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The Meaning of Being Lonely

Chapter Text

It must have been the dress.

He'd never seen Molly in a dress before—or didn't think he had. He couldn't remember her in anything but those baggy clothes she wore, usually covered by a shapeless white lab coat. Though she wouldn't wear anything fancy there, not with her job, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her outside the morgue.

When he had—if he had—she hadn't been wearing a dress like that.

She'd done something different with her hair, too, and added a silver gift bow that should have looked childish, but didn't, somehow . . .

She had quite good legs. And very fine—well. Not childish at all.

He took a drink and watched her chat with Mrs. Hudson—or listen, anyway, with what looked like only half her attention. The rest had an expression he'd couldn't place, but had never seen on little Molly Hooper before.

Her hand moved up to her right cheek before she yanked it down to her side. She glanced up the stairs for the third time in ten minutes.

It was all for Sherlock, of course. The dress, the hair, even the new expression. Didn't have to be a detective to suss that one, though the great genius himself had been minus a clue or two tonight.

God knew the man could be difficult, rude, bloody impossible—but tonight he'd been pure acid. Even John had been unable to curb him, though he'd probably ruined his chances with his new girlfriend—Janet? Jeanette?—trying.

She wasn't half as pretty as Molly, he thought. Though some of that might be the discontented frown. Clearly, she hadn't realized her doctor boyfriend was part of a set and wasn't liking it much. She folded her arms as John interrupted their conversation to take a call.

"Hello, Mycroft. Merry—No, he's in his room. What's . . . " John raised his eyebrows and headed for the hallway before pausing midstep.

"But won't he expect me to go with—oh. No, I understand—or no, I don't, but that's nothing new. . . Of course," he said with the resigned grimace that was all too familiar to Lestrade. "Standard practice. We'll wait 'til he's gone." His voice went firm. "But you will let me know about the—? Good. Yeah, cheers." He ended the call, walked past his fuming girlfriend and bent to whisper something in Mrs. Hudson's ear that had her clutching her necklace.

"Oh, dear." she said, her face puckering in worry. "Tonight?"

"Afraid so."

Molly seemed to snap to herself. "I should really be going," she said.

"Oh, must you?" said Mrs. Hudson, though it sounded more like reflex than complaint.

"I really only stopped by for a minute. I have . . . things. To do. For Christmas. But I had a . . . thank you for inviting me." Molly handed Mrs. Hudson her glass and went for her coat.

The policeman in Lestrade wanted to stay and figure out just what the hell was going on—especially why a man who could simultaneously hack any number of mobile phone systems if he chose couldn't figure out how to change an alert on his own phone after fifty-seven texts. And what such a suggestive sound was doing on Sherlock's phone in the first place.

But the part of him who admired Molly for standing up to the man who had cut her innocent dreams to bloody ribbons—when Lestrade had done nothing but force a smile to mask the harsh echo of his own doubts that anything at all was sorted about his marriage, or could be—said his own quick goodbyes and grabbed his own coat. "I'll walk you to your car."

Molly began to protest in that fluttery way she had, but stopped and took a breath. "Thank you," she said.

He waited until she was bundled up against the snow—snow for Christmas, what a pain in the arse miracle that was—and held the door for her.

"I had to park several streets away," she said, pointing.

He smiled. "So did I."

They walked down Baker Street in silence.

"I'm glad you stood up to him," he said, finally. "He deserved it."

She might have moved her shoulders under her coat. "It won't change anything," she said.

"I don't know—I've never seen him apologize to anyone before," he said.

"No," she said. "Not even when he needs something special from the mortuary. I wonder . . . I wonder who she is."

"Who?"

"The woman. The one who gave him the gift on the mantelpiece. The one who makes him as . . . as uncertain as I am with him."

Lestrade stopped. "Sherlock. And a woman?"

Molly did her maybe-shrug again and walked on. Three steps later, her shoes—as festive and impractical as the dress—skidded on the slick pavement and he caught her as she fell. He set her upright and tucked her arm through his with a smile.

She smiled back. It was just a simple expression of thanks, nothing hidden, no secrets, no agendas—probably why Sherlock didn't care for them.

Lestrade did. It made a nice change.

The silence was more comfortable this time and lasted until they reached a light blue car, older, but well-maintained under the light dusting of snow.

"Here I am," she said. "I hope yours isn't far?"

"Three down from this, in fact," he said.

She nodded and brought out her keys. "It was kind of you to walk me," she said. "Merry Christmas."

"Yeah," he said, shaking his head. "Merry Christmas. Molly?" he added, as she turned away.

"Yes?"

"You do look very nice tonight."

"Thank you." She offered another smile and looked up at him in her shy way. "Your wife is a lucky woman."

"Well," he said, unable to prevent a bitter chuckle. "Apparently so."

"Oh!" She clapped her hand over her mouth. "I'm so—I've done it again!"

He tugged her arm down. "No you haven't. Sherlock has."

