"Oh dear. Is it that awful?" Molly's hand covered her mouth as Sherlock turned and stared at her as she entered his cabin just after nightfall.
Awful, he thought. Yes, it…was a bit not good. He had finally changed out of the formalwear from the party, and put on a loose white shirt with an old pair of trousers blotchy from acid experiments.
Molly stood awkwardly in the man's clothing Basil had borrowed for her from John Watson. The captain's cold eyes danced over her, from head to toe.
The ship's surgeon was only a few inches taller than her, and so the hems of his worn-out knee britches (worn by John while setting a broken bone, within the last two weeks, he saw in the wear) reached mid-calf on her. The swell of her hips filled out the upper portion more though, the fabric hugging her bottom. The thin shirt did nothing to disguise her shape, the rough cotton clinging to the britches, all the way down to her thighs (all the navy cargoes we've helped ourselves to and yet he refuses to wear the finer clothes from them, suggesting ambivalent feelings about his military service remain) and secured at the waist with a piece of rope (fresh and clean-looking, not frayed or moldy but the cuts are sloppy and uneven- Basil's just cut this off a line we're using- must check that later). Her hair was tied back at the neck with a small piece of leather, and her feet were naked, her blood-spattered slippers held in her hands.
The high Empire waistline of her muslin gown had hidden (not from him) from people a figure that was very fashionable, indeed. She had chosen to hide, with her simple dresses (not entirely poor, she's spending money on rare and banned books instead of lace and colorful ribbons) and mousy hairstyles. And her father, instead of encouraging her to befriend rich young men of the ton to find a husband, had permitted this while he wore a fine maroon coat covered with thick embellishment to the party the previous evening.
Wouldn't want his source of financial support to marry and move away, now would we, Sherlock thought cynically. Keep her close, keep her busy, and she'll be grateful for every corpse you let her cut in your name.
For a few seconds, Sherlock considered how pleasant it would be to plant his fist in Matthias Hooper's face.
"This will do. You're sufficiently covered for tonight. We'll purchase two dresses and shoes in Hugh Town, on St. Mary's in the Isles of Scilly." His voice was light and casual.
Molly smiled nervously and nodded. "That would be lovely, thank you. I can pay you for your purchases when we get back to London-"
He waved her off and knelt to open a large chest against the wall. "Consider it partial payment for your services."
"I've worn trousers before, you know," Molly chattered on. "Once, a few years back, we were examining a mutilated woman from Spitalfields, and a morgue attendant knocked her body off the table. Such a mess!" She wrinkled her nose and laughed. "Papa was furious, his best gloves were ruined. And my skirt was hopeless. They lent me trousers to return home in, and I must say it was extremely comfortable! These are too." Molly put her hands on her waist, shifting her legs to reacquaint herself with the feeling of wearing britches. She looked down at her exposed ankles and giggled.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow and shook his head in annoyance.
"Irrelevant. Clothing, so much fuss over it. It's all….external. The clothes, our bodies, it's all just transport for what matters."
She smiled gently. "I don't disagree with that. It is nice to be clean though."
Molly walked further into Sherlock's quarters and looked around. She had been in the room earlier, but hadn't been able to see much from her seat at the table. She was admittedly curious about the strange captain. The picture pinned to the wall above the small desk, for instance. She had only seen a few of them in the salons of some clients, but she believed that was a real lithograph portrait.
I'd love a closer look, she thought wistfully. Would it be rude to ask? Molly's eyes darted around the room, and found herself contemplating the bunk tucked in the corner. It was unusually long, but she supposed that would be needed for a man as tall as the captain. She swallowed.
"What?" She said, startled out of her thoughts. She blushed, wondering what he had planned.
"It's my mother, in the lithograph. Look if you like." Sherlock rummaged through the wooden chest, setting aside some items on the floor as he worked his way through the lot.
"Oh!" Molly said. How on earth did he know with his face turned away? "Yes, I was just…alright." She studied the portrait of the woman, scanning for any resemblance to the handsome man by her knees. The shape of the eyes was the same, catlike and cunning, but beyond that, there was little similarity. Molly looked down at him, and her eyes narrowed as she noticed a larger item he'd dropped on the floor.
