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Put a Smile in Your Name

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Fanart by alexeithymia

 

Molly Hooper adores the name on her life line even before she can read it. It’s written in a beautiful cursive, loops and curves flowing freely into what she sees as a work of art. She’s immensely proud to carry it on her skin, and she shows it with a smile to all of her friends in kindergarten.

“My-croft?” one of the girls struggles to decipher it. “What kind of a name is that?”

Undeterred, Molly ignores the teasing that follows, believing her Dad’s words about jealousy and the behaviour of children, and continues to spend hours tracing the decadent letters with her finger. She doesn’t notice her parents’ concern until she accidentally eavesdrops on them discussing the matter.

“It’s such an unusual, old-fashioned name, isn’t it?” her mum asks worriedly.

“All the better,” answers her dad, his voice cheerful. “Less chance she marries the wrong Mycroft, now, isn’t there?”

“Oh, but no one really names their sons like that these days,” her mum says softly. “What if… Don’t take me wrong… What if he’s already… The name does sound awfully Victorian… And don’t look at me like that, you know it does happen…”

“Pish posh!” cries her dad. “You’ve read too much of Mrs Gaskell’s, dear. What if he has a Victorian great-grandfather? Not everything is quite as fatalistic as you imagine.”

Molly doesn’t hear the rest, but the idea stays with her for many years. At first, as a young girl, she imagines a handsome stranger in a waistcoat, a cravat tied primly around his neck and a shiny top-hat adorning his head. She sees him walking confidently along the cobblestones of Victorian London, his steps punctuated by a gold-encrusted walking stick. When they finally meet, he kisses her hand and is polite; he buys her flowers and takes her to balls where she wears beautiful gowns. The fantasies stop abruptly when, at ten, she finally realizes that if her soul mate is from the Victorian era, then by now he is most certainly dead.

She cries for two days straight. Not because she thinks that the man she’s supposed to be her one true love is already dead; she’s her father’s daughter and he taught her to be always optimistic, no matter what. No, she cries because she knows he won’t be the man that she’s dreamed him to be, and it’s always a harsh lesson to learn how much reality differs from one’s wishes. Still, for many years, every now and then, Molly indulges herself and dreams of a time-machine.

She starts wearing a glove when she’s twelve. The name is still beautiful and she’s still proud of it, but by then she’s learned that the names are a private thing and they shouldn’t be flaunted in public. She asks her mum to help her knit a pink half-glove with a stitching dense enough to cover the name from prying eyes, but still loose enough to let her shift it when she wants to see the writing underneath.

*

Mummy Holmes gives her sons names that, she thinks, will make their lives easier. She knows what happens when mistakes are made and Janes marry the wrong Davids; she has the childhood nightmares and stress disorders to prove it. She names her first son Mycroft, and the second Sherlock, in hopes that they will never have to face the tragedies that haunt the private lives of thousands. Fate, however, as it’s wont to do, laughs cheekily in her face, and she despairs to see first a girlish, loopy “Mary” and then a stock-lettered “John” on the palms of her children. She’s not sure whether to be pleased or anxious when she realizes that neither of her sons is particularly interested in the name of his soul mate, both concealing them beneath leather gloves and pushing them out of their minds in their pursuit of other aims.

She doesn’t know that Mycroft resents the writing on his hand because of the smiley drawn into the letter “a”, thinking that the Mary in question is a vapid gold-digger not worth his time. He has ambitious plans for the rest of his life and doesn’t want to be held down by a stupid, uncultured, infantile twit of a woman. He envies his brother’s name, or rather, the way it is written, the simple letters indicating a steady, reliable character, and scoffs at Sherlock’s whiny idea that his soul mate is bound to be unbelievably boring.

“The names are not an exact science,” he tells Mummy when she asks him about his thoughts. “They are here to show a potential compatibility, and not determine our relationships. The rest is just hysteria egged on by media and popular culture.”

That, at least, earns him the approval of Father, who wants him to worry about bigger things than soul mates.

However, while Sherlock steadfastly ignores all Johns in his way, and even if he weren’t, he’d put anyone off with his disposition, Mycroft admits to one situation when he might have begun to believe that he’d found his Mary. She’s beautiful and extremely intelligent, an exchange student from Harvard Law School, in Oxford for a single term, dazzling his stuffy public school circle with her looks and fierceness. He approaches her carefully, intrigued, and their ensuing romance is intense, if brief. They divide their time between the library, the opera and his four-poster bed, exchanging visions of world dominance and opinions about the world’s stupidity and small-mindedness. It’s three months before he decides to reveal his hand to her, and he’s already half in love and overconfident. He’s entirely unprepared for the disdainful laugh he receives in response, and even less so for the scrawled “Thomas” on her delicate palm.

“Oh, please, Mycroft, you’re smarter than that. You couldn’t have honestly thought it was me!” she mocks, and he hides the hurt and disappointment behind a glacial mask.

The romance continues till the end of term and they part amicably when she leaves for Boston. Several years later he is cordially invited to her nuptials to some media tycoon whose initials start with a “T”. He politely declines and sends her a bouquet of lilies as an apology.

He starts wearing a fake wedding ring and never tries again.

*

At thirteen, Molly goes for a sleepover. The girls stay up late in their cute pyjamas, giggling over kissing scenes in the contraband chick flicks nicked from their mothers. Eventually, in the wee hours of the morning, the topic inevitably moves to the names inked over their life lines. Inspired by one of the films, the girls decide to register with a name finding agency in hopes of finding their soul mates. In the next couple of days they write their letters together, borrow money from their parents to pay the fee, and make a group trip to the post office, all flushed with excitement. Two months later they meet to open their replies. The other girls get two or three possible matches each, and immediately start discussing ways of finding out which one is the one, but Molly’s letter regretfully informs her that none of their data bases provided a match and that she ought not to be discouraged in her search. The other girls feel sorry for her, but Molly shrugs it off. Her soul mate will find her when the right time comes, she tells them cheerfully.

