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they’ve settled outside Winesburg, Ohio

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John and Molly know that if Sherlock were to choose between them, his first, last, and only choice would be John. Neither of them speak this fact aloud, neither of them wants to admit it and cause harm to the other, but it’s a fact they both have always been aware of and have quietly accepted into their lives. It’s a fact they are in constant reminder of when Sherlock rushes in on a date at Molly’s flat, at a film, at dinner in one of the few Chinese, Indian, Italian restaurants in London that’s quiet and small and hasn’t been dined at by the detective and doctor while on a case.

John and Molly are running out of places to eat. John thinks it rude and cruel to wine and dine her at a place already marked (in his mind, in her mind) as Sherlock’s territory. He doesn’t want her to feel like leftovers, second place, that’s the whole reason for asking her out in the first place. They hunt for new cafes with a mad desperation while covering the resignation they feel that Sherlock will eventually claim this new French bistro like the others, with overly cheerful chatter about the adventure of finding new favorite places to eat, trying new cuisine, that maybe this one will become their next go-to for dinner. Sherlock always finds them and drags an apologizing John away from her (leaves Molly with a kiss that Sherlock huffs at, the sentimentality of it), but brings the doctor back during a lull in the chase, same table, same seats, orders for John the same food he had to run out on, and watches him chew and swallow, eyebrows knotted in contemplation of some personal puzzle.

John and Molly have taken to eating at her place. Sherlock can’t storm in, and Sherlock can’t sit down, and Sherlock cannot claim it because Sherlock does not want to claim a space that is so Molly and leave her to sort between a hollow hope or the destructive knowledge that Sherlock gets what he wants, nothing can keep him out, and he will always have rule over some part of her even though he does not want it.

John and Molly do not speak of the unfairness that while they both have each other and their shared love of Sherlock, John is the only one who gets to date both.

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Sherlock observes but he does not see. He does not understand the relationship in front of him.

John is dating Molly Hooper despite the fact that she is still in love with him (Obvious). And John knows this (Obvious). John was the first ever to ask him to treat her sweetly, to be kind, to step back when his manipulations of her had crossed a line, to attempt to explain to him her feelings (of which he was vaguely aware as being sexual desire or some aesthetic appreciation of his looks) and why this was rude and hurtful to another human being. John is always the first with a warning, a trailed out sigh of his name, exasperation trimming every syllable, the first to change subjects when she blushes and begins to squirm, the first to step in the line of fire and defend her from the humiliating barbed words Sherlock casts off at her while checking a corpse or his phone.

Perhaps John does care for her. It wouldn’t be unlike him; his personality is one that is drawn to those that are damaged and in need of healing. But wouldn’t the kinder, more merciful thing be to introduce to her to some other man? Keep her away from Sherlock?

Sherlock has no interest or affinity for poetics (though the beauty of it is not lost on him, it simply serves him no purpose). That stays John’s area, metaphors and ‘your hair is like a’ and ‘your blue eyes’ and the rapture of words on a screen. He does know this: An addict of any kind must distance themselves from their drug of choice, whether by gradual lessening or a complete withdrawal.

Let him say that Molly is like hardcore users. Let him say that Molly is like how he used to be when Lestrade picked him up from the streets, when he found him after two hours and twenty-three minutes of searching, when Sherlock had staggered into a crime scene and watched the maggots that burst from the dead girl’s eyes, tumbled out of her mouth, crawled through her torn shirt and panties, watched them spell out deductions and form arrows and lines and circles around clues. He solved the case in three minutes forty, then disappeared after being cuffed and dragged towards a black car, after headbutting Officer Donovan into unconsciousness and running to the safety and anonymity of the back alleys and open windows of Brixton flats whose occupants were too strung out or destitute to bother with a familiar face ducking into their home. Let him say Molly could be could be seen as that, a mad genius with white fire of a chemical compound shutting down the steam engine juggernaut of his brain, running through London in escape of CCTV eyes and a fat, worried brother and a world dismally dull and unappreciative of pure reason and thought. Let him retreat into memories so he can look at Molly this way, as others have looked at him (as John had looked at him the night of the taxi driver and Rachel and the pink phone and the drugs bust), so he can finally see the purpose of this relationship between morgue attendant and doctor and why it exists at all.

