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The Meaning of Being Lonely

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Molly wasn't sure when her daydreams of pale, piercing eyes and dark, tangled hair had changed to warm brown and shorn silver, but during the months following Christmas, they had.

But even then, it had been a shock when she realized she didn't fancy Sherlock Holmes anymore.

She hadn't seen him for almost two weeks, and then he'd burst into the lab while she was writing up a series of slides, and said, "Molly," in the velvet voice he used when he was planning to talk her into something even she might balk at doing.

And she'd finished her sentence—that had been new, too, but she hadn't noticed until later—and looked up at him and . . .

And nothing.

No, not exactly nothing: he was still as attractive as ever, pale and handsome, with the height and the cheekbones and those eyes, but the odd, breathless, desperate feeling in the pit of her stomach was gone.

She'd been so confused by its absence that she'd immediately agreed to whatever it was he wanted—which hadn't been very pleasant, as it turned out, but had helped catch three young men before they'd done something that was far beyond unpleasant, so that was all right.

And she knew she would have agreed anyway. She would always be in awe of Sherlock's brilliance and think of herself as his friend—even if he didn't reciprocate—and if she could help him, she would, always. He didn't have many people he could count on, ones he couldn't alienate no matter what he said—or didn't say.

But it was such a relief to not crave his attention anymore. Appreciation would still be nice, but it wasn't likely, or even necessary, and she wasn't going to waste her time trying to earn it.

She already had that, or hoped she did, from another man.

Not that Sherlock noticed any of this, not even when Greg made an unexpected visit to her office as they were discussing the availability of septic spleens and whether a dicey appendix would work just as well for his purposes.

"Hello, Lestrade." Sherlock smirked. "You must be up against it this time, to track me down here. Or does it involve something you couldn't mention over the phone?"

"Neither," said Greg, smiling at Molly. "Just wanted to drop this off." He set a lidded cup of coffee on her desk. "Nice office," he said, looking around. "Bigger than mine."

"Resorting to bribery?" asked Sherlock, picking up the cup and taking a swig. "Ugh, mocha. Nice try, Lestrade, but if you want me to keep Scotland Yard on my preferred client list, I suggest a higher quality coffee next time and do skip the chocolate. I'll have the appendix, Molly, but if a spleen shows up, set it aside for me, won't you?" He strode out, taking the coffee with him.

Molly laughed at Greg's expression. "Thanks anyway," she said. "It was sweet of you."

"How can one man be so brilliant and so thick at the same time?" he said, shaking his head.

"Very specific areas of interest," she said, "which don't normally include my social life, unless I wave it under his nose."

Instead of laughing with her, he gave her a look she couldn't read. "You haven't told him, then?"

"No," she said, lifting her chin. "It's none of his business."

Truthfully, she didn't want Sherlock over-analyzing their relationship—she was doing that just fine on her own, especially since Greg kept putting brakes on at the last minute. She'd told him that she didn't care if he wasn't yet divorced, but he did care, and she had to respect his wishes—especially as it was obvious that he was becoming as frustrated with his principles as she was.

"This isn't about him," she added. "It's about us. And you haven't told him either."

"Fair enough—though I haven't seen him much lately, now that he isn't hounding me for cases" He grinned. "All right—let's see how long it takes the genius to twig. In the meantime, I have news," he said.

Molly could count on one hand the times she'd seen him wear a tie—it must have been something official. "Good news?"

"The best." He went around the desk, lifted her gently out of her chair and put his arms around her. "My divorce is final," he said. "Signed, sealed, delivered, done."

"And you're sure that's good news?" she asked, only half joking. He'd been married for so long, it was only logical that he'd have regrets. She didn't know much about his wife—she hadn't wanted to ask, for all sorts of reasons.

He smiled and gently tucked back a lock of her hair. "It is. It was over a long time before we realized it should be—there aren't even many bad feelings left. Plus," he growled in her ear, "I'm a free man, now." He moved his mouth to hers and stayed there for a long, delicious while.

