock finds himself staring at it.
“They didn’t know at all, they were so wrong and I couldn’t say a thing. And even if I had, they’d just have written it off as... well.”
Her anger fizzles out quite suddenly; her fist relaxes and pushes an invisible strand of hair from her face and her eyes wander toward the floor.
Sherlock is so out of sorts--by the loss of blood, most likely--that it takes him a few seconds to put together what “well” means.
Right. Molly Hooper is in love with him. It’s the kind of thing that slips one’s mind.
He pulls his eyes from the screen and returns with difficulty to his suture. Just a couple more stitches and a knot. He pays close attention to the recent autopsy that Molly has quickly moved on to describe. When he’s finished he lets out a breath he hadn’t been aware of holding, and sticks the needle with its snipped off thread in the side of the mattress before grabbing his phone.
Was the victim a cab driver?
She startles at the chime and then makes a bemused face at the text. “Um, I’m not sure, I’d have to get the paperwork again...”
Darker tan on the right arm.
Her forehead creases in thought. “Yeah, I think he might have.”
Did you get a toxicology report?
“Just a basic, I’ll order a full one.” She pulls a pen out of her lab coat pocket and writes a note to herself on the wrist of the hand holding the camera. He watches her. Her pen takes some coaxing and she sticks the tip of her tongue between her teeth as she writes.
Do you regret getting involved in this? he types on his little phone keypad. It takes concentration through his foggy mind, so he can’t pretend it’s impulse, that he meant to say something else.
She looks directly into the camera at that, and it’s a bit funny, isn’t it, the intent look she gives what’s just a little black eye in the palm of her hand. He doesn’t look away.
“No,” she says. She is all solemnity, and her eyes are as big and round as they were the night he asked for her help. “No.” She’s almost stern. “Absolutely not. No.”
The corner of his mouth tugs up into a smile, and he nods a little to himself.
It’s about 12:30 here. Tired but I feel like I shouldn’t sleep quite yet. Help keep me awake.
She smiles a little. “Would you like a look at the latest cadavers?”
The camera isn’t very good. You’ll have to describe them too.
Molly answers by making her way toward the morgue drawers. “Nothing mysterious or interesting besides the cab driver, but there was a strangulation I did the other day. Let’s see... Yeah, here he is. White male, thirty-four...”
She has opened the drawer and is holding the tiny camera over the body for him, but Sherlock isn’t watching. He has settled back on the bed, awake but with his eyes closed, and as Molly, on the other side of an ocean, describes the corpse of a strangulation victim, Sherlock just listens.
Molly and Sherlock are texting again. And it means something a little more, maybe, than it did before.
The texts, to Molly’s relief, resume. The first comes that evening--once he’d woken up, Molly guesses--and says just Am fine.
She stares at it for a minute before figuring out what seems strange to her about it: the reassurance comes unprompted. She hadn’t asked him to tell her he was all right. She wouldn’t have thought there would be much use to asking. Molly smiles up at the camera where she’d replaced it on the underside of the shelf, in case he is watching. There is no response, which doesn’t mean much.
Another that comes later that week--Enjoying chance to practice my accents--is a little more normal and makes her smile with the thought of Sherlock speaking in an American accent.
The next text two weeks later, however, is the strangest he’s sent yet, and it makes her stop short on the sidewalk.
Are your eyes brown? reads her phone, and Molly blinks her brown eyes at it. She can’t imagine why he needs to know or how she’s supposed to answer on her day off. He’s probably forgotten she doesn’t work on Thursdays, if he ever knew.
Flummoxed, she walks on, her phone still in her hand, and glances at it hopefully every few moments. As she hoped, it pings again a minute later.
Never mind, can’t access laptop at the moment. Being shot at.
Molly stops walking again and stares at her phone. “What...?”
If it were anyone else, she would hope the ‘being shot at’ comment was a joke. She sort of wants to laugh anyway, but her concern dampens any amusement she feels. She just hopes Sherlock got to a place of safety before deciding to text her about her eye color, of all things. Although it can’t be that safe if he’s distracted enough to forget he can’t get a reply from her without his laptop.
Molly stands there looking at the text for a while. But there’s nothing she can do except cross her fingers, close her eyes, and send up a little prayer for him.
In an office building in Chicago, Sherlock crouches behind a desk, clutching his phone in his pocket in one hand and holding his gun ready in the other, his breathing heavy but well-controlled. A shot pocks the wall next to him above the desk, and Sherlock’s mouth bunches in irritation. They were brown, certainly. Or hazel? Dark blue seems extremely unlikely.
He does this sometimes--needs to know, very suddenly, exactly how long it takes an egg to spoil if kept at room temperature, exactly how many steps there are between the flat and the shop. Exactly what color Molly Hooper’s eyes are.
It’s odd, but it’s not the oddest itch his brain has gotten. Sherlock chalks it up to that. He pops up to fire a shot over the desk and then ducks behind it again. Her eyes are brown, aren’t they? He’s almost certain the are. Sherlock hates being almost certain.
This is going to bother him all night.
Two months pass uneventfully. The texts are more frequent than they used to be, and they make her worry or they make her smile.
Think this motel is dirtier than the highway underpass where I slept last week. More bugs, certainly.
The only thing worse than being stuck in one place is traveling.
Sky today is ridiculous. Puffy white clouds on blue sky like something in a magazine advertisement.
There are even, to her surprise, some about her. Have that song you were humming in the morgue yesterday stuck in my head, says one. You aren’t in today. Morgue profoundly boring, says another. They make something in her chest flit once, like a single beat of wings, but she scolds it away.
She wishes quietly sometimes that she could see him again.
Sherlock is glad Molly is not there to see him.
The thought arrives unexpected as he tucks a blowdart pipe away in his jacket pocket and steps smoothly out of an alley and into the crowd on the pavement. It’s an interesting thought to have, and merits further inspection, so he reflects on it as he falls into one of the currents of people passing each other--heading away from the alarm that is certain to be raised in a moment.
Is it possible he thinks Molly is unaware of what he’s been doing over the past year? Maybe not entirely--he’s sure she understands more or less what his goal was upon leaving London, but maybe she would be uncomfortable with the concrete reality of it--the body currently cooling a block behind him, the bodies he’s left nearly all over the world, by now.
He finds himself frustrated that he can’t explain to her about evidence that’s enough for him but not for a simple-minded jury, even one that’s not paid off or blackmailed. How it’d be a miracle to get half these people convicted at the best of times, impossible when you’re a dead man. He needs to do this before he can come home, he’s sure she would understand that much at least, that he needs to cut all the threads of Moriarty’s web.
He pulls his phone out of his pocket and stops walking for a moment to stare at it. Then he puts it back and keeps going.
Once in awhile, if there’s nobody else in the morgue, Molly will find an excuse to work next to the camera and will talk back to him. Mostly it will be descriptions or cases or what little experimentation Sherlock can do on the road. It’s small talk, but Molly has nothing really to say about her own life even if Sherlock asked, and Sherock cannot give her any condemning details of his.
Sometimes, though, he surprises her.
I wish this camera were color, he texts once, and Molly laughs before she can help it. She takes a look around just in case, and then goes over to rearrange the supplies on the shelf.
