He tells her that he won’t be in contact with her when he leaves. She’s disappointed, heartbroken, a myriad of emotions flash through her eyes as she stands rooted in her spot. Her fingers twitch at her sides, as if aching to reach out and touch something (him, he realizes, she wants to touch him and his pulse thrums loudly at the thought, for reasons that he has no time to discern.)
She does nothing, she doesn’t reach out to something, someone (him), instead, her fingers continue to twitch at her sides, aching with need.
He feels like he should say something. The air between them cackles, taunting them (him) with words unsaid and actions left imagined. He doesn’t say anything. He stands, rooted in his spot, staring at her brown eyes that shine with unshed tears.
“Go.” She says, her voice croaking. She’s been strong for him, stronger than anyone he knows (not that he ever told her this.) She helped him during the worst part of his recovery. She is the last thing he sees before his body succumbs to sleep (sitting on the oversized chair in her bedroom, legs folded underneath her body) and she is the first thing he sees when he wakes (sleeping soundly in the oversized chair, legs still folded underneath her body) and she nursed his wounds with unsurprisingly strong and steady hands. “I…” she bites her lip and then turns her face, her long hair falling over her shoulders with her movement. He sees her chest shudder as she sucks in a deep breath, steadying herself, “we’re…we’re waiting for you to come back.”
(He knows what she really means: I’m waiting for you to come back.)
“I know.” He says.
(If he is certain of one thing, it’s that Molly Hooper will always be waiting, hoping, believing, loving him.)
He keeps his word and doesn’t contact her. He doesn’t write her (even though sometimes he finds himself hovering over a piece of paper, pen uncapped and poised to write), he doesn’t text her (even though he has over a dozen messages in the first week alone saved in his drafts), he doesn’t tell Mycroft to give her a message (even though after every conversation with his brother, he hesitates a moment longer, words meant for her ears on the tip of his tongue, Mycroft probes him and sounds oddly disappointed when Sherlock says nothing.)
He doesn’t contact her.
(But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t see her.)
Because he does.
He ventures into London more than he should, his feet taking him to familiar places (221b Baker Street, the cemetery, the morgue, St. Barts, outside Molly’s flat.) He feels perverse following her movements, (he’s always in disguise and he feels oddly disappointed when she doesn’t realize that he’s there, he’s near.)
She’s rushing out of Bart’s one day, running to catch the tube and he follows and feels his lips turn up when he sees her frustrated stance and facial expression at missing the tube. She scrunches her nose and wipes at her forehead, smiling at the elderly couple she almost bumps into, she walks backwards until her back hits the wall and she slumps against it.
It’s only then that he gets a good look at her and sees how tired she is. The bags under her eyes are pronounced, she’s lost weight (four and a half pounds) and she’s slouching, trying to curl into herself, trying to protect herself (from what, he doesn’t know.)
It’s surprising to him how his hands twitch at his sides, aching to touch something, someone (her). He doesn’t do anything, he stays in the shadows, his eyes watching her every movement. She closes her eyes and takes in a deep breath and even from this distance, he can see her chest shudder with emotion.
He knows, he doesn’t know how, he doesn’t even know why, but he knows that the reason why she’s so tired, why she’s lost weight and why she’s trying to curl into herself, trying to protect herself from the people around her, is because of him. Because of everything he’s made her do. Everything he’s made her become.
(And this thought, the knowledge that he has upturned her life, makes it harder for him to breathe.)
He’s in Switzerland, recovering from a particular taxing confrontation with one of Moriarty’s henchmen. He was stronger than Sherlock gave him credit for and although he did manage to kill him, Sherlock still came out worse for wear.
And even though he’d never admit it, he was grateful when he turned his head and saw familiar black shoes and the tip of a familiar umbrella. He passed out when strong arms grabbed him and drew him into the safety of a car.
When he awoke, he was in an unfamiliar bed with bandages placed over his wounds. (He has flashbacks to a year beforehand, when a woman with soft brown eyes and even softer hands, patched him together, lifting her head every now and then to give him a reassuring smile and tuck away stray curls from his face.)