One day, when Molly is sixteen, her dad finds something interesting in the Sunday paper. There, on the second to last page, tucked against a Mrs Jones and her award-winning British shorthair, there is a name. He shows the paper to his wife when he’s sure that Molly won’t see him.

“Mycroft Holmes,” his wife reads aloud, wonder colouring her voice. “Well, what do you know.”

They decide not to tell Molly before they can find out more about him, but their search quickly hits a dead end. The article he’s mentioned in is ambiguously bland, about some minor MP’s faux pas about something or other, and his name is thrown in more as an afterthought than anything of real significance. He’s nowhere to be found among any of the MP secretaries and his name is not listed under any existing party or organization. Resigned, they hide the newspaper in a safe drawer, resolving to look out for Mycroft Holmes in the future, but keeping him a secret from Molly, because it would be just plain cruel to raise the poor girl’s hopes when he just might turn out to be old, fat and smelly.

Six months later the newspaper is forgotten when Molly’s dad is diagnosed with cancer.

He stays cheerful for the duration of his treatment, even when it becomes obvious that it’s not working. Molly sees him once, when he thinks he’s alone, and the sight of his tears sears itself into her brain. When he dies, a year and a half after the initial diagnosis, it’s Molly who goes to identify the body. The morgue is quiet and peaceful, but the mortician is a sour-faced old man who smells of fish and chips and of the hatred for his own profession. Molly sees her father’s dead body and doesn’t flinch, but the other man’s boredom and lack of concern for her feelings make her eyes sting.

Two weeks later Molly announces that she wants to be a pathologist.

*

Several years after settling in London and into his government career, Mycroft finds himself periodically sitting in front of his fireplace, fiddling with his ring and wondering if perhaps he’s been too hasty to stop looking. These thoughts pass as soon as he gets a glimpse of his naked hand, disdain for the childish font overpowering whatever loneliness he might be experiencing. Besides, he meets plenty of women whose name is Mary and none of them show the slightest bit of interest when he reveals his. His memories of Oxford are still fresh and he doesn’t want to risk a repeat performance. He’s learned the hard way that caring is not an advantage.

When Sherlock drops out of university and storms the streets of London in a cocaine-induced trance, Mycroft takes it upon himself to look after him. The combined responsibilities of a full-time nanny and his job are enough to keep him distracted from any maudlin regrets. Soon he accepts that he was gifted with such an ubiquitously named soul mate so that he could not be easily distracted from his more important duties. Satisfied with his reasoning, he tries to impart his superior knowledge to Sherlock, who, despite adamantly refusing to admit that he’s looking, is beginning to pay more attention to the Johns he passes on the street. It takes him all of five years to convince him to clean up his act and find something worthwhile to dedicate his life to. Eventually, his brother begins to see the wisdom in his words, and finds his niche as a consulting detective and declares himself married to his work.

Mycroft tries to ignore the eagerness in Mummy’s eyes whenever she asks after Mary or John; the sadness that appears in them when he inevitably shakes his head is more difficult to dismiss.

*

Molly goes through med school without any problems or incidents. She finds herself fascinated with the human body and its secrets and she knows that she’s chosen her career path well. She makes friends with the head pathologist at Bart’s, who sometimes lets her assist during post mortems and lends her the documentation of his most interesting cases. While going through the files she finds patients with all kinds of names, some of them really peculiar and old-fashioned, like Leander, Tarquin and St John, and she quickly realizes that the most outrageous names most often than not belong to elderly men whose DoBs date back to 1920s. Molly greets this bit of information with surprising stoicism – it seems she’s been expecting this kind of news for some time. She traces the name written on her hand with fondness tinged with sadness. Her father taught her to always be an optimist, but she knows now that the world is not always full of sunshine. She learns to accept her lot in life and places her gallant gentleman in a waistcoat and a top hat firmly in the back of her head.

In the last year of university she meets a young man who has her name inked into his skin. She tells him awkwardly, with a great deal of apologies, that she’s not the girl he’s looking for, but he’s persistent. Partly out of loneliness, and partly out of sympathy, she agrees to go out with him and at first everything seems to be going great. Sam is a very nice, modest guy studying to be a pediatrician and they get on really well. He adores her and she really likes him, and she starts thinking about introducing him to her mum, when suddenly things turn sour. He starts demanding constant attention and declarations, and initially Molly goes with it, because she knows what it means to feel insecure, but soon Sam convinces himself that she’s lying. He tells her she’s cold and indifferent and that her love cannot compare with his. When she tries to reassure him, he turns angry and resentful and accuses her of cheating and pining after an imaginary posh-named ponce who will never want her like he does. She’s forced to end things and is rewarded with a string of insults that break her heart. She vows never to make the same mistake again.

Thanks to her mentor, she gets a minor position at the Bart’s morgue right after she graduates. It’s a year later when she first meets the strange man that will change her life.

“The name’s Sherlock Holmes,” he says in a deep, arresting baritone. “And I need a foot from your morgue.”

It would have been heroic of her not to fall for him. He’s gorgeous, fit, and completely insane in his genius. Besides, his name is so unusual that it reminds her a tiny bit of the name on her hand, and she feels a certain connection to him. For a long time it doesn’t matter that he’s an absolute berk, because it’s not like Molly thinks she has any real chance with him, least of all for anything remotely permanent. The crush is harmless in its hopelessness and Molly enjoys the heightened levels of serotonin and dopamine while they last.

But then, four years after she’s met him, when Sherlock is at his most manic, hitting corpses with riding crops, it’s when it all changes.

She doesn’t think much about the short fair-haired man she sees out of the corner of her eye when she brings Sherlock his coffee. Two weeks later, when she next sees the detective, she’s understandably surprised to see him shadowed by the man she only vaguely remembers seeing before.

It’s not her fault that she spills her coffee during introductions.

“Molly,” says Sherlock, a happy, alien grin on his face. “This is John Watson, my soul mate.”

*

Mycroft kidnaps Doctor John Watson and arranges a creepy meeting in an abandoned warehouse to test him. He’s not surprised to find him loyal, steady and calm under pressure. He doesn’t need to peek under his plain leather glove to know that his hand is inscribed with his brother’s name. The fact that he remorselessly shoots a man to save Sherlock’s life is merely superfluous confirmation.

