Molly Hooper enters his consciousness the way most people of little consequence do: at a sheer and dizzying angle, in little blurs around corners, in the embarrassing gestures people engage in when they think no one’s looking. Molly Hooper enters his consciousness and promptly exits it because there is no room for her there. She is no one important.
They meet at the morgue, where Molly Hooper flits about Sherlock in her oversized trousers and orthopaedic shoes. She is like an insect mesmerised by the camera lens, unwilling to leave its shiny surface. At Sherlock’s request, she pulls the sheet from the body to reveal Irene Adler’s corpse. Whilst Sherlock is occupied observing whatever it is that allows him to know this form, Mycroft catalogues the vagaries of Molly Hooper. Specifically, he sees that for someone so timid, and so easily flustered by any male attention whatsoever, she is curiously devoid of the physiological signs of humiliation or distress when showing two men — one whom she favours beyond reason and to her own detriment — the naked body of a woman whose transport most people would call perfect. Somewhere beneath the frayed hems and the oversized jumpers in colours that sear the eye, there is some steel. Mycroft tucks the knowledge away even as he wipes the particulars from his hard drive.
Sherlock confirms that the body is Adler’s, and he sweeps out of the morgue with typical drama.
“Who is she?” Molly asks, reminding Mycroft of a baby bird first learning to fly. She’s steeling herself to soar, but she’s about to fall flat on her face. “How did Sherlock recognise her from… not her face?”
Mycroft is meant to do something here, he’s mean to fulfill some element of a social contract normal people expect as a matter of course, but for the life of him he can’t imagine what. He has to get a grip on his brother, he has to dry up all the usual sources and call John Watson to turn the flat upside down, he has to take good care. He thinks perhaps he should smile, but when he does, Molly Hooper flinches. He must have got it wrong somehow, but it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter. Delete, delete, delete.
Mycroft blinks and blinks and blinks through them all. Swivels his head and—
In Camden, there is a mousy doctor who has bought a pack of cigarettes she doesn’t smoke, and she is bustling back to her flat with her shoulders rolled inward and her hair half fallen out of the elastic meant to hold it back from her face. She does not smile when passersby nod at her on the pavement, and when she enters her building, Mycroft sees no more.
“He said you would do this,” she says, brown eyes narrow and accusatory. “The very least you can do is take me to work.”
“Of course, Ms. Hooper.” Mycroft inclines his head genially. In the far corner, Anthea taps on the glass for the driver’s attention and tells him where they’re headed. “I merely wished to… touch base.”
Molly Hooper heaves a long-suffering sigh and plasters herself to the door in order to cast her gaze more effectively out the tinted window.
“I don’t see what there is to discuss,” she says, hands twisting together in the strap of her messenger bag. “I did my part and now it’s done.”
“He chose you to help him,” Mycroft says. “Of all people. Why?”
“Seems that’s something you ought to ask him, Mr. Holmes.”
“He is a vanishing commodity these days, Ms. Hooper.”
Molly Hooper sighs again, and the gentle thud of her forehead against the window reverberates. Mycroft’s eyes cut to Anthea, texting furiously. She flicks her gaze up and gives him a minute nod. Of course she’ll have the window cleaned.
“I would appreciate any insight you have on his state of mind.”
Molly Hooper’s answering laugh is bitter, and she shakes her head, and there is no more conversation.
There is a point-blank gunshot in the City, a pickpocketing in Hammersmith, public intoxication in Lewisham. And beside him in the company car, a little doctor makes his fingers tap restless against his thigh.
She wears no make up most of the time. She scuttles about the city folded into herself as if apologetic for taking up the tiny amount of space her body occupies in the world. She is in constant disarray, and everything she wears is…fuzzy. But sometimes, sometimes, if he concentrates very hard and makes Anthea step outside his office, he can see Molly Hooper in Bart’s, cutting into her latest autopsy: steady hands, square shoulders, electrical saw, goggles. No flinching.
The damn thing curses so when it gets in the car. No manners whatsoever. Mycroft merely raises a single eyebrow and crosses his legs at the knee.
“What is your intention in keeping the company of—” Mycroft checks absolutely nothing on his mobile. “—St Bartholomew’s Hospital employee Dr. Molly Hooper?”
“Listen here now, I don’t know who you are—”
“Yes, and wouldn’t it be a terrible shame if you said something you’d regret in a situation you can’t hope to recover?”
It seals its mouth like an offended clam and stares dumbly at Mycroft with its vacant little eyes.
“I should like for you to extract yourself from your—” Mycroft’s lip curls. “—relationship with Dr. Hooper. Immediately.”
That preposterous chin tips upward at a defiant angle. Mycroft rolls his eyes expansively.
Mycroft raises a hand to inspect his nails before casting his gaze back onto his bounty.
“Or I shall be very put out.”
“I’m not scared of some…. some toff in a car.”
“You make a poor liar, Mr. Metcalf.”
Its hand, shaking, curls into its bony lap. An oversized Adam’s apple bounces convulsively in its spindly throat. In Croydon, a woman is crying over the body of her slain son. In Bethnal Green, a child is being pushed face first into the pavement by bigger children. In Kensington, a City boy puts a cigarette out on his company for the night.
Outside a restaurant in Camden, Molly Hooper waits for her beau, and he doesn’t arrive.
“How dare you, Mycroft Holmes!” she howls, voice high and reedy. “Who are you to, to stick your nose in my life! You will stop at once!”
“I assure you, Ms. Hooper—”
“I am a doctor! You will call me Dr. Hooper, is that understood?”
Mycroft sits back in his chair and regards her, her cheeks blazing, her hair falling out all around her face, her little fists clenched in the strap of her bag.
“Understood, Dr. Hooper,” he says.
