His hand, forced beyond its damaged limits, cramped. Stephen panicked as his grip loosened, and the slender wrist enclosed in his fingers slipped an inch before he could throw his other arm over the edge of the roof and grab at the white, lab coat sleeve, stalling the owner's descent to the ground – a good four stories below – for at least a few moments longer.
"I've got you, Molly!"
His relationship with Doctor Molly Hooper, pathologist at St Bartholomew's Hospital, had started on a typically gray London afternoon, about six months ago. The London Sanctum was badly in need of repair after Kaecilius' attack, and one of the many duties that Stephen had shouldered was retrieving the bodies of his fallen comrades from the local morgue. He hadn't known them in life, but they were brothers and sisters all the same.
Molly had been fretfully apologetic that her department had failed to find and notify their next of kin, although it was really no fault of theirs. He had watched, entranced, as she pulled out each corpse – mangled by Kaecilius and his zealots, but meticulously cleaned and stitched back together – and whispered to them that their friend had come now, and they could rest easy. It was clear that she didn't mean for him to hear, and she flushed becomingly when she realized he had.
Somehow they'd got to talking while she arranged the paperwork – he'd remarked on the neatness of her stitch work, perhaps – and carried on their conversation, which ranged through both their medical specialties and into a much more mundane comparison of the Tube versus the New York subway, right up until the end of her shift. Stephen contrived to see her home as much for his own pleasure in her company as a concern for her safety.
In fact, he'd continued to contrive reasons to see her, even well after the London Sanctum repairs had been completed. Their easy friendship was a respite from the dramatic shifts his life had undergone since his accident. With Molly there was the familiar comfort of spending time with a fellow doctor, but her specialty was far enough from his own that their shop talk didn't trigger an overwhelming nostalgia.
Molly was always refreshingly cheerful, except once, when he caught sight of her while she didn't know anyone was watching. Stephen coaxed the story out of her in bits and pieces, about the genius detective who swanned in and then out of her life. One night, over Indian takeaway and a glass of wine, she confessed the devastating secret she was keeping. That she trusted him enough to share such a burden was a feeling that Stephen still couldn't put into words.
How they had ended up here – him hanging over the edge of St Barts' roof, clutching desperately onto Molly who dangled dangerously in midair – had less to do with their friendship and more to do with the consequences Mordo had cited the last time they spoke.
At least, Stephen was praying to all the gods he'd never believed in before that it was only coincidence that Molly had followed him to the rooftop just as his newest enemy – an unknown element, for now – had attacked. He prayed that Molly hadn't been led here to be used against him, that he hadn't caused, however indirectly, her predicament.
"Don't let me fall," she gasped, feet swinging in empty air. "Please." Despite her terror, Molly didn't panic, and she didn't struggle, which almost certainly would have caused him to drop her.
Behind them, he could hear the ongoing sounds of a scuffle as the Cloak of Levitation kept his attacker busy. When Molly had been knocked over the edge, Stephen had heedlessly dived after her, although in retrospect it would have been smarter to send the Cloak. Too late now to switch places, so until the Cloak dispatched its opponent, they were on their own.
And he didn't think they had that much time.
"Hang onto me, Molly," Stephen instructed, as calmly as possible. "Give me your other hand."
With some effort, she lifted her other arm and clamped it around his forearm, twining her fingers into his sleeve for a better grip. Because Molly hauled bodies around for a living, she had better than average arm strength, which was lucky as Stephen needed his hands free. Once he was sure she had a good grip, Stephen released her sleeve and fumbled at his belt.
Sling ring. Sling ring. Where the hell was his sling ring?
Some nerve wracking seconds later, Stephen slipped on the ring, and twirled the fingers of his opposite hand in a motion abbreviated by Molly's grip on that arm. Much to his relief, he saw the sparks of a portal open up just under her feet.
"Molly, do you trust me?"
She met his eyes with her brown ones, flung open as wide as they would go in fear. But she nodded nonetheless.
"We're gonna drop, okay?"
"No! No, please don't-" she said, starting to struggle.
"Molly... Molly! It's going to be fine, I swear to you. You have to trust me."
"Don't let me go!"
He shook his head. "I'm not letting you go, Molly. I'm coming with you. It's going to be okay. I promise, you're going to be okay."
Molly chanced a glance down and went rigid in fear, nearly losing her grip on him as she saw something she didn't know how to process. The sounds of the fight behind them were drawing closer, and Stephen knew they didn't have any more time for explanations. He pushed himself over the ledge with his feet and his free hand, lowering Molly down to the center of the portal, making damn sure she wouldn't miss the opening.
Then they dropped. Molly shrieked in terror. Stephen heard a loud fluttering and felt a dull thump across his shoulders as the Cloak wrapped itself around him just before the portal closed behind them. The three of them fell the ten or so feet from the portal, landing with a splash in the deep end of a swimming pool.