It’s the sound of typing that makes him look to the left and somehow he’s not surprised to see Anthea sitting in the chair at the far end of the room, typing away on her mobile with Mycroft sitting in the chair next to her, umbrella placed strategically next to him. (This is the thing with the Holmes family; they’re always there for each other but always at a distance, never close enough to touch.)
“Ah,” Mycroft says softly, his voice echoing through the room, “you’re awake.”
“Obviously.” Sherlock retorts.
Anthea snorts and then returns to her mobile.
“How soon can I move?” Sherlock asks. He doesn’t know why he bothers asking, as he’s already made up his mind and is starting to move. He has his legs over the side of the bed and he stands on unstable feet, trying to gain some sort of semblance of equilibrium. He’s looking for his clothes when he hears a throat clear, Anthea stares at him with a small smirk and gestures to the loo.
“It appears, brother, that you are already moving, so why ask a question to which you already have the answer to?”
Sherlock doesn’t dignify him with an answer but instead slams the door shut.
When he emerges from the loo, fresh-faced but sore, he is somewhat (although he supposes he shouldn’t be) surprised to see Anthea in the same position. He frowns, “what?” He snaps at her.
She shrugs and places her mobile to the side. “Are you so eager to get beaten again?” She asks, her voice is clear, strong, a little raspy and carries a hint (just a tiny hint) of the familiar baritone that all Holmes’ seem to have in common.
“I am eager,” he corrects her, “to finish this and return home.”
She nods and gets up, her heels echoing against the hardwood. She stands next to him and hands him his coat. “She’s an incredibly strong woman but she’s also incredibly sad. Although, I’m sure you know that by now.” Without awaiting an answer and without clarifying whom she’s talking about (not like she has to, Sherlock already knows. Sherlock always knows), she turns around and leaves; her heels echoing down the hall.
(“You look sad…when you think he can’t see you.” “You can see me.” “I don’t count.”)
Even though he told her that she does count, that she has always counted and that he’s always trusted her, he wonders if she still believes him.
(The thought that she may not believe him, makes it harder for him to breathe.)
He’s disguised as an old man wearing the standard Bart’s janitorial uniform. He walks with a slouch and he’s wearing contacts that irritate his eyes but it’s the only way he can see her without being recognized. (He already saw Mrs. Hudson, he already saw Lestrade and he already saw John, each of them getting back to life before Sherlock waltzed into and blew it into disarray.) If they were all fine, if they were all dealing with his supposed death, than he foolishly thought that Molly would be the same by now as well.
Except, he finds that she’s not.
Because for as much as Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade and John are healing, Molly is breaking. She is drowning and no one can see. (Except for him. Sherlock always sees. He always observes, even when they thought he didn’t.)
She smiles for her students, she fumbles and stutters and she laughs when the occasion calls for it, but when they’re gone, their shouts of “Thanks, Dr. Hooper,” and “see you tomorrow, Dr. Hooper” echoing throughout the empty lab, she leans against the counter, hands gripping the edge and head bowed down to her chest, shoulders shaking with unrestrained emotion.
You look sad, he thinks, when you think no one can see you.
It doesn’t escape his notice when he sees his spot, his favorite stool and microscope that he always occupied, (because he is indeed a creature of habit), left untouched, bare, as if waiting for him to come back.
(The knowledge that he is the one causing her grief, that he is the reason why she is so broken, makes it harder for him to breathe.)
He wonders when her room in his mind palace started to grow until every thought, every movement, every dream is filled with her.
(He wonders why this doesn’t frighten him as much as he thinks it should.)
“You should know,” Anthea tells him quietly, her voice taking on a hint (just a little hint) of pity, “she’s seeing someone.” Then she leaves him to his own self-made misery, her heels echoing down the hall even after she’s shut the door.
(The knowledge that she’s moved on, that she isn’t waiting, hoping, believing, loving him anymore, makes it hard for him to breathe.)
This time when he comes to London, he doesn’t hide beneath a disguise. He’s careful, he’s oh-so careful but he’s not hiding. He’s tired of hiding (he’s tired, just like Molly is tired.)
