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(I'm living in an age
that calls darkness light
though my language is dead
still the shapes fill my head

– Arcade Fire, My Body Is A Cage.)

 

The room feels small around her. Molly has never considered herself the kind of person to be bothered by a physical thing like space – her anxieties don't run in that direction – but it's the context of it, here, something about the quality of it. It's different, now. As though the smallness of it has met up with the smallness of her hope; curled together, and made a bed of iron.

Sally Donovan has her hand on Molly's shoulder. Molly doesn't lean into it, doesn't so much as move, simply takes the weight of the other woman, and stares out the window Sally's gaze is fixed on. It's been three hours since Sherlock's text, and the clock on the wall is about to tick to the point of no return.

Shift, and Sally presses her palm tighter to Molly's skin. They wait, wait, as the second hand jerks to its goal.

*

It had begun with Jim, of course. Jim, who was not just-Jim at all. Jim, who had sat next to Molly on her sofa. Jim, who had watched re-runs of QI with his head on her shoulder, and who hadn't minded when she'd laughed herself silly with Alan Davis. Jim, who had joined in her Doctor Who marathons, and had agreed shyly that, yes, he'd definitely do Amy Pond as well. Jim, who had brought her milk, and rich tea biscuits. Jim, who hadn't been Jim at all, with his careful hands and his easy smiles; Jim, who had been Moriarty.

*

Tick.

*

Molly wonders, sometimes, whether it would have made a difference, had she only heard the name before. Had Sherlock chosen not to keep it wrapped in his pocket, like a key, like a cipher, like bloody sodding Voldemort; Moriarty. Molly wonders, but she supposes he wouldn't have told her, wouldn't have spoken the word in her direction, not her direction, quite regardless.

Supposes she wouldn't have linked the two, even if he had said it.

Jim.

Moriarty.

*

It had begun with Jim, yes, but, before that, before that, it had begun with Molly.

*

Detective Inspector Lestrade is a face she's already familiar with. There's something about him that calms her, gentle. He's a gentleman, too, the old-fashioned kind, the kind she doesn't see very often, if barely ever. The Detective Inspector would fit well in a Jane Austen novel, she thinks. Or in something of William Golding's: the One Good Man, or something. Molly doesn't know. Oh, John is a gentleman too, but that's beside the point now, and she hiccups into the too-sweet tea someone else has brought her. Hiccups, as the D.I. puts his hand on her arm, professional and kindly and not seeming to mind that she's mourning when she oughtn't to have the right.

He says, “I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you a few questions, Ms. Hooper.”

*

The newspapers print a piece about a war hero presumed dead, and nobody mentions consulting detectives. Molly holds the paper to her breast and does not sleep.

Knows she is to blame.

*

Jim-from-IT had been created for her, after all.

*

Someone decides Molly's insight is too important to risk; decides her sadness is too good not to exploit; puts her in witness protection. She laughs when they tell her, high and brittle, because what good is that kind of thing? What good, in the grand scheme of things? What good at all, when the men at play are men like Sherlock – men like not-Jim?

*

Molly sees it on the telly first, of course. Explosions in London aren't the kind of thing the press miss, not any more – not, realistically, ever – not even if it's nothing more than a public baths been shattered into bits. She sees it on the news and she knows that it's Sherlock; feels so sick she has to press the back of her hand to her lips.

Later, when Lestrade rings her doorbell, tells her that Jim wasn't Jim, she can't even manage that much.

*

A man with an umbrella and sad eyes shakes her hand, and says there might be a point yet.

*

Sergeant Donovan doesn't speak much, the first few days. She has the look of a woman who's received a nasty shock from the worst of places – which is to say, from within herself. Molly had overheard a conversation, and so she knows it's about Sherlock. She knows what Sally used to call him, too – freak – because John has told her over coffee, in the past, leaning against the wall at St. Bart's, and the pair of them watching Sherlock work.

(Molly hadn't known much at all, until there was John.)

Molly understands, better than anyone, how complicated Sherlock can make things.

Molly doesn't ask questions, and the Sergeant doesn't offer up answers.

They rest in the quiet, and wait for the other shoe to drop.

