The first time Sherlock ruined a man for her, it was the day they met in the morgue at St. Barts. She looked up from the chart she was frowning over to see a tall, slender man in a dark coat stride into the room. He unwound the scarf from around his neck and tossed it onto the mostly bare desk that held only a photo of Molly's parents, and the latest issue of Cosmopolitan with the printed-off menu of a restaurant serving as a bookmark. The dark-haired stranger then grabbed two gloves from the box on the wall and began pulling open cadaver drawers in the body storage section. When a shocked Molly rushed over to confront the intruder, he straightened up and graced her with a dizzying smile that didn't quite reach the piercing blue eyes that scanned her.
"I have permission. You're new. It's your first day, in fact. That would explain the very inconsistent use of the locking mechanisms and your obedience to the dress code everyone else ignores. And of course, the fact that we've never met is rather telling." He turned to the last drawer he had opened. He opened the bag and tilted his head to inspect the elderly man whose face bore several gruesome cuts. "Lovely!" he exclaimed. This time the smile reached his almond-shaped eyes. He turned back to Molly. "Precisely what I suspected! Very gratifying. Thank you, Dr. Hooper."
Still reeling, Molly stuttered out, "How did you know my name?" She glanced down at her white coat to confirm that she wasn't wearing a name tag that she'd forgotten about. The photo for her ID card had just been snapped that morning and her completed badge wasn't ready yet.
"The doctors on shift are listed at the station upstairs. Of the three assigned to the morgue, Hooper was the only one I've never met. You graduated what, two years early?" He stripped the latex gloves off his hands and dropped them in the bin.
Molly nodded shyly, expecting him to display the look of skepticism that all her colleagues did when they realized her youth.
The judgment never appeared as she had expected it would. Instead he spun around, exited the cool storage area, and headed to Molly's desk, pulling a folder from inside his coat. He laid out a row of crime scene photographs, and rubbed his bottom lip in thought as his eyes danced around the bodies and blood splatter images. From a distance, Molly saw cuts on the faces that resembled the corpse in front of her. Realizing it was still exposed, Molly donned gloves and quickly closed the bag and secured the drawer.
The man sat down in Molly's chair and she approached her desk, feeling awkward. Was he a policeman? He must be if he possessed crime scene photos, but he wasn't like any policeman she'd ever met. His luxurious coat, for one thing, looked like it cost more than a copper made in a month. His long legs and dramatic cheekbones were more suitable for a male model, though she didn't think she'd ever seen a man handsome in such an odd way in any of her magazines. His mouth was a flawless Cupid's bow; she had the sudden urge to trace the lines of his upper lip with her fingertip and to run a hand through his shiny dark curls. She wondered if he was a regular visitor to the morgue. She hoped so.
Molly grew pink, realizing the direction of her thoughts and feeling guilty. She did have a date that night, after all.
The man gathered the photos back into the folder and lifted his head from the photos, his eyes meeting hers. He opened his mouth to speak, but clamped his lips shut as the outer door swung open.
"Terrence!" Molly smiled as the man strolled in, carrying a bouquet of roses and grinning at her. "You're early." She glanced at her watch. "I'm not off for another two hours."
Terrence made a show of presenting the paper-wrapped roses to Molly and kissing her on the cheek. She shuffled her feet, and made appreciative noises but she wasn't certain that she should be having visitors on her first day at work. She'd only been on three dates with Terrence, but he seemed unconcerned with formalities. He was a self-made man, he liked to boast, who ran his own auto sales business and didn't see the need to be priggish. He was a bit crude sometimes, but he loved to laugh and Molly had enjoyed his company at the movies and at a party the week before. That he was good-looking in a robust, football player sort of way didn't hurt.
She sensed the stranger watching, and then out of the corner of her eye saw his head turn toward the desk. He appeared to be squinting at the cover of the magazine. Molly was relieved. It wouldn't do for her date to notice the man she'd been accidentally ogling a minute before.
"Thought I'd pop in and surprise you, big day and all. New job, hot date." He winked and ran his palm up and down her arm.
A pointed sound of disgust emanated from the man at her desk.
"Sorry, mate? Problem?" Terrence glared at him.
