"Molly. I expect you've heard, then?"
It's hard-edged and bitten-off at the end, and it's not really a question. Of course she'll have heard. She works in the morgue, for one thing; for another, knowing that Sherlock is safe and sound at her cramped little flat (she smuggled him out in a body-bag; morbid, certainly, especially under the circumstances, but effective) hasn't stopped her crying until her eyes are red and her nose is swollen to the size of a tomato and unattractively drippy.
She doesn't have the right, really, but Mum always said she was a crybaby.
John isn't crying at all, and he actually believes the whole bloody farce. His hands are in fists at his sides. There's blood on them; Sherlock's blood, drawn by her and stored in the lab cooler for the past two days, waiting for just such an eventuality. Sherlock is nothing if not thorough.
"Yes," she says. "I've heard."
"Right, then." His face twists briefly, a horrible contortion, and she can't help but reach out to him. She promised, she promised, and yet still, the truth is so close to the tip of her tongue. Then his lips press together, firmly, and his expression shuts down. "Right. Well, I'll just be going, shall I?"
Without waiting for an answer, he turns stiffly on his heel and walks away.
There's a part of her that's expecting Sherlock to be gone by the time she makes it back to her flat that night, but he isn't. He's still there, standing in the dark, so still that she's not sure he's actually moved at all since she left him there hours before. He's shed his long coat, and he looks thinner without it, more fragile somehow. His dark shirt and trousers make him look like a smudge of shadow in the dim corner of her living room, soft-edged and almost unreal. His voice, when he speaks, is soft and dark as well. "You're later than I was expecting."
Molly hangs her coat up by the door and flicks on the hall light. It's bright enough for her to see the coat tossed over one arm of the sofa, the paper-wrapped parcel on the coffee table. It wasn't there when she left, but she doesn't ask about it. Sherlock did say that he had other people he'd be contacting, but he wouldn't tell her any more than that. It's best, probably, if she doesn't know.
"I saw John," she says. "At the morgue."
"I see." A long, deep silence, and then, "How is he?"
"He's--" Upset is not the right word. She doesn't know if there is a correct word for what she saw in John's face. "He believes it. Everything."
"I know he does," Sherlock says distantly. "I made him watch."
"Why on earth would you do that?"
"I needed him to believe it. If there was even a hint of a question in his mind--" Sherlock stops abruptly and turns toward the window, staring out at the rain-slick streets. "I couldn't take the risk."
"He's going to kill you when he finds out it isn't true," Molly says, kicking her shoes off and crossing the room to stand beside him, stocking feet quiet on the worn carpeting. They're close enough that she could reach out and touch him, if she wanted to. She doesn't know if her presence is a comfort or an annoyance--it's impossible to tell, with him--but he makes no move to step away."You know that, right?"
"Yes," he says. He's standing so close to the window that she can see his pale, impassive reflection in the dark glass, like he's standing nose-to-nose with his own ghost. "That doesn't matter. He's safest like this."
"You're going to miss him." It isn't a question.
"Yes," he says again.
She studies his cold, beautiful profile, the sharp angles of his cheekbones and the bow of his lips, the way his skin always seems too small for his bones. His expression is distant, and she doesn't know why it reminds her of the way John's face twisted at the mortuary, that deep, terrible grief, but it does.
Later, she won't be able to say why she takes such a liberty--there's nothing about Sherlock that's ever made her suspect that he might allow it--but she isn't thinking about that when she leans over and gently brushes her lips against his cheek.
He stills, and Molly doesn't pull back, and for an absurd little moment they're frozen there, the two of them. She can smell soap and the faint odor of cigarette smoke, the warmth of his skin, the almost imperceptible roughness of his unshaven cheek. It's somehow surprising, how human he feels. How like the ordinary man that she knows he's not.
His hand comes up, his fingers just cupping her jaw. They rest there for a brief moment, and then he's turning his head, tilting her chin up before she can think to pull away or protest, kissing her full on the mouth.
It's soft, tentative but skillful, and it makes a sharp little thrill unwind somewhere deep down inside of Molly, where apparently her sad little crush hasn't been stomped out quite as thoroughly as she thought. That's why she doesn't pull away immediately, even though she knows she ought to. It's like a fantasy come true, only it's all turned inside-out, because it isn't Molly that he wants to be kissing like this, not really.
She doesn't have much in the way of dignity where Sherlock Holmes is concerned, but apparently there is a limit, even for her; apparently, that limit is being kissed by a man who's pretending she's John bloody Watson.
