It has always been this way. Not always this body, precisely, but others much like it. Getting along with everybody well enough, but ultimately lonely. Soft enough to care, but strong enough not to despair. And – most importantly – always fascinated by death.
Molly allows herself a small smile. Maybe this life is one of the most fitting yet, working in a mortuary. Nobody even wonders why she spends so much time with the dead. And having her own rooms, staff and equipment does make the procedure much easier. Though of course she doesn’t only meet people there.
When Molly first meets John Watson, for example, he’s just been hit by a bullet, somewhere in the hot dust of Afghanistan. People get shot, people die - it happens daily here. This knowledge doesn’t make it any easier for her to endure, but there’s nothing anyone can do. John Watson knows that, too. But instead of surrendering he raises his eyes up to the glaring merciless sun and mouthes: “Please, God, let me live!” And this is when he sees her and his eyes go wide.
Molly doesn’t know what person he sees her as or where he imagines they are. It doesn’t matter. Mike routinely removes John Watson’s heart and hands it to her. It’s a big and healthy heart, looking fit to live several more decades instead of dying here in the desert. What a shame. When Molly puts it on the scale and gets out the ostrich feather for comparison, John Watson watches her with a confused frown. He doesn’t understand what’s going on and how could he? But he takes the uncertainty well, completely resigned to whatever fate he is going to encounter.
The little red numbers flicker and Molly bends closer to make them out. Then she smiles at John Watson. He may have the rough exterior of a soldier, but his heart is as innocent as a child’s. John Watson gives her the smallest smile in return and for a moment Molly almost regrets his death. But there is nothing she can do. Well. Nothing she is allowed to do. It wouldn’t be fair to all the others. Still, there is something holding her back from letting him go. Something in the back of her mind, some vague augury.
On a hunch, she motions for Mike to let John Watson go back. Mike frowns at her and looks like he wants to refuse, but Molly waves him away. After all, there is no justice. There is only her.
When she meets John Watson again – at Bart’s this time and in her human form – he doesn’t recognise her. They never do, on the rare occasions she meets someone twice. Molly’s eyes flicker to Sherlock and not for the first time she wonders whether he would remember her.
Sherlock Holmes is a mystery and a fascinating one at that. He’s almost as comfortable around the dead as she is and sometimes he’s watching her so closely she can almost feel his eyes piercing through her disguise. But he never quite gets her and that fills Molly with a secret joy. She knows she probably shouldn’t help him so much, shouldn’t give him access to all those bodies, she out of all people. But maybe it’s because she has guided all their souls away that she doesn’t feel any remorse for giving the leftover remains to Sherlock Holmes and his experiments.
She isn’t allowed to meddle in the affairs of mortals herself (which doesn’t mean she never does – just look at John Watson standing over there), but who could blame her if she made meddling in their realm a bit easier for Sherlock Holmes? He’d find out everything anyway, she’s just saving him a little time. Surely that’s not forbidden?
If she ever worries about Sherlock Holmes, it’s not about helping him; it’s about Sherlock’s heart. Oh, it’s not that he doesn’t have one, as he likes to claim. She isn’t worried that she’s not been able to glimpse at it in her human form, either. But even to her shy little girly form it is obvious that Sherlock Holmes wouldn’t pass if she probed him. Molly likes Sherlock, she really does, and he does do a lot of good for the world around him, even though it’s mostly unintentionally. He is a great man. Yet all that won’t help him if he gets tested and his heart has not improved. If he hasn’t become a good man.
Which is why Molly almost cries with relief when she sees John Watson standing besides Sherlock Holmes on that first occasion at Bart’s. So that’s what her hunch has been about. She hasn’t saved John Watson for himself, but for Sherlock Holmes. If anyone can help Sherlock in becoming a good man, it has to be a fearless soldier with the faithful heart of a child.
John Watson’s influence on Sherlock isn’t showing results as fast as she has hoped, though. So when some criminal mastermind closes his net around Sherlock and things come to an end in a darkened swimming pool, Molly meets an unprepared consulting detective. It’s obvious that he doesn’t have a clue what Mike is doing when he takes Sherlock’s heart out of his chest, to the scales, and when Molly gets out the feather, Sherlock all but snarls at her: "This is ludicrous. A full-length ostrich plume weighs at most ten grams, six on average. The human heart weighs fifty times as much. There's no basis for comparison."