"No, no. Of course not." The stranger stood up and faced Terrence. As he stepped closer, Molly realized he was considerably taller than her date. "That sounds fantastic. Will your wife be joining you at La Bernache for dinner, or is it just the two of you?"
"What? Oh no," she laughed. "No, Terrence is my date, he isn't married." Molly laughed, but a knot of fear formed in her gut. "Why on earth would you say such a thing? Are you quite finished with my desk?"
"Yes, I've solved the case, thank you for your assistance, doctor. I say such a thing because it is the truth. He's quite good at hiding the tan lines a wedding ring would normally leave, but the light coat of self-tanner he uses only on his hands makes it obvious if you look. Only a man with something to hide would darken his hands, and especially his fingers. Add in the flowers he obviously purchased at the hospital shop based on the paper. Flowers already wilting, browning, cheap. No planning ahead, he can't be using his credit card to send delivery, leaves a trail for his wife to follow. The restaurant that you've printed off the menu for is excellent and tucked away in an area with little foot traffic. Low-lighting. Known for being a place where men can- what is it they say- 'close the deal'?" The dark-haired stranger's voice dripped with mockery. "I'd say you've had no more than three dates and you haven't slept together yet. And so Dr. Hooper, this might be an ideal time to break it off. Wouldn't you say?" He smiled proudly as Terrence's face turned purple and her date stormed out of the morgue.
Molly stared, aghast. How utterly humiliating, and the worst thing was that she knew right away that he must be right. On their last date, Terrence had received a phone call and ducked out of the film to take it. She'd had a flash of suspicion, but he was back quickly and he'd apologized like a gentleman, citing a work emergency. She felt sick, knowing she'd kissed the man.
The stranger shrugged and tucked the file back into his coat. He scooped his scarf off the desk and wrapped it around his pale neck. As he turned to head for the door, Molly found herself calling, "Did you say you'd solved the case?"
The dark-haired man swiveled around and half-smiled. "So you heard that. Yes, of course I did. Not going to shout at me for sending off your boyfriend? Tell me to piss off?"
Molly opened her mouth to do precisely that, but realized she didn't feel truly angry. She felt disappointed and empty and hopeless. Numb. What was the point even in trying, sometimes?
She glanced back at the cold storage area. "That man. He died terribly. I've done his post-mortem already. You know who did it? You can stop it?"
The man nodded. "It was his business partner. They and the other victims were all involved in a Ponzi scheme. The partner employed an aspiring serial killer to clean up the mess now that it's falling apart and they're turning on each other. Silly plan but most murderers are criminally stupid."
Molly sniffed. "That's good. That's important. Thank you. Um, you never did tell me your name. And how did you work it all out about him…being married?" Another thought occurred to her belatedly. "Does Mike have the paperwork ready for your access? I forgot…in all this."
The man's eyebrows rose and he opened the door. "What paperwork? The name's Sherlock Holmes. Ask the others about me. I'll see you soon enough, Dr. Hooper."
The door closed and the man vanished. The red roses on the counter caught her eye, and the numbness slipped away from Molly. She grabbed the flowers, pricking herself on the thorns, and crammed them into a biohazard bin. She stared at the door for a minute before shaking herself and resuming the paperwork she had been focused on before he knocked her off-kilter and drove away her lying suitor.
It wasn't until after she rushed home at the end of her shift and crawled into her bed that Molly finally cried, and cursed both men, one for deception and one for brutal and awful truth.
Sherlock became a familiar and welcome face in her morgue. His appearances were sporadic but always exciting. The gossip amongst the police was that he was DI Lestrade's special pet, some sort of rogue consultant, a detective who wasn't actually employed by the Yard. They said he was brilliant, dangerous and mad. Molly knew he was remarkable and if he was a little strange, well, most geniuses were. Watching him deduce the bodies was amazing, and helping him made Molly feel better about her work. He would quiz her on her post-mortem results in a way that was draining but also satisfying. She wasn't merely cataloguing the devastations inflicted upon victims; she was providing information to find their killers, to bring their families some peace.
He rarely turned up during the other pathologists' shifts. One of the other doctors informed Molly after a year that she was considered 'his' pathologist. They had no problem letting him peek at her schedule as the others loathed his demanding presence.