Stephen surfaced first and quickly hauled Molly up, supporting her as she coughed and sputtered. "What," she said between gasps, "is going on?"
He cradled her close with one arm around her back, while the trembling fingers of his other hand pushed wet strands of hair off of her face. "You're okay," he said. "You're safe now." He couldn't have hidden his relief at that pronouncement even if he wanted.
Molly braced herself with her hands on his shoulders and glanced around at the empty and dim pool house. "What happened?" she asked, still breathing hard, but with clear lungs, Stephen was relieved to note. "Where are we? How did-?"
Stephen touched her cheek, bringing her gaze back to him. "I'm a sorcerer." He shook his head. "It's a long story. And, I know it's more than a bit unbelievable, but it is real."
Her brow furrowed as she looked at him for a long moment. Then she blinked a few times and said, "Okay."
It wasn't entirely calm acceptance, given that she still had the look of a deer in headlights, but she did accept his explanation. Stephen chuckled quietly and smoothed back another errant strand of her hair. He'd given a lot of thought about how Molly would react to learning about his magic, and he hadn't even been close. Yet now that it had occurred, Stephen wondered why he'd ever thought she would take it badly.
"So. Wh-where are we?" Molly's nimble fingers curled into the fabric at his shoulder. The Cloak shifted as it was caught in her grasp, but settled quickly enough that Stephen didn't say anything on its behalf.
"New York," he replied, smirking a little at her gasp. "I used to swim here." He didn't add that the pool was in the basement of a building that housed a block of very expensive luxury apartments, one of which he'd once rented.
"Oh," she said, looking around again. "I guess that explains why it's dark. It's still night here, isn't it?"
"You're taking this well," he said.
Molly bit her lip and ducked her head. "No," she said with a slight shake. "No, I don't think I am." Before Stephen could do anything, her head popped up and she said, "You didn't let go."
For a moment, he wasn't sure what to say. "I won't ever let you fall, Molly," he said, surprising himself with his own vehemence. "Not if there's any power in the multiverse that I can harness to prevent it."
And he meant it. Molly Hooper was a thing worth breaking every one of the natural laws to protect.
"Oh," Molly breathed out almost silently. Her arms twined around his neck just as she shifted to press her lips to his.
He didn't stop to think before he tilted his head and pressed closer, opening the kiss. Molly responded with a gratifying enthusiasm.
For some time, Stephen had resisted crossing the boundary of their friendship like this. The uncertainty of his new place in the world after the death of the Sorcerer Supreme had always been a consideration. No less of a significant one was the fact of the physical similarities between himself and the ostensibly deceased Sherlock Holmes.
But all those very reasonable objections lost their importance the moment Molly bridged that gap, just as he'd been longing to do for months. Stephen leaned back, letting the Cloak take their weight and keep them afloat in the warm water of the pool, and put all of his attention to the soft, brilliant creature in his arms.
"Thank you for saving my life," Molly said when they parted. Her breathing was still heavier than normal, but had slowed from panicked gulps into heated pants.
Despite the thrill that realization gave him, the first, creeping tendrils of discomfit started climbing up his chest, digging sharp thorns into his skin. He didn't want, or need, Molly's gratitude, but he still said, "Anytime."
She touched a finger to his cheek, smoothing over the edge of his goatee. The corner of her mouth quirked up into what could only be termed a smirk. "And thank you for giving me the excuse to do this," Molly said, trailing a fingertip over his lower lip.
And just like that, his doubts about Molly's motivations for kissing him were erased. "Anytime," he repeated, leaning down.
The Cloak chose that moment to decide that they had been in the water long enough, thank you, and shifted in irritation, joggling them both. Given its attitude whenever he tried to wash it, it positively hated being wet and had been more than patient while waiting for Molly to calm down after their fall into the pool.
Stephen smothered a laugh. "Can you swim?" he asked Molly.
Molly flushed as she realized how closely they were pressed together. "Oh, yes. Of course." She started to unwind her arms from his neck, and the Cloak swirled restlessly around his legs.
Quickly realizing his mistake, Stephen halted Molly's retreat, resettling her arms over his shoulders with a wide, cheeky grin. "Can you fly?"
Molly yelped when they rose vertically out of the water, arms tightening around him automatically. But her alarm quickly morphed into infectious delight.
The Cloak carefully deposited them at the edge of the pool and swept itself off of Stephen's shoulders, wringing itself out in midair before fluttering over to Molly's side and nudging closer expectantly.
Stephen rolled his eyes at it, but said, "Molly Hooper, allow me to introduce you to the Cloak of Levitation."
"Oh, um, hello."