“Everything in here is white and gray though,” she says in a low voice to the camera. “I promise you’re not missing much.”
Obviously you’re in color, comes the next text. Or you were last time I saw you.
“Is this about the color of my eyes again?” she says, remembering.
No, says the text a minute later. I remembered they are definitely brown. I was under stress at the moment and didn’t have time to access my mind palace.
Molly can imagine his stiff defensiveness and smiles (smiles as she probably wouldn’t dare in the face of such defensiveness if he were in front of her). She almost asks why on earth he wanted to remember her eye color while under stress, as she’s wondered a few times since getting the text. But she loses her nerve at the last minute. She isn’t sure why.
“Well, it’s your camera,” she says instead returning to pushing bottles and boxes around.
It’s not, actually. Repurposed it from the surveillance of the flat. I’d’ve bought one with a much better microphone at least. And in color.
“I’ve wondered,” she says, “what did you think was going to happen here that it needed watching? Nobody ever comes down here really.”
In between reprogramming the camera and taking my leave of London, the places I went total Miss Riley’s flat and St. Bart’s. I didn’t have a lot of options.
“Oh,” says Molly, not looking at the camera and fiddling with the label on a little glass bottle. “Well, I could move it if you want. Like I said, nothing happens down here.”
Don’t be stupid, you’re down here. Why would I want it moved?
“Oh,” says Molly again.
Before she can say anything else, one of her coworkers comes in, and with one last smile at the camera, she steps away and goes back to work.
When the others enter and Molly retreats from the camera, Sherlock tosses his phone onto his desk, closes the camera feed out, and gets back to work.
He does not think about her for two days. It does not occur to him that he should be thinking about her. He is working on an urgent lead, a lead that he would admit worries him a little if there were anyone around to push him into honesty. His mind is a focused, humming machine and things like food, or fresh air, or Molly Hooper are gum in the works for the moment.
The fact remains, though, that although Sherlock neither eats nor steps outside, when his arm knocks to the floor the photo from Mycroft of Molly eating lunch, he absently bends and retrieves it before continuing with his research.
Sherlock has just about learned her working hours, it seems--probably more out of the likelihood of getting a response than convenience to her, she thinks smiling, as she remembers how John used to complain about Sherlock’s strange hours.
This one, however--a week after the last--comes at three AM, and wakes Molly up as it pings insistently from her nightstand. He’s probably forgotten about time zones again, she thinks as she reaches for it. Or maybe forgotten his own time.
Go visit John, the message says. I need to know if he’s all right.
It makes sense, she thinks, both Sherlock worrying about him and Molly finding an excuse to visit. It’s coming up on a year since Sherlock’s jump and she’s already seen the media jackals start writing retrospective articles on the internet. She’s more than a little worried about John herself.
Molly makes a mental note to call John in the morning and see about getting lunch together. Then she places her phone back on the nightstand and goes back to sleep.
The man tied to the chair in front of Sherlock is grinning through his bloodied teeth.
“What does that mean?” Sherlock is shouting at him, gripping the arms of the chair. “What do you know?”
The man just smiles horribly. Sherlock releases the chair abruptly with a growl and grabs his coat, digging in the pocket for his phone.
Go visit John. I need to know if he’s all right.
His fear must show clearly on his face, because the man in the chair starts to laugh.
Sherlock pulls his gun from his waistband and shoots the man between the eyes.
As per Sherlock's request, Molly pays John a visit. What she finds is not what she's expecting.
Guys, I'm so sorry for the long wait on this! This chapter gave me some trouble and then in the middle of writing it, NaNoWriMo happened. Then the next scene was going to be part of this chapter, but it's shaping up to be a doozy so I broke it off--so you can take comfort that chapter 8 is pretty intense and also already partway done.
John is obviously not thrilled at the prospect of being checked up on--even though Molly never says as such, her intention is obvious--but he is warm to Molly and accepts the offer of lunch. Molly weighs the option of baking some cookies to bring to him, but decides it is too redolent of condolences and would probably make John uncomfortable.
Molly remembers how to get to John’s building from Christmas, but in daylight without the wreaths and fairy lights in windows it was hard to ignore what a gray and depressing building it is.
She knocks on the door and waits, but is taken aback when it is not John who answers the door, but a tall, broad shouldered blond man.
“Hey Watson,” he grins, holding open the door, “we’ve got a girl guide here selling cookies.”
Molly manages an uncertain smile and tries to peer past the man.
“Um, could you... could you tell John that Molly is here?” she ventures. John’s voice comes from the room beyond, chastising and casual.
“Quit intimidating my houseguest, Moran, and let her in,” he says, and the man smirks and steps out of the way to let Molly in.
John is sitting in a chair behind, and Molly smiles at him as she slips inside, shrinking away from the man as she passes him.
“Molly, this is Seb Moran, an old friend of mine from the army. Seb, this is Molly Hooper,” John says as Molly comes in, and stands to introduce them.
“You used to work with Watson, I think he said?” says Moran, closing the door behind her. “You’re a doctor, I’m guessing.”
“Um, no,” says Molly, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear self-consciously. “I didn’t work with him in the hospital. I mean, I do work in the... We had a... a coworker in common, sort of...”
“It was to do with Holmes,” John broke in, mercifully.
Moran nodded knowingly, but the eyes she felt still on her as she turned back to John made her skin prickle. She couldn’t stand to have them on her unseen for more than a moment.
“John said you know each other from the army?” she says, turning back to him.
“Yeah,” says the man. “Watson’s patched me up and sent me back out more times than I’d like to admit.”
John rolls his eyes. “Maybe if you’d stop admitting it to everyone you meet you might make them think you were actually competent at your post.”
Seb laughed loudly. “Don’t let him fool you. I was the best in the forces. Just a little impatient sometimes.”
“The best what?” Molly asked what she hoped was politely.
“Sniper,” says John. “And yeah, he’s not lying. That impatience is what got him in trouble, though.”
Molly had never heard John talk about his time as a soldier without a line of tension stiffening his shoulders, but his face is open and easy now, his posture relaxed. Seb is relaxed too, but in a way that makes her think of a great beast from the zoo, napping in the sun and looking no less dangerous for it.
Maybe it’s just that he’s a soldier, maybe that’s the only vibe she’s getting. John’s a soldier, but he was a doctor primarily. This man is the kind of soldier whose first job was killing. That doesn’t make him bad or dangerous.
Seb is smiling at her. She smiles bravely back.
“Will you be joining us for lunch?” she asks. She almost adds “You’re welcome to,” but she can’t quite manage it.
“No, no,” he says,” and something in her stomach uncoils in relief. “I’ll let you old friends catch up in peace. I was just here to borrow Watson’s Bond collection.” He swipes a stack of DVDs off the coffee table and brushes past her to the door. “Pub on Friday?” he shoots over her head at John.
“yeah, sure,” John returns, and then Seb disappears down the stairs. John reaches for his jacket and smiles at Molly.
“You been to the deli on the corner?” he asks. Molly manages to smile and shakes her head, trying to dispel the chill John’s old army friend gave her.