She knew she fancied him rather badly, despite her attempts to meet new men. She had tried to ask him out for coffee once, but he was oblivious, thinking she was offering to go get him a coffee from the cafeteria. It was mortifying and so she bottled it. He accepted her compliments on his work and she contented herself with stealing looks at him as he worked.
She met Aaron Stafford through a mutual friend who worked with him at a top financial group. Aaron was the senior vice president in charge of bonds and mutual fund investments. He was polished, stable, handsome, and ready to have a family. He had good taste in movies and loved to read. He was so normal it terrified and thrilled Molly. She went one entire day without thinking of the consulting detective. But it was no accident that she kept Aaron away from Sherlock as long as possible.
They had been dating for two weeks when he stopped by the morgue on his way back to his office. Sherlock was ignoring her, bent over a corpse, poking its feet with a stick and timing the resilience of the skin with his wristwatch. Molly giggled and didn't ask. She'd learned it was best not to with the strangest ones.
Aaron cruised into the room and chatted with Molly for ten minutes about plans for a mini-holiday and his boring meetings at work. He gave her a lingering kiss goodbye, and Molly sighed into his chest as he hugged her.
Two days later, Aaron was arrested for embezzling huge sums of money from his financial group and their connected bank. The investigators had been examining the paperwork for some time, but the wire transfers had been so cunningly disguised and then funneled into a Cayman Islands account that they had been stumped for months on the source of the bank's money leak, until they got some sort of outside help. Aaron confessed immediately and cut a deal. He was an intelligent man, and knew how to negotiate for the best offer. Molly wasn't attracted to idiots, after all.
Her face was stony when she encountered Sherlock a few days later.
"Why? Couldn't you have told me first? Or have just ignored it?"
Sherlock look confused. "Of course not. He was a criminal. Is that fair to the people he was stealing from, Molly?"
Her eyes welled up. "Of course not." She ran from the room and didn't return until after Mike confirmed that Sherlock was gone. She tried to not think about the fact that it was the first time he'd called her by her first name. She had wondered how it would sound on his lips, in that silky baritone. Now she knew.
She refused to assist him the next time he appeared in her morgue, on a random sniper shootings case. She switched shifts with another doctor and headed home to watch "Skins" and forget about her own life while inhaling sweets.
An hour later, she got a text message that she ignored. And then another. Curiosity got the best of her and she flipped open her mobile.
Davison is uncooperative and moronic. Return to Barts.
Davison has delayed post-mortem in favor of chatting up nurse from ward B. Come back.
Molly laughed, picturing the morgue's notorious Casanova, Dr. Davison, putting the moves on a nurse while Sherlock whined and shouted at him. Let Sherlock suffer, she thought. He can stand to learn patience, the bossy bastard.
The phone beeped again, showing New message!
Five sniper deaths in eight days.
Latest victim 16 yrs old.
Molly swore and threw her mobile at the sofa. She paced around the room, nibbling on a fingernail and arguing with herself. Davison was a good pathologist, but he would make Sherlock wait all night if the detective harassed him. Sherlock really had no right to be ordering around the staff…The mobile beeped again, quieter as it had slid under a throw pillow.
The other ones aren't good enough.
She berated herself the entire time she was getting dressed and hailing a taxi. Davison was good, but she was better. She knew she was being manipulated, but if she could help, then she had to. Not for him, but for herself.
She put Aaron behind her. She reminded herself that she wasn't in love with him yet, and that the Sherlock thing was just a stupid crush. In the end, it was the work that mattered.
And from then on, Sherlock always called her Molly.
Jim. Sweet, cultured, fascinated by her work and her friends, so excited to be with her on all three of her dates.
And then there were Sherlock's bright blue eyes surveying her new boyfriend's form and dismissing him with a single word: "Gay."
Jim. Bomber, criminal, mastermind, and he'd nearly killed Sherlock. When the police had come knocking to find out what she knew about Jim from I.T., she had poured out every little detail she could think of, swamped with guilt. It felt like punishment for the pettiness of trying to use a person to make Sherlock jealous.
When she saw him again in the morgue, as cavalier and cool as always, he behaved as though nothing happened. She didn't know if she wanted to kiss or slap him for not seeing badness in a boyfriend of hers for the first time. She wanted to cup his face, inspect every bit of him to see that that son of a bitch hadn't hurt him. She wanted to squeeze him tight and shake him out of that polite coldness and make him feel something, anything.
