Through a curl of smoke from his pipe, Sherlock Holmes watched his friend Doctor Watson fidget in his chair.
"What unnerves you, Watson?" Never one for delicate approach to such conversation, but Watson smiled as always.
"My nerves steady but nonetheless remind me of obligations at home but you said-"
"My apologies I did not advise you earlier. I will not need your assistance tonight. I am enlisting Hooper."
Watson swallowed. He knew Hooper was a woman, but he assumed Holmes knew also even if they did not discuss.
"Hooper at St. Barts?"
"Yes," he drawled with narrowed eyes.
"It's only that... he—"
Sherlock huffed, "Has all the medical training as you have. Excellent observant mind. Mary requested you at home this evening. You complained this very morning of your leg and need of quiet retirement with your beloved wife. What sort of friend would I be to not offer such."
"Ah... Well... good?" Confusion wrinkled Watson's brow. Holmes had required his help for two weeks straight as Lestrade kept them running from one end of London to the other.
Holmes picked up the newspaper next to him, carefully unfolding and opening as he glanced to the headlines. "You seem perplexed at my statement. Was it for not needing your assistance or some other matter?"
"Hooper. I mean, fine fellow and all but seems a bit..." he coughed.
"Do get on with it," Holmes exasperated, folding his newspaper.
Watson opened his mouth wide, searching for the words, " He's of, well… lighter frame than I? What if it turns into some manner of physical figh-"
"We are examining two dead bodies. If any fisticuffs were to occur, we'd have much larger issues at hand than his light frame."
Watson sighed, "Ah. Well yes. Quite good."
Watson stepped to the door, and paused, turning back to his friend. He is the smartest man in London, perhaps the whole world and yet she is fooling him. With that thought he decided to confess to Mary this knowledge and receive some perspective if possible this very evening.
"Do send for help if you require any. Good night Holmes," Watson said with a tip of his hat and was gone.
Holmes tossed the newspaper aside in a flutter and began to pace. Indeed Hooper and two bodies factored into the evening but not as Watson was advised.
He knew the truth of Hooper's identity. He admired her tenacity and ingenuity in securing the place she procured at St. Barts. In the last few months he often sought her opinion on cases. He trusted her the most of any person other than Watson to guide him to evidence. But what did this other stirring in his mind portend? Confrontation must occur now. He no longer felt compelled to play a charade but he could not pretend what exposure of her true sex might cause. No, he must go alone and when she is alone. Curious though the emotion that conjured. The thought of how often his thoughts strayed to her.
Holmes paced until the perfect hour reached and he left in a cab with perhaps the most flimsy plan he ever devised.
A single cab cuts through the evening fog sparse in white puffed patches. With a slow halt at the corner near St Bartholomew's Hospital, Holmes stepped and without a word paid the driver and sent him on.
He paused near the lamplight. The plan clear in his head but he found himself unsure of the results, nonetheless. But the hour grew later, and he pressed on.
Watson believed him when he said the evening case work mutually planned between Holmes and Hooper. But the truth much murkier than this. Holmes only asked Hooper when he would be in the morgue. Hooper replied this evening working on two bodies.
Holmes calculated the average time of Hooper's work. His admiration for the intellect and desire for knowledge they both shared increased in the last month perplexing his thoughts most evenings. Even in an opium haze his thoughts strayed to musing over conversations with Hooper, though he knew not if Hooper every gave him a second thought. But he surmised he should be arriving near the end of the second corpse scheduled and entered without a knock.
Stepping down into the chilled room, he cleared his throat.
"Evening, Holmes," Hooper answered head still down focused on the last stitches.
Holmes's eyes followed the path of the needle and thread, rhythmic and precise as if putting a bow to a string.
Hooper felt his gaze but did not dare look until the last knot secured and cloth draped. A quick glance and nod as she stepped over to the washing bowls.
The silence amplified their hearts beating in their ears and Hooper swallowed hard as she lingered at the basin.
When she turned her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Sherlock Holmes only two steps away from her.
"Are... what…" she stammered, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, lowering her voice, "You seem intent on some matter." She squared her shoulders shoving her hands in her pockets to hide a tremble.
