The storm pummeled him with raindrops as Sherlock Holmes flipped up his collar and hopped out of the car. He dashed over the pavement and spotted the woman standing there, shivering in the alcove. Her small form clad only in a sheer tunic and a pair of leggings, he heard her teeth chattering as he approached. Passing headlights illuminated her head and the silky fall of her hair as she gazed out at the busy street.
"Molly, there you are. You weren't answering my texts," Sherlock greeted her. "Where's your coat?"
At last she turned to him and he saw the sheepish look she'd been hiding beneath her hair. "I can't open the door. I've locked myself out. Can you let me back in? I know you've got picks."
"There's no time. This one's a 7. Possibly an 8. On we go!" He hurried around to the passenger door of the Citroen and held it open expectantly. Molly's eyebrows rose and she rubbed her arms, smoothing away the goosebumps.
"Promise you'll come back here, and get my locks open afterward! You won't forget and run off, leaving me at the crime scene?"
"I won't do that. Again. I'll let you in." He pushed away a flicker of guilt, remembering a late night in Chelsea when he'd forgotten she was still chatting with Dimmock when he left. Sherlock smiled brightly and tapped on the car door. Wet curls were plastered across his forehead, dripping, and he brushed them away impatiently. Molly sighed, and jogged over, sliding into the seat.
"Here," Sherlock added. His eyes flicked over her body in the car. He shrugged out of his Belstaff, and dropped it into her lap. He closed the door and ran around to the driver's side before she could protest she didn't need it. She would, of course. It was her way.
The car carried them quickly across the city.
"Where did you get this? I always forget you can drive."
"Doesn't matter. Put the coat on Molly, you're soaked already."
She had managed to get completely wet in her run to the car, and her tunic clung to her breasts and hips. For such a thin and petite woman, she didn't lack for curves and softness. He'd offered her his coat not entirely for unselfish reasons. Having her covered up would eliminate a distraction.
As for the vehicle, he'd had to swallow his pride and borrow the Citroen from Mycroft, owing to the short notice of the tantalizing case. Every thick pane of glass in the Smithson Greenhouses had been shattered two hours earlier, and an encoded message scribbled on the wall. But somehow despite the amount of noise it must have generated, there wasn't a single witness. That alone made it worth the trip.
John was tied up at the A&E, but he knew Molly would be home and game for a little adventure. He'd discovered that when he drew the pathologist out of Barts to assist him, she was considerably less nervous and more willing to question him. It was as though the cold empty air of the morgue stilled most natural conversation between them, but bringing her along to crime scenes developed a companionable flow between them. He founded her odd morbid jokes endearing when they were being used to distract policemen who were uncooperative about his methods. She wasn't John, no; she was something else. She was Molly, and after years of deducing and remembering the tiniest details about her, he was beginning to figure out what exactly that meant.
John was stubborn initially after Sherlock's return, but she'd only had to help with five cases before he came trudging back to Baker Street, inquiring as to Sherlock's case load as though nothing had ever changed. And from that point on, between the two men, it was as though no time had passed.
But with Molly and Sherlock, the shift between them remained. And when John was unavailable on nights like this, the detective summoned her and she came.
Molly huddled in her seat, pulling the Belstaff over her shoulders like a blanket. She brushed the fabric against her chin.
"Do you have an idea of what's happening with this case yet?"
"I need accurate data before I can make a deduction. So far they've only given me Anderson's report, and-" His nose wrinkled.
She laughed softly. "That's not fair. He is a good technician. I've never heard others from the Met complain about his work; only that he's a bit territorial. Someone's got to handle all the normal, boring cases."
Sherlock narrowed his eyes at her, huffed, and reached one arm forward to fiddle with the radio.
Her brown eyes widened slightly and moved upward, and he suspected she was searching for the right words.
"What?" He ignored the preset stations and flipped through the dial, until he landed on a classical musical station.
"I just mean that- the police, the clients, they grant you leeway, because you're brilliant and help people. I know some people give you trouble, but not as much as you might expect. I guess what I'm saying is, maybe you could give other people the same leeway that people give you." Molly shrugged, her shoulders moving under his coat. She was enveloped in the wool, but still she shivered. Outside her window, lightning split the sky.
"Did you just compare me to Anderson?" One arched eyebrow rose, and well-timed thunder boomed above them.
The dimples in Molly's cheeks deepened, visible even in the dimness of the car. "Never mind. It made more sense in my head." One arm slid out from beneath the Belstaff, and her fingers idly stroked the material. She stared out the window dreamily. "I rather like this coat."
Sherlock watched her pale fingers moving over it. "I know."
She traced the lines of tweed, and roamed over the edges of his pockets. After several minutes, her eyelids fluttered shut, and she snuggled against his coat.
"I'm tired, Sherlock. I've got a headache. Long night," she murmured.
"It'll be another twenty-five minutes before we arrive; rest until then."
"If I fall asleep and don't remind you, promise you won't leave without opening my door for me? You'll let me in?"
"Yes, Molly. I promise," Sherlock said, exasperated.
