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In the Space Beneath Our Clothes

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Preface

The morgue is cold and Molly shivers in her Christmas jumper and lab coat. The young woman with a badly disfigured face is her only companion, spread out on the slab and covered with a sheet. Molly looks down and pities her; being killed on Christmas is infinitely worse than being verbally eviscerated and then left to stew in one’s misery. She tries to look on the bright side of things – at least he apologized this time, and that’s no mean feat. She tries not to think about whose moan so quickly interrupted that short moment when she held his complete attention.

And now this. No rest for the wicked, it seems. Sherlock is working on Christmas, and that apparently extends to her post as his personal morgue attendant and whipping girl. When he strides in, she can barely keep her eyes away from him. He’s strangely subdued and considerate, to which she replies with her usual awkwardness, because there seems to be no end to her humiliation today. She barely notices the other man; he is a dark presence in the corner of her eye, his voice entering her ears, but his words not registering.

Sherlock asks to see the dead woman’s naked body and she suddenly feels like a voyeur, watching the man she wants admiring another woman’s figure. Later she will tell herself that it’s unnecessarily morbid, that it was not what it looked like, that there had to be a reasonable – or at least rational - explanation for everything that Sherlock did, but then she’ll remember her pitiful question and the stranger’s meaningful non-answer. The memory will coalesce into a bland stretch of faceless lips that stab her heart with hurtful abandon.

The man himself will be forgotten.

Part One

During the three days after Sherlock’s fall, Molly Hooper is a paranoid ball of nerves. Every person on the Tube is following her and every suspicious sound in her flat is Moriarty’s lackey trying to break down her door. Sherlock has disappeared off the face of the earth, leaving her with two instructions: don’t tell anyone and don’t draw any attention to yourself. The latter seems to be working quite well for her, mostly because not many people actually know that she is in any way connected to the detective’s death, and even if they knew, it wouldn’t make for interesting news. The public is too preoccupied with the illicit life and lies of the “fake genius” to bother with his death; as far as they are concerned, Sherlock Holmes killed himself by splattering his brains on the concrete pavement adjacent to St. Bartholomew’s hospital and, conveniently, he left behind not only a rather large blood stain, but also an eyewitness. As Sherlock had predicted, no one is interested in the name on a forged certificate.

As per instruction, Molly is absent during the identification. It’s for the best; whichever member of his family comes to identify Sherlock’s drug-relaxed “dead” body is bound to be perceptive enough to notice something suspicious in her body language. So, in order to minimalise the risks, Molly makes herself invisible. It’s not an arduous task; she’s been good at it all her life, even if it is rarely by design.

It’s the not telling people that she finds extremely difficult. She doesn’t go to the funeral because she’s sure she won’t be strong enough to keep the secret once she sees either John or poor Mrs Hudson. She’s not keen on meeting Sherlock’s family either, because she knows she won’t be able to look them in the eye. So when Greg phones her with the details, she brokenly tells him she won’t be coming. Instead, she holes herself in her flat, cries bitter tears into her mug of tea and jumps every time she hears a pair of footsteps echoing outside her door.

In the end, despite her paranoia, no one so much as approaches her, no one from New Scotland Yard summons her for a hearing, and not one journalist asks her for an interview. Even when his family presses for a post-mortem and she volunteers for the job, no one bats a single eyelid. She appears to be as emotionally unconnected from Sherlock Holmes as if she had never even met him. No one seems to care that she’s been letting him into her lab for years. It’s like she’s just not there.

It’s just as well. She’s come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t count, so even though the realization stings, she welcomes it with open arms, because it means that no one will be coming after her. Gradually, she relaxes. She stops looking over her shoulder in the market and no longer wakes up drenched in cold sweat at every strange noise during the night.

Everything changes exactly four days after Sherlock’s fall.

She is at Bart’s when it happens. It’s lunchtime, but she is still in her office rather than in the canteen. It’s a Thursday; there’s nothing edible on the menu today, so she is munching on a tuna sandwich while poring over her paperwork. She’s not expecting anyone at this time of day, so she’s understandably startled when a man slips through her door, closing it behind him.

“What – Er –,“ she mumbles around a bite of tuna and stands up quickly, her chair skidding on the floor.