That night he orders a boxful of the best cheesecake available in London and eats it all while staring disdainfully at the silly name over his life line. He refuses to believe that his reasoning has been wrong, but persisting with the idea that he hasn’t yet met his soul mate because he’s meant for greater things and doesn’t need a distraction seems unnecessarily childish when presented with contradicting evidence. John is an asset to Sherlock, not a hindrance. Dare he believe that his Mary might be the same?

Either way, it is irrelevant. Sherlock might have found his soul mate, but Mycroft is not delusional enough to think that he will find his. He is past forty and his job is so demanding that he has no time for any active searching on his part. And, while in fact he meets many new people in his line of work, most of them don’t ever learn his name. His youth has mostly passed, well-spent on schemes and word dominance, and he is well set in his ways. Even if he did, by chance, meet his Mary, he would hardly know how to fit her into his lifestyle.

He finishes his cheesecake and vows to never again feel pity for himself over the subject.

*

To be perfectly honest, Molly is really happy for Sherlock. John seems like a nice guy and he’s certainly a steadying presence for the detective, who appears to be more relaxed and less neurotic now that he’s found his soul mate. She admits that she’s jealous, but not because she really wanted Sherlock for herself, but because she knows that she will never be as happy. She tries to stay positive, but it’s really difficult, especially when you go to work every day expecting your soul mate to arrive on your slab after a long, eventful life and a nice death from natural causes. It never comes, but she doesn’t fool herself. There are many other morgues in London, not to mention in Great Britain, or any other place where he might yet or might have already turned up for a post mortem.

In the end she’s so gloomy that when Jim from IT starts flirting with her on her blog she accepts his invitation for coffee without a second thought. She’s learned her lesson, though, and tells him up front that he’s not the name on her hand.

“Oh, don’t worry, Molls,” he reassures her, smiling sheepishly. “You’re not mine, either. But I think we shouldn’t feel so constrained by those names, you know… and I really, really like you…”

Is it any wonder that she agrees to the second, and then to the third date? The first time they kiss is nice, and the next couple of times too, but Molly doesn’t really feel it, and he’s becoming more forceful, so she decides to end things before it goes too far. She knows how it went last time she wasn’t fully invested and she doesn’t want things to escalate the same way. She’s planning on having a talk with him, but before she can do that, Sherlock outs him as gay. Angry and humiliated, she breaks up with him by text. If he thinks he can get through her to Sherlock then he has another think coming!

It’s only later that she finds out that Jim was a murderous psychopath who kidnapped John to get to Sherlock and then tried to blow them both up. To say that she is horrified is a grievous understatement.

Sherlock dismisses her apologies with a snort, and John assures her that it wasn’t her fault. It doesn’t make her feel any less guilty, though.

Life goes on without a hitch. Molly works at the morgue, goes out with her friends. Meena, the only other single person from their circle, announces that she has finally met her soul mate and asks Molly to be her bridesmaid. She agrees, because it’s nice to be asked, but inside she feels more miserable than ever before. She thinks of her dad’s optimism and manages to make herself even more depressed, because she can’t, for the life of her, muster up any of the positive energy he’s taught her to have.

But life surprises her yet again.

She’s at the lab helping Sherlock and John in one of their cases when Sherlock’s mobile goes off.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he mutters angrily and disconnects the call. A moment later the phone starts again.

“Who’s that?” asks John.

“It’s Mycroft,” Sherlock snarls, stuffing the mobile back into his pocket. “He wants me to be his delivery boy again. As. If.”

Molly freezes.

Sherlock’s phone goes off again, but he ignores it, dropping the pipette he’s holding into the petri dish in front of him. “Oh! Oh! Yes, John, come on, no time to waste!”

“Mycroft?” she manages to ask, throat clogged, but Sherlock is already striding out of the lab. John gives her a shrug.

“Sherlock’s annoying git of a brother. Sorry, I got to – “

“Yes, right… Bye.”

He runs after his soul mate, not noticing that Molly’s world has tilted on its axis.

At first she doesn’t know what to do. She sits down, then gets up, goes to make herself some coffee, spills it all over the counter, sits down again and lets out an ear-piercing squeal into her shaking hand. Her chest hurts and her eyes sting, but for once it’s not because of pain or sadness.

She can’t be entirely sure, rationally, but her heart knows. She’s found him. Not on her slab and not in the morgue records. He’s alive and well and he’s Sherlock’s brother.

Now she only has to find a way to meet him.

*

After Sherlock finds John, Mummy is ecstatic. Her hope that Mycroft will find his Mary is restored and she is relentless in pestering him about it. His resentment over the issue reaches new heights and his only consolation is the fact that now Mummy finds it prudent to spend absurd amounts of time visiting Sherlock in order to “get to know John”, which infinitely annoys his little brother.

In the meantime, Mycroft distracts himself with his pet project involving dead bodies and airplanes. He sends his brother to do his legwork when a minor problem presents itself; later, despite his brother’s failure, he’s obscenely delighted to see trouble in paradise when Sherlock has his head turned by a pretty dominatrix. He knows that the Woman poses no threat whatsoever to the two men’s relationship, but he so loves to watch his brother squirm under Doctor Watson’s jealous diatribes.

When Christmas season arrives he deftly excuses himself from spending the holidays with his family, gleeful that Mummy has chosen to grace Sherlock with her presence, leaving Mycroft peacefully alone.

*

Molly goes to John and Sherlock’s Christmas party with her heart in her throat, hoping that his brother will be there as well. She’s tried to glean as much information about him from John, with dubious success.

“What is Sherlock’s brother like?” she asked him one day when the detective was otherwise occupied at his microscope.

John smirked. “Complete prat. Works for the government – “

“He is the government,” Sherlock called from the other side of the lab.

“Yes, thank you, Sherlock. Also he’s a bit of a stalkerish creep. I think he has us on constant surveillance. He’s dangerous – mostly because he’s absolutely barmy. Runs in the family, you know.”