“If you recommend it, let’s go there.”
John holds the door open for her and she leads him down the stairs.
Sherlock will be glad to hear how well John is doing, she thinks.
It is a day after Molly’s visit before Sherlock has time and opportunity to sit down with his computer and a wifi connection, cross-legged in the back of a Chinese restaurant belonging to an old ally. He waits impatiently for the camera feed to load, and then grunts in frustration at the other mortician in the room with Molly.
Get rid of her, he texts.
It turns out to be unnecessary. When her phone pings, Molly stiffens and immediately requests her coworker run an errand for her in another part of the hospital. When she is gone, Molly checks her phone as she walks over to the camera.
“John is doing much better,” she reports quietly, though she herself does not seem as pleased or as easy as she could be. “We had lunch. He seemed... happy.”
Sherlock does not hesitate or relax at this news. Did he seem at all nervous? Was there anything suspicious about his behaviour or his residence?
Molly seems startled at this turn of questioning but shakes her head in answer. “No, I.. .No, I don’t think so. What are you expecting?”
He does not answer her question. Think, Molly! he types furiously. Did he seem like he knew he was being monitored? Was there anyone who watched you too closely while you were out?
She hesitates, and if Sherlock could reach through his laptop screen and shake her, he would. Instead he grips his phone and waits.
“He has a new friend,” she says, and almost sounds guilty or embarrassed about bringing it up. “Or that is, an old friend. From the army. He was very nice and John seems so much better for having him around.”
A chill Sherlock can’t identify creeps over his skin. But you didn’t like him, he texts.
“It’s probably just because I’m not used to being around soldiers,” she says quickly. “I mean not doctors like John but...”
Killers? comes his next text. Molly nods.
I’ve killed a lot of people, he types, and there it is, he’s told her now, and when her phone pings and she reads the text does she pale, or is that just what he expects to see? Impossible to tell on the grainy, black-and-white camera.
“Yes, but you’re...” She doesn’t finish.
Sherlock wets his lips and lets it lie.
What’s the man’s name?
“Seb,” she says. “Seb Moran, I think.”
Sherlock leaps up from the floor, hissing between his teeth. He scoops up his laptop and slams the lid shut. He sends one last text as he throws things into his bag.
Keep an eye on John but don’t get left alone with Moran. And don’t tell him anything. Instructions soon.
She isn’t sure how to keep an eye on John without arousing John’s suspicion or risking seeing Mr. Moran again. In the end, Molly decides to watch him by proxy.
“Dr. Sawyer speaking.”
“Hello, Dr. Sawyer. This is Molly Hooper. I work at St. Bartholomew’s. I used to work with Dr. Watson and... and Mr. Holmes.”
“Oh! Right, yes, he used to mention you. How can I help you?”
Molly chews the inside of her lip. “Well, I’m sure you’ve been looking out for John this last year, and I... well, I went to see him the other day and... could you call me if he... acts strange or anything?”
Even as she asks she feels her face burning. Even though she was helping Sherlock, she’s ashamed not to have been there for John. She didn’t trust herself to hold her tongue, didn’t know how to look his suffering in the eye when she was part of its cause, but she can’t say that. Still she thinks if she were Sarah, hearing one of John’s old friends ask about him a full year later, she isn’t sure she wouldn’t promptly forget their phone number.
Sarah just says “of course” warmly though, and Molly thanks her and gives Sarah her phone number and thanks her again.
When she hangs up she checks her phone for messages. It’s empty.
There are no messages that day, or the day after, or the day after that. Molly keeps her phone with her, and takes a cab home at night, which takes her closer to her door than the bus will go. She brings her cat Toby in early too, and double checks the lock on her door. One night she thinks she sees a dark shape following her as she leaves work. That’s enough to make her careful.
As always, Molly checks her phone before she goes to bed each night, even though she knows she’d have heard it chime. She has deleted every message she’s gotten from Sherlock, of course, but once or twice, at night when anxiety clenches and roils in her guts and she listens for noises outside, she wishes she’d kept just the one. Do you regret getting involved in this?
The answer is still no, but it would do to be reminded.
It is day four when a text comes in at last.
Get John to invite both you and Moran over for dinner. Bring the camera.
It throws Molly for such a loop that she goes to the ladies’ room to recuperate. She huddles in a stall and stares at the text. What happened to “Don’t risk being alone in a room with Moran”? Surely Sherlock has a plan. He always has a plan.
God help her if Sherlock doesn’t have a plan.
Molly goes to John's flat for dinner with him and his "friend" Seb.
If Sherlock knew a little more about people, Molly thinks ruefully as she rings the buzzer of John’s flat, he might not have warned her about Seb. She could have convinced herself she was being paranoid and had a chance of acting normal around him if he hadn’t. Well, she thought, John had only ever known her around Sherlock. Maybe he’d tell his friend she was a naturally nervous person.
“Molly, glad you’re here!” John answers the door with a smile. The new lines on his face she saw that day in the morgue are still there, and he still looks more tired than he should be, but he seems to be really holding it together.
It makes her proud of him, but it breaks her heart for him too. Because if Seb Moran is dangerous, John will have to find out. He will lose another friend.
John takes her coat and she smiles as convincingly as possible back at him.
“Seb’s going to be coming too, right?”
John smirks knowingly, and it’s good to see that look on his face again, even though it makes her cheeks red. There wasn’t any way really to get John to have just her and Moran over for supper without him believing she fancied Seb. She has much bigger problems right now, but still.
“Yes, he’ll be here,” John says, going back into the kitchen to stir the stock pot on the stove. “Don’t worry. And you look very pretty, Molly.”
Bigger problems, Molly reminds herself.
He stands at the stove with his back to her, and from behind, without his reassuring smile, she can see the tired slope of his shoulders. She hangs up her coat and purse on the coat pegs by the door and pulls a chair into the kitchen.
“How are you doing?” she says gently.
John throws a somewhat paler smile over his shoulder.
“There are good days and bad days,” he replies. “I work. I go out. I keep busy.” They’re clichés, and they both know it, but they’re useful clichés. They mean almost the right thing.
“It doesn't seem like a year,” Molly says, and she means both It seems so much longer and It seems like no time at all.
“I know,” says John, and he means the same thing, she is sure. They didn't talk about this at all when they went out to lunch, just skirted around it talking about their jobs and the weather. It’s such a relief to manage it at last, talking with anyone who cared, and although it has been worse on John of course, being the only one with the dead man’s secret isn't easy either.
“You knew him for longer,” says John into the silence, as though he could hear her thoughts. “I bet nobody’s asked you how you've been doing.”
Molly barely avoids ducking her head guiltily. “Not really,” she says. “I mean yes, he’d been coming in for a few years, but... He never spoke to anyone. Even when he had me assist him in the lab it was barely two words all day.” She shrugs. “Greg was his friend, more or less. They talked, anyway. I was rather furniture most of the time.”
John’s forehead creases in pain—she wonders how long it’s been since he spoke of Sherlock with anyone—and he starts to say something reassuring, Molly can tell. She holds up a hand.
“No, I know. He”—she stops herself from saying He’s different now—“was different that last year. He... You did him a lot of good.”