Impatiently, the Cloak swept a bottom corner towards her, catching Molly's right hand and pulling it up to touch the back with a lapel in a pantomime of a courtly kiss. Molly lit up like a rising sun, and even soaked to the bone and looking more than a little like a half-drowned rat, she was the most beautiful thing Stephen thought he'd ever seen.
"Oh, hello," Molly cooed, all hesitation wiped away as she ran careful fingers over the edge of the Cloak. It preened and stretched under her touch like a cat, and turned back to Stephen, smugness radiating from every literal fiber. "Are you doing this?"
"No," he said, crossing his arms as he watched. "It's got quite a mind of its own. And actually, it's a little shit. Don't let it fool you."
"I think it's darling. Aren't you just darling?" Molly giggled as the Cloak nudged at her, soliciting more pets. Of course she obliged.
Stephen grit his teeth, opening a portal behind Molly. "Come on," he said, the words a little sharper than he liked. "No point standing around in wet clothes. We can clean up through here."
"Oh, thanks!" Molly beamed at him, and Stephen softened, at least until she turned back to the Cloak. "Come on darling," she said in the exact same voice she used when coaxing her beast of a cat from under the couch, "lets get you dry too."
The Cloak twined around her, hooking itself onto her shoulders. Out of Molly's line of sight, it fluttered a lapel at Stephen in a fairly accurate approximation of blowing a raspberry.
He sighed, and followed them through the portal.
They crossed through into a room with a large round window. Molly slowed in front of the glass, wondering if the pattern of the panes was an art nouveau design. It was a familiar one, whatever it was. The Cloak slipped off her shoulders while she was distracted, flying over to its master.
"Go get Wong," he said quietly. The Cloak fluttered an acknowledgment, and swept off down the stairs towards Wong's room. Stephen joined Molly at the window, spanning his hand between her shoulder blades.
"You're cold." She was shivering faintly, although he wasn't certain it was solely due to her lowered core temperature. He couldn't resist taking a second to bend down, pressing his lips into her hair. "Come on," he said, gently nudging her into movement, guiding her through the halls to the expansive suite he'd been given as the Master of this Sanctum.
"I should get back to work," Molly said in a bit of a daze.
Stephen sympathized with her current disorientation. He'd spent his first night in Kamar-Taj in the same state, after the weirdness of his day had faded and the fact that it was real started to sink in.
They reached his bedroom, and he started to push her sodden lab coat off her shoulders. After a moment, Molly fumbled to help.
"I want you to stay here for now," Stephen said, conjuring an extra fluffy towel to wrap around her shoulders.
She froze, eyes flung wide, and then her hand flew up to cover her gasp. "Oh God, that man!" Molly clutched at his arm. "Stephen, what if he…?"
Stephen cupped her face in his hands. "I'm going back to check," he said. "I will take care of it."
Her fear for his safety was palpable. "But…"
His thumb drifted over her lip. "I will take care of it," he repeated, imbuing the words with more confidence than he actually felt.
Stephen leaned down, catching her upper lip between his full ones and drawing it lightly between them. He basked in her breathy sigh and touched his tongue to the inner edge of her parted mouth, moving into her with his whole body as he gave into his desire to be closer…
At the doorway, Wong cleared his throat. The Cloak of Levitation fluttered nearby, expressing its amusement.
Stephen backed away from Molly with a pinched expression. She ducked her head in embarrassment, but he caught her with a hand on her shoulder before she could sneak away.
"Wong," Stephen said as he turned to his fellow Master. "Sorry to wake you."
Wong was watching Molly with open curiosity. "Doctor Hooper, I presume," he said.
She threw Stephen a quick, nervous glance, but bit her lip and nodded to Wong before venturing a smile. The normally gruff sorcerer evaporated as Wong returned Molly's smile with an open, friendly one of his own.
Stephen had no idea what to make of that. "Molly, this is Master Wong."
"Welcome," Wong said congenially.
This exchange was more bewildering than Wong finally laughing at one of his jokes. Distantly, Stephen realized that he'd wrapped a possessive arm around Molly's shoulders, but he left it there, even when Wong lifted a knowing eyebrow at him.
"We were attacked at Molly's hospital," Stephen said. Wong instantly turned serious.
"No idea. I need to go back. I want you to stay here."
Wong looked like he was going to protest, but subsided after a quick glance at Molly. Stephen gave him a short nod, glad that they understood one another. "I have to go," he said to Molly. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Okay," she said, clutching the towel around her shoulders.
The Cloak swept itself onto his shoulders. Stephen indulged in one last, lingering glance before he opened up a portal back to Barts' rooftop, leaving Wong and Molly behind.
There was a distinct lack of chaos at the hospital when Stephen returned, and it didn't take long to ascertain that the man who attacked him was no longer around. Undoubtedly, it wasn't the last he'd see of him, but until he could find out who or what the man was, he was stalled on finding him.