“John, please do not compare me to my idiot of a brother,” groused Sherlock.

Molly laughed uneasily. This didn’t seem all that promising, but she was undeterred. She tried another tactic.

“So he’s older then?”

“Mhm,” said John. “He’s about forty, I guess.”

“Forty one,” came the correction. “Molly, don’t you have any other topics? Why are you so interested in Mycroft?”

She almost jumped out of her skin. “Just – Just making conversation. I was just curious, because both of you have such unusual names, I thought… Well, I thought you both must be extraordinary.”

Sherlock snorted. “Though you are right this time, don’t make general assumptions like that, Molly. Our names are unusual because our mother thought it would help us find our soul mates. But then of course the whole thing blew up in her face when both of us got the most boring, ordinary names in exchange.”

“Oh, God,” John groaned. “Now you’ve got me wondering what’s the name of Mycroft’s soul mate!”

Sherlock shrugged, not looking up from the microscope.

“It’s Mary,” he deadpanned.

It was good that John chose that moment to start shouting in outrage about privacy rights and not wanting to know, because no one noticed Molly’s legs going weak in the knees. She took a couple deep breaths and righted herself before John ran out of steam. She was, however, too agitated to continue the conversation, so she quickly excused herself.

Now, several days later, she’s climbing the stairs to 221b, wearing her best dress, red shoes for courage and a silly glittering bow in her hair, clutching a bag full of presents and wondering whether she’s making a fool of herself already. She’s so nervous she can barely walk.

“Hello everyone!” she calls, stomping inside the living room. “It said on the door just to  – just to come up?”

She’s greeted warmly enough, well, except for Sherlock, but that was to be expected. She fumbles with her coat and scarf, revealing the dress underneath. She feels naked under everyone’s gaze, so she fidgets even more, looking around the room and searching for Sherlock’s brother, but it’s fruitless. There’s John and Sherlock, Mrs Hudson, Greg Lestrade, an older distinguished woman and herself.

“Is there anyone else coming?” she asks quietly when Greg offers her wine.

“Not that I know of. Red or white?”

So he’s not going to be there. The nervousness drains from her in one huge swoop, leaving only bitter disappointment. She tries to make some conversation, but her mind is so occupied that she only manages to put her foot in her mouth. She feels even more awful when the unfamiliar woman turns out to be Sherlock and Mycroft’s mother. She smiles at her tightly when Molly trips all over her introduction.

But the worst part of the evening is still ahead of her. Sherlock is getting nastier by the minute, spewing harmful deductions left, right and centre, and it’s only a matter of time before he turns on her. When he finally does, it’s epic.

“So you’ve got a new boyfriend, Molly, and you’re serious about him! A potential soul mate, perhaps?”

“What? Sorry, what?”

“And you’re seeing him this very night and giving him a gift!”

Her heart starts hammering in her chest. He rattles off the details about her clothes, lipstick, and the little red package she spent ages agonizing about. In the end she decided to buy an elegant fountain pen, splurging to her heart’s content, figuring that the cause was worth it. Now she realizes that she has been a colossal idiot and she should have known better. She feels sick to the stomach when Sherlock picks up the gift and flips open the tag.

“Obviously compensating for the size of her mouth and breasts –“

Molly cringes, remembering what she’s written. Dear Mycroft, Merry Christmas. Mary. It would have been completely innocuous were it not for the fact that she signed her full name instead of Molly, and in a moment of panic, drew a little smiley into the belly of the “a”. When she realized what she’d done it was already too late to change the tag, so she’d left it, hoping he wouldn’t notice. But now, standing here on display, she feels ridiculous. Silly Molly Hooper, overeager and desperate.

“You always say such horrible things,” she mutters bitterly. “Every time. Always… always.”

Sherlock is speechless. He opens and closes his mouth like a fish, takes a step forward and then retreats. Finally, he swallows.

“I’m… sorry. Forgive me. Merry Christmas, Mary Hooper,” he says slowly, and then repeats, handing the gift back to her. “Mary, with a smiley.”

“A smiley?” his mother asks incredulously from the other side of the room. Molly feels the flush of humiliation scorching her cheeks. She snatches the package from his hands and drops it back into the bag.

“What’s going on?” asks John.

No one answers him because the room is filled with the sound of a feminine moan.

Later, after Sherlock has dashed out the door with the mysterious gift from the mantelpiece, Molly awkwardly distributes the other gifts she’s brought with her.

“Sorry,” she tells Mrs Holmes. “I didn’t realize you would be here.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Mary,” she says loftily, stressing her name. “How about you sit down and have a glass of wine with me? I would like to get to know you, John’s mentioned you a couple of times, but…“

“Oh, sorry, but I’d better be going,” she mumbles. She’s had enough abuse from one Holmes today, she doesn’t need any more of it. Perhaps it’s better that she didn’t get to meet Mycroft, after all. Maybe she’s better off without meeting him at all. She was doing fine before she found out that he was Sherlock’s brother, maybe she should just ignore it and life will proceed as normal.

“Perhaps next time, then,” Mrs Holmes answers, disappointed. Molly gives her a small smile before grabbing the bag with the forlorn gift, making her goodbyes and fleeing.

Once she’s home, she tears off the silver bow and earrings and chucks the dress into the bottom of her wardrobe. She contemplates throwing the fountain pen into the bin, but in the end stashes it in a box under her bed.

An hour later she gets a phone call from the morgue.

*

She puts the corpse on the slab and covers it with a sheet. She’s not sure how anyone is going to identify this woman from simply looking; the face is completely unrecognizable. Still, she supposes, if anyone can do it, it’ll be Sherlock.

When she got a call from Bart’s her boss told her that they needed to open up the morgue for a viewing of an incoming body, and that a Sherlock Holmes and a government official would be arriving to identify it. Cursing her rotten luck and lack of other Christmas plans, Molly pulled on her work trousers and a red jumper before trudging over to the morgue. She didn’t relish in seeing Sherlock after he had ruined her Christmas, but what could she do? She was a professional on call, after all.

