Molly cursed herself even as she knelt down beside her bed and reached under to pull out the wooden box. She cursed herself again as she made note of how it wasn't even dust covered. The dust wasn't ever given enough time to settle, seeing as the pristine little box was taken out and opened far too often for that. It was foolish, and she knew that she shouldn't keep reliving the memories. But oh, they were lovely memories. Months and years of that delicious faint glimmer of hope. Sherlock had given her that much…at least until he inexplicably took it all away.
They'd grown up together, Molly and Sherlock, and had been childhood friends. Emotions naturally fell into place for Molly. She fell in love with him before she even understood what romance and attraction was. By the time they were no longer children, her heart had long since belonged to only him. Sherlock's heart though, seemed to pull him in a different direction. He wooed and won the desire of his heart the first chance he got: London.
Sherlock moved to London some six years ago to become a detective and to live his life feeding off the activity and excitement that the city had to offer. Molly, of course, stayed in the countryside with her family. Her father, the county Doctor, kindly indulged her interest in medicine for quite some time. Molly had dreams as big as Sherlock, but the closest she could seem to get was to assist her father where possible. Unfortunately, even that came to a sudden halt a couple of years ago when Dr. Hooper died, leaving his wife and two girls on their own, though still financially stable.
Molly contented herself with occasional midwifery since then, helping to lighten the load of the other three women in the area. And although she enjoyed it, it wasn't all she ever wanted to do. She dreamed of attending a real medical school and becoming not just a doctor, but a specialist in the field of pathology. It was what thrilled her, and she wanted to live her life like that every day. She loved nothing more than to learn of women like Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Ann Preston, and to remind herself that this was what she knew she was truly meant to do.
She reached into the box and picked out an article that had been cut out of The Strand. Molly couldn't help but smile as she read the dozen little notes that were scribbled by Sherlock's in the margins. Things like, "Watson got this part wrong," and "one of the most important details is missing here…" And the newspaper clippings were just part of what Sherlock would send by post. He would also write letters. They certainly weren't love letters, but to Molly they did convey an attachment he felt to her. He would detail cases, his process of deductions, his dealings and frustrations with Scotland Yard, and most thrilling of all, he would share some things about Bart's hospital from time to time. It was lovely, and Molly had to admit that she absolutely lived for the moment she would see an envelope arrive from London.
She chewed her lip as she reached down and picked up the latest, and last, of Sherlock's letters. She still didn't fully know what to make of it, and goodness knows she had read it enough times to memorize the very brief content. All it said was…
Dear Molly Hooper,
My apologies, but I will not be continuing to correspond. Please accept my best wishes for your health and happiness…you deserve it.
Molly folded the small letter up and shoved it back in the box. Rereading that one was usually what prompted her to frustratedly push the memories back under her bed…at least till the next time.
It had been nine long months since she'd received that last letter, leaving Molly to theorize just about every possible explanation and scenario under the sun. Not only was she concerned for him and his literal safety, but she was also imagining other unpleasant things like, Sherlock having met a woman in London and fallen in love. He may have always balked at marriage, but Molly still doubted that he lacked all ability to fall in love. It could have happened, and she daily searched in the newspapers for the bans with her heart in their throat, and oh how the unknown was eating her up inside!
The fact that Sherlock's letters usually arrived every one to two months made Molly more convinced every day that he had really meant what he said. In addition to the fact that the few letters she sent had received no reply. The correspondence between them was over…their friendship was over. And as she told herself time and time again, it was time for her to face that and stop living in the past.
All these things put together made it especially surprising when Molly was later disturbed from the quiet solitude of a book by the heavy knocking at her door, only to open it and see…Sherlock Holmes.
Molly gaped at the man who wore a casual half smile. "M- Mr. Holmes…" She didn't even know what to say beyond that.
"Ah, good afternoon, Miss Hooper. Glad to catch you at home. As you may already guess, I am visiting my parents; a brief visit, just till next week. I imagine you and your family are well." He paused only a millisecond before continuing. "I was hoping that I could trouble you for a couple of your father's old tools. I imagine you still keep them, even if they're not in use…sentiment is on our side in this instance! So, perhaps you would have a scalpel and clamps on hand?"
Molly barely registered what he said, besides the fact that it was completely rude. She couldn't really move past the fact that he was standing here in front of her. "B- but you…what happened to you?"
Sherlock frowned. "To what are you referring?"
Molly returned his frown. "I've not heard from you in over nine months. I had no idea whether you were alive or dead!"
Realization dawned on Sherlock. "Ah yes, the case!" He snapped his fingers as he put together what she was referring to. "I've been back for a couple of months now, settling into life in London again. It was a rather difficult case; an assignment from my brother which required a long period of travel out of the country. Naturally, my parents have been clamoring to see me again since my return. So I felt a brief visit would be just the thing to appease them!" He grinned.
Molly's expression went from shock to horror. "And that is why you pronounced that we could no longer correspond? Because of a dangerous case? And then you returned…and did not think to renew contact once more?"
Something flickered in Sherlock's eyes, indicating that he was finally beginning to get it, the fact that he'd made a misstep. He cleared his throat and spoke a bit less confidently than before. "I am here now, as you see. Naturally a trip to the countryside would include contact with you and your family."
"For the sake of borrowing tools?" There was an unmistakable hardness in her voice now. She took what appeared to be a cleansing breath before meeting his gaze again. "Mr. Holmes, I considered us to be friends."
"Are we?" Molly laughed bitterly. "Mr. Holmes, I realize that you do not see things the way many others do, but how can you miss the fact that this is not how to behave as a proper friend?"