Her eyes flashed, surprising him. "He had no right—"

"Maybe not. But he usually is right, isn't he."

"Not—not always."

Not quite knowing why, he touched her cheek where Sherlock had kissed her, then took off his glove and did it again, warm fingers on her cold skin. "Molly . . ." He didn't know how to say what he wanted her to know.

So he lowered his lips to hers. Just a gentle kiss, a salute to a lovely, lonely woman.

He pulled back and looked at her, and what he saw made him try again, less gently, with some of his own loneliness in it.

She tasted . . . like warmth and wine and hope . . . and something he hadn't tasted in his wife's kisses for a very long time.

His wife.

He pulled back again, and exhaled. "Sorry. I mean, I'm not sorry, not at all, but—" He rubbed the back of his neck. "I just . . . I wanted you to know we're not all like—"

"No," she said, with that odd expression again. "You're nothing like him." And she reached up to slide her gloved fingers through his hair and bring his mouth back to hers.

It took him almost three seconds to get over the shock and then he was holding her as closely as two bulky coats allowed and making a thorough job of it this time, with her help.

Her phone rang and she stepped back to rummage through her pockets as the tune played on. Jingle Bells, which was so like her, he had to grin even through his utter confusion.

What on earth did he think he was doing?

She finally produced it. "Yes?" she said, her voice lower than usual. "Oh, but . . . Oh—no. No, no, I don't mind. Give me, um, forty-five minutes? Thanks." She closed the phone. "I've got to go to St. Bart's. An identification."

He knew he should feel relieved, but he didn't. At all. "It's Christmas," he said, though what that had to do with anything he couldn't say.

"That's why it—" She stopped and shook her head. "It needs to be me." She met his eyes. "It's okay. It really is, now."

And somehow, it was.

"I'll follow you there."

"You don't—"

"I'll follow you. Your own police escort."

"Okay." He walked her 'round and helped her into her car, then jogged to his own and started it up.

She was a safe driver—not reckless nor overly cautious—and he knew within blocks that she would have been fine on her own.

But she shouldn't have to be.

She parked close to the back entrance—an easy task in the mostly empty car park—and was halfway to the doors before he caught up.

"Molly, wait."

She turned to him, and he could tell she was bracing herself.

"Listen . . . I know how this sounds, but I'm really hoping that he's not wrong this time," he said. "But . . . I have to know for sure."

She nodded. Her eyes were bright. "Of course you do," she said. "I understand."

"Do you?"

"I think so." She looked toward the entrance. "I really should—"

"If he isn't wrong," he said, before he knew he would, "and things are, um, settled . . . could I ask you—"

"For coffee?" she said, her voice brittle, from the cold or something else.

He waited until she looked at him and held her gaze with his. "I was thinking dinner. Somewhere you can wear that dress."

Her face lit up and he wondered at how much he'd missed about Molly Hooper and why he'd noticed tonight of all nights.

It must have been the dress . . .

"I'd like that," she said. She moved closer and went on tiptoe, her cold nose brushing his cheek. "Even if he is wrong," she whispered. "Thank you for asking. And for not being sorry at all." She pressed a quick, soft kiss to his skin.

And then she was gone in a whirl of flakes and the squeak of an automatic door.

He stood there for a second or two, then went back to his car.

He put the key in the ignition, then watched as a long, black car glided up to the entrance. Two tall men got out of the back, one waiting for the driver to open his door, the other leaping out without assistance and stalking up the walkway.

No wonder it needed to be her, he thought, and felt a stab of something that couldn't possibly be jealousy.

He waited until they both went inside before starting the engine. "You'd better be bloody right this time," he muttered, and drove away through the silent snow.

 

Chapter Text

Molly shivered in the cool air as she hung her dress on a hook in her locker, but took the time to smooth the sparkling fabric before pulling out her spare outfit.

When she'd left that wretched party, all Molly had wanted to do was go home, tear it off and throw it in the bin. It hadn't worked any better than the lipstick or the coffee or parading new boyfriends or supporting his brilliant work at the risk of her own position. . . and nothing ever would.

Not now.

She'd braced herself for pity after he'd read the tag on the gift she'd spent weeks choosing for him—that's why she'd stood up to his insults for once, to keep him from saying anything else. But to see his shock turn to sympathy . . . that made it all far worse.

As long as there had been no one else—there was John, but he was nice and it wasn't as if . . . he had girlfriends and she knew he wasn't using them as a cover like . . .like some people did—she'd cradled her fragile dreams.

And then Sherlock—Sherlock Holmes—had apologized and kissed her cheek. In sympathy. And her dreams had died.

Because she'd known then—even before his phone had made that . . . sound . . . and he'd found that other red-wrapped gift and taken it upstairs to open alone— that there was someone else.

Molly zipped up her trousers and pulled a thick red jumper over her head, glad of the warmth. The neck caught the ridiculous silver bow, dragging half her hair down with it, and she winced and tugged it free. She turned to throw it away but stopped, for the same reason she'd been careful with the dress.