“Miss Hooper,” the man drawls, a condescending sneer twitching at his lips. “I believe we’ve already met. There’s no need for theatrics.”

She swallows the food with an audible gulp and takes a moment to look at him properly. Tall, dark-haired, around ten years her senior, in a tailored prim three-piece suit, and with a face that has a superiority complex etched permanently at the base of a long nose. He walks towards her slowly, each step deliberate and poised. She can’t help but find him and his affected dainty walk extremely ridiculous. What he needs, she decides, feeling a bit hysterical, is an umbrella in the crook of his arm – no, wait, there it is. It slips down his forearm and he catches the curved handle in his manicured hand, leaning on it for support as he comes to a stop in front of her. And he’s worried about her theatrics, she thinks, failing to suppress a very inappropriate little smile.

“Am I amusing you?” he asks, sounding like he is the one who should be highly entertained. He’s probably not, judging by the crease between his brows. Molly sobers up.

“Sorry,” she mutters, chagrined. Damn her and her skewed social skills. She should know better than to laugh at strange men when she doesn’t know what they want. “I’m sorry, but I can’t – Well, I don’t recall meeting you before, sorry.” I’d certainly remember it if I had, she thinks, eyeing the polished points of his shoes and the little handkerchief in his breast pocket.

His eyebrows climb up his forehead and his surprise is tinged with dismay. His face is really expressive, even though it seems that most of the emotions he shows are negative. It’s a shame, really, because she imagines that he would look quite nice and soft with a proper sort of smile.

“You actually don’t remember me,” he comments in arched wonder. “Remarkable.”

Her amusement fades. “I’m really sorry,” she flounders. “Is there something I can do for you?”

He levels her with an impassive look. “You performed the post-mortem on Sherlock Holmes, didn’t you, Miss Hooper?”

She flinches. Suddenly this man is not so much ridiculously theatrical as ridiculously dangerous. The fact that she was the one who did Sherlock’s post-mortem is not public knowledge, so she has no idea where he got the information from. He doesn’t look like someone from the press or the police, so the only logical assumption is that he found out through illegal means, which can only mean that his interest is both sinister and entirely unwelcome.

“I – I don’t know what you mean,” she responds, not quite quickly enough. She’s never been a good liar. The whole scheme depends on her being unnoticeable, not a con-artist. No one was supposed to notice her involvement, yet alone question her.

“Miss Hooper, let’s not play games,” the man chides, his voice like steel. “We both know the truth.”

Molly swallows, feels her palms sweat. Continued denial will make it look suspicious, like there’s something wrong, like she’s expecting him to dig deeper, ask difficult questions. But meekly agreeing is not going to help either, after she’s already tried to misdirect him. The only choice is to deflect.

“Who are you?” she asks, gathering all of her courage into sounding authoritative. She fails, of course.

“A concerned party,” he parries easily. “Now, about the post mortem – “

“I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you anything,” she interrupts firmly.

“I’m sorry?”

“Each patient’s files are confidential. It’s really none of your business.”

He arches his eyebrows again. “I was under the impression that family members had open access to any files concerning the deceased.”

It’s her turn to be surprised and to lose her bravado. “Family members?”

“Yes, Miss Hooper. I am Sherlock’s elder brother.” And there’s that condescending sneer again. “Perhaps now you will be more amenable to giving me the information I need?”

She almost snorts. She may have been stupid and gullible in the past, but she’s been burnt enough times to have learned her lesson. Not everyone is who they say they are, and it’s most certainly true when it comes to people interested in Sherlock Holmes. Anger bubbles inside of her chest, a helpless fury only fuelled by the fact that he’s looking at her down his stupid pointy nose, thinking that she’s an idiot, that she’s a stupid little girl who’ll give him what he wants without any effort on his part. That nose wrinkles in disdain as his eyes travel down the pink jumper she put on this morning, like he can’t help but show his disgust, like it proves his point, telling him she won’t be any trouble. Her cheeks flush in embarrassment and a niggling self-conscious thought settles in her head. This is why no one takes her seriously, why every psycho out there thinks he can dupe her. The way she dresses, the way she talks, the way she’s so easy to flatter…  But she can’t think about it now, she needs to focus.