Before John can respond to that, they are interrupted by the sound of the front door squeaking open and Moran’s voice ringing out from the other room.
“Here I am! Brought you some beers too since I drank the last of yours the other day.”
He comes into the kitchen but stops short when he sees Molly sitting in her chair. “And here I thought I was getting here early!”
“You did,” said John, tapping off the stirring spoon on the edge of the pot. “Molly was just earlier.”
“Thought you were a doctor, not a cookie,” says Moran, leaning against the kitchen wall with one shoulder, smirking roguishly. “What’re you stirring up?” He’s speaking to John but he winks subtly at Molly as he says it. She thinks there’s a menace in it, but she might be going mad. She is mad, this is mad, she’s walked knowingly into a trap. Molly feels a little sick.
“Just soup,” shrugs John. “And some chicken in the oven.”
“Smells good,” says Moran. It does smell good, and Molly finds herself thinking absurdly that she hopes John isn’t offended if she’s too anxious to eat.
John opens the oven and looks in at it, and then nods to himself.
“Should all be ready in about ten minutes. You two want to set the table?”
No, Molly does not want to set the table, does not want to go into the next room with Moran even though the doorway between the kitchen and the living area with its table is wide and doorless and she can see John clearly from there.
But she smiles and moves toward the silverware drawer that John has pointed out with his wooden spoon. She will at least make sure Seb isn’t holding the knives. She picks out utensils for each of them and hurries out of the kitchen while Seb is still ambling toward the plate cabinet, and then goes to her purse to get Sherlock’s little camera before she starts on setting places.
“Not pocketing the silverware, are ya?” jokes Seb when he sees her at the coat rack, and she shoots a wan smile over her shoulder at him.
“Just refreshing my lipstick,” she says, and he snorts.
“Women,” he says.
“Moran, can you please try not to be an ass if at all possible, thanks,” says John from the kitchen. Molly can only guess what John must be thinking about the pattern of her taste in men.
She tucks the camera in the patch pocket on the front of her dress, where it will hopefully at least pick up the conversation even if it can’t see anything, then turns around and goes to set the table. She keeps her eyes down as she lays out the silverware, but she can feel him walking around the other side of the table, setting down the plates and the wine glasses.
When she looks up, his eyes are down too. It doesn't reassure her.
He looks up then and smiles, with a little too much teeth. She tries to smile back. She doesn't think it’s probably very convincing.
“So what do you do, Molly?” said Seb, pulling out a chair from the table and sprawling in it with that casual big-cat sprawl that doesn't look casual at all. “I mean, I know you worked with Watson, but that’s not much in the way of a job description.”
“I’m, um. I’m a mortician. I work at the hospital,” she says, sitting down too, across the table with her back to the door. Seb nods in consideration.
“Work with the stiffs, huh? Pretty impressive. I’ve known grown men superstitious about dead bodies, but we know the way of it,” he says. “The dead stay dead. We’ve got nothing to fear from them.” He is watching her steadily. Molly feels like she might throw up, but instead she smiles.
“In my experience, yes,” she says, looking back at him and keeping her smile on. Seb Moran does not blink. He is not fooled.
“Moran…” says John from the kitchen.
“No, it’s fine,” says Molly, looking up to John who has paused in seasoning the chicken just removed from the oven to frown in at them. She makes her smile as reassuring as she can with her stomach trying to crawl up her throat. “It gets a little old, everyone being freaked out by your job. It’s nice when people know it doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
John eyes her and Molly honestly doesn’t know if she’s supposed to be praying he sees through her or praying he doesn’t. She wishes she’d had even a little bit more instruction than she’d gotten from Sherlock. She wishes her phone would chime. She wishes she were anywhere not here.
John turns back to his chicken.
“I’m almost done here, if somebody wouldn't mind pouring the wine,” he says. Molly looks around for the wine, eager to get away from the table, but as she’s about to head for the kitchen there’s a low, apologetic chuckle from Seb, and John groans.
“You didn't forget the wine, Moran,” he says. Seb shrugs.
“I remembered your beer?” he says. John comes to stand in the doorway with a spatula in his hand.
“We’re not having beer with this meal, especially the awful cheap beer you buy,” he says. “You at least bought the wine, right?”
“Yeah, it’s in my flat,” says Seb. “I’ll go get it.”
“No, you and Molly stay and chat, you good for nothing,” John says, and Molly’s chest tightens. “Gimme your key.”
“I’m fine with beer,” she says as Seb pulls a keyring out of his pocket and tosses it to John. “Or water.” She tries not to sound desperate. She wonders if she should be trying. John just shakes his head.
“It’s right upstairs, it won’t take me but a minute. I’ll be right back.”
Molly watches helplessly as John leaves. She pulls the camera out of her pocket and holds it in her sweating hands just under the table, hoping to give it better audio reception. She doesn't know what else to do.
“You know, I never met your and John’s friend in common,” Seb says. Molly was trying not to look at him, but as soon as he speaks her eyes are pulled to his face, which is shuttered and dark and has a dangerous humor to it. “But I think you and I have a shared acquaintance in our history as well.”
She doesn't speak or smile, doesn't say “Oh?” or “Who’s that?” Now that John is gone, Seb is the only one still pretending that they are having a normal, polite conversation. Molly watches him with the attention of a mouse watching a cat.
“An old boyfriend of yours, I believe?” says Seb. “Died sometime last year?” Molly doesn't answer. Moran doesn't seem to need her to. “It upset me when he died,” he says, still soft and casual. “He was very important to me. Kind of an inspiration.”
He leans across the table now, a grim, flat smile on his face. Molly cannot even summon the presence to shrink back in her chair. “You can tell your friend Sherlock that I’m going to be generous and give him another chance to do it right this time. If he doesn't, or if you alert Watson or anyone else, I’ll make the three hits Jim picked out. I mean it. You say a word, they’ll be dead before the night’s out.”
“Sherlock is dead,” she whispers, because she has to at least try.
“Sure he is,” says Seb.
The door opens behind her.
“It was on the counter, you idiot,” says John coming in and setting the bottle of wine on the table. “Make yourself useful and at least find the corkscrew while I serve.”
“Where’s your toilet?” Molly asks. If she is going to do this, have dinner with this man, she needs a moment. She needs to wash her face at least.
John nods past her. “Door on the left.”
Molly rises and follows his directions, not making eye contact with Moran, not looking at him at all. She shuts the bathroom door behind her, trying to breathe steadily.
Then two things happen, close together. First, Molly's phone pings. Then, as she closes her hand around it in her pocket, the flat's front door crashes in.
At first she thinks that John has maybe dropped a stack of plates, but then there is shouting. She hears a "What the hell-!" and a growled "Sorry, Watson," through the thin door, and she is just about to open the door when a third voice shouts too.
“Let him go, Moran!”
Molly’s heart stops.
She clicks the door open gently, quietly, as though afraid of scaring away what is on the other side, and there he is. His hair is different, unevenly cut and a lighter color at the tips, and the brown canvas jacket is all wrong on him, makes him look lanky and tattered. His face has some new lines. He is holding up a gun with both hands, and staring steadily over its barrel at Moran, who has John in a headlock with a gun pointed at John’s head, their backs to Molly. John’s hands are up gripping Seb’s arm, but he is not moving, he is not saying anything as Sherlock and Moran snarl at each other over their guns.