When he pulled back, she was glad he kept hold of her—in her wildest dreams, Sherlock had nevermade her feel like this.

"Come away with me," he said.

"Where and when?" she whispered.

"Somewhere sunny with a beach," he said. "As soon as we can manage. I still have that time I didn't take at the end of last year and they're nagging you about taking some of yours, right?"

She nodded. "I can take it whenever I like with a week's notice."

"Good." His mouth came close to her ear. "I want to see you in a bikini."

"I'm not the bikini type," she said, flushing. She was more the cover-up-and-still-get-freckles-and-a-painful-peeling-sunburn type.

His smile turned wicked. "That's okay—seeing you out of one would be even better."

"Greg!" She laughed and swatted at him, though the thought of finally, finally. . . she shivered.

"You okay?" When she nodded, he said, "I was going to get some lunch before I head back to the Yard. Do you have time?"

"I wish I did, but I'm proctoring a basic chemistry exam in . . . " She checked the wall clock. "Oh! Half an hour." She started gathering the things she needed.

"Seems like an odd thing to have you do," he said.

She shrugged. ""Doctor Stamford has the 'flu. And I've taught the course before, so it makes sense. I don't mind, except I'd much rather have lunch with you."

"You taught chemistry?" He studied the framed certificates behind her desk. "You have a doctorate? Inchemistry?"

"Uh-huh." She looked around for her exam instruction packet. Where had she put it?

"And medicine?"

"Oh no—I didn't need it, just a Diploma—that smaller one."

"Diploma of the Royal College of Pathologists in Forensic Pathology," he read. " But what's this one, then? Biological Science—you have another doctorate?"

"Just in Pathology. I couldn't decide at first and by the time I did, I had most of chemistry done anyway, so I thought I might as well finish . . ." She turned to see him staring at her. "What? Is something wrong?"

He blew out a breath. "I always knew you were smart, but this . . . "

"You did? I mean, um, they're just pieces of paper, really. My Dad was the one had them framed."

"Sherlock doesn't have them."

"He didn't see the point. I'm not even sure he ever sat for an exam. He wrote a thesis once, but I don't think he bothered to defend it. Such a waste—he had me proof it, and it was really good." She saw the instructions and put them on the pile. "It would be, though, wouldn't it?"

"You took classes together?"

"That's where we met. I was on scholarship and he was . . .well, being Sherlock, really. I felt sorry for him. He didn't have any friends and he's always needed someone to listen—it helps him sort out all the things he's thinking."

"Sounds a bit one-sided."

"That part was." Though she'd always loved watching Sherlock's mind at work. "But when I needed help—when my father needed more care than I could give and I had no idea what to do, he found me my first position here. . . It helped with my school fees and the other bills, and I could pop up to visit Dad whenever I wanted." She laughed. "It wasn't entirely altruistic, of course—I'm not sure what he'd do for cadavers and such if I didn't have a key to the coolers."

"I don't want to think about it," he said. "So you've known each other forever, then."

"Not forever, just a little longer than you." She hefted her stack of materials. "I need to go."

"I'll walk you." He took half her armload and followed her out and down the hall to the elevator. "But he's never asked you out or . . . "

"No." She pressed the button. "No, he never has."

Greg seemed to relax. "Is he gay, then? I mean, it's none of my business, but it's hard not to wonder."

She thought about the dead woman on the table and the way Sherlock had acted since John had moved in. "I really don't know. But nothing would ever happen between us, anyway," she said, marveling that it didn't hurt to say it. "He doesn't see me, not really."

"He's an idiot," said Greg.

Before she thought, Molly turned, pulled him down by his tie, and gave him an openmouthed kiss, ignoring the ding of the elevator and the cleared throats and giggles as the passengers edged past. "Thank you," she said, when she could.

"For what?" But he was smiling now.

"For seeing me."

"It took me far too long," he said. "I'm an idiot, too."

"Maybe," she said, stepping into the elevator. "But you're a very good kisser."

"Oh, yeah?" he said and pressed her into the far corner as the doors closed.

She was ten minutes late for the exam.

But it had been worth it.