He watches Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade and John go on with their lives. He watches them laugh and smile and move on and for a moment, there is a pain so deep within his chest that he almost staggers back.
He makes his way to her flat, his legs taking him down familiar roads and past familiar flats and stores. He breathes in the London air and thinks that one day, he’ll come back here for good, one day he’ll atone for his sins and one day, everything will be as it always was, as it always should be. (He’s not a dreamer, far from it; he just wants to come home.)
He sees her on the front steps of her flat. She’s in a cream colored dress and heels, her hair pulled loosely in a clip, her makeup soft, almost non-existent (she prefers the natural look and he can’t help but agree because Molly Hooper covered in make-up is not Molly Hooper. She is a figment of what people tell her she should look like and he thinks ashamedly that he told her on more than one occasion what she should look like and God, how wrong he was.)
His fingers twitch at his sides, aching to reach out and touch something, someone (her.)
He takes a step out of the shadows and then promptly takes a step back. He can’t hear what’s being said but she’s smiling softly and shaking her head at something the tall blonde man is saying and his fists clench as the stranger tucks her hair behind her ear (his fingers continue to twitch wildly at his sides.)
She’s happy. She’s moved on. She’s forgotten about him. It’s what he wanted. It’s what he knew would happen eventually, because despite proclamations and promises, the human condition is vulnerable to feelings, to sentiment and what vulnerability, what type of sentiment can a supposed dead man give?
He backs away and moves until they are just two dots in the distance and he is left struggling to ease the pain in his chest and grappling to breathe.
(He fails to see Molly give the blonde man a simple, platonic kiss on the cheek and give him a sad smile and tell him in a broken, somewhat defeated but always hopeful voice that she’s in love with someone else, that she’s always been in love with someone else. Always.)
“You took someone away from me.” Sebastian Moran tells him quietly, evenly, with a steady voice.
When Sherlock Holmes thought about Molly seeing him again after three long years, he didn’t imagine her being held at gunpoint by Moriarty’s right-hand man. It’s a gross miscalculation on his part and Sherlock is doing his best to keep Moran’s attention on him and not on the woman in his arms.
Molly for her part is surprisingly calm and he wonders what Moran is threatening her with. He wonders what he is lording over her head to make her so compliant. Because despite her calm exterior, he sees the fear she is trying her hardest to hide. Her brown eyes seek out his own and he’s unsurprised to see them gleam with unshed tears and he can see the way her chest shudders as she struggles to take in a deep breath and he wonders if she’s contemplating filling the space between them with everything they’ve left unsaid.
“I always wondered what Jim saw in her, you know? Why go through her when he so easily had you in his grasp.” Moran has an arm around her waist and Sherlock feels his heart beat thunderously in his chest. There is a fury that rips through his body at the sight of Moran tightening his hold on Molly and the way she closes her eyes wishing to be anywhere but here. “She is beautiful, isn’t she? Not the kind of beauty that Ms. Adler has of course, that bitch is beautiful in a seductive, vindictive sort of way but this one…Molly is beautiful in the way where you think you’d be okay changing for her. Isn’t that right?”
“This is between you and me.” Sherlock says through clenched teeth.
Moran shakes his head wildly, his hair falling into his face. “It was. It would have been, but you’ve been coming back to London. You’ve been a naughty boy and you’ve been seeing her.”
Molly’s eyes are open and her mouth drops, her brows frown in confusion. “What?” She asks, her voice breathy and hoarse from lack of use.
“I’ve a promise to keep.” Moran keeps talking, his eyes on Sherlock and Sherlock’s eyes on Molly. “Jim, he said he’d burn the heart out of you and I’ve found it. I’ve found your non-existent heart and not only am I going to burn it, I’m going to kill it and I want you to live the rest of your days knowing that you are the reason why she is dead.”
Sherlock almost (almost) staggers at the thought of Molly dying. At the thought of not seeing her everyday and the pain in his chest intensifies until his lungs constrict with lack of oxygen.
(His mind is reeling. His mind palace is shattering with emotions that he can’t place and are so new and foreign to him, he has no precedence to process them, nothing to go on, all he knows is that this cannot happen.)