His serious eyes skimmed over her, and apparently satisfied with her present condition, he said nothing. And so Molly said nothing. She handed over the chart for Johnson, R., and they worked together as they always had: her notes, his deductions, and solutions evolved.
They ran into Sherlock at a little Italian restaurant. She recognized John first, as he was facing the door, and then she realized with dread that Sherlock was with him. She grabbed her date's sleeve, intending to drag him out of there, but John spotted them and waved.
"Let's make this fast," she murmured to her companion, a new oncologist at Barts. He liked video games, gourmet cooking and had a positive relationship with his ex-wife. She was reasonably certain that he was not a serial killer or a criminal in any way.
She introduced him to the two men at the table, noting that John was also a physician. The two men exchanged the usual chatter while Sherlock stared without speaking at the new man. His gaze was cold and unflinching.
Molly cleared her throat to get his attention while John and Frank talked about Barts. Her eyebrows rose, and she steeled herself for an indication of something awful.
Sherlock glanced at Frank, and then back at her with a frown. Then, almost imperceptibly, he nodded.
Molly breathed a sigh of relief. All clear then. Nothing alarming. If he was dysfunctional or a bad match, it would be in a normal fashion.
Molly dated Frank for a month, spending most of their lunch breaks together while he adjusted to working at Barts. He was sweet and a little shy, and she enjoyed his company and his clever banter. He didn't overwhelm her or make her feel faint with wanting like Sherlock did, but she genuinely liked him.
One morning she was engrossed in assisting Sherlock with an experiment involving two cadaver legs, a riding crop, and some rope. She held a limb in place, while Sherlock bent his head next to hers, trying to duplicate the pressure that would've been needed for the accused's story to be true. She leaned against his arm and her hand stretched past his chest to hold the leg down as he used all his strength to yank on the short length of rope. She laughed as he strained, the absurdity of the test striking her. Sherlock sighed impatiently, but smiled briefly as their eyes met.
Which is when Frank walked in. Molly waved and told him they'd be done in a moment. Frank nodded and left without speaking.
Put out by his curtness, Molly set down the leg, removed her gloves and lab coat, and followed him out into the hall.
"Frank! Hi! Hey. What's up?" She smoothed her hair back and reached for his hand. He pulled it back and looked away.
"Are we meeting at the Fox later still or did you want to have dinner somewhere else instead?"
"I don't think it's a good idea, Molls." Frank cast his eyes downward, visibly uncomfortable. "I…um, I just don't think it's working."
Molly looked around, thankful the hallway was empty. "What do you mean? I thought, I thought everything was great. Was it the test? I know it looks weird, but it's all on the up and up, it's for a case. I promise."
"Oh yeah that was…a bit off-putting actually, but that's not the problem." Frank ruffled his blond hair and sighed. "He is."
Molly rubbed a hand on her forehead. "I know he's rude but whatever he said-"
"No he didn't say anything, Molly. It's what everyone else says and I thought it didn't matter, that they were wrong. I don't think they were, though."
Molly wrinkled her nose. "What everyone else says, about Sherlock? Yeah he's mad but he's a genius. Just come and meet him properly, you'll see, he's a good person. I mean, when he's not being a pain in the arse."
"That's not what I meant. When I started here, everyone told me about Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective who comes around like he owns the place. I didn't pay much attention, he's got no need to bother with oncology. But they said things about you too."
Molly's stomach twisted into a painful knot. "Like what?"
"They said that you were his. You have been since always, and everyone knows it."
Molly felt as though her heart had stopped. Her mouth dropped open, and she tried to think of a coherent denial. She looked at the pleasant young doctor, everything she thought she wanted in a man. She liked him so much.
Too much to lie to him.
The silence dragged out. Frank nodded sadly, and backed away from Molly, stuffing his hands in his coat.
"You're a great girl, Molly. Helluva pathologist. Let's not make it weird, okay? I like it here. Are we alright?"
She nodded, and forced herself to smile. "Yeah. It's fine. I'll see you when I see you, I guess. Goodbye, Frank."