“Sir, if you’re family, you can apply for the summary of the post-mortem report at the office upstairs,” she bites out, feigning politeness. “Now if you’ll excuse me – “

“Miss Hooper, I’d rather talk to you, if you don’t mind,” he cuts through, smiling pleasantly. “In such a… delicate… situation it is always better to have a bit of a more… personal touch, don’t you think? And you look like a compassionate young lady, I am sure you can understand how I would rather discuss the matter with you than read it on paper.”

What strikes her is that he’s really excellent in his approach, that if she hadn’t figured him out, she’d have fallen for his silver tongue and given in. She stares at him in a rare moment of clarity, seeing herself through his eyes, and very much not liking what she discovers. Because she is that person, that pathetic little girl no one takes seriously, because she doesn’t take herself seriously, and it’s okay, really, it is, she is inconsequential, insignificant, it shouldn’t sting so much, really, but it’s Sherlock’s life at stake and she needs to be brave and it’s about more than just her so she needs to get over herself already.

So she stares up at this stranger’s stupid, smug little face, adrenaline, anger and hurt coursing through her veins, making her hands and knees shake like mad, and she says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you, sir. And it’s Doctor Hooper, actually.”

It comes out better than she’d expected, there’s no tremor in her voice, even if it’s still vaguely like a pitiful squeak. The man considers her for a prolonged moment, clearly unpleasantly surprised, but his eyes are flat, completely cold, and she shivers despite herself because how could she not have noticed that this man really isn’t ridiculous, that he means business?

“Apologies,” he concedes eventually. “Thank you for your time, Doctor Hooper.”

He gives her a mocking little bow, opens the door and sweeps outside, umbrella swinging in tune with his steps.

She stands there for a long while afterwards, staring after him, tuna sandwich forgotten in her hands, shocked, frightened, vindicated, and one hundred per cent certain that this is not the last she has seen of him.

*

The pink jumper, instead of joining her other jumpers in her laundry basket, ends up being shredded into bits in a fit of pique. Later, when she gathers the useless pink pieces of wool and places them in her rubbish bin, she feels foolish and embarrassed by her own stupidity. She doesn’t know what to think anymore. She hates that her life puts her in situations where simply being herself leaves her in a state of utter humiliation. Or maybe it’s not her life’s fault, but her own. She’s the one who leaves herself so vulnerable. She’s the one without armour. She dates a man who pretends to be gay, or maybe is, but actually is a psychopath with a fixation on her crush; she obsesses over an impossible man who treats her like dirt, but in the end, tells her she counts and uses her to fake his death.

It’s the counting that gets to her. The fact that Sherlock finds her important enough to let her assist him in something as tremendous as manufacturing his own suicide is something she will never get over. Some nights, in the dark, curled up under her duvet, she recalls the quiet desperation in his piercing eyes when he approached her at the morgue, when he told her he was going to die. During those times she likes to think that this might have actually been the defining moment of her life. There can’t really be anything as big and as important for her to do as what she’s already accomplished. Now she only needs to keep the secret, to buy him the time he needs to dismantle Moriarty’s web of criminals.

And in order to do that, she needs to be more confident. She has been careless: it’s only been days, she has thought that if no one had approached her by now then no one ever would, that she is safe in her anonymity, unconnected from the media circus that had only now begun to settle. But she should have known; the truly formidable opponent wouldn’t barge straight into interrogating her, no, he’d bide his time, sniff around, wait for her to let her guard down. And he didn’t even have to try so hard, did he? He just approached her at her office, in the light of day, and she had never seen him coming. There’s no knowing when he’ll strike next.

She triple-checks her locks and her windows so she feels at least marginally secure that no one will invade her flat while she’s in the shower. So when she emerges from the bathroom half an hour later, she almost dies of a heart attack when she finds a man in her living room.

“Sherlock!” she cries in shock.

“Do keep your voice down, Molly.”

“Yes, God, sorry,” she squeaks, chagrined.

He’s slumped on her sofa, wearing an oversized hoodie. His hair is cropped short and dyed an awful shade of ginger, which makes him look strange, sort of gangly and awkward. Yet his eyes are as piercing as ever when they track all over her body, deducing.

“It’s fine,” he rumbles. “I doubt any of your neighbours are awake at this hour. He accosted you, didn’t he?”

Molly blinks. “Who?”

“Mycroft, obviously.”