Now that she’s here, she feels sick with dread, because he knows her secret now, and probably has had a laugh or two about it, or maybe even told his brother about it. Yes, that would put a cherry on top of her day.

The doors open and Sherlock strides grimly in, a tall well-dressed man at his heels.

“The only one who fitted the description. I had her brought here, your… home from home,” the man drawls, amusement colouring his rich voice. Molly moves to stand next to the slab, across from Sherlock and the stranger.

“You didn’t need to come in, Molly,” says Sherlock.

“That’s okay, everyone else was busy with, uh, Christmas. The face is sort of, a bit… bashed up, so it might be a bit difficult.” As she talks, she chances a glance to the right. The man is around ten years her senior, tall, dark-haired, long-nosed, long-suffering and important. Molly remembers her boss telling her that Sherlock would be coming with a government official, and he certainly looks the part, but it’s strange how he seems so familiar with the detective – oh, God.

She almost swallows her tongue. Her eyes are glued to his face, but it’s like they’re not seeing him at all.

“Molly,” Sherlock warns her. She snaps back to reality, quickly reaching out and pulling back the sheet. Her hands are shaking and her heart is in her throat.

“That’s her, isn’t it?” asks the man.

“Show me the rest of her,” Sherlock demands.

She pulls the sheet all the way to the knees without a single thought in her head. She barely hears Sherlock’s confirmation, and she hovers uncertainly, her trembling hands drifting to her hair.

Sherlock walks away without another word. The other man gives her a short nod. “Thank you, Miss Hooper.”

He turns to leave and her heart stutters to a stop.

“Wait!”

He pauses and lifts his eyebrows. “Yes?”

Oh, God, she has to know, she has to be sure…

“Are you… Sherlock’s brother?”

He inclines his head with some surprise. “The very same.”

“So you’re… M-Mycroft,” she presses, adrenaline thudding in her ears.

“I assure you, whatever you’ve heard about me from Sherlock is widely exaggerated,” he says mildly.

He knows, she thinks. Sherlock’s told him all about it. He knows and he thinks you’re pathetic. But she has to know, she has to at least try…

“I’m Molly – I mean – “ she blurts out. His sneer makes her falter.

“Yes, I do know who you are. Goodnight, Miss Hooper.”

He sweeps out of the morgue, leaving her speechless and humiliated over the dead woman’s body. After a beat she regains her senses and mechanically goes about putting it away. She steadfastly ignores the tears spilling down her cheeks.

*

Mycroft is glad when the door to the morgue closes behind him, separating him from the ridiculous woman with a crush on his obviously taken and uninterested brother. He spots Sherlock staring out the window and reaches for the cigarette.

“Just the one,” he says, presenting it like a trophy.

“Why?”

“Merry Christmas.”

They stand for a moment in silence, watching a crying family down the hall. Sherlock is the first to speak.

“Have you really stopped searching?”

Mycroft doesn’t need him to elaborate. “I’ve never searched to begin with.”

“Maybe you should.”

“Finding John doesn’t make you an expert,” he snaps, irritated. “Don’t talk to me about things you do not understand.”

Sherlock takes a long whiff of his cigarette. “Oh, don’t I?”

Mycroft glares at him, incensed, but it doesn’t seem to help.

“There’s a Mary right through that door,” his brother remarks off-handedly. Mycroft blinks in surprise.

“What, Miss Hooper?” he asks, incredulous. “You must be joking.”

“Why would I?”

Mycroft snorts. “I’ve had enough of your antics. Go and grieve for Irene Adler and stop bothering me.” He walks briskly away, too annoyed to deal with Sherlock’s inanities.

For the next several months he completely dismisses Mary Hooper from his mind.

Right until Sherlock drags her back into his life.

*

Molly has to admit that she doesn’t take the rejection well. She takes a couple of days off and heads to her mother’s, skulking like a kicked puppy with her tail between her legs. It takes a great deal of patience and cheesecake for her mum to bring her back to an acceptable state. She goes back to her flat after New Year’s, feeling determined, if not yet completely fine.

The next time she sees Sherlock and John, she pointedly ignores the doctor’s look of pity (she figured that Sherlock would tell him) and studiously makes herself invisible. Neither of them mentions Mycroft’s name to her, and for that she’s glad. She doesn’t want to think about it at all if she can help it. It’s only sometimes that she thinks that Sherlock’s speculative gaze is a bit chilly and his insults a bit more pointed.

Life goes on. Molly steadfastly ignores the gaping hole in her heart in favour of her job. Working is good. It gives her a false sense of security, a hope that maybe someday she’ll finally prove that the man who rejected her is not her Mycroft, that he’s some other Mary’s soul mate, not hers. It’s quite easy, really, because she can’t imagine her mousy, invisible self being the soul mate of a man like Mycroft Holmes. It’s reassuring, because that means that it wasn’t personal, but just simply the way of life. She can live with that. She can’t, on the other hand, live with the possibility that her soul mate doesn’t want her. The mere thought is crippling, tearing her sense of worth into shreds.

Months pass. At some point she decides to register on a dating site for people whose soul mates have died or are otherwise unreachable, but they’re unwilling to live the rest of their lives alone. She should have done it years ago, really, it would have been the sensible thing to do. It doesn’t take her long to find herself a nice, normal bloke with a perfectly ordinary name. She asks him out for lunch, and is even mildly excited about it, but in the end she has to cancel, because Sherlock barrels in and tries to bribe her back into the lab with two packets of Quavers.

“It’s one of your boyfriends,” he says dryly. “We’re trying to track him down. He’s been a bit naughty.”

Molly bristles. “Actually, Jim wasn’t even my boyfriend. We went out three times. I ended it.”

“Yes, and then he stole the crown jewels, broke into the Bank of England and organized a prison break at Pentonville. For the sake of law and order, I suggest you avoid your future misguided attempts at a relationship, Molly.”

She feels her eyes sting. “It’s easy for you to say,” she spits out.

To her surprise, Sherlock falters and takes a step back. “Excuse me?”

“You’re happy!” she cries, gesturing pointedly at John, who looks decidedly alarmed. “Are you really mean enough to condemn me for trying to find the same thing?!”