She returned to the morgue where Sherlock was struggling to carry on the test without her. His face contorted into strange expressions as he wrestled with the limb and the rope, and tried to use the crop at the same time. It was an awkward ballet of absurdity.
Sherlock shouted and cursed. "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to accomplish this? I have no idea why John insisted on going to work today. His priorities are appalling."
She hid her smile as she rejoined him. Sometimes she thought she actually liked the man she was in love with.
He always said the most horrible things. She had forgotten that when she planned her foolish Christmas outfit with her silly silver bow in her hair, high on the false hopes that holidays bring. He'd been distracted by a case for months, but not one he needed her for. She missed him, and him messing up her morgue. It had been peaceful and tidy and it was bloody awful.
She eschewed her typical loose clothes, hoping he would notice her finally if she showed him how she looked outside of work, when she was feeling sexy. She had been quite determined after Frank that she could make the icy detective fall for her, finally. She was happy and confident, and the energy of her secret intentions lit her from within as she entered the Baker Street flat. Even DI Lestrade stared at her slim figure in the black dress, and he was certainly a handsome man that all the doctors and nurses flirted with. Molly felt strong and a little naughty.
Then Sherlock smashed it all to pieces.
And then he kissed her. Only her cheek, but his lips were on her skin and the scent of his clean skin was in her nose and if she hadn't been in shock, she probably would have grabbed him by the shoulders and snogged the hell out of him. Audience be damned!
And then there was a dead woman in the morgue and Sherlock recognized her nude form. There was a look on his face she had never seen before. She couldn't identify it exactly but that quick glimpse of feeling in his gaze held more honesty than anything she'd seen in his face since she met him.
Molly didn't know it was possible to feel such excitement and potential, and such despair within such a short amount of time.
He can feel, she thought. He can love. He just doesn't love me.
She set aside her hopes again, and many months passed. He was in and out of her life and it was impossible to erase him entirely but they were both very skilled at pretending nothing was wrong. They were survivors.
She had gone to uni with Guy, and he friended her on Facebook after they met again at a reunion cocktail party. He was flirty and single, and had been a brilliant physics student in their school days together. Molly thought, why not. A lunch date with an old friend sounds lovely, actually.
Sherlock and John appeared suddenly as she neared the exit. Sherlock's arm reached across her body, and his hand pressed through her cardigan, against her collarbone, using the pressure to turn her around while he lectured her about Moriarty's latest antics.
Like I'm his bloody puppet, she thought to herself, though strictly speaking, she didn't mind having his hand on her chest.
"Jim actually wasn't my boyfriend," she found herself explaining, as she had had to explain humiliatingly to a hundred people in the last two years. "We went out three times. I ended it."
Even John, used to his best friend's bizarre demands, stared in confusion as Sherlock suggested she avoid all attempts at a future relationship, for the sake of law and order.
It's not my fault, Molly thought. There are bad men everywhere, and Moriarty only dated me because of you. Why are you annoyed at me for dating? How was I supposed to know?
She loathed him right then. She wanted to throw the stupid packets of crisps at his face. But Moriarty had returned and there was chaos and she could help.
She pulled out her mobile and cancelled her lunch date. Guy never called back.
He'd been gone three years. The last time she saw him, he was crouched by the window, staring out into the night and texting someone. She thought she felt a touch on her hand as she lay in bed, but when she awoke, she was alone and the sofa was empty. Sherlock had left without saying goodbye, and that was the last insult. She had saved his life and sheltered him for months while he searched for Moran, and he disappeared without a word of thanks. She threw out his leftover experiments when she began to stare at them with longing.
She had thought they'd become friends during the time he stayed with her. She no longer felt constantly anxious around him, and she learned more about him- his mood swings, his boyish sense of humor, and his terrible abuse of nicotine patches. After two weeks of him living with her, he stopped fighting when she argued with him and ripped off the extra patches. She caught him smoking sometimes, but she would rather he had the occasional cigarette than risk a heart attack with a nicotine overdose.
And then he left her without a word. She was used to pretending that it didn't matter. Sometimes she almost believed it. He was gone and crime in London increased. Scotland Yard was drowning in unsolved cases, but Molly worked extra shifts, trying to use the Sherlock in her mind to spot additional details in her post-mortems. She had always had the knowledge of the body, the wounds, the damage, but she found a new way of interpreting data, making suggestions to the floundering newer D.I.s who stepped into her morgue. She found herself mocking them in the same comical way in her head that Sherlock used to do out loud when they were watching telly together. It was a little mean but it made her smile.