She stares. “Mycroft who…?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “Oh, for God’s sake. My brother, Mycroft, a fat pompous arse with an umbrella.”

Comprehension dawns, and with it comes crushing relief. So the man really was Sherlock’s brother, and not another criminal overlord. For a moment she feels boneless and light, and the stress and shock of the day make her latch onto the most ridiculous things.

“He’s not fat,” she mutters inanely.

Sherlock waves a hand in dismissal. “What did he want?”

She perches next to him on the sofa. “He wanted to talk to me about your post-mortem.”

“Ugh, dull.” He reaches into his pocket and then tosses her a mobile phone. “Give him this the next time he kidnaps you.”

“What…?” she asks faintly.

“He’ll try again, obviously. He underestimated you this time, but now when he snatches you off the street, he’ll be prepared. The phone is a way of contacting me.”

“What do you mean, snatches me off the street?” she presses, feeling completely out of her depth.

“That’s his preferred modus operandi. He kidnaps people for a living, especially when he’s trying to instil awe and the fear of God in his victims.”

Molly absorbs this bit of information with a great deal of unease, but without much surprise. She has already met the man, and if he’s really Sherlock’s brother, then everything about him makes all the more sense. In light of this, going from a dramatic umbrella to kidnapping people to make a point is not that big of a leap.

“Who is he?” she asks, genuinely interested. “What does he do? Is he a detective like you…?”

Sherlock snorts. “Mycroft? He’s too lazy to be a detective. But that doesn’t stop him from being the most dangerous man you’ve ever met.”

Thoroughly disturbed, Molly bites her lip. “But who is he?”

“The shadow behind the British government, when he’s not too busy steering the MI6 or freelancing for the CIA.”

His words are flippant, but the quirk of his mouth tells her a different story. In a flash, Molly realizes that he’s bragging. The sight of Sherlock Holmes boasting about his almighty older brother is so endearing that she can’t help but grin. Mycroft Holmes must really be incredibly powerful if he’s able to inspire so much pride and respect in a man like Sherlock, whose scorn of humanity is legendary. Suddenly something else occurs to her.

“Sherlock… If your brother is so powerful… Then why didn’t you ask him for help instead of me?”

His eyes turn to her sharply and she is treated to a bewildered expression not dissimilar to the one she received after telling him she didn’t count. Molly frowns.

“Do you not get on?” she asks gently.

Sherlock opens his mouth, then swallows, before finally answering, “He’s my archenemy.”

Molly blinks. There is a discord between the meaning of the word and the way it is said; it has a taste of grudging camaraderie, it’s like a codeword, a nickname, a remnant of a distant childhood game. She reads between the lines and makes a working hypothesis about the Holmes brothers’ relationship. She thinks of the man in her office, buttoned up to the last button of his tailored waistcoat, an image of controlled perfection, living life of the elder brother of the uncontrollable hurricane of a man that is Sherlock; and Sherlock, the free fire spirit, smouldering in his brother’s shadow and under his smothering gaze.

“Oh,” she says. “You wanted to do it on your own.”

Sherlock stares at her for a long moment and then, without warning, he jumps to his feet and makes for the door.

“Give the phone to him when you see him,” he throws over his shoulder.

“Wait!” she cries. “Are you going to disappear again?”

“Yes, that is rather the point, Molly,” he quips impatiently.

“I know, but can’t you… I don’t know, keep me updated? Let me know that you’re alive, at least?”

She knows it’s a long shot, but she has to try. She’s been worried sick the past several days, and if it keeps up, the uncertainty is going to drive her bonkers.

Sherlock pauses in her doorway, considering. She holds her breath, watching the back of his ginger-haired head. Finally, he exhales softly.

“Fine. I’ll see what I can do.”

Molly sighs in relief. “Thank you.”

He nods wordlessly and slips out, leaving her alone once again.

*

It’s several days before Mycroft Holmes makes contact with her for the second time. And, as Sherlock has predicted, it is rather spectacularly theatrical.

She’s out with her mother, trailing after the older woman while she ambles from one shop window to another. They’re conversing easily, almost lazily, about nothing in particular. Or rather, it’s Molly’s mother who narrates, and Molly who listens, because she’s not a good conversationalist, but she’s a damn good listener. It’s one of their bonding rituals: once in a while they meet up at a mall or a shopping district and wander around, not really buying much, sometimes catching a bite to eat, but really just enjoying each other’s company without the dreaded tea set and the silences that seem to fill her mother’s empty rooms.