“It’s over,” says Sherlock. “It’s all falling apart, Moran, the whole network. Just let it go.”
“I don’t care about the network,” says Moran. “It’s not mine, it was his.”
“Which is why you care about it,” says Sherlock.
“This is what I care about now. This right here. You broke the bargain.”
“It wasn’t a bargain. It was a game. It was his game.”
“Which is why I care about it,” Moran counters. “The difference is, I’m not playing. I will kill everyone I promised him I’d kill. And your sweet little spy hiding in the bathroom for good measure.”
Molly pulls back into the bathroom with a sharp intake of breath. She stands in the bathroom, leaning against the counter and trying to calm her hammering heart and still her spinning head, and only then does her attention return to the phone still clutched in her hand. Dazedly, she checks her new message.
John keeps his gun next to his bed.
She stares at it.
“Or I could shoot you,” Sherlock is saying outside.
“I’m a soldier,” says Moran. “You won’t manage it before I kill Watson. And I’ve got men watching the others.”
"Moran—” John says, his voice thin and strangled.
“Nothing personal, Watson,” Moran responds. “Just concluding some old business.”
She looks at the text again.
There is another door in the bathroom other than the one cracked open that leads to the living area. She reaches forward and turns the knob as softly as she can. It leads to John’s bedroom, and from the bathroom she can see the nightstand next to the bed.
There really isn’t another choice, is there?
When she comes again to the crack of the bathroom door to see the tense scene in the living room, she is holding the gun in trembling hands. She edges open the door for a better angle but doesn’t know what she’s supposed to do with Moran’s gun still pointed at John’s head.
“I’m not going to keep asking,” says Moran. “I imagine you’ve got the police downstairs.”
“Right then. Thirty seconds,” he says calmly. “Turn the gun on yourself and he lives.”
“Wait,” Sherlock says, gritting his teeth, “Wait!” and pulls his gun off Moran, raises both hands in the air in surrender. “Take the gun off John first.” And Sherlock’s eyes don’t go toward Molly, don’t leave Moran at all, but she knows that he sees her, that this is to give her a chance.
There is a long, tense moment where nobody moves. Sherlock puts his gun to his head and even though Molly is fairly sure it’s a bluff to give her a chance, she barely keeps herself from crying out.
John doesn’t. He makes a pained noise and Molly sees him squirm in Moran’s grip.
“No, Sherlock, don’t you… Don’t you dare,” he says hoarsely. “I’m not doing that again.”
Sherlock’s eyes flicker to John but then go back to Moran.
“Take the gun off John,” Sherlock repeats firmly.
“Don’t,” croaks John.
There is another beat, enough for a deep breath, and Moran slowly lifts the gun from John’s head.
Molly doesn’t wait for a signal. She shoots him in the knee.
The events of the dinner party from a different point of view--and the aftermath.
Sherlock reaches London in the afternoon the day of Molly’s scheduled dinner date at John’s flat. He comes off the plane in full disguise and tense as a violin string, nearly ready to dodge gunfire from the moment he steps foot on British soil. But except for a brief detour (to shake a tail that he might have been imagining but probably not) his journey from the airport to New Scotland Yard goes without incident.
If anyone was expecting his return, it is clear that it was not London’s finest. Whiskers, glasses, a different haircut and a flashed fake ID, with an offhand “Just here to see Inspector Lestrade” is all it takes to get him all the way to Lestrade’s office without recognition. Sally Donovan alone double takes, but looks back down at her work again, thought dismissed.
He comes into Lestrade’s office and doesn’t bother trying to introduce or explain himself. He just takes his fake glasses off and stands in front of Lestrade’s desk as the inspector looks up from his paperwork.
“Can I help… you…?” he starts, and as he stares at Sherlock his face slowly goes blank.
“I’m sorry,” says Sherlock after the silence has gone on a little too long. “It was unavoidable. But I need your help now. John’s in trouble.”
Lestrade swallows once.
“Sherlock?” he says faintly.
“Yes,” Sherlock says impatiently. “I’m not dead. Did I mention the part about John being in trouble?”
Lestrade shakes himself out of his stupor, blinks again at Sherlock, swallows thickly, adjusts. Handles things like a professional. “I… right. John,” he stammers, still looking more than a little shellshocked. “Uh, where?”
“At his flat. Not quite yet, though. Closer to suppertime. We’ll be staking out until then.”
Lestrade pauses in standing and pulling on his suit jacket to narrow his eyes at Sherlock.
“You… have John’s trouble scheduled…?”
“Yes,” says Sherlock, checking his fake facial hair in the window reflection. “He will be having Molly and Moriarty’s second in command, Sebastian Moran, over for supper tonight.”
“I… what? Why?” Lestrade exclaims.
“As a trap for Moran, obviously,” says Sherlock tetchily.
“I suppose John knows he’s setting up a trap for a dangerous criminal,” says Lestrade without much hope.
“No. That’s what Molly’s there for.”
“Right. Wait, what is Molly there for?”
“As my spy,” Sherlock replies as though it should be clear. “Are we going or not?”
“Yeah, yeah, we’re going,” says Lestrade, running a bewildered hand through his hair. “But for God’s sake put your glasses back on. We don’t need a riot in the middle of the Yard just yet.”
“Now, how exactly do you have a microphone at this little dinner party again?” says Lestrade as Sherlock boots up his laptop and plugs in the wireless hotspot. They are waiting in a squad car about a block away from John’s flat, with another car—waiting for Lestrade’s signal without the benefit of a briefing—a bit behind them.
“I told you, Molly is my spy,” Sherlock says. “When I went away, I left a camera with her that provides a direct feed to my laptop. I had her bring it tonight.”
“When you left?” repeated Lestrade incredulously. “What, you mean—?”
Sherlock sighs. This is going to be the tiresome part of resurrection, he realizes. Catching people up.
“Yes, of course Molly was in on it,” he says. “How else did you think I’d gotten a falsified autopsy?”
The camera feed loads and Sherlock turns his attention to it, absently picking the fake whiskers away. There is nothing but blackness and a static crackle on the screen. She probably hasn’t taken the camera out yet. Still he stares at the feed, as though he could see through the barrier or divine a background murmur if he just concentrates hard enough.
“So she knew the whole time?” Lestrade says disbelievingly.
“Mm,” says Sherlock.
“Little Molly Hooper,” marvels Lestrade, and Sherlock rolls his eyes and turns on him.
“Yes, and do you know why ‘little’ Molly Hooper?” he bursts. “Because otherwise intelligent people insist upon underestimating her!”
There is a silence in the car. Sherlock returns to his computer.
“Right,” says Lestrade, rubbing the back of his neck. “I… suppose that’s part of the plan tonight, then?”
Sherlock nods tightly, eyes still on the dark screen. There is another pause.
“She’ll be okay,” says Lestrade.
“I know,” says Sherlock.