Molly smiles, but it’s a sad smile. She’d hoped he would have understood by now. And when she reads the scales, her smile fades away altogether. She can already hear the growling from the distance. It seems like not even John Watson has been able to make a good man out of Sherlock Holmes. But why? Molly had been so sure that this was his destiny when she had seen the two men together. So sure she had made the right decision in saving John Watson. Well. Maybe he simply needed more time.
She knows Mike is watching her closely, possibly frowning again. She knows he disagrees with her the second she motions for him to send Sherlock back. However, he doesn’t have to understand – she’s the one to make the decisions. Maybe it’s because she has been human for so long and because this specific body is kinder than most. More probably it’s because Sherlock’s ruthless pursuit of the truth no matter what appeals to her very nature. But whatever the reason, she has decided that Sherlock Holmes will get another chance.
She knows she has done the right thing when Sherlock Holmes apologises to her for the first time. It doesn’t matter that he’s insulted her in front of everybody before or that he rushes off immediately afterwards, chasing another mystery. It’s the most human gesture she’s ever seen from him. And although John Watson looks as confused as everybody else, Molly knows that without him there would have been no apology.
Then there’s Irene Adler. If Molly hadn’t studied Sherlock Holmes as long as she has, she’d say he was in love. Since she has studied him long enough, she settles for calling it fascination. But does fascination cover mourning when he thinks she’s dead? Does it explain saving her life? Well, they all do silly things, don’t they? Everyone knows how obsessed Sherlock can become with puzzles, but until then no-one has observed how flattered he can be when he himself is the answer to one of those puzzles.
Molly enjoys studying this new Sherlock and sometimes she feels like she can see a glimpse of his heart. His real heart, not the bloody muscular thing she’s already seen once. When things become dangerous and unpredictable again, she decides Sherlock deserves a clue. He still hasn’t recognised her. He’s surprised when she notices him murmuring under his breath and even more surprised when she tells him he looked sad. It’s true, though. Molly is aware of the shortcomings of her human self, but for maybe the first time Sherlock looks behind the stammering and the awkwardness. He doesn’t understand immediately, but Molly can see that she’s set the wheels of his mind in motion.
And when he sees no other way out, Sherlock does indeed come to her for help.
“What do you need?” she asks him and Sherlock answers without hesitation: “You. I need you to tell me, Molly. How can a heart be lighter than a feather? How? I need to know!”
But Molly knows this isn’t actually about his soul. Sherlock never wants to be told the answer to a problem – he always wants to figure it out himself. And by the looks of it, she’d swear he has already figured it out. No, what he really wants is her approval. He is looking for one last confirmation that he’s doing the right thing. That he has interpreted the final problem correctly. That he’s about to become a good man.
Except that’s not for her to decide. The decision has to be Sherlock’s alone. So Molly shrugs and releases him into the world of human uncertainty. But when Sherlock turns around to leave, she can’t refrain from whispering: “I believe in you.”
Of course, this isn’t a promise. That she can’t do for anyone, not even Sherlock Holmes. But as soon as the words are out, she feels him relax. And she believes him when he says: “Thank you, Molly.”
Molly only realises she has wished for a different outcome once it’s too late. Sherlock is sitting opposite her, waiting for Mike to remove his heart. This time he is fully aware of what’s happening and he is watching them closely. His mouth twitches and for a second he seems almost amused. Obviously everything has worked out according to Sherlock’s plan.
Mike puts Sherlock’s heart on a scale and the feather on another. The red numbers flicker again, but today there is no growling. It’s quiet and calm. Molly watches the numbers and hopes. Yet when they have settled she can hardly believe in them. She shoots a quick look at Sherlock who looks back at her expectantly. Molly wants to sing, to jump, to hug Sherlock. Instead she nods at him solemnly. He has passed. His body may have fallen, but his heart is light enough to fly.
So she should be happy now. Shouldn’t she? She’s brought back John Watson and given Sherlock Holmes a second chance so that he could turn into a good man. And now he has. The numbers don’t lie. Molly’s succeeded. It’s only – why should Sherlock die now that he has finally found the courage to be good instead of great? Now that he could do so much good? It just isn’t fair. Couldn’t the afterlife be fair for once? Couldn’t she make it fair? Could it be necessary to ignore the rules once more in order to restore at least some balance to the world?
Molly carefully bags the feather again. Then she takes the heart and slowly offers it back to Sherlock. A small smile plays around Sherlock’s lips as he takes the proffered organ from her hands. Mike just stares at her, wordlessly, and Molly silently dares him to question her judgement. He looks away after some time, though, and obediently guides Sherlock back to the land of the living. Molly smiles. The third time’s the charm. It has to be.