“I can’t believe little Sheila is actually getting married,” her mother remarks while browsing through a hanger of summer skirts in one of the less pricey boutiques. “I could swear she was just doing her A-levels yesterday.”

Sheila is Molly’s cousin, and her mother’s niece. She is six years younger than Molly, and at least as many times as beautiful. Her ordinary, feminine job as a florist is another thing that adds to her already considerable charm. Molly loves her and treats her like the little sister she never had, but sometimes she can’t help but feel a bit resentful over the way Sheila effortlessly manages to earn the approval of the entire family. Especially when they conveniently forget that Shelia failed to get into college, but instead praise her for finding a lovely fiancé. Naturally Molly, with her morbid career that no one dares to mention over dinner and her lacklustre love life, bears the brunt of the symmetrical and almost unanimous disapproval.

“Hmm,” she hums noncommittally. Her mother carries on.

“It’s a shame that the wedding’s still so far away… But I suppose it’s because it all costs so much nowadays, the dress, the reception, the honeymoon. It’s much cheaper to book a place in advance, really. It’s only sensible.”

Molly is not listening, too busy ogling the most beautiful trouser suit she has ever seen. The fabric is a lovely shade of grey, punctuated by slimming pinstripes, and the cut is modern but classy, the jacket wasp-like at the waist thanks to a single button, but flaring at the hips and gently flowing along the curves of the mannequin. She ambles towards it and runs her fingers against the soft sleeve. It’s love at first sight, the burn so intense that it makes her self-conscious. She imagines herself wearing it, the suit making her feel powerful, and immediately scoffs at herself. It’s not her style, and most definitely out of her price range. Where would she wear it, anyway?

But her mind reminds her of the pink jumper, and the man with the umbrella, and she wonders whether he would have taken her more seriously had she been wearing a suit like this under her lab coat instead of the pink atrocity.

Echoes of humiliation flushing her cheeks, she grabs the suit in grim determination, and marches towards the changing room, ignoring her mother’s arched eyebrows.

A couple of minutes later, she is standing in front of the mirror, barefoot but suited, twisting her hair out of the juvenile ponytail into a bun at the nape of her neck. The transformation is startling.

Behold Doctor Molly Hooper, the adult.

“Do you think I should start wearing things like this so that people treat me more seriously?” she asks uncertainly. Her mother gives the suit an assessing look.

“Where would you wear it? Surely not to work. I mean, wouldn’t you get it dirty with… I mean…”

Molly cringes. “I wear protective scrubs for that, mum.”

“Ah, right…” her mother trails off. “Well, you can try it if you think you need it.”

Molly moves her hand against the smooth material of the jacket and she thinks back to Sherlock’s brother and the immaculate cut of his suit. The perfection of his clothes gave him an air of importance, and it made his otherwise rather weasel-like and forgettable face into an arched mask of money and class. Perhaps the clothes do make the man, she thinks morosely. If that’s the case, then it’s no wonder that her cheerful print jumpers and frilly blouses make her seem like a silly schoolgirl.

“I think I’ll take it,” she announces. “There’s a conference coming up that I’d like to go to. I could wear it there.”

“Ah, is that so?” her mother mutters distractedly, checking the price tag of a nice pair of trousers. “If you think you can afford it, then buy it. God knows you don’t have many expenses. Wait till you have a child; you won’t be so quick to buy yourself pretty clothes then…”

Molly presses her lips into a thin line. She doesn’t tell her mother that to have a child you need to have a partner. She doesn’t tell her that having a partner in her case is not something that comes easily. And most of all, she doesn’t mention that even if she, by some miraculous turn of the universe, did acquire a man, she’s still not sure that she would want a child. She pushes the vague feeling of guilt out of her head and makes up her mind.

“Right. I’ll just go and pay then.”

“Mhm, you do that while I go and look around a bit more.”

Molly takes off the suit and folds it reverently before approaching the cash register. The clerk takes it from her with a smile and checks it out, but before she can pay, the shop phone goes off. The girl gives her an apologetic shrug and picks up. After a moment, she sends her a strange look.

“Are you Doctor Hooper?”