*

“I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you a few questions, Ms. Hooper,” D.I. Lestrade had said. “Are you aware that your boyfriend has been using an alias...?”

*

Tick.

*

The city around them is so small, smaller than it's ever been. Molly stares out at it, eyes narrowed like the blinds that block her view, like the comments on the telly, like the street below their room.

Sally sits beside her, and she stares too.

*

It's four days, before Sherlock contacts them. Not dead, like the papers don't-say. Not dead, like the man with the umbrella's sadness had suggested. Not dead, and he doesn't come alone. He stands in the doorway for a moment, mutters something about not risking John again, nor – a pause here, a frown – Sarah.

Sarah has dark lines around her pale eyes. She leans into the coffee Sergeant Donovan makes her, tilts like a woman at sea; only John's hand, settled on her thigh, stills her to calm. Molly sees the easy contact and feels.

Molly looks at Sherlock and knows nothing much at all. Numbness, beneath her skin.

It had begun with Sherlock as well, of course.

Sally sits beside Molly on the sofa, and Molly leans into the policewoman's warmth.

*

It's going to end with Molly, too.

*

Their first day together, Sergeant Donovan paces the room until Molly apologises for keeping her there; the Sergeant declares that stupid, until Molly has to apologise again, and it really is the most ridiculous thing as they argue themselves into sudden tired smiling. Molly's never realised how much she could appreciate a smile, not even when she's been hunting for Sherlock's, and it's slow and it's tentative and it changes the whole set of Donovan's face, until she's not Donovan any more, but Sally.

*

The man with the umbrella leaves a calling card and says they should be careful, says Molly should remember that his brother – brother! – can be very forgetful when it comes to the little things. Little things, like people.

*

Tick.

*

Sally has her gun out and there's so much noise. A bruise is already sweeping across Molly's shoulder, and Molly leans against the policewoman; fights tears, hates herself for not being braver, then realises that they're still alive and bravery be damned. Sally is shouting – not at the man who'd found them, who'd broken in, who'd lit the bruise dark against Molly's skin, whose head is now leeching red across the kitchen tiles. Not shouting at him, but at Sherlock. She doesn't call him freak, she calls him irresponsible. When he says that only one thing matters, Molly thinks she sees Sally's gun shift; thinks she sees Sally's arm tense, her hand, her face, her heart in her chest. Sally takes a step back, says no, Sherlock, no, and rests against Molly until the shaking stops.

*

The case weaves into whispers and a stuffed penguin, and Molly learns to loathe Jim's sense of humour as she follows the news and, less edited, the notes that D.I. Lestrade sends Sally.

She and Sally have been moved to a house in the suburbs, plain and inconspicuous. Molly's life has become a tragicomedy. Armed men lounge in the front room, and Molly is on the kitchen bench, eating ice-cream from the tub. Sally rests her head against the cupboard, but takes the teaspoon when Molly offers.

*

“You,” Sally is saying to Sherlock. Just, you. Vindictive, but not accusatory. Questioning, but somehow not.

Sherlock smiles, as though the policewoman has given something away.

“I won't let anything happen to Molly,” Sherlock says, slow and low and almost as if he wishes he weren't making the promise that he so clearly is; and Molly wonders, wonders, wonders, what it might have meant, to hear those words even a month ago. To hear those words, without the Moriarty slung up between them.

It doesn't matter either way, not now.

Sally huffs, and glares, and closes the door, and puts her hand on Molly's elbow.

*

The news forgets them all, distracted by the rise of prices and the drop of a politician's pants, and their flat becomes something almost domestic. Molly washes her hair in the shower and misses her work. Sally talks about summers spent in Spain. The armed men in the front room teach them card games, and how best to peel a grape. Nights slip into quiet, mornings curve into dawn, and Molly watches the city wake – small, so small, always growing smaller.

*

Careful, says Sherlock's text. Careful, for the game is up. SH.

*

Jim's face is smiling, down below. Molly can see him. Cannot move, sure, but can see him. He's looking at Sherlock and laughing at the world; laughing at her, laughing at them. Molly doesn't say a word, but Sally leans against her and, when Sally fires, Molly is holding her weight, holding her up; it had begun with Molly, after all.

When Moriarty falls, Molly breathes.

*

Tick.