“It's a matter of national security,” Mycroft said, looking at his brother. “And seeing as how Moriarty's reappearance has earned you only a temporary reprieve from the repercussions of your actions regarding Magnussen, I would suggest you accept this request and do as Her Majesty commands.” He folded his hands on his desk. “It is the only way I can think of for you to sufficiently make up for the problems you caused on Christmas Day, and then, when this business with Moriarty is all over, the government will consider your punishment fulfilled.”
Sherlock didn't look up at his brother, instead flipping through the rather thick file he had been handed upon entering the office. Apparently Moriarty's right hand man had not actually stayed in custody after the incident with the bomb on the train, and now he was in the wind. The fact that no one was entirely sure whether Moriarty's video message was the truth or an elaborate hoax meant that the disappearance of Sebastian Moran had to be taken very seriously. He flipped by one page and then paused, flipping back to it and reading it again. “There is no woman on the face of the earth who will agree to help me with this,” he said, snapping the file shut and looking up at his brother with wide eyes.
“There is one,” Mycroft countered. “And you know damn well she would do anything you asked of her. I honestly think she would willingly give up her life for you if it would ensure you took another breath.”
“She might have, before....everything,” Sherlock said, setting the file on Mycroft's desk with a heavy thud. “Of course, I didn't have the decency to inform her of my ploy with Janine, nor did I make it a point to say good-bye to her when she clearly wished not to speak to me.”
“The first is your folly, dear brother, but the second isn't quite what you think,” Mycroft said. “When the plane was in the air I was going to call to inform you there was a letter on board, from Ms. Hooper to you.” Mycroft removed his hands from the top of his desk and opened a drawer, pulling out an envelope. He handed it to Sherlock. “I'm honestly surprised she's made no attempt to find out if you've read it. But she can ask you herself in a few hours, I suppose.”
Sherlock looked at him, slightly wide eyed. “She already knows about all this?” he asked as he took the envelope.
“Anthea has taken her out to update her wardrobe, to make it easier to blend in with the crowd that you will be a part of in the course of this mission,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “Anthea can brief her on what her role is to be as well as I can, so I'm leaving that to her. There won't be false identities for you to worry about, though admittedly before you leave there will need to be interviews with the tabloids to elaborate on what Ms. Hawkins has told the press. Utter lies, of course.”
“Of course,” Sherlock murmured, trying to remain impassive at the dig against him. He knew his brother was still convinced he was a virgin, and even if in this case he was right, that everything Janine had said was a lie, they didn't need to get into this well trod argument. “How does Molly fit in, exactly?”
“She's your new paramour,” Mycroft said. “Whatever reason you two want to agree upon will be up to you, but before you leave the country you need to be seen together, and often. And no baiting the paparazzi; we want them to take as many photos of you and Ms. Hooper as they can. The more obvious it is the two of you are in a romantic entanglement, the better.
“I suppose using each other as rebound relationships would be sufficient,” Sherlock said. “Building on the idea that friendship blossomed into something more than friendship. Is Molly aware that there is a physical aspect to all of this?”
Mycroft nodded. “She was made aware of that and she agreed regardless. She did have a few stipulations. Until you leave the country you are to reside in your own residences. If, for appearances sake, you are to stay the night at her flat or she is to stay at Baker Street, she gets the bed and you are on the sofa. If you touch her behind closed doors she is allowed the opportunity to castrate you when this is all over.”
Sherlock's eyes widened. Did she honestly think he was going to pursue anything with her when they were away from prying eyes? He'd kiss her in public, be close to her, but when they were in private he'd keep a whole bloody room between them if it made her happy. He knew he had played a huge part in the failure of her engagement, that there had been jealousy on Tom's end about the type of relationship that she had with him, and he didn't blame her for wanting to keep distance between them. He would respect that, obviously, but the last stipulation seemed extreme. “She really threatened to castrate me?” he asked incredulously.
Mycroft nodded. “I honestly think she's decided to go back to an earlier piece of advice you gave her and avoid dating. That includes dating you as well, apparently. She's going to avoid any and all actual romantic entanglements. This is playacting, as far as she's concerned.”
He cringed just slightly at hat. He'd been flippant and rather cruel when he'd made that remark to her at St. Bart's all that time ago. He felt differently now. She deserved to be happy, to be in love with someone who loved her back completely and didn't want to change her in any way. She deserved a relationship where she was a true and equal partner in it, not simply someone's other half. And if she was going to give up on ever having that because of him then that might honestly be one of the worst things he was responsible for. “I'm going to make her change her mind,” he said.
“And have her begin an actual relationship with you?” Mycroft asked, raising an eyebrow.
Sherlock shot him a glare. “No,” he said. “When this is all over I'll convince her to find someone suitable who treats her with love and respect and doesn't expect her to change.”
“You mean someone who will accept you are still a part of her life after this mission is over,” Mycroft said.
“Well, yes,” he said. “But also everything else. She deserves to be happier than she is. She deserves it more than I do, at the very least.”
Mycroft nodded. “Don't let your genuine affection for her cloud things,” he said. “You need to be logical and make decisions based on the best interest of the British government, not on your own best interest and not on what would make her happiest.”