Molly blinks, startled, and nods. The girl hands her the receiver.

“It’s for you.”

Completely stunned, Molly puts the receiver to her ear. “Hello? Molly Hooper speaking,” she says uncertainly.

“Good afternoon, Doctor Hooper,” answers a pleasant voice. It takes her only a second to place it, and the realization makes her inhale sharply. Mycroft Holmes chuckles into her ear. “I see you remembered me this time. That’s good; it makes things easier for me.”

Molly swallows her shock. “What – Why – How did you know – Why are you calling me at the shops?!”

“I’m afraid I underestimated you before, for which I apologize,” he explains evenly. “I am not going to make that mistake twice. This phone call is a way of ensuring your cooperation, Doctor Hooper.”

“W-What do you want?” she asks, forcing herself to be calm. This is Sherlock’s brother, for God’s sake, she knew he would be coming after her. She has the mobile phone in her handbag, she’s come prepared, so she has nothing to worry about.

“Do you see the woman who is talking to your mother?” Molly whirls around and sure enough, there is a beautiful young woman in an expensive skirt suit who is chatting politely with her mum. The woman is clearly bored with the conversation, as she seems to be constantly fingering her BlackBerry. “She is my personal assistant,” comes Mycroft’s honey-voiced explanation. “She is currently asking your mother to accompany her to the changing rooms to aid her in the purchase of some clothing. Once there, she will dose your mother with a sedative concealed in her sleeve and with the help of my other associates, she will carry Andrea Hooper through the staff quarters to the car conveniently parked just outside the back door.”

Molly stands frozen, rooted to the floor, watching in horror as the woman leisurely leads her chattering mother towards the changing room.

“Wh-What do you want me t-to do?” she chokes out.

“There is another car waiting at the front entrance. The driver will recognize you. I will see you very soon, Doctor Hooper.”

With that, he disconnects the call, and Molly wastes several seconds on trying not to hyperventilate. Eventually, she gives the receiver back to the clerk and walks towards the exit, abandoning the suit and ignoring the girl’s outraged cry.

She spots the black Mercedes with tinted windows immediately after she finds herself outside, her heart in her throat. She stands on the pavement, gaping, until the driver gets out and opens the door for her. She hesitates for a single second before stumbling to the car and climbing inside.

There’s no one there. She is alone with the driver, who ignores her as he guides the car back into traffic. Molly sits in the backseat, tightening her trembling hands into fists and obliterating her lips with her teeth. She tries to follow the route they are taking, but the driver sneaks around back alleys and she soon finds herself utterly lost. Not knowing what else to do, she fishes her phone from her handbag and sends a quick text to her mum.

R u ok?

The reply comes almost immediately and Molly almost sags into the leather upholstery in her relief.

Yes, of course I’m ok, where are you?

I had to run. I got a call from the morgue. Sorry. See u next week?

She passes her shaking hand over her eyes and then rubs her temples. She should have known something like this would happen, she scolds herself. Sherlock warned her about what his brother is capable of, but she still thought it would somehow resolve itself. And now her mother has been threatened and she’s in a car with a stranger driving her to God only knows where. So this is what Sherlock meant when he said “when he snatches you off the street”, she thinks with a snort of disbelief.

She palms Sherlock’s mobile phone without taking it out of her handbag and gradually relaxes. This is Sherlock’s brother, she’s going to explain, and everything will be fine, she tells herself. Finally, she won’t be the only person with this secret. She’ll have someone to share it with.

Eventually, the driver takes her out of the city and down a motorway, before shortly turning down a second class road to an old, abandoned construction site. Molly watches the rusty fence and faded signs with trepidation. She’s still fairly sure that nothing will actually happen to her, but she can’t help but be a bit anxious. What if he doesn’t listen to her? What if he doesn’t believe her? Sherlock didn’t seem concerned about his brother abducting her unexpectedly, but Sherlock tends to have a skewed idea of what’s safe and harmless.

“He’s waiting in the architect’s cabin.” The driver opens the door for her and motions her through the open gate. She walks a bit unsteadily, clutching her handbag in front of her, casting nervous glances around, as if waiting for someone to jump at her with a knife from behind a pile of breeze blocks. The architect’s cabin is a small metal box off to the right, with its windows smashed in and its door slightly ajar. She reaches for the knob and pulls it open.