"Good. Sherlock? I'm really happy John's forgiven you, but I missed going on cases with you. It was nice to ride along with you, if only for a little while." She closed her eyes.
A piano piece he knew well came on then. It was one that he had once adapted for violin during a detecting dry spell. He lost himself in the notes as he drove, allowing the peaceful rhythm of the sonata to roll over him. The tapping of the rain on the roof added an underlying darkness to the wistful music. Sherlock contemplated composing a new piece, based on the relentless patter of the storm contrasted with the gentler sounds of her breathing. He glanced over at Molly, dozing in her seat. The neon signs of the bars they drove past threw a bluish cast on her face.
They arrived at the crime scene, surrounded by an excessive number of squad cars. Molly was fast asleep, cuddling his coat. He looked at the black clouds above, and made a dash for the greenhouse entryway where the sergeant on duty stood.
Let her sleep, he thought. I should have opened Molly's door for her and let her stay. This was why he needed John still. It took him too long to realize what she needed and what he could have done for her. He wanted to do that. She asked for something, and instead he only thought of what he needed Molly to do for him.
His teeth were on edge while the old sergeant, much impressed with the famous detective turning up, blathered about the shattered windows and the code on the wall. It was all Sherlock could do not to grab the man by his ears and inform him that his wife was having an affair with his dry cleaner.
"Show me the crime scene," he snapped.
An hour later, it was clear that the true target of the vandalism was the exotic blossoms being cultivated in the greenhouse. The coded message was a smokescreen, a distraction from the fact that someone very much wanted to destroy a particularly rare species of orchid. And that created another mystery. Why bother with one type of flower? If they wanted to ruin the owner financially, why not simply burn the place down? And there wasn't a single piece of physical evidence yet of the perpetrator.
"Oh, this might be a 9," Sherlock remarked, pulling out his phone to text John. At the thought of a friend, he swore and hurried back to the Citroen outside.
He threw the door open. "We're done here. I realize I should-"
The car was empty. His Belstaff lay in a heap on the passenger seat. He grabbed the coat and slipped it on, feeling the patches on the arms and shoulders where Molly's wet hair had soaked it. Whispers of her scent clung to the wool.
He straightened and spun around. The rain had lightened to a drizzle, but a chill had fallen as the night grew later. Scanning the area, he couldn't see any female other than a local policewoman. He grabbed the arm of the chatty sergeant standing guard by the door.
"Have you seen a young woman, about thirty, long light brown hair, purple tunic, leggings? No coat. She was in my car."
The man shook his head. "No, I haven't seen anyone get out of your vehicle, Mr. Holmes. Say, can I get your autograph for my Maryellen? She's a fan of Dr. Watson's blog and-"
Sherlock walked away while the sergeant was still searching for a pen.
He pulled out his mobile to text Molly. Maybe she'd called a friend for a ride home when she realized Sherlock had abandoned her in the car in a strange place.
He waited a minute but there was no reply. His thumb was on the keypad, ready to text her again, when the phone vibrated and rang in his hands.
The number popped up, identified as John's.
"What is it?" He growled into the mouthpiece. "Have you heard from Molly? She's run off. Hardly my fault. Well maybe it was. I have to unlock her door. But she's not replying to texts tonight apparently. She's pulling a Mycroft."
Instead of the laughter he expected, John's voice came through the mobile rough and shaky.
You weren't answering my texts
I can't open the door. Can you let me back in?
Promise you'll come back here
I'll let you in.
You're soaked already.
He summoned her and she came.
You'll let me in?
Yes, Molly. I promise.
John was waiting outside Molly's building when he arrived.
"I knew you'd come. There's no need to go up there. There's no mystery, Sherlock, things just happen. She's not even here anymore." His eyes were puffy and tired.
Sherlock pushed past John and then the policemen, ignoring their stares. They always looked; it's what they did instead of solving crimes.
"Are you on this case? Not sure you're needed. Neighbor found her in the tub when it started overflowing into the flat below," the tech upstairs in the hallway explained. He nudged open the door.
Two locks on Molly's door. Common brand. He could have picked them in less than five minutes. And then made sure she bought a new sort that couldn't be broken into so easily. It was too easy for people to get in, no matter how hard you tried to keep them out.
"She must have fallen when she was drawing a bath and hit her head. Drowned. You can see the blood on the pipe where her temple was struck." The tech stood and tilted his head. "The angle is right for her leaning over here, and slipping where these scuff marks are."
It was true. He had only been inside Molly's loo once three years before, but the décor and tiles were unchanged.
"When? What time?"
"It's not like telly, you know that. Can't be very specific, not yet anyway. The old woman found her about an hour and a half ago, and her work says she let off at seven, so time of death right now is between 7 and 9PM."
Sherlock had picked Molly up in front of her building an hour and forty-five minutes before. His fists clenched inside his coat pockets.
"Thank you." His eyes fell on the tech's badge. "Nicholson. I agree with your assessment. There was no crime committed here."
"They've taken her away from here. Your friend. You know that, right?"
"Yes. Where is she?"
"Where else?" Nicholson shrugged. "Barts."
I should have opened the door for her and let her stay.
It was nice to ride along with you, if only for a little while.