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Molly is addicted to Sherlock. No secret there. She loves him, or so says the chemistry of her brain. If she should ever actually admit aloud, she is sure he would have some response centered on the rise of chemicals released, the cocaine high of dopamine, the expansion of pupils to signal arousal, the warmth of her own body’s lubricant between her legs, just a biological response to reproduction and the desire for the best partner to ensure the strongest offspring.

She knows all this is true. She’s been to medical school. She did well in her biology classes, the only one to stomach the dissection of a pregnant cat. She even remembers the details, the deflated uterus, round, tight balls forming lumps in the bag that had, while blood still pumped and a heart still beat, carried life and futures curled up in fetus form. When the instructor instructed them to slice open the uterus, extract a fetus, dissect that too, Molly had done so without hesitation or trembling. A multitude of cells lay in her hand, a frozen figure of a feline outlined in blue ink injected to make the blood vessels easier to see. Track lights in a corpse that bled over a baby cat. There were four paws, blunt nubs distinguishable by being so short and stubby and thin. She’d traced the outline with an index finger. Biology dictated the need for offspring, the still form in the center of her palm. Chemistry of hormones for a heat brought about the sex that created the little lives stuck to the inner lining of a uterine wall, with the intention of birth in a back alley and nothing but dead pigeons and scraps of bread and discarded, rotting fish thrown out into dumpsters behind small restaurants that don’t give a shit about stray cats ruining their tiny eatery’s reputation, and sometimes lay out bowls of clean water just for them.

On the metal table at her university’s biology lab, Molly opened up the animal further, as instructed, and discovered. The cat’s lung held a collection of abnormal cells, lumpy balls of tumors clogging the bronchi that would have caused respiratory failure if the cat hadn’t been picked up and taken in and euthanised. Grit and smog mixed with the tightly balled anomalies in its alveoli while carrying six kittens to full term, six kittens that would have died from cat fights and cars and starvation. Animals have instincts sharper than the dulled sight of humans, know when their time is coming. Felines will slink off to find privacy in death, burrow themselves away in a corner where they can’t be found until their rotting corpse produces a smell that attracts all scavengers to a tasty meal. The mother had to know she was dying and still tried to feed a litter inside her that would probably kill her in the process of birth. The euthanization had been a mercy for mother and kittens, only seen as such when autopsied, opened up and split wide. Molly never feels more intimately connected to another than when she is cutting them open. The things people hide within their barrier of skin shine under her light and become a memoir of the human who once had friends and family and lovers and favorite films and music and books. From then on, Molly associates that memory of her first dissection with intimacy and an aspect of love that had nothing to do with brain chemistry.

How can she explain that the endorphins released don’t matter in the question of the nature of infatuation? She’s never voiced her feelings for Sherlock for the reason that she’ll have to tell him about biology class and a dead, dissected alley cat and a fetus in her hand. He’d only look at her in that pitiful way and cast off some comment about how poetry is John’s area and there is no connection to be made with a science lab corpse intended for anatomical study and emotional epiphanies.

And if she can’t share that with him, then it’s a moment no one else will understand.

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John will always view Molly’s desire as that of a self-destructive drug dependence, heroin or cocaine or a particularly nasty case of alcoholism, but he will never treat her for it. He will never suggest distance from the man. He will never not tell her about his time at 221B. He will never move in with her, he will never move away from Sherlock. He will keep the stasis they are in. He will continue to answer her questions. He will continue to let her hug tight each time she sees him, her nose in his jacket or jumper or neck or hair, breathing in all traces of the detective on him.

They will continue to close their eyes as they kiss, imagining differently shaped lips taking command and pressing into their own. They will continue to keep their touches chaste in front of indifferent grey eyes that miss, actually miss the way two pairs of eyes sag, guilt drawing lines in their skin with its weight, as if they were actually cheating, adulterers, and anything more than a peck on the cheek, threaded fingers, the quickest, tightest of hugs would incite rage in a man they both know doesn’t really care.

John will leave Molly as she is, unwilling to help her because the moment he begins, he would be forced to do the same and treat himself.

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