She breaks the kiss abruptly and pulls back; Sherlock doesn't try to follow. Her lips are tingling and she feels hot all over, flushed and silly and too exposed. Sherlock looks completely unaffected but for a faint curiosity in his pale eyes, the expression he gets looking at an unusual puzzle in the lab.
Molly wants to laugh and cry and hit him, all at once.
"I'm sorry," Sherlock says finally.
"You're sorry?" It comes out all wobbly and uneven. "What, do you just go around kissing anyone who's a bit nice to you?"
His lips quirk into a slight smile. "No. But I was under the impression that you--"
"--that I what? That I might like a pity snog?"
"No," he says again. Frustrated. He sounds frustrated, which she thinks is more than a bit unfair. Mum always did say that she had the most awful taste in men.
Molly thinks about telling him to get out of her flat, but she has just helped the man fake his own death; he doesn't have any money on him and he certainly can't go home to Baker Street, and she's not angry enough to make him sleep out on the street.
And it's probably the last time she's ever going to see him.
John might never see him again. Thinks he's dead, in point of fact. It's hard to be jealous of him, considering that.
"I don't," Sherlock says with slow deliberation, "just go around kissing anyone."
It sounds like there's something significant that he's trying to say that can't quite find its shape in his words; she can't read it, though. Perhaps John could. John seems to be the only person in the world who could make any sense out of Sherlock. Certainly not Molly, not Molly with her silly, hopeless little fancy for this utter madman, Molly who can't read minds or shoot guns or make brilliant leaps of logic but who knows what it looks like when someone's heart is breaking. Who knows (how many people know?) that Sherlock Holmes has a heart to break.
"Well, neither do I," she says out loud, instead. "Don't do that again."
This time, his mouth almost manages to make a real smile. "I won't."
She pulls back, still too aware of how close they're standing. Her lips are tingling, and she doesn't know what to do with her hands. "I'm going to make tea. Would you like some?"
"Yes, thank you, I would," Sherlock says, and it's probably a conceit to think that he sounds just as disconcerted as she feels. It's a comforting conceit, though, so she doesn't question it.
He follows her into the kitchen at a respectful distance, and sits at the rickety table while she brews a pot of tea and pours it into two mismatched mugs--one with kittens on it, one stolen from the morgue. She gives the latter to Sherlock, of course, and he takes it with a murmur of thanks.
They sit at the table, in the half-light of the hallway light, for a long time. Neither of them speaks.
True to his word, Sherlock makes no move to touch her again. Molly tells herself that she's glad of that.
She isn't expecting him to sleep, but he does, sprawled out on her tiny little sofa, long limbs all over the place, hair in his mouth. He snores a little, and his fingers twitch in his sleep, and he looks ridiculously young.
Molly puts a blanket over him, and goes to change into her pajamas and wash her face. Her reflection in the mirror looks pale and wobbly, red eyes and tangled hair, and there's nothing about her that should make a man like Sherlock look twice at her, let alone trust her with something like this.
She touches two fingers to her lips, then snatches her hand away, abruptly fed up with herself.
"Don't be pathetic," she says out loud to her reflection.
It doesn't answer, of course. In her living room, she can hear the sofa springs creak as Sherlock shifts in his sleep. In the morning, she knows, he'll be gone.
The couch is empty when she wakes up, the crocheted blanket folded neatly on the end-table. It's an odd little consideration that seems thoroughly unlike Sherlock, but of course he always could approximate good manners when it suited him. Molly doesn't know why it makes her smile, but it does.
She'll miss him. He's unpredictable, often unkind, and more than a little mad, but god help her, she will miss him.
There's a note pinned under her kettle, folded over stationary from a hotel she's never been to. She doesn't think she's ever seen Sherlock write anything out by hand before, and right now it's incredibly obvious why: his handwriting nearly illegible. She has to turn it from one side to the other three times before her mind can translate the loose scrawl of ink into actual words.
I haven't always been kind to you. That's something I shall try to remedy should our paths ever cross again.
Look after John for me, will you?
You have my gratitude.
She reads it three times, then folds the paper into fourths. She's going to drop it into the bin--it's what he was probably expecting, certainly what he'd want her to do, she might not have known him very well in the end but she does know that--but instead she drops it into the pocket of her dressing-gown.
Look after John for me. She can do that much.
John's number is saved on her mobile, and she keeps her hand in her pocket as she scrolls down to find it, thumb brushing gently against the thin edges of the paper, the tangible evidence that Sherlock Holmes is still alive.