Three years after Sherlock left, she sat on her sofa watching the news and thinking about taking a bikram yoga class. She changed into her sleepshirt, a t-shirt that reached midthigh on her, and hopped back on the sofa under a blanket.
There was a knock on the door, and when she peeked around the door, there he was.
"Hello. Moran's dead," he said without preamble. "It took longer than I thought it would. Every player in his network, every hitman who would have reason to follow up, every threat. Mycroft thinks it's overkill, but I think it was just enough kill, don't you?" He smiled blandly.
A sob choked Molly. She dragged him into the flat, slamming the door shut. She pushed him against the door, and slid her arms around his body, under his coat. He was bone-thin and weary, and he looked five years older with new lines around his mouth and eyes. A new scar decorated his jaw, a thin white line stretching from his chin to his left ear. His coolness had fallen away, and he looked raw and hungry.
"I can't believe you're alive, you're real, you're here." She pulled him down to her. She was done being afraid of the rejection. Three years not knowing if he was dead or alive had stripped away her fear of him pushing her away.
She pushed her mouth against his, and to her surprise, his arms came around her body right away, squeezing the breath out of her and kissing her back. She lost track of time, but when she came back to herself, they were kneeling on the floor, his coat off and her nightshirt pushed up past her waist. She couldn't stop touching him, even when she began laughing madly against his mouth.
"You're really here. My God. I had almost given up hope."
"You? I doubt it." She felt his smile against her lips, in the dark. "I've already been to see John."
"I know." She dug her hands into his hair, feeling how short he'd chopped it. It was brittle as though he'd dyed it a lot in the missing time.
"How?" Before she replied, she felt his teeth tugging on her lower lip. She gloried in that for a minute before summoning an answer.
"You've a fresh bruise forming on your cheek, and there's a large spot of wetness on your coat, about face-level with John- where he cried and hugged you. I almost told him so many times, he was so broken, Sherlock. I couldn't bear it."
"I had to see him first. He had to know."
"Oh god, of course. No, it's fine." She giggled. "Did he hit you before or after he hugged you?"
"At the same time, if you can imagine that." His voice was as dry as ever. He extracted himself from Molly's arms, and grabbed his coat, reaching into a deep pocket.
"I didn't want you to hurt. I never wanted you to be hurt. But I kept doing it over the years. I thought if I stayed away, that would never happen again, but that's not true, is it."
"No, it's not. That's the worst part of loving someone- you don't want to hurt each other more than anything, but no one else can hurt your feelings so easily. It was always worth it. And worse with you not in my world. What is that?" Molly asked, distracted by his hands.
He held up a silver Christmas bow. As he twiddled with it, turning it over in his fingers, Molly realized it was the bow, the one she had turned into a cheery hair accessory.
"Where did you get that? I lost that ages ago. Left it somewhere."
He gestured toward the bowl of assorted items on her little table by the door where she usually dropped her keys, and other odds and ends.
"I took it from your bowl. The night I left."
"What? Why? That old thing?"
She saw his faint grin in the dim light. "Deduce me."
Molly cupped his cheek, stroking the new scar. "I, I don't know. That was a bad night. Except for the part when you kissed me."
"Yes, I kissed you." He opened the clasp of the hair clip, and slipped it into Molly's messy strands. He closed the clip around a lock of hair.
"But that woman, the dead woman on my table. She meant something to you? I mean, would you rather- if she were alive…"
"She is alive."
"She's an extraordinary woman. Faked her death to escape a bit of bad business. Doesn't matter now. She's alive. And I'm here."
Molly lifted a hand to touch the bow in her hair. The ribbon it was made of was quite ragged after years away with Sherlock, but it still made her glow with happiness. The bow he had apparently carried with him for years and never lost despite the obvious hard, dark times…
He smiled. "Yes, you."
His name had barely escaped her lips when his mouth was on hers, and she understood that the gossips of St. Barts had been rather right all this time, but had missed a vital point: she was Sherlock's, yes, but he was also hers.