“You think I’m small and powerless,” she says. “But you want something from me, and that means I own you, Mycroft Holmes. Think about that next time you follow me in your damn Rolls Royce.”
She stomps away, and Mycroft links his hands together in front of his lips. Underneath the desk, he has half an erection. He closes his eyes and sees an aerial view of Molly Hooper outside the Diogenes Club, raising her hand for a cab.
She sends him a withering look. “Why do you ask questions when you already know the answers? Why don’t you just ask what you really want to ask and take me home?”
“You ascribe more complicated motives to me than I actually have, Dr. Hooper,” Mycroft says. “I have asked, as you say, ‘what I really want to ask.’”
“Forgive me if I don’t believe you for one second.”
“Our mutual acquaintance has been… out of touch. I merely wished to explore all avenues of contact.”
“You’re dead wrong if you think he confides in me, or any such rubbish. You know him better than I do — you must know I’m not anything to him.”
“Sometimes I suspect I know him not at all,” Mycroft says. His mouth snaps shut and he inhales sharply, as if any work of his lungs could possibly call back the words, but the damage is done. Across from him, Molly Hooper’s eyes have widened. She looks tragic, like an injured owl. Mycroft clears his throat and looks down at his hands, linked in his lap. “And you’re wrong, about your not being anything to him. He chose you. I have begun to understand why.”
There is silence until the car reaches her flat and pulls up in front of her building.
“Mr. Holmes,” Molly says, and Mycroft meets her eyes once more. “You have to stop following me. Or spying on me. Or whatever it is you do. Can you do that, for me?”
Saliva has gathered in the back of Mycroft’s throat, and he is forced to swallow it. He nods, practised smile straining his lips.
“Promise me,” she says. “Say the words.”
Mycroft clenches his jaw. He could crush her under security, he could throw her in a jail cell and dangle the key just out of reach for the rest of her natural life, he could hem her in on all sides until she had nowhere to look but at him, him, him. But her eyes are so brown, and her hands are so small. Her body has no room for guile in it. He wonders what that’s like.
“I promise,” he says. “I’ll stop spying on you.”
The tender pink tip of her tongue flickers out to wet her lips, just a fraction of a moment’s tiny temptation.
“Thank you, Mr. Holmes,” she whispers, and she darts from the car like a spooked rabbit.
In Greenwich, a brawl in a pub relocates to the pavement. In Islington, a thief makes off with the jewellery of an entire street. In Westminster, hoodies beat the living hell out of a homeless man. In front of Molly Hooper’s flat, Mycroft Holmes takes one last look at the way she jiggles her keys in the lock before flicking deliberately, permanently, away.
She is shivering, but when he steps up to his porch she raises her head and the sight of her eyes sears him, stops all his forward momentum.
“Is it true?” she asks, nothing like a request. “Is he back?”
“Come inside,” Mycroft says. “I’ll have tea lain out.”
She stands and faces him, squared up as if readying herself for a fight.
“I want to know now, Mr. Holmes.”
He makes a show of flicking his gaze around his property when he says, “There are ears everywhere, Dr. Hooper.”
Molly Hooper tucks her chin into her chest and follows him dutifully into his house. He calls on his housekeeper to make some builder’s, which inspires Molly to peer at him suspiciously. He raises an eyebrow.
“I can’t have simple tastes?”
She snorts and waves a hand around. He lifts one shoulder in a delicate shrug and then she is grinning at him, a bit lopsided. He leads her into the parlour, where they take seats opposite each other. Her expression dims, and she asks him again. “Is it true?”
“It was a way for me to buy my brother time,” Mycroft says. “I assure you, Mr. Moriarty is quite deceased. You understand that I tell you this in the strictest confidence.”
Her hands twist in her lap and she nods, quick, jerky spasms of her neck.
“Thank you,” she whispers.
Mycroft furrows his brow. “You’re welcome?” he says. She smiles at him tremulously.
“I ought to get going,” she says, and stands. He stands as well, it’s only polite, but then he’s blurting things out as if his brain isn’t even connected to his damnable tongue.
“Stay,” he says. “Stay for tea. It’s already steeping, no doubt, and it would be a waste if you didn’t. Stay. For tea.”
“Ah.” She sinks down, once more, into her chair. But now she puts her bag down, and allows her spine to curve into the seat. Mycroft takes his seat again as well, and they stare at each other for a long while until the housekeeper comes by with a loaded tray.
“How is it?” he asks after Molly takes her first careful sip.
“Very good,” she says earnestly. “I’ll have to thank your — your housekeeper.”
“I’ll be sure to convey your gratitude,” Mycroft says, and Molly laughs, of all things. He must make some kind of unfavourable face, because she covers her mouth and apologises. The effect is altogether ruined by the fact that she is still laughing. Mycroft sighs, exasperated. “And just what is so funny, Dr. Hooper?”
“You, Mr. Holmes,” she says. “I imagine you stepping straight off the pages of some stuffy Victorian novel. I wonder if you come with a tragic, dashing backstory, or if you really are just… how you are.”
Mycroft tilts his head. Molly is looking at him almost with fondness.
“And how am I, Dr. Hooper?”
“Cold,” she says. “Calculating. Uncaring.”
“What do you think?”
She looks at him for a long time before dropping her eyes and raising her cup to her lips.
“I think you care a great deal,” she says quietly. “I think a long time ago, someone very important to you told you you oughtn’t, and you’ve been playing at the automaton ever since. You think you’ve fooled everyone. But I see you, Mycroft Holmes. I see you.”
London is teeming with crime and bad deeds. Mycroft is privy to them all. But he also sees reunions between old friends, and the kind of laughter that invites a hand on the shoulder, and public dances to private music. Best of all, he sees a doctor who has tucked herself into his softest bits turn towards the CCTV camera nearest her entrance at work and send him a wave.