Mycroft Holmes is standing with his back to her, partially hidden in the shadows, leaning on his umbrella and pretending to read the frayed safety poster tacked to one of the walls.

“Shut the door, Doctor Hooper.”

She does as asked, and then takes several hesitant steps forward.

“Hello.”

He turns then, and regards her with a cold expression.

“I trust your situation is clear to you?”

Molly swallows. “Yes,” she chokes out, feeling like a trapped lamb. Mycroft’s eyes are completely flat, and somehow that lack of feeling seems much more frightening than any mindless fury. If she hadn’t been expecting this, she would have probably been scared witless. As such, she is alarmed, yes, but still relatively optimistic.

“Good.” Nonchalantly, he reaches into the inner pocket of his jacket for a small brown notebook. Its contents prompt him to raise a single eyebrow. “Interesting. 31, single, you live alone with a cat named Toby. Only daughter of Jeremy Hooper, deceased, and Andrea Hooper, shop clerk. The first in the family to have gained a degree. Your parents hoped for a GP, and yet you specialized in forensic pathology. Apart from your family, you have close ties with Meena Graham, 31, whom you met at university. Hardworking, perfectionist, socially awkward, self-effacing. Your biggest fear is dying alone. Need I go on?”

Molly shakes her head, aghast. It’s really unpleasant how your life can be reduced to a number of awful facts. Such a wealth of time and experiences encapsulated in a couple of sentences. Unconsciously, she makes a face at her thoughts, and only catches herself when she notices Mycroft scrutinizing her.

“You don’t seem very afraid,” he remarks.

She shrugs awkwardly. “Well, um. I don’t have anything to be afraid of, I don’t think. Do I?”

His mouth tightens almost imperceptibly. She takes it as a sign of displeasure.

“I thought you agreed that the situation was clear to you.”

“I did, yes.”

He narrows his eyes.

“I did threaten your mother and then have you brought to a place where no one would ever find your body.”

She chokes on a nervous laugh. “Yes… Right, yes, you’re absolutely right… but Sherlock warned me, sort of, so I was kind of expecting it… Even so, you didn’t have to threaten my mum, I would have come any – oh, God, are you all right?!”

He’s gone deathly pale and sways forward before catching himself on his umbrella. Molly pauses with her arms outstretched, and then brings her hands to her mouth.

“Oh, my God, you didn’t know, I thought you knew, oh God, I’m so, so sorry, I really thought you knew!”

His grip on the umbrella slackens and he sways again. This time Molly doesn’t hesitate and puts her hands on his arms to steady him, but he flinches at the barest contact and sharply steps away.

“That – that won’t be necessary, Doctor Hooper,” he tells her in a voice that is only slightly unsteady.

She watches helplessly as he straightens himself and passes a hand over the crease above his nose.

“So let me make this clear. My brother is alive, I take it?” he asks, not looking at her.

“Yes,” she confirms, holding back the tears that are making her eyes sting. This is heart-wrenching and she feels like she shouldn’t be here to witness this, but she can’t tear her eyes away. The almost invisible play of emotions on this man’s stubbornly composed face fascinates her and she watches him like one does an accident, with horrified compulsion. She reads a fury in the tightening of his lips and sees a deep relief in his calculated blinks. She interprets the love that is painted in the creases of his laugh lines and the accompanying hurt that nestles in the shadows under his eyes.

“I see.”

The silence rings out for several long moments.

“I understand he wants to make contact?”

The words are delivered flippantly, but she can clearly hear the mangled, bleeding hope that peeks from behind fake indifference.

“Yes, let me just… Here.” She hands him the mobile phone and steps back, watching his long fingers tighten around the lump of cheap plastic. “He said you could contact him with this… I mean – ”

“Thank you, Doctor Hooper,” he interrupts her. “The car will take you home.”

And like that, she is dismissed. She hesitates for a second, unwelcome words of sympathy dying on her lips. Eventually, she hangs her head, mutters a quiet apology, and leaves.

As she walks back to the car, she realizes that she probably won’t see him again. She is not entirely surprised to discover that the thought makes her sad.

*

When a package containing the trouser suit she never managed to buy arrives anonymously at her flat the next day, Molly puts it reverently at the back of her wardrobe, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.