She considers going to Australia, after Sherlock… leaves. Anything to be away; anything to disappear. The entire city – her whole life, really – is tangled up in a lie, and she’s the one holding the thread. She’s the only one who knows.
She also knows she’ll give the whole thing away, if anybody so much as looks at her. It’s not that she can’t keep a secret. But secrets are one thing, and lies – massive lies that tear you to pieces – are another. And it’s not quite fair, is it? Sherlock barely even looked at her, before. But now she’s got his big secret in her pocket, and she’s got to hold onto it until… until she doesn’t even know when. She doesn’t know anything at all, really. She doesn’t know whether it would be worse to go to the funeral, or not to go – how it would look, that is, from the outside. As far as her own feelings, go, it’s easy: it will be much, much worse to go, to see John Watson dead-eyed with shock, to know she could help, except that she can’t, really, not without making it all worse.
Molly catches sight of herself in the plate glass window of the café, her reflection staring back drawn and tear-streaked. She hears her mother’s voice in her head: you look like somebody died, Moll.
Well. Nobody did, but on the other hand, nobody else knows that, do they. She squares her shoulders. Maybe she can do this after all.
She picks up her bag and heads to the tube. There’s still time to make the funeral.
It’s strange, Molly thinks as she slices into Evelyn Whitley’s chest cavity, to finally know something that matters.
It’s like living in a different world than everybody else, when you know something they don’t. Sherlock’s face all over the newspapers, DI Lestrade sitting at home on unpaid suspension, John Watson walking around like a dead man above ground, while she’s down here dry-eyed, trying to compose a suitably cryptic response to an email from the man whose death has upended all of London. Someone named Sebastian Moran on the news shows, railing about the murder of his friend, an innocent actor framed by Sherlock Holmes.
She still might have believed it all, if she hadn’t known Jim before his face was in the papers as Richard Brook. She would have doubted her own memories, if she hadn’t known Moran’s face as well. She had met him once, in the break room waiting for Jim’s shift to end. He had winked at her like the two of them were in on a joke together that she was too stupid to understand, and later she had found a slip of paper with his number and email address in her pocket, which made her feel confused and angry and stupid even before Jim did the same thing to Sherlock a week later.
Maybe she was stupid then, but she isn’t now. It’s just one little thing, but knowing about Sherlock means she can peel back all the lies and the spin and all the… the bullshit, really. She’s not sure that someone like Jim couldn’t fool her again, because all the facts in the world haven’t changed the fact that the sweet, awkward man from IT still feels real to her. She can hardly imagine it, lying with your whole life the way Jim did. But she believes in liars, now, even if she can’t help believing some of the lies. It’s like a key that opens locks she couldn’t even see.
She laughs, but she steadies herself before the shaking scalpel in her hand costs Mrs. Whitley her aortic wall. Not that she really needs it anymore, Molly thinks grimly. It’s the first time she’s laughed since Sherlock went away. She wonders whether she’ll ever need it again, in this new world where everything is grim and anxious and exhausting.
She catches an elbow in the stomach at Tesco, from a fat man who doesn’t bother to apologize as he shoves through the crowded aisle, and suddenly she’s angry, angry about all of it. What gave you the right, she thinks furiously, and she doesn’t know whether she’s more angry at the men who never notice her, who shove by her like she doesn’t matter, like she’s not even there, or angrier at the one who did.
The other day, in the morgue, it had felt like power, knowing the secret that nobody else in London knew. But today is grey and rainy, and the woman next to her on the tube was reading a tabloid that had a picture of John on the cover, looking utterly wrecked. The world is exactly the way it was two months ago, when Sherlock jumped, and she feels more helpless than ever.
She wants to do the right thing. She wants to keep Sherlock safe and keep slipping him the tidbits of news which, she feels quite sure, are keeping him alive in… wherever he is now. Japan, the last time she heard from him, though the IP address was probably a false lead after all. She desperately wants to call John Watson and ask him out for a coffee, to let him talk and tell him that she really hopes he won’t kill himself, but she’s not sure she can even do that. Some kinds of lies are beyond her, and she wants to keep it that way.
Of course she can’t do anything. That’s what everybody says, after somebody dies. But nobody did die, and she probably could do something, if she knew what it was. Nobody would ever suspect that of her. Jim didn’t. Sebastian Moran probably didn’t either. Sherlock was counting on it. And he was probably right, wasn’t he? That may be the worst thing of all.
She can’t stand this anymore, she thinks, as she shoves tinned tomatoes into her basket. She couldn't spend the next... however many months it turned out to be, just hanging about in case Sherlock felt like emailing her that day, trying to hold everyone and everything in London together by sheer force of will.
She takes a deep breath and begins to compose a new message in her head.
She checks her email before leaving work, and her heart skips slightly when she sees the encrypted address. This is the fifth one since her meltdown at Tesco last month. She'd had an attack of nerves, right after sending the message — would she seem too pushy? or just silly? — but the reply the next morning had reassured her. And these last few weeks had felt exciting instead of just terrible. It might have been reckless, to try to take some control, but at least she's not just sitting at home on her hands anymore. She shuts down her work computer and opens the email on her phone.
Keep the updates coming. As much as you can tell me. –S
Best to answer that from her home computer, she thinks. Or maybe she’ll go back to the library this weekend. The library might be a better idea.
There’s a sleek black sedan waiting on the curb out front of Barts. As soon as she steps outside, the driver gets out and hold the door open, staring at her. She’s never seen a car like this – other than at Sherlock’s funeral last summer, when there were lots of black cars parked at the cemetery – but she remembers the stories John Watson used to tell.