"Is that a Pascaline?" Molly's mouth dropped. "I've only ever read about them. My father said a professor of his at the University of Edinburgh possessed one."
"Mmmm yes," Sherlock nodded absently, dark curls falling over his brow. "Monsieur Pascal's adding machine is somewhat clever. But I don't need it right now." The captain pulled a long, narrow, black case from the chest and set it down with care on his bunk. Sherlock returned to the chest and began throwing the tossed-aside bits back in.
He hopped up and Molly suddenly found herself standing too close to his warm body and looking up into piercing blue eyes. He looked disoriented for a second before frowning and reaching out to clasp her arms.
Molly opened her mouth to say- something- but lost her focus and simply waited, lips parted as she breathed.
His hands moved her toward the desk, and Sherlock's long fingers pressed down on her shoulders.
"Sit." His light eyes skimmed her face. "You need to write your father. You will not tell him where we are, simply that you are safe and will return in due time. That is all."
Molly beamed as she sat down at the desk. "Thank you, Captain. May I have paper?"
Sherlock bent over and reached across Molly briskly to open a drawer. A bottle of ink, a pen, and paper were within.
"Write. I know a man in Hugh Town who makes regular runs to Cornwall, he'll pass the message on for a few coins."
Molly quickly scribbled a note for her father, and blew on the ink to dry it. Sherlock watched her chew on her lips as she composed the letter. She signed it with a neat and simple "Molly" at the bottom, and handed it to him.
He laid it back on the desk without reading it, and his eyes captured hers.
"Time for sleep. Bed."
Molly's eyes flew to the bunk and back to Sherlock. "I don't…where…" She stood and looked around. "The other men- Basil said they sleep in, in hammocks. Do…you have a hammock?"
One side of Sherlock's mouth curled up. "Yes, I do. When it storms, you can't stay on the bunk, hammock's the only thing for it." He reached down and opened the drawer built into the bottom of the bunk itself.
Molly saw a thick tangle of rope that she recognized as a hammock, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
"Worried, were you?" His smirk dropped. "I have no intention of touching you. Go to bed, Doctor Hooper." He scooped the black case off the bunk and laid it on the table where they'd attempted to have lunch earlier.
Molly dove onto the bed and pulled the covers up to her nose, huddling close to the wall. The blankets were surprisingly soft as she rubbed them against her cheeks. His bed smelled like him- lemons and salty, fresh air and something utterly male. Another long day had worn Molly down, and she felt herself start to relax with the scent of him close to her.
The mattress shifted, and Molly felt herself dip toward the center suddenly. Her eyes opened wide at the sight of Sherlock Holmes standing over her in the dim lamplight, with one hand on the bed.
"I said I had a hammock. I didn't say I had any intention of using it. Do make some room. It is my bed after all."
Molly rolled back to face the wall, trying to melt into the cold boards. She felt the mattress bend toward him as he laid down next to her, still clothed atop the blanket.
Her eyes were huge in the dark, and she held her breath, waiting. Waiting for what, she didn't know, but every time he were close, her heart hammered and she felt like something was finally beginning.
Sherlock was performing an experiment. Yes, that's what it is, he reassured himself. An experiment. Similar to his experiment to determine the toxicity levels of arsenic trisulfide, only this was more dangerous.
He sunk into his bed, keeping an inviolable wedge of space between his body and Molly's. He rolled over to face the back of her head, observing as her body rose and fell with an increased rate of respiration. He inhaled the scent of her and listened to her breathing.
She was awake, and not likely to fall asleep anytime soon, with the waves of tension flowing from her. His hand flexed as he considered running his fingers through her hair to test the texture, to see how she would respond.
She smelled like the coarse soap John used in the surgery. He realized she must have used it to clean what she could when she and Basil went to borrow the clothes. The scent was faint, and overlaid with the saltiness of the ocean water she'd used to rinse off. Underneath that was yet another smell, one that was simply sweet and Molly and female.