When the camera finally rustles and black gives way to light, even Sherlock’s attention has nearly wandered. But the sound of voices snaps both he and Lestrade back, and Sherlock punches a button that begins recording the proceedings on the laptop screen.
The flash that the camera gets before it is tucked away into darkness again is mostly washed out by the sudden flood of light, but Sherlock catches a sight of Molly’s face, and his hand goes to his coat pocket. He closes his fingers around the phone in the pocket, but does not pull it out.
“Just refreshing my lipstick,” comes Molly’s voice. There are distant mumbles in answer. Sherlock hopes the camera’s microphone is up to this job.
“What’s the plan if we can’t get the evidence?” says Lestrade, who is obviously thinking the same thing. Sherlock doesn’t answer. His plan if they can’t get the evidence is the same as it has been for the last year—to kill Moran outright—but he doesn’t figure he should say that out loud.
“So what do you do, Molly?” comes a male voice that isn’t John’s. Sherlock relaxes imperceptibly.
“We’ll get the evidence,” he says to Lestrade.
He and Lestrade listen in silence, although when Moran says “the dead stay dead,” Lestrade glances at Sherlock.
They sit and they listen and Sherlock wishes he could see something, anything, wishes he could text Molly, wishes he were inside the flat rather than waiting in a car a block away.
The muffled mutter that was John resolves itself into a real voice with some comment about beer, and Sherlock is thrown at the sound of a voice he hasn’t heard for a year—no, six months, since the day in the morgue when he came to speak with Molly. But he keeps his head and stays attentive to the faint conversation, so that when he hears John say “I’ll be right back,” he has the presence to hiss a command at Lestrade to drive closer.
The hair on the back of his neck stands up as he listens to Moran speak to Molly and stares at the fuzzy camera image of what he’s fairly sure is Molly’s cupped hands. The explicit threat is enormously stupid and more than he could have hoped for in terms of evidence, but his nails dig into the heels of his hands to hear it.
He is coming off of a year of leaving men dead for posing such a danger to the people he cares about, for speaking words like this. It turns out it is a difficult habit to break, it is hard going from assassin back to detective. He isn’t concerned with evidence. He wants to go inside and kill this man.
When John comes back in, Sherlock is already unbuckling. When Molly asks where John’s toilet is, he is starting up a new message on his phone.
Lestrade tries to reach out and grab his arm. “Sherlock, what are you—?”
“He’ll be on the alert for police after tonight,” Sherlock growls. “This is the best chance. Don’t come in until I tell you.” If Lestrade has any further objections, Sherlock doesn’t hear them. He types his text as he bounds silently up the stairs. He stands at the door, readies his weapon, pauses. Then kicks the door in.
“No, Sherlock, don’t you… Don’t you dare,” croaks John. “I’m not doing that again.” Indeed, it is bizarrely like a year ago. Sherlock, and John, and even Molly, standing behind Moran in the bathroom doorway, waiting to do what he needs her to do. Sherlock’s gun is to his head. It is not entirely a bluff. He’ll die now, if he has to. It won’t be John’s fault, or Molly’s. It won’t be anyone’s fault. He’d have done it a year ago, on that roof, if it had been the only way.
Moran’s hand flexes very slightly on his gun. Sherlock just wishes John didn’t have to watch a second time.
The gun leaves John’s head, and he takes a tiny strangled gasp of breath. And then there is a gunshot, and Moran falls.
Sherlock dives onto Moran, kicking his gun away and pulling his arms behind his back. Then he looks up, and sees Molly in color for the first time in a year. She is looking back at him and holding the gun with both hands, and she is shaking.
From outside comes the sound of Lestrade and his men thundering up the stairs, and Lestrade looks back toward the door to see them come in. It’s Lestrade first, handcuffs out and ready, Donovan and another officer following after. Once Lestrade has Moran secured, Sherlock gets quickly off of him—he is anxious to kill him, his fingers twitching with the need to make Sebastian Moran not a problem anymore, and he needs to get away from him as fast as possible before he follows through—and goes to John.
John has maneuvered himself into a dinner chair, but his shoulders are limp and his feet pigeontoed like he couldn’t have stayed upright under his own power. His right hand, however, is gripping the edge of the dinner table so hard his knuckles are white. He is staring at Sherlock.
Sherlock kneels in front of John’s chair and looks into his eyes.
“I’m sorry, John,” he says. John responds only with an intake of breath and rapid blinking. “I’m sorry,” Sherlock says again, quietly, urgently. “You heard him, it was Moriarty’s game. If I could have done it without hurting you I would have.” John just blinks at him, breathes, blinks. They look at each other.
“I’m sorry,” says Sherlock.
“Sherlock?” breathes John.
Sherlock reaches out and takes John’s left hand. Behind them, the other two officers have carried Moran out the door, and Lestrade has led Molly out to calm her down and give Sherlock and John privacy. Neither notices.
“Sherlock,” says John.
“You’ll have to appear in court,” Lestrade is saying to Molly apologetically over the assortment of papers spread across his desk. It is the day after, and she’s having her official statement taken, which is paining Lestrade much more than it is her. “I know the Holmes way is to handwave these things, and I’m sure Sherlock’s brother could do it, but… I want Moran put away for a long time, and I don’t want to give him any outs. So we have to tell this whole story.”
Molly grimaces. “I’m not sure about…. well, the whole story,” she says. “Sherlock…”
“Sherlock has been laying low in Wales, trying to clear his name for the last year,” says Lestrade with a straight face.
“Ah, yes. Of course,” says Molly, smothering a smile.
“Speaking off the record…” says Lestrade after a moment’s pause. Molly raises her eyebrows expectantly. “Where was he?” Lestrade murmurs. “What was he doing?”
Molly shakes her head. “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me.”
“But you have guesses.”
Molly hesitates. “He was… protecting us,” she says. “All of us.”
Lestrade nods to himself, then gathers up some of the papers in front of them and taps them on the desk. “This’ll be a headache, I know, but I’ll be sure your part goes as simply as possible. I’ll call in Holmes favors if I need to. I’m sure you’re owed them. Have you heard from him?” Molly shakes her head. “Well, he and John have a lot to catch up on. I’ll wait a few days before I call them in for statements.” He smiles at her. “You’re free to go. Take care of yourself, Molly.”
Molly smiles back, and gets up to leave. As she walks out, she reaches into her handbag, and touches her fingertips to her phone.
Sherlock and John are back at 221B at last. There was hardly another option, with John’s flat a crime scene. And once Mrs. Hudson had been told, it would have broken her heart to have them go anywhere else.
“More tea?” says John to Sherlock. “I don’t have much time to try and make another pot before Mrs. Hudson tries to come and do it herself again.”
“Let me,” says Sherlock, starting to rise from his chair, and John laughs. It is strange and good to both of them, for him to be laughing.
“As much as I feel like I ought to take you up on such a rare offer, I’m more than capable,” John says. He grins as he gets up and grabs the teapot. “It turns out my limp was psychosomatic.”
Sherlock smirks back at him. “Is that so?”