Sherlock snorts in disdain. “Why try when you know it’s not going to work anyway?”

“Sherlock!” John snaps from the side. “Shut up!”

“Because,” she says through her teeth. “There’s nothing else I can do.”

Sherlock looks like he’s swallowed a lemon. John shifts unhappily.

“Listen, Molly, I don’t know what he’s planning, but two children have been kidnapped and we could really use your help.”

So she does help, because she knows when not to be petty. It doesn’t stop her from being pointedly cold, though. But then all of her anger evaporates when she sees something she’s hoped never to see again.

“You look… sad. When you think he can’t see you,” she says worriedly.

It goes downhill from there.

“You can see me,” he tells her, bewildered.

She scoffs. “I don’t count.”

Because she doesn’t. In anyone’s life, apparently. And she never will, because all of her efforts are misguided and doomed to fail from the start. And in this moment, looking at the world’s only consulting detective, the true proper genius who counts for so many people whose lives he saved, she decides that it is time to accept it, because there’s really nothing she can do about it. The only way she can make herself count is to help those who do.

So when he approaches her later that day she doesn’t hesitate. She filches lab coats and scrubs for his homeless network to wear as costumes, provides a stretcher, and keeps the morgue doors open. She fills the death certificate in her childish handwriting, swallowing tears that she’s not sure whether she’s shedding for Sherlock, John, herself, or perhaps for the older brother who’s about to hear some very unpleasant news.

She should have known not to underestimate a Holmes, though.

*

It takes Mycroft all of three minutes of horrified disbelief to figure out what’s happened. Once the idea appears all other facts slide seamlessly into place and he knows exactly where to look for a confirmation. When he arrives on Miss Hooper’s doorstep he’s only slightly surprised to find his brother already installed on the sofa.

He is, unfortunately, completely unresponsive, curled into a ball with his back to the rest of the room.

“Miss Hooper, would you mind filling me in on the details?” he sighs.

The woman flinches at being addressed, and barely looks at him when she delivers her version of events. Despite being exhausted and, he suspects, under great emotional stress, she’s concise and very helpful. He finds himself somewhat impressed.

“I’m down on one corpse. I can’t falsify the records because I’m not the only pathologist at Bart’s, and while the body disguised as Sherlock’s is from my list and the switch shouldn’t be a problem, I can’t have simply misplaced a dead body,” she concludes, giving him a sideways glance. “I hear you are pretty resourceful…”

He nods. “I’ll have it in your morgue within the hour.”

Her small frame sags under her relief. “Thank you.”

“No, Miss Hooper,” he says solemnly, reaching out and placing his hand on her shoulder. “Thank you.

Her breath hitches and her eyes stray to his hand, covered in an elaborate, buttoned leather glove. After a moment, she shrugs him off and turns away.

“No need to thank me. I did it for Sherlock.”

The stab of hurt at her words takes him entirely by surprise.

*

The next two weeks are hell. It turns out that Sherlock has sprained his ankle during the fall – it’s a miracle he hasn’t done any more damage to himself, really – and since he has nowhere else to go, he kips out on Molly’s sofa. That would have been tolerable, if only barely, were it not for the fact that it results in Mycroft becoming a permanent fixture in one of her armchairs.

She sincerely tries to get over herself, but it’s extremely difficult. Every time Sherlock speaks his brother’s name out loud, she feels a phantom itch on the inside of her palm. She suspects he’s doing that deliberately, because a conversation between brothers can’t possibly warrant so many mentions of names known since forever. This suspicion makes her want to strangle him.

And that’s not even the worst thing. Every time she is forced to interact with the elder Holmes – and she tries to limit those situations to the minimum – she is forcibly reminded of all of her childhood fantasies. The way he sits, the way he speaks, the way he dresses, even the way he checks the time on his pocket watch – a real silver pocket watch! – brings back memories of the imaginary charming gentleman she dreamed of as a girl. She tries to think she’s not as shallow as that, and honestly tries to dislike him, because he’s also aloof, manipulative and machiavellian. The problem is, her mind decides to see past those to notice the caring, self-collected brilliant man beneath. She sees the pinch of his lips and the sighs, and the concerned looks when he thinks Sherlock is not looking. There are times when she catches herself wondering what he’s like out of the prim waistcoat and when he doesn’t have to worry about his brother. She tries to nip those thoughts in the bud. There’s no use torturing herself over unavailable men; she has, after all, noticed the wedding ring on his gloved hand.

It’s the ring that helps her, a bit. If he’s married, then that means that he’s not her soul mate, after all. This realization makes her breathe a bit easier in his presence, even if she’s still mortified.

A couple of days after Sherlock’s funeral, at which she had no trouble faking her sadness once she got a glimpse of John’s grief-diminished figure, the detective disappears from her flat without a word. At first she tells herself that he only popped out for a bit of fresh air, but when he’s not back an hour later, she really begins to fret. She hates the fact that she has no way of contacting either Sherlock or his brother and hates them both for leaving her with no information whatsoever. After two hours she’s so worried that she marches into her kitchen, whips out some flour, eggs and milk and starts baking.

Fifteen minutes later the doorbell announces Mycroft’s arrival, and his only reaction at her flour-stained bare hands is a raised eyebrow. She stuffs her right fist into her pocket and excuses herself to put on her glove – elaborately knitted blue one, a Christmas present from her mum.

“My brother almost revealed himself to Doctor Watson today,” he says by way of explanation, looking both sad and infuriated. “He was wearing his coat and scarf. Not his best disguise, I must admit.” He sets a bag on the sofa. “I brought him some less recognizable clothing. He should be back in a couple of hours. I have him on surveillance, so please don’t worry.”

He turns to leave and, on an impulse, and because she thinks he looks like he might need some company, she stops him.

“I’m making cheesecake,” she tells him shyly. “It’s how I fight stre – I mean, never mind. It should be ready in an hour or so… So if you want, you can wait a bit and…”

He surprises her with a genuine smile. “Might I help?”