The shape of her body was indeterminate under the covers, but no matter; the curves of her legs and arse were burned into his mind the moment she stepped into his cabin that night. The subtle muscles in her arms from her taxing work, and the calluses on her hands from the constant pressing of the knife. All he could see now was a mess of light brown hair, reflecting the soft light from the lamp on his desk. He'd left it lit on purpose, as he had no intention of sleeping. Not when there was the problem of Molly Hooper to solve.
No. Not a problem. There was no problem. There was just her. And one woman was not a problem for him.
It was merely chemistry. He understood chemistry. And biology. (Though not as well as her, he would admit. She was brilliant at it.) It would go away, and in time, so would she.
It's all transport, all this body nonsense. Transport isn't important.
The Hudson is transport, something inside him responded, The Hudson is important.
The Hudson has value beyond aesthetics, he countered himself. It's more than pretty. It's full of fascinating things I've collected.
You collected her.
Sherlock bolted upright in the bed, surprising Molly to where she couldn't even pretend to be sleeping. She pulled the blanket up to her chin, and resisted the urge to roll over and speak to him.
She felt Sherlock swing his legs off the bunk and stand, and heard him padding across the floor in bare feet.
He picked the long black case off the table and snuffed the light from the lantern on the table. As the cabin fell into total darkness, Sherlock slipped out the door.
A few minutes later, Molly heard what sounded like the plaintive sounds of a violin being played in the distance.
The faint sound varied between sad and frenzied, with most notes lost to the ocean winds. In time, the rhythmic crashing of waves against the hull of the boat drowned out the ghostly violin, and Molly drifted off to the fading music.
In the morning, Molly woke alone with her nose cold and her belly rumbling. She stumbled out of the bed, put on her ruined slippers and crawled up to the deck.
The blazing sun warmed her face and the stiffness of the strange night melted away from Molly. The Hudson rolled through the sea, cutting through waves as a mass of land began to form in the distance.
Three sailors hurried past Molly, only casting cursory glances at the woman wearing men's britches.
"Good morning, Doctor Hooper."
He'd snuck up behind her again. She whirled around.
Sherlock looked down at her with a cool, polite smile. The shadows under his eyes hinted that he'd hadn't gone and slept in the crew's quarters. He was pale as always, remarkable for a man who lived on a ship.
He'd changed again, this time into a white shirt with tight black trousers, and a long black coat covering the ensemble. It wasn't formal, but she liked it. It suited him, and she found herself overly interested again in the way he left his shirt always gaping open at the top.
It's really an appalling habit, she thought as she bit her lip. Just awful.
"Pardon?" Molly looked affronted.
Sherlock pointed toward the distant land. "Silly. The isles of Scilly, we'll be arriving within a few hours. Be prepared. We're here for supplies and samples, there ought not to be any trouble."
"Are you certain there are no other ships about? Nothing of the law?"
"No, the Royal Navy avoid this port. About a hundred years ago, they lost a half dozen ships here. Over fourteen-hundred men died, because they don't know how to navigate the shallow waters and the cliffs. The locals are…sympathetic, as long as we are generous. The Navy is not generous. We'll purchase clothing and flour, but our purpose is to carry out the Hudson's main mission, which is to acquire specimens for further study. The flora of the islands, in particular."
"Purchase…" Molly was completely confused. "Purchase things…and study and gather? Why, you're not really a pirate ship at all, are you! Are you?"
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Of course we are. Good old George said I was a pirate, and so I oblige him. But it would be rather boring if we restricted ourselves to one purpose or the other. No fun in doing exactly what people expect, is it, Molly." He strolled away from her as she stood staring open-mouthed at his retreating form.
"No fun at all," she agreed as she gazed out at the sea and the approaching land, wondering what she could expect from the coming day. She was quickly learning that a normal day spent with Sherlock involved dead bodies, a great deal of adventure and a bare minimum of food. With that thought in mind, Molly spun around and sought out the galley.