Stephen stood next to the spot where Molly had toppled off the roof and looked out at the London skyline. He could see the London Sanctum from this spot, with its distinctly designed circular window, an otherwise nondescript building tucked in a row of similar structures.
In retrospect, Stephen could see that the attack, which had started at the Sanctum, had been carefully plotted to lead him to Barts, and he didn't like the picture he was painting. He'd not been discrete with his attentions to Molly; anyone watching him would have likely seen him make one of his frequent trips down the road to visit her here.
He rubbed a hand over his face. It was far too late to break off his association with her, even if he could bear to do such a thing. There was no point dwelling on it now.
Flicking his hand, he used an illusion to cover his clothes with normal ones and headed down to the basement, where he picked up Molly's things from her locker. Finding Mike Stamford in the lab, he explained to him that Molly had fallen ill, and that he was seeing her home. Mike's smirk said he wasn't falling for that, but the friendly man agreed easily enough. Given her strict work ethic, it seemed Mike didn't begrudge her a day of playing hooky.
Stephen briefly considered checking in on the London Sanctum, but decided that if they'd had any trouble, the new Master there would report it. Instead, he found the supply closet and returned to New York from there.
Molly was sitting on the bench at the foot of his bed, still in her wet clothes despite the pile of dry ones next to her, and loosely holding a cup of tea in her lap. She didn't appear to notice his arrival.
He tossed her things onto the mattress and knelt down next to her. "Molly? Sweetheart?" His hand closed over the teacup when she started, grabbing it before it toppled. It was full, but barely warm. Stephen set it to the side and took up Molly's hands in his own, damaged ones.
"Is this real?" she asked, eyes hollow when they met his.
He nodded, almost reluctantly. "Yes, but you're safe," he said. "You're safe. And everything is fine at the hospital."
She sucked in a shaky breath, chin dipping down. "Sometimes I dream about falling off the roof at Barts," she said, still looking at their joined hands. "Ever since…" Molly shook her head slightly. "Sherl- someone is supposed to catch me, but when I jump… there's no one there."
Anger boiled in his gut. "Forget about him." Stephen refused to name the man who had caused her so much grief.
Molly pulled one of her hands from his grasp, tucking a limp strand of hair behind her ear and wiping at her eyes. "I can't," she said in a small voice. "I don't know where he is. I don't- I don't know if he's even alive, or if, if he just decided not to come back. It'll be a year in a few weeks, and I haven't heard a thing from him since he left."
Stephen traced the trail of a tear up the curve of her face and steeled himself to say, "Do you want me to find him?"
Molly's eyes flew to his. "Can you?"
There was a sentence he'd read somewhere, half referencing something … he'd get Wong to help him find the mentioned text. Later. "Yes," Stephen said, nodding. "I think so."
Molly leaned forward in a sudden motion, wrapping her arms around his neck. "Thank you," she said into his ear.
Stephen hooked his chin over her shoulder and slipped his arms around her waist, remaining silent. After a little while, Molly pulled back, kissing him on the cheek. His eyes squeezed shut as he tried not to think about the last time a woman he cared about had done that.
"I don't need to see him," Molly said. She was chewing her lip when he opened his eyes to look at her. "I just… I need to know, one way or another. If there was anyone else to ask… but, I don't know how to contact Mycroft, and anyway, Sherlock told me it would look suspicious if I did."
She was apologizing for asking him for help, Stephen realized. Of course she was. Because Molly always saw right through him, so naturally she saw how much he didn't want to do this. If she'd any inkling that magic was real, she would have figured out the sorcerer thing as soon as they met, most likely.
"Molly," he said, cutting her off before she could continue. "I'll take you to see him if you want." And he would. He didn't like it, but he was resigned to the inevitability. The torch she carried for Sherlock Holmes had been evident from the first time she mentioned his name.
But Molly shook her head. "No, it's okay. Anyway, me having it out with Sherlock is not really what I imagined for our first date."
Relief and affection flooded him in equal parts. Stephen closed his gaping mouth and cleared his throat before he ventured, "Dinner, then?"
"Dinner in New York?" Molly said with a shy smile. "If I'm going to date a wizard, might as well take advantage."
"Sorcerer," Stephen corrected as he got to his feet, holding out his hands to help her up as well. "Master of the Mystic Arts, if you want to get official. And sweetheart?" Grinning fit to burst, he pulled her into an embrace, laying his cheek on the top of her head. "We can have dinner wherever your heart desires. Maybe not the summit of Everest; the view's amazing, but it's pretty cold up there."
Molly giggled. "How is this real?" she said.
"I have no idea," Stephen replied, honestly just as bewildered. It had been a roller coaster of a day, and they weren't even halfway through it. "But it is."
And it was, all of it. Molly Hooper was safe, and in his arms, and he'd be damned if he let her get away.