Bewildered, she looks on as he takes off his jacket and rolls up the sleeves of his shirt. He looks ridiculous in her spare apron (the blue one with the kittens; it’s only marginally better than the pink one with the hearts that she put on herself), but there’s nothing funny in how he knows his way around an oven. At first she’s a bit worried – she’s an anal baker and if the recipe says half a cup it’s never five eights – but she quickly learns that she has no reason to be. Mycroft is methodical, arranging the ingredients in a line according to their relevance and mixes the cheese filling until it looks like silk. They weave their way around each other seamlessly, and she’s surprised how comfortable it is, to do such an ordinary thing with such an extraordinary man. In this moment he’s simply himself, smiling softly as he watches her spread the filling over the dough, governments and suspected licenses to kill forgotten in the warmth of the oven.

“Careful, Molly, or you’ll fatten him out of recognition,” drawls an amused voice from behind them.

The moment broken, Mycroft drags his brother to the living room, and she hears them arguing as she cleans up the kitchen.

Mycroft doesn’t stay for the cheesecake, and Molly’s pang of disappointment brings her back to her senses. She must really be a masochist, she berates herself, to allow herself to form any sort of attachment in this situation!

“You obviously have his name written on your palm, if the Christmas present and your earlier interest are any indication, which they are, you are attracted to him, and you are not opposed to spending time with him, apparently, as seen from that dreadful display of domesticity,” Sherlock comments from the sofa, hands folded together under his chin, as if for a prayer.

“Sorry, what?” Molly asks, dread putting her off the cheesecake.

He sits up and fixes her with an imploring gaze. “I don’t understand.”

“You don’t understand what?”

“I don’t understand why you’re not together yet.”

Molly flinches. “Your brother is not my soul mate,” she says firmly.

“Of course he is!”

Her insides twist painfully. She tries not to believe him, but it’s difficult. He’s Sherlock Holmes and, ultimately, he’s rarely wrong about things.

“It doesn’t matter,” she mutters, “because he’s already rejected me.”

It takes Sherlock a moment to process her words, but then he laughs scornfully.

“This being dead thing is an inexplicably eye-opening experience,” he says.

“I thought you liked learning new things.”

“Yes, but not when they prove how spectacularly ignorant I’ve been.”

“Ignorant about what?” she asks weakly.

“About how much people’s insecurities can make them into complete morons.”

She purses her lips and bites back her tears. “Goodnight, Sherlock.”

*

Mycroft finds himself thinking of Molly Hooper far too often in the two weeks after Sherlock’s fake suicide. In the midst of worrying about Sherlock, preparing new identities for him, and looking out for Doctor Watson, he finds the time to up Miss Hooper’s surveillance and in the process learns everything there is to know about her, her professional career, family life, friends, and past relationships. Her file contains a mention of a letter to a name-matching agency, but due to its antiquated character (these days one registers these things online) and the fact that the agency no longer exists, the only information that brings is that at thirteen years old she tried – and failed – to find her soul mate. He spends an unfathomable five minutes being angry about not knowing the name of her intended, and later berates himself for being foolish.

He’s not entirely surprised to find that he’s drawn to her. She is young and attractive, even though she hides herself beneath childish clothes; she’s a professional, dedicated to her work, intelligent, detail-oriented and precise; she can keep a level-head under duress and manages to stay positive despite both her chosen profession and her lackluster personal life. He finds himself worrying about her safety and continuously apologizing for Sherlock’s hurtful and dismissive personality. Of course, he’s aware that her name is Mary, and for the first time in many years the fact doesn’t make him scoff. There’s a niggling thought at the back of his head that persistently tells him that if she turned out to be the Mary, he wouldn’t object. When he’s alone, he takes off his glove and looks at the writing, thinking that it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility that the childish font may belong to her.

In the end, because his attempts at curbing the feeling are at best half-hearted, he’s at her flat far more often than it’s necessary, even though her cat dislikes him and Miss Hooper herself seems to be avoiding him. In fact, she’s always fidgeting in his presence and leaves the room almost as soon as he arrives. At first he dismisses it as shyness and manages to half convince himself that she’s as affected by him as he is by her (lingering glances, physical awareness, and tell-tale blushes – one does not need to be Sherlock Holmes to notice such blatant displays), and he is faintly amused, and secretly pleased, when she asks him to stay for her homemade cheesecake. He is, however, surprised how easy it is to shed the layers and indulge himself in her presence. The half hour they spend together in the kitchen is the most enjoyable time he’s had in months and he is very sorry to have it interrupted.

What happens next has him reeling. Miss Hooper starts actively avoiding him, flinching whenever he talks to her, her replies always polite but impersonal, and he finally recognizes her behaviour for what it is – a veiled negative reaction to unwanted advances.

Once he’s realized the truth he slinks back home and licks his wounds for exactly an hour, before gathering up all of his scorn and reminding himself why he dismissed this whole business in the first place. His resolve to put this ridiculous attraction behind him is derailed the next time he visits his brother.

 “Why don’t you just tell her?” Sherlock drawls from his place on the sofa. It’s late on a weekday evening and Miss Hooper has already excused herself. The sound of running water tells him she’s taking a shower.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replies evenly, hoping to deflect.

No such luck.

“Oh, don’t play coy. You always know where she is, you have her on maximum surveillance, you don’t sneer at her, your pupils dilate when she passes you in the hallway and you frown when she avoids you. Do I really need to go on?”

Mycroft scowls. He’s forgotten how annoying it is to be on the receiving end of his brother’s deductions.

“I don’t see the point of this conversation.”

“The point is,” Sherlock snaps, “you’re a coward. You’re afraid to make a move because it will change your status quo!”

“I am not a coward,” he hisses. “And why are you so interested in my private life? Now that you’ve found your soul mate you think you can lord it over me? Maybe you should look into your own affairs before arranging mine?”

Sherlock’s face is blank. It was a low blow, but he had it coming, Mycroft reasons, seething in anger. But his brother is relentless.

“Don’t think I’m doing this for you,” he snarls. “Molly is… Molly is my friend.” He pauses, as if surprised by this revelation. “She has done me a significant favour. I simply wish to return it.”