Sherlock nodded, picking the file back up again. He absorbed the information as he read it, but after a bit his mind began to wander. He'd never been romantically interested in any woman. The closest he might have come was Irene Adler, if fascination somehow translated into attraction, which he wasn't sure it did in that case. It had never been anything of any importance to him, really. He could fake interest well enough. He'd had to to fool Janine. But he was worried that faking interest with Molly would cause further harm to their friendship, if it wasn't already damaged beyond repair. He lowered the file onto his lap and fingered the envelope Mycroft had given him. He should read the letter, see what she had to say, but he supposed he could simply ask her when he saw her face to face. Deciding that, he tucked the envelope into his suit jacket pocket and then continued to read the file.
Mycroft pulled him away from the file an hour later to give an interview with The Sun. It was a typical sensationalized interview, in that they wanted dirt on his habits, his life, who he was dating, if the rumors swirling about him were true. He knew he'd have to do a few more interviews, drop a few tidbits to whet people's appetites to learn more and collect the sizable paychecks his brother was garnering to supposedly put Sherlock in the lap of luxury he needed for the plot to work. He wasn't actually getting to keep a cent of it; Molly was getting a large sum of money for the potential damage this could do to her reputation, and the rest was being put towards the expenses this operation was going to incur. He would get a small stipend, obviously, but as this was his penance he supposed he was lucky enough to get even that.
When the interview was over he was led back to Mycroft's study, only this time there were more people there. Anthea was standing nearby, using her mobile, and Molly was sitting in the seat next to where he had been sitting. He stared slightly when he saw her. She looked very different. First off, her hair was a vibrant shade of red now, and it was sleek as opposed to wavy like it was when it was down. It was also quite a few inches shorter, ending just above her shoulders now. She was in a strapless dress that was a dark navy blue silk in the bodice and skirt with multicolored flowers on it and red mesh across the chest area, covering her cleavage and chest and shoulders. He thought there was a navy blue velvet ribbon around her waist as well. “You have reservations at Bar Boulud,” Mycroft said, motioning for Molly to stand up. “My driver will take you there and wait for you to finish your meal. Then he will take Ms. Hooper home and bring you back here so you can continue to go over the particulars, Sherlock.”
Sherlock nodded. “Very well.” Mycroft reached for a packet on his desk. He opened it and reached inside before pulling out three credit cards. Sherlock looked at them and saw they were the type with nearly unlimited credit limits. “No one is going to believe I'm worth this much money, Mycroft.”
“They will when word of our great-aunt's passing comes to light,” Mycroft said. “Especially with the news of the inheritance she left you. As far as the world is concerned, you will be worth quite a bit of money, which is exactly what we need them to think.” Then he turned to Molly. “As a balm for the inconvenience, please feel free to have Sherlock spend money on you using those cards. When this is over, you may keep whatever he buys you.”
“Thank you,” Molly said with a nod. Then she turned to Sherlock. “I suppose we should go eat, don't you?”
He nodded, putting the credit cards in his wallet. “I'll see you shortly, Mycroft,” he said.
“Take all the time you want,” he replied. “I don't plan on sleeping until quite late.”
Sherlock motioned for Molly to move ahead of him and she did, moving through the room with her head held high. There was a confidence in her step that wasn't usually there. “You seem different,” he said as they left Mycroft's study.
“I'm surprised you noticed,” she said quietly. “Though I suppose you do take notice in certain things.”
“I meant the confidence in which you're moving but yes, I noticed the new hairstyle and the new color as well,” he said. He walked more quickly than she did and stepped in front of her, effectively stopping her in her tracks. “If we're to fool everyone into thinking we're in some sort of romantic entanglement we have to at least act like we like each other, Molly. We do still like each other, don't we? Or did I ruin that?”
She looked at him for a long moment and then sighed before looking down. “No, Sherlock. You didn't ruin it. I suppose you had your reasons for doing what you did with her and that awful man. But couldn't you have at least told me about her before I had to find out from the tabloids? I thought...I thought we were friends.”
“I didn't tell anyone,” he said. “John didn't know until the day I got shot. Mary may have known beforehand, but that was only if Janine let something slip. I wanted as few people to know as possible because I had no intention of actually marrying her. I wasn't actually interested in her in that way.”
She looked up at him. “But she said...” she began, trailing off.
“She lied, in order to get the best price for the story of being Sherlock Holmes's significant other,” he said. “The only thing that happened was we kissed and she stayed at my flat a few times and we shared a bed. I'm not interested in any of those activities and I think she knew that so she didn't push for it, but it doesn't make for a compelling story, so she gave it some embellishments. It worked out well in the long run, though, as it will be an excellent source of material for this mission we're currently on.”
“So you don't like kissing or physical intimacy but you're willing to do it anyway for the sake of this mission your brother has us on,” Molly said slowly.
He nodded. “I doubt I will mind being close to you, Molly. I have already kissed you a few times, after all, even if it was just on the cheek.”
She gave him a small smile. "Well, now that I know about your aversion to physical intimacy I feel even more appreciated.”
He gave her a serious look. “Molly, I feel more towards you than just appreciation. You are one of my closest friends. I care about you quite a bit.”
She gave him a warm smile. “I know. I just...I was hurt, and I may have pushed you away, but I've known that.”
“Good,” he said, giving her a small smile of his own. “So. Are we ready to put on a performance?”
She nodded, offering him her hand. After a moment he took it and she threaded her fingers between his. “Break a leg, Sherlock.”
“You too,” he said before he turned and they began to make their way out of Mycroft's home. At least now the air was clear between them, he thought to himself. This was a good start to all of this. Hopefully it would stay clear and this entire situation would not get overly complicated before it was finished.