As if he couldn't deduce it, but then he thinks I'm a man still, she reminded herself.
"I do come this evening with a specific agenda, that is true."
She nodded, "Well, out with it, getting late after all," she gruffed.
Holmes took one more step to her and noted the gulp. Surely she suspects, he pondered.
He sighed, locking in a stare, "I find myself most afflicted as of late."
Her forehead wrinkled as she slipped her hands out of her pockets."Mr. Holmes, are you afflicted with some fever?"
His laughter caused her to lean back. Once he regained his composure, he replied, "It would appear so though not perhaps one requiring medical attention."
Hooper shook her head, scoffing as she risked looking him in the eyes, "Good lord man, out with it. I'll be happy to assist any way possible."
Hooper replied low and steady, "Anything you require I am at your service."
Their eyes locked as he stepped closer still.
Her voice cracked, and she paused swallowing to regain its depth needed for deception. "Are you in danger? Grave in nature?"
"It would appear so though perhaps no more than any man in my situation."
Nervous manly chuckle , she directed herself. "You speak in vague terms," Hooper stepped to the right to put more space between them, adding, "I need more details before my assistance can-"
Holmes put a firm hand on her shoulder to bring her back to the same position as before and Holmes closed the distance.
But words in censure caught in her throat as she turned to find her eye light on his chest and turn up slowly to meet his.
She strangled out a whisper. "Mr. Holmes, what is the matter that you must be so near?"
The crack in her voice caused the corner of his lips to turn up. One more gulp and his lips parted and overwhelmed hers in one swift movement. But soon as they were there her mouth went cool and tingled in absence of his.
"I think something is in our way," he sighed, staring at her mouth.
He gripped the edge of her moustache and ripped it away with a yell in pain from her.
"Bloody hell!" she cursed through her teeth rubbing her mouth and using no disguise on her voice now.
Holmes laughed," Oh my dear... well, it Margaret or Molly I believe?'
She rubbed her upper lip. Frowning. "It is Miss Hooper, thank you very much."
"So formal considering—"
She raised her hand, but withdrew it just as quick as his raised to block the potential strike. She hissed, " If you needed to expose my sex then you needn’t kiss me. What purpose did this serve?"
His eyes held hers. He attempted an earnest voice. "There are many ways to expose the truth but you are suggesting the wrong one I wished to bring to light."
But in dismay he saw tears forming at the edge of her eyes. Her hands pressed into the sockets to stem the flood threatening and causing a throb in her head.
"Miss Hooper, I understand that my intentions may be confused in your mind. I should explain myself."
Her voice trembled as she cast her eyes down, "Do not be cruel. It's all I ask... I love this work I… do what you want but let me have this. I will... I will do anything." Begging raised her voice, and the words tasted bitter in her mouth. All she built crumbled and her fate in his hands frightening. She thought him honorable. But her folly often one of her sex, she mused.
"Molly I have no wish to harm you."
The tenderness in his voice disconcerting and her jaw dropped as she found his eyes with hers again and he continued.
"Your abashment well founded. You fear honor is not present. I hope with all possibility this is the evidence you require of my genuine affection for you and my desire to make you my wife."
And with that said, his lips were on hers once more. Nothing rushed as the first, and she answered his hesitation with her own and shared breath, as his hand reached up caressing her jaw.
In her most treasured dream and thoughts she pined for this and suspected even now to be under the influence of opium herself. Surely, no, this is not Sherlock Holmes kissing her. She wished to never part from the embrace that followed as his hand slid around her waist pulling her close. Her mind raced with suspicion but she ignored it until Holmes broke the spell moving his lips away hers.
"You must know that I've always known."
"Truly?" she sighed.
He nodded with a chuckle. " But I am quite sure you have everyone else thoroughly fooled." He looked down at her face, lips red and swollen both from his kiss and the forced removal of her fake moustache. But he delighted in such physical affirmation. Her beauty simple but magnified by her intellect.
She snickered and then giggled, "You know Doctor Watson already mentioned his knowing to me."
He shouted, "That bastard!"
But her laughter grew, and he joined her before kissing her once more.