Mycroft eyes him incredulously. “And you’ll repay her by setting us up? She’s obviously not interested in me, if you haven’t noticed, so any misguided matchmaking you manage to concoct will only result in her feeling uneasy and embarrassed.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, you’re as stupid as she is!” he almost shouts, throwing up his hands in frustration. “Just trust me this one time and simply tell her!”

“Why are you so adamant about this?” Mycroft sighs. This is getting beyond ridiculous.

“I can’t tell you. I promised John and Mummy that I wouldn’t.”

Mycroft stops to think. Sherlock looks like he’s sincere, even though he’s clearly past the point of reasoning and well into the realm of pigheadedness. If the matter had been less personal, he would have probably given in, but not this time. They sit in silence for several minutes, at an impasse, neither willing to budge. Mycroft notices that the water in the bathroom has stopped and takes it as his cue to leave. Sherlock stops him.

“I really wish you would reconsider.”

“I don’t have time for this,” he sighs.

“You will thank me.”

He’s about to give some scathing reply when Miss Hooper comes back to the room, dressed in flannel pyjamas and with a towel twisted around her head. When she sees him, she goes rigid with shock.

“Oh, you’re still here,” she says, dismay and embarrassment clearly written on her features.

“I was about to leave. I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Miss Hooper,” he replies immediately, averting his eyes from her flushed face and the swell of her breasts visible under her loose shirt. He busies his hands with gathering his coat and umbrella.

“For God’s sake,” Sherlock growls angrily, jumping off the sofa and marching into Molly’s bedroom. The two of them are left alone and Mycroft doesn’t even resist the urge to retreat from this uncomfortable, charged situation.

“I apologize for my brother,” he says tightly, glancing at her face, but it doesn’t matter, because she’s looking away, blushing and clearly feeling doubly uneasy because of her state of relative undress. He grits his teeth, trying to quench his completely ridiculous attraction and ignore how inviting and cosy she looks with the towel coming apart on her head and strands of hair falling around her face. Feeling disgusted with himself, he gives her a swift nod and turns to leave.

Sherlock chooses that moment to bound back into the room, clutching a small red package, which he chucks straight at him without a single word of explanation.

“What’s this?” he demands angrily.

“Just read it!”

He rolls his eyes in a gesture of defeat. “Fine!”

The package is clearly a Christmas present, undelivered, fairly new, so most probably from the last holiday season, wrapped with extreme care, if not precision, and adorned with a bow. Most definitely it’s a present from Molly Hooper for someone she has or had romantic feelings for, but they were unrequited, therefore it was never received by the person in question, or rather, most probably Sherlock himself. Why would he then give it to him? To gloat? This doesn’t make any sense. Curious, he reaches out and opens the tag.

He stares at the loopy, girlish handwriting in silence. His eyes move around the syllables of his name before settling on the two dots and a curving line drawn in the circle of the letter “a” in the signature. It takes him a considerable amount of time to school his features into a neutral mask before he can look up.

Molly is gaping at him in abject horror. Sherlock merely looks smug.

“Sherlock,” says Mycroft in a steady voice. “Leave.”

For a moment he looks like he might object, but then he inclines his head, grabs the hoodie he’s brought him in exchange for the coat and leaves through the front door. His heavy footsteps echo on the staircase.

Mycroft sits down in one of Molly’s chairs and settles the gift on his lap. He can’t, for the life of him, describe what he feels. Elation? Shock? Cold feet? He could probably still lie and tell her that while he is flattered, he can’t accept it, because the name on his hand isn’t hers. Would that be cowardice? To keep the status quo? Or would that be the preferable option?

He looks at Molly. The woman who is, for all intents and purposes, his soul mate. The most improbable choice of all. But is it really? They have so many things in common. They both can appear small and insignificant, yet accomplish more than anyone else. They have a dry sense of humour and a matter-of-fact approach to life. And they both care far too much.

And now she is standing there in her pyjamas and her unfolding towel, terrified of rejection. He smiles gently, certainty calming his nerves.

“Molly, sit down, please.”

She does, gingerly lowering herself into the other chair. Mycroft starts unbuttoning his glove.

“What is this?” he asks, pointing to the package.

She swallows. “It’s a… It’s a gift. For you. I thought you would be there at the… at the party. At Sherlock’s.”

“But why?” he presses, popping the last button.

She closes her eyes in defeat. “Because… Because I thought you were my soul mate. I’m so sorry, you were never supposed to see it, I don’t know why I kept it, I should have known Sherlock would find it… the utter, complete, bloody prat!” she bursts out. “What have I ever done to him? Please ignore it, I’m so sorry…”

Shaking his head, he takes his time tugging the leather off his fingers. “Molly, please calm down.”

“It’s just, I know you’re not interested, and I’m so sorry about all of this, I never would have pestered you…”

“Molly…” he chuckles, because the situation is simply ridiculous. “Open your eyes.”

She does. She is miserable and confused but he knows just the thing that will change that. He reaches out and takes her hand before laying his on top of it, palm up, so she can see the life line.

He watches, enraptured, as various expressions chase after each other on her face, finally settling on awe.

“Oh,” she sniffs after a moment and traces her name on his skin. It sends a tingling sensation up his arm.

“I’m sorry,” he tells her. “I didn’t know. You were trying to tell me on Christmas, weren’t you?”

“I didn’t… I wasn’t sure. Sherlock said it was Mary, but… but there are so many Marys, that’s why my parents started calling me Molly…”

“May I see it?”

“Yes, of course.” She yanks her knitted glove off and he catches the first glimpse. She shyly presents her palm for his inspection. There it is, his name, written in his own penmanship, dark against this woman’s ivory skin. The breath leaves his lungs in a sigh. On impulse, he brings her hand to his lips and kisses it.

“This is surreal,” she mutters, splaying her fingers against his cheek.

“I agree.”

“Will we… Will we make this work?”

“I don’t know,” he says, sincere. “But I’m willing to try.”

Her smile is wobbly, but bright. “That’s good enough.”

It will be, he decides in wonder.