John carries the teapot back into the kitchen and prepares more tea. Sherlock watches him. It is as strange and good to see him making tea as it is to hear him laughing—homely and like Sherlock never left. John has none of the broken, tired stiffness to his movements that Sherlock saw the day in the cemetery, or on the camera six months ago. It has all disappeared overnight.
John comes back in with the teapot and fills Sherlock’s mug. Sherlock takes it and breathes in the steam. “God, it’s good to have real tea again.” By which he means this tea, Baker Street tea. “It was all right in Europe but American tea is exactly as bad as you’d think. The coffee was a little better, but not much.”
“America, huh? See the sights?” he smiles. He knows what Sherlock was doing, why he was gone, but for now they’re acting as though Sherlock was just on holiday. Solemnness comes later. Sherlock thinks he finally knows what it’s like to be another soldier talking with John about his tour.
“No. Was stabbed, though.” He lifts the hem of his shirt and shows John the scar, still pink. “I sewed it up with a mending kit.”
“A mending kit?” John gets up to come take a closer look and shakes his head. “That is without question the worst suture I have ever seen,” he pronounces. “Congratulations.” A frown creases his forehead and he looks up at Sherlock. “I wish I had been there,” he says quietly.
“I was fine,” Sherlock says, pulling down his shirt again. He isn’t ready for solemnness yet. “I had Molly. I mean, not with me, but on the camera. She… kept me company.” It’s sentimental, but John’s worrying.
John sits back down. “Right, Molly,” he says. His worry has been successfully replaced with… something else, hard to say. It’s almost a smile. Sherlock thinks it might be somewhere between curious and knowing. “Your woman on the inside.”
That’s not a question so Sherlock just sips his tea.
“You had, what? A camera, and you texted each other?”
“I texted her,” Sherlock says. “I have an untrackable one way phone.”
“You texted her, and you watched her on your camera. And she kept you company.”
“While I was sewing myself up, yes,” Sherlock says. He’s not sure what John’s getting at but there’s definitely something he’s thinking that he’s not saying. “Why?”
“No reason,” says John over the lip of his mug. He’s definitely smiling.
Sherlock frowns and drinks his tea.
Sherlock and Molly are finally nearer than they've been in a year, and yet suddenly neither of them can figure out how to close that final bit of distance.
Wow guys, this chapter. I might as well have been writing with blood from a papercut. Sorry about the wait. Should be only one or two chapters left, which will hopefully come easier and you'll get them sooner!
Also if you're frustrated by Sherlock in this chapter: me too, guys. Me too.
Sherlock and John go back to their lives, or as close to it as they can remember how, and heal.
They drink a lot of tea, they do a lot of sitting quietly. Sherlock plays his violin. John listens. Sherlock repopulates the kitchen with the science equipment from the box Mrs. Hudson had stowed under his bed. John reads a book nearby. It is surprisingly healing for Sherlock just to sit with nobody else in the room except someone he knows means him well. It is not-so-surprisingly healing for John to sit with Sherlock.
They do speak, but not often on anything that happened before The Dinner Party, either in Sherlock’s life or John’s. They have both run out of light, casual things to say, and are still unwilling to say anything else for the moment. So they drink tea, and heal.
John thinks he is touching on a neutral subject when he sees Sherlock fiddling with his phone while he waits for results on some experiment or other.
“How’s Molly?” John asks, and Sherlock sets his phone back down on the table.
“I wouldn’t really know,” he says, putting his eyes to his microscope again. John frowns, one eyebrow lifted.
“I thought you were texting,” he says. Sherlock glances up from his microscope to shoot John a suspicious look. He’s sure John would never admit it, but Sherlock suspects “texting” means something a little different from “sending texts to each other.”
“We were in extremely limited correspondence while I was gone,” Sherlock responds, not looking at John. “If that’s what you mean. We haven’t had reason to speak since my return.”
John looks skeptical, but Sherlock rolls his eyes.
“It’s a week. It would often be weeks between any texts—once we didn’t speak for two and a half months.” He doesn’t mention Molly had been angry with him—or how bleak those months had been—since that would seem to serve John’s point. “I’m sure Molly isn’t on the edge of her seat waiting for updates on my bacteria cultures after all that.”
John doesn’t look convinced, but he doesn’t press the matter. Sherlock takes his phone from the table and stuffs it into his trouser pocket, resisting the sudden urge to text Molly about his bacteria cultures.
Molly goes back to her life, or what of it still feels like hers, and waits.
She left the camera with Lestrade the night of Moran’s arrest, but it’s hard to unlearn the awareness of it in the corner of the morgue. Every now and then she starts to do something for the sake of the camera—tilt an autopsy toward it so that Sherlock can see if he wants to, make a comment out loud supposedly to herself—before she remembers that Sherlock is no longer watching.
Even more often does she think about her phone in the pocket of her lab coat. It seems to bang against her thigh more than it ever has.
“I know it hasn’t been that long, and I don’t know if you’re ready to cut short your recovery quite yet—”
“I’m not recovering from anything, Lestrade,” Sherlock says briskly. “You have a case?”
“Not me—they passed it to me to pass to you. Turns out coming back from the dead didn’t do anything to make you more approachable.”
“The case, it’s… Is it a murder? Is there a body to inspect?” Sherlock hesitates. From his chair, John looks up over the top of his book at him. Sherlock pretends not to notice.
“Nah, just a museum robbery. Why?”
“We’ll take it,” says Sherlock quickly. “We’ll be by the Yard later. Ta.” He hangs up his phone before Lestrade can respond and stuffs it in his pocket.
“Museum robbery case waiting for us,” Sherlock says. “Coming?”
“No murder?” says John.
“Well, you know, nothing on. Give London a few days,” Sherlock returns breezily.
“It’s only that when you said that it seemed… like maybe you were hoping there wasn’t a body,” says John mildly.
“Not at all.”
John’s eyebrows go up. A question. In Sherlock’s mind is a black and white morgue, in his pocket his phone, bulky and accusing. He dismisses both.
“Plenty enough bodies lately, is all,” he says quickly. “Up for a change of pace.”
John watches him a moment longer, then nods in quiet understanding. He reaches for the bookmark he has left on the end table and Sherlock goes to get their coats. He feels maybe a little guilty for exploiting this new commonality of having been a soldier abroad he now shares with John, but like before, this thing with Molly is his fight, his case. He has to figure it out on his own.
Molly had thought that not having to carry her secret would be a huge weight from her heart, that being free of it would fix all the things that it had made wrong.
It does, sort of. Or Sherlock being back fixes a lot of things. Having other people know he’s alive does not in and of itself fix anything she thought it would.
Meena appears in the lab doorway and Molly looks up and smiles. Meena smiles back, but perfunctorily. Caroline looks up from the test she’s setting up.
“Lunch?” says Meena.
“Sure. I’ll be done in a second,” Caroline says. “Hey, Molly, can you keep your eye on the centrifuge and take my samples out when it’s done?”
“Yeah, sure,” smiles Molly, attempting to sound cheerful and not doing a very good job. Neither woman seems to notice.
“Thanks!” says Caroline. She throws her lab coat on a hook as the two of them walk out on their way to lunch.