The library definitely would have been smarter, she thinks.
There is a woman in the back of the car, tapping away at a blackberry with the proficiency of Molly’s teenaged niece.
“What’s this about?” Molly asks, trying to sound like she doesn’t know.
The woman ignores her. She may not have realized Molly is in the car.
Molly slips her hand surreptitiously into her pocket.
“Your phone won’t get any signal in here,” the woman says, without lifting her eyes from her blackberry.
The game is up, so Molly pulls the phone out of her pocket and stares at it. The woman is right. Molly stares at her. She’s breezily pretty, like she never even thinks about it, and she hasn’t looked at Molly once.
The car glides to a stop about ten minutes later, and the door opens from the outside. They’re at some kind of warehouse, and the driver gestures silently toward the corrugated door hanging open on rusty hinges. She resists the urge to say thank you, and wonders whether he would reply if she did.
Inside is a dusty open darkness, broken by the skeletal shadows of metal shelving. She takes a few steps in and stops.
“Keep walking,” comes a familiar voice.
There’s nothing else to do, really, so she keep walking, sending up echoes with her shoes from the bare concrete floor, until she finds herself in front of Sherlock’s brother. His suit is grey this time, and his face is more dryly impassive than it was at the funeral, but otherwise he looks the same.
“You should get better at covering your tracks, Molly Hooper.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she replies, and it’s stupid, of course, because false bravado would never fool Sherlock Holmes, and she can’t imagine it would fool his brother with fingers in MI6 or whatever it was.
“You are in over your head,” he says, crisp and cold, “but it’s not too late for me to help you.”
That’s it, she’s done, she can’t keep up the façade anymore. “Why would you want to help me?” she asks.
“You have done my brother a great service,” he replies. “And I am sure you think you are doing another, sending him snippets about John Watson.” Mycroft’s lips curl in a sneer. “Please don’t think my people haven’t noticed that you are keeping tabs on him. For your safety, this has to end.” He inclines his head slightly. “And for John’s, of course. I imagine that’s important to you.”
He doesn’t know, she thinks. He really doesn’t know.
“This isn’t about John,” she says. “Well - I mean - Sherlock asked me to. Is all. He wanted me to. So why should I stop?”
Mycroft crosses his arms. “Miss Hooper, I think you do not understand the stakes of the situation. It is very dangerous for you to be in touch with him. There may be others who suspect Sherlock is not dead. You haven’t any idea how serious things could become for him, were his identity to be uncovered.”
She stares at him, silent.
After a moment, Mycroft’s arms drop back to his sides. “You have the power here,” he says, quietly.
“Fine,” she says. “Fine, I’ll stop. But I’m stopping because you’ve convinced me it's best, not because you’ve… you’ve intimidated me. And I want you to tell me where he is —” too far, she realizes, as Mycroft begins to open his mouth “—or where he’s been, at least, because he promised me he would tell me if I helped him, if I kept in touch, and it helps me feel better to, to know.” She swallows. “You have to promise me that you’ll tell me.”
Mycroft sighs. “Fine,” he says. “I will check in with you every few weeks. You will have the most current information I can release.”
She nods. “All right. No more emails to Sherlock.”
“Michael and Anthea will take you back to your flat.” Mycroft shakes his head, aggrieved even in victory. “Perhaps we all underestimated you, Miss Hooper.”
Molly raises her chin and says nothing.
She has a choice, she thinks, as she climbs the stairs to her flat. She's got Mycroft in her pocket now, even if he thinks it's the other way round. She leaves the door unlocked, because no matter what she chooses, she’s going to have a visitor soon.
She pours herself a glass of wine and drinks it in slow, steady sips. It feels mechanical, and the wine is almost gone before she realizes that she hasn’t been thinking at all.
She sighs, staring at the glass in her hand, and realizes she’s already made up her mind. Not really a choice at all, she realizes, in a sour stab of self-recognition. All the things she’s done, all the silly stupid risks – it was just because she was so tired of being invisible. But she’s tired, and she’s terrified inside and out of the choices within her reach, tired of carrying around secrets too big for one person.
She was never going to be able to keep anyone safe, she thinks bleakly. She can keep secrets for the dead, but with the living she’s out of her league.
She drains the last drops of wine, then sets down the glass and opens up her laptop. She’s still got her own blog bookmarked, so that seems like the easiest way to send a message. Her family might still be reading the blog, so she has to be a bit careful, but she’s thinking of other readers as she types.
I’ve just bought Toby a new cat toy, she writes, and he loves it! It’s one of those fuzzy mousies on a string, attached to a pole. It’s so funny to watch him leap about as he tries to catch it. I’m not sure he realizes that I’m holding the other end of it. Would he still like playing with it, if he knew?
She clicks publish and gets up to make herself a strong cup of tea. She’s just pouring the milk when there is a knock at the door.
“Come in,” she calls from the kitchen.
Mycroft Holmes walks into the flat, wearing the same impassive expression – though a different tie, she notices. Why would he be wearing a different tie? The cheeky thought occurs that she could ask him, but evaporates almost instantly.
“I would definitely say we underestimated you, Miss Hooper,” he says.
She squares her shoulders and stares back at him.
“Tell me, please,” he says, flat and dangerous, “why you should ever be allowed to walk out of this flat alive.”
“You need me,” she says. “I can help you. I can keep helping you.”
Mycroft sits down in the green overstuffed chair and stares at her. “Fine,” he says icily. “Start talking.”
Molly nods, and sits down opposite him on the sofa, and then nods again. “All right,” she says. “Here’s how you find Sebastian Moran.”