Moran gives him a grin, all teeth and no sincerity and his hand leaves Molly’s waist to cradle her neck, his hand grasping her neck and chin tightly enough to make her gasp in pain. “It’d be almost tragic, if I actually gave a fuck.” He looks down at Molly and shrugs, “sorry love, but look at it this way, the good ones die young, yeah?”
Sherlock doesn’t take his eyes off her, imploring her with his to trust him, because for the past three years she’s saved his life (his soul, his non-existent heart.) “No.” He says, his eyes still on Molly. He tears his eyes away from her to look at Moran and before Moran can react, before he knows what’s happening, Sherlock pulls the trigger, the gunshot reverberating in the air. Birds squawk and fly away in congregations of feathers and Moran crumples to the ground, his arms around Molly going slack.
She stumbles as she wrenches herself away from Moran and stands off to the side, body trembling.
“Molly.” Sherlock says, his voice hoarse and careful as to not frighten her. “Molly.” (He says her name like one would recite a prayer and for him it is. She is his salvation. She is his saving grace.)
Before she can say anything, the door to the roof clangs open and it bounces off the wall. Molly jumps at the sound and then relaxes when she sees the three men who have tumbled through the door.
“Jesus Christ.” Lestrade curses as he looks at Moran’s dead body and then he looks at Sherlock. “You fucking prick.”
“Pleasure seeing you as well, Lestrade. Looks like you finally divorced your wife. Congratulations.” He says, his eyes never leaving Molly as Mike Stamford wraps her up in his arms like a loving father.
He wants to call her back. He wants to demand Mike to release her because can’t he see that even though he means well, she’s uncomfortable? Why can no one see and observe?
Unfortunately, he’s not able to do anything, because at that moment, John Watson comes at him, face contorted in fury and punches him.
(It hurts and Sherlock, oddly, is not surprised.)
After answering pointless questions and after explaining to John and Lestrade and a tearful Mrs. Hudson (who rushed all the way from Baker Street, even with her atrocious hip), why he had to fake his death, he makes his way down familiar hospital halls and ignores the stares from hospital staff, volunteers and patients who recognize him. He goes to the room Molly was admitted to, only to find her gone.
The sounds of heels echoing across the floor tell him that he’s not alone. He turns around and is not surprised to see Mycroft and Anthea standing in the doorway. “Have you lost something, Sherlock?” Mycroft asks, a hint (just a hint, barely there, unnoticeable if one weren’t looking for it, but Sherlock sees everything) of a smile on his face.
Anthea rolls her eyes as she types on her phone, looking up for a moment, “she’s in the lab.”
It’s all the information he needs and then he’s gone.
He stops outside the lab when he sees her standing next to his favorite stool and his favorite microscope (because he is indeed, a creature of habit.) Her back is facing him but he can see from his spot at the door that her head is bent to her chest and that her knuckles are white from gripping the edge tightly. He can see from the way her shoulders shudder that she is crying and the pain in his chest is back and there is a bottomless hole in the pit of his stomach. He feels sick, his throat feels dry and he wonders idly how anyone can survive having these feelings.
He opens the door and lets it shut. “Molly.” He says, calling her name softly, reverently.
She twirls around and stares at him with red-rimmed eyes and tear tracks staining her cheeks. She leans against the counter, trying to curl into herself, trying to protect herself and he’s immediately brought back to the day he saw her in the tube station, so alone and so tired.
And suddenly, everything he wanted (wants) to say, everything he needed (needs) to say disappears. His words, for once, fail him. Instead, he stares at her, fingers twitching at his side aching to touch something, someone (her.)
He finds that he doesn’t have to say anything, because she launches herself into him, her body slamming itself against his and her arms wrap around his neck, hands curling into his hair, fingers trembling against his scalp. He returns the hug, his long arms enclosing around her waist, hands clasped together and around her, locking her in place against him.
“You came back. You’re home. God…Sherlock, you’re…you’re home.” She mumbles into his chest.
“I am.” He agrees. “I am.”
For the first time in three years, Sherlock Holmes feels like he can breathe.