It’s not that they wouldn’t invite Molly if they thought she wanted to go. They used to invite her. She used to go. They used to come over to her place after work and play with her cat sometimes. They used to be her friends. They still are, she supposes, but a year can change a lot of things, and having an enormous secret to protect is not conducive to healthy relationships. She didn’t trust herself with other people, then she couldn’t relate to other people, and she didn’t feel like lunch and she didn’t feel like having company and she didn’t feel like going out, and no she felt fine it’s okay, and if you give enough nos eventually even the kindest hearted people stop asking.
That isn’t Sherlock’s fault. It’s hers. She knows that well enough.
But though the secret is gone, the secret keeper is still here. Something keeps her from chasing after Meena and Caroline, asking to tag along. She suspects it might be that she doesn’t really want to have lunch with people who gossiped about a dead hero (but she still remembers lunches from before a year ago, remembers nights out at the pub and them coming over the day she first got her cat Toby, so she is pretending not to have decided).
It feels selfish to think, but Molly understood things better when she was all Sherlock had, and not the other way around.
Sherlock drops his phone back in his pocket.
“That was Lestrade,” he says. “They’ve got a date set for Moran’s trial.”
John looks up from assembling a sandwich in the kitchen. Within sight. He hasn’t gone out of range of sight of Sherlock often since his return. “Yeah? Will we have all the evidence in order by then?”
“All my evidence is in order,” sniffs Sherlock.
John smirks and scrapes a knife along the inside of a mayonnaise jar.
“Okay. Will the police have the evidence in order?” he rephrases mildly.
“One can hope,” says Sherlock with a cartoonish sigh. “Hoping isn’t advised, but one can.” John laughs, as Sherlock meant him to.
Molly gets a call about Moran’s trial date too.
“We’re making your role as minimal as possible,” says Lestrade. “A couple statements, that’s it. We’re not even giving you an opportunity to perjure, figured that was the neatest way about it.”
“They’ll be asking me something, though, right? I mean, I’ll be a witness,” Molly points out. The word ‘perjure’ makes her more nervous than it had occurred to her to be about this.
“You’ll be asked almost nothing, I promise,” Lestrade reassures her. “Honestly, it’s gonna be a kangaroo court. The entire thing’s being virtually scripted by whatever department Sherlock’s brother runs, which actually actively terrifies me, but I’m trying not to think about it. I’d be more concerned if I wasn’t certain he’ll deserve whatever they hand out to him and more.”
“Pity they couldn’t do it with Moriarty a year ago,” she frowns.
“Yeah well, Moriarty was a genius, he could arrange for his own perversions of justice. Moran was pretty much just his gun arm, from the little Sherlock tells me. His inherited connections mean much less than Moriarty’s did. And for that matter, that was a high profile case.” He laughs faintly, and she can imagine him scrubbing his face with the heel of his hand, as she’s seen him do when Sherlock closed a case in five minutes with a glance at a body. “We’re getting Moran more or less on assault with intent to kill and the like, if you can believe it.”
Molly shakes her head. It’s a strange world, the law.
“Nothing about Moriarty?”
“Not nothing,” says Lestrade. “But not much. Nearly nothing about Sherlock’s doings while he was gone. Don’t worry, you’re being portrayed as nothing more than an incidental ally.”
She laughs quietly. It rings a little hollow to her ears.
“That sounds about right,” Molly says.
Sherlock is much better about using his own laptop than John’s now that he’s back. Better, actually, at having it accounted for and nearby, at checking intermittently for its presence and the presence of his phone and, John suspects, the black strapped bag still sitting by the door. John still isn’t much of one for deductions, but he thinks even he can spot the twitch of a hunted man, the precautions of a transient.
Sherlock’s strangely-cropped hair and his heightened care for his possessions aren’t the only things that have changed about him; he doesn’t linger in bed or in his pajamas anymore, gets up early. He doesn’t stand by windows like he used to, looking out. Doesn’t even walk in front of them casually. John sees a soldier in so much of Sherlock now. But Sherlock hasn’t talked about it, still, two weeks on, even though John has taken Sarah’s generously offered time off from the surgery and the case didn’t take long, so for the last two weeks it’s been mostly either talking or nothing.
And therefore it’s been pretty much nothing. Not that John minds so much. It’s good just to have Sherlock near, to reassure himself of Sherlock’s reality. And he understands the not talking. It’s fine.
Sherlock is up early again today, earlier than John, which isn’t as hard as it used to be now that he’s slowly managing to drop his army conditioning. Sherlock is fully dressed and sitting in John’s chair rather than his own, staring absently out the window from a safe distance, his laptop shut on the table at his elbow. As soon as John sees him there, he makes sure his footfalls make a noticeable sound. Never sneak up on a man just back from war.
Sherlock looks up at the sound, as he mightn’t have a year ago.
“Good morning,” he says, as he definitely wouldn't have.
“Morning,” says John, going into the kitchen. He sees, from the corner of his eye, Sherlock’s hand flicker toward his laptop and then stop, to be withdrawn back to his lap. John’s seen it happen surprisingly often, for a man normally in such conscious control of himself. He can’t imagine how often Sherlock must have been checking his laptop while he was gone.
“I can see Mrs. Hudson didn't make you breakfast today, since I highly doubt you washed your dishes,” he mentions as he puts some bread in the toaster. Sherlock chuckles.
“Yes, I finally convinced her. I had to say that after a year without a proper British breakfast, so many all at once might turn my stomach. It was a difficult fight and I’m not sure she wholly believed me, but she let me off with some tea and biscuits,” he grins.
John laughs too, softly, but stands in the kitchen doorway and crosses his arms thoughtfully.
“You said ‘fight,’” he says after a few moments. Sherlock twists around in his seat to cock an eyebrow at John.
“What? I mean, obviously I didn't—”
“No, it’s not… you used to say ‘case,’” he explains. “That used to be your word for things like that. Now it’s ‘fight.’ I noticed it the other day.”
Sherlock stiffens visibly and turns back around.
“Well, what do you expect,” he says. Not loud, no inflection.
John wants to circle around to the front of Sherlock, but doesn’t. “Nothing,” he says, trying not to sound exasperated and mostly failing. “I don’t expect anything because I don’t know what to expect. I mean, I know basically what you were doing but… You realize you haven’t really told me anything, right?”
He sees Sherlock’s shoulders relax.
“Yes. I’m sorry. It’s just that I hadn’t—”
“No, I don’t need—” says John, the two of them speaking over each other for a moment. There’s a brief silence. The toast pops up in the kitchen.
“I’d be happy to tell you,” Sherlock smiles, “if you bring me some toast.”
She wonders what Sherlock and John are talking about, now that they can finally talk. He’s probably telling John all about the things he did and the places he was for the last year, the mysterious dangers he texted her from. The firefight while he asked her about her eyes. The morning she talked to him while he sewed up the wound in his side.
She hopes John will share some of the stories with her sometime.
She’s glad Sherlock is back with John. She’s so glad. When she thinks of the day John came into the morgue alone, her chest still tightens. It’s good for them to have each other again.
Two weeks after Sherlock’s return, Molly starts leaving her phone in her handbag at work again. The absence of its weight is hard to get used to—she keeps feeling off balance, like part of her is missing.