He hesitated before responding. "I did what seemed logical at the time."
Molly gestured emphatically toward her own heart. "But did you consider how I feel?!" Her voice broke audibly.
Sherlock stared wide eyed at her, frightened by the emotion of his usually even-tempered friend, and frightened by the weight of what he now realized he'd done.
"You never have, have you?" Molly asked more softly. "I do not believe you have ever really considered and acted in accord with my feelings. And that-" She stopped and pressed her lips together before continuing with some difficulty. "That hurts me deeply, Mr. Holmes. Even to admit it aloud is painful."
"Miss Hooper," he began cautiously. "Perhaps…an apology is needed?" That was what one did to make things better, he had been reminded on many occasions. But the fact that he stated it as a question put the final nail in the coffin.
Molly narrowed her eyes as she looked up at him. "I suppose I should thank you, Mr. Holmes. I have been hanging on every mysterious word of that tiny letter for nine months now. I had no explanation or closure. At least I've finally been given that." She lifted her chin a bit, indicating her determination. "But now that I have it, I believe it is time to bid you farewell."
"Farewell?" Sherlock questioned.
"Yes. What we have between us is not a true friendship where both parties care about and look after each other. And therefore, it is not a friendship that allows one party to come to the other for favors. So, the answer is no. No, you may not borrow my late father's precious medical tools." She looked a little sad for a moment, but drew another breath and spoke again. "And I will ask you please to leave."
"But, Miss Hooper I-"
"I asked you to leave," she stated a bit more firmly.
Sherlock opened his mouth again, but closed it a second later, thinking better of trying to say anything else at the moment. Finally, he simply gave her a little tip of his hat and turned away, not seeing the way her face crumpled as she shut the door after him.
Sherlock made his way down the walkway, and as he did he came face to face with two more Hooper women. "Afternoon, Mrs. Hooper…Miss Rebecca," he said curtly, nodding to them each in succession.
"Afternoon, Mr. Holmes," they said in unison, both clearly surprised to see him.
He didn't linger, having no desire to engage in small talk with them, and simply bid them a good day. The women walked past him and toward the house while Sherlock looped around the property in order to take the shortcut back toward the main road.
He hung back among the trees beside the property and began going over the things that Molly had said. It was disturbing to him, he fully admitted. He simply assumed she would be glad to see him. But as things stood now, he'd made a complete mess and would have to come up with some plan to mend fences. He'd have to come up with some sort of a grand gesture in order to renew her faith in his friendship. Because he did truly care for her, and he didn't want to lose her friendship that he'd grown so accustomed to all these years. It was just a matter of convincing her.
As he paced and thought seriously, something caught the attention of his ears. It seemed that one of the Hooper's parlor windows had been left open…
"Molly, dearest, we are only thinking in your best interest!"
"He stopped by just to borrow some tools of father's, Mother! And you needn't worry, I told him it wasn't possible."
"He's a perfectly decent gentleman, Molly. You know I feel no ill will toward the man. It is you I am concerned with!"
Sherlock frowned to himself and stopped in his tracks in order to listen more closely as Mrs. Hooper went on.
"Darling, I know how you have always felt about Mr. Holmes, but no good can come of it. I should think that is more than plain by now...after all these years."
Rebecca Hooper's voice chimed in as well. "He is lovely to look at, Molly, but he is obviously a confirmed bachelor. There's no chance there for you!"
"He is...he was my friend," Molly argued weakly. "Just because a man doesn't want to marry me does not mean I should never set eyes on him again!"
"But perhaps that is what it means!" Mrs. Hooper countered. "You are anchoring your heart to a harbor where you are not welcome. And that means you cannot be pulled in any other more suitable direction! And, my dear, you haven't got an eternity!"
"Yes, I know!" Molly said wearily. "I am well aware that I am practically one foot in the grave!"
"Oh, stop it, Molly," her mother said with a sigh. "This is not a joke. This is your life! You've got to let these childhood fantasies go and finally start being a grown woman!"
"There are no fantasies, Mother, believe me! I am well aware of what is real and what is not." Molly's voice was especially glum. "You needn't worry about Mr. Holmes anymore."
"Then why do you remain unmarried?" Mrs. Hooper pleaded. "You completely rejected the interest of Mr. Thomas last summer, though he was a perfectly acceptable man! You've got to make your heart let go of both Mr. Holmes and the dream of becoming a doctor, or you will surely never be able to move ahead with your life!"
"Move ahead to where?" Molly asked in a more exasperated tone. "To be the wife of a man that I barely know? To have babies?"
"There is nothing wrong with being a wife and mother," Mrs. Hooper said firmly.
Molly's voice was just as firm. "And there is nothing wrong with what I want either."
Sherlock held his breath as there was a short period of silence. After a moment, he heard Mrs. Hooper speak again. Her voice was softer, but her words were no doubt just as cutting to poor Molly's spirit.
"There is nothing wrong with what you want, if it is realistically attainable. Molly darling…your dreams are simply not attainable."
There was no answer from Molly after that. What Sherlock heard instead was her soft footsteps, obviously leaving the room and ascending the stairs.
Sherlock turned and leaned his shoulder against one of the trees he stood by. This was rather surprising and, he had to admit, also fascinating. He'd never carefully considered how Molly Hooper's life had gone, or rather, not gone since his exit from the country. And he certainly never considered that she would have continued to feel anything so…well, not that it mattered to him. But it did help to get some wheels turning in that ever busy brain of his.
Sherlock Holmes began to concoct a plan…and it was one he decided to set in motion as quickly as possible.