She'd known Greg Lestrade for years and though he was good-looking enough to give her a case of the shy stupids, she'd never been especially nervous around him. Maybe it was because they'd met on a professional footing or because he was taken . . . but more likely because all her attention and nerve endings had already been assigned to a tall, dark, brilliant man.

But that wasn't quite true anymore, was it?

She wasn't fooling herself that the first kiss was anything more than the dress and Christmas and kindness—but the second had felt much different. And the third . . . The third had been for her—not to show Sherlock that someone wanted her, not just because a man wanted to kiss her and not in gratitude that he did, but because she, Molly Hooper, wanted to kiss him, Greg Lestrade. And she had and it had been . . .

She smiled and put the bow gently on the shelf before pulling out the rest of her hairpins.

Whatever might happen with Greg—or more likely wouldn't happen, even if Sherlock was right about his wife, because she was done with those kind of dreams—she would always have those kisses.

And thank heavens she did, or she'd never be able to cope with seeing Sherlock again this soon.

She secured her hair in a low tail, slipped on her trainers and her lab coat, and went to prepare the body for viewing as quickly as possible.

She couldn't help making a few initial observations, though she hadn't been asked and knew she wouldn't be: a woman, early thirties, well-proportioned, pampered body, her long neck marred by ligature mark and her face showing severe postmortem damage.

A crime of passion, Molly assumed, ending not only the woman's life, but her beauty as well. A terrible thing, especially at this time of year.

It didn't dawn on her that this might be the same woman who had given Sherlock the gift—given him the ability to sympathize—until he'd swept in and identified the body by . . . by not her face. Not until she saw his rigidly blank expression, so different from the genuine blank looks he always gave her.

Not until he swept out again without deducing any of the hows and whys or even supplying a name—and she realized that for once it was the victim who mattered to Sherlock Holmes, not the crime.

She didn't need confirmation from the other man—or his impersonal smile—but she'd asked anyway, for the same reason children always prodded bruises on their arms.

Some women, it seemed, didn't need fancy dresses to make an impression.

She tidied up and completed the preliminary paperwork on the still unidentified woman. She made no mention of Sherlock or the other man, whose name she also hadn't been given—though he was important and looked like Sherlock in a way she couldn't describe—and made sure everything would tally if anyone checked. Her sad lack of Christmas plans wasn't the only reason she'd been called in tonight; Molly had never questioned or betrayed Sherlock's forensic methods. . . and she knew she never would.

When all was in order, she went back to the changing room. She opened her locker, looked at the dress on its hook, and shut the door, with a little more force than necessary. She rested her forehead on the smooth, cold metal and took a hitched breath, and then another.

And then the tears came.

Not all of them were for her.

When they were over, she gathered her things and made her way to the front entrance carrying her dress and fancy shoes—and the bow—in a plastic Tesco bag. She would go home, take the hottest shower she could, drink a pot of tea, and crawl under the covers. Then this wretched day would be over.

She was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other that she didn't notice the figure waiting by the doors until he said her name.

"Oh," she said, knowing full well she looked dreadful but not having the energy to care. "Hello."

"I, ah . . . All done, then?" said Greg.

She nodded and sniffed. "What are you doing here? I mean, I thought . . . don't you have a trip in the morning? With, um . . ."

"I did." He looked down at his clasped hands. "It's all been sorted. Well, not all. But separate vacations, for a start." His smile was brief. "I'm the lucky one—prime spot, London in the winter."

"I'm sorry," she said, too tired to know if this was true.

"I'm not sure I am," he said. "Some things can't be fixed and maybe some things shouldn't be. It's not easy, being a policeman's wife."

"Or a policeman," she said.

"No. No, that's true enough."

There was a moment of awkward silence.

"So, why—"

"Are you—"

They both smiled and made go on gestures and shook their heads and it was all right again.

"I saw Sherlock and his brother come in as I was leaving," he said.

"His brother?" she asked. "Oh." She hadn't known he had a brother, or any family at all. She thought about the cold, indifferent smile and shivered. There was probably a good reason for that.

"Oh is right," he said. "They were here to see you?"

"No. A wo—a body. She looked away and back again. "They did, and they left." It was nothing more than the truth, though it felt like a lot less.

He gave her an assessing look, but didn't push. "After Sherlock's appalling behavior tonight, and knowing his brother's no better, I thought I'd better check for survivors."

"You came all the way back here to check on me?" she asked, not quite believing it.

He offered a sheepish smile. "Well, sort of—I did call, but I only have the main office number and no one answered. And this place is on my way to the hotel. . . Anyway, I saw your car was still here and thought I'd stop by and see if you were all right."

"That was nice of you," she said.

"So," he said, with another assessing look, "Are you all right?"

"Not really," she said, knowing her splotchy face made it impossible to lie, even if he wasn't a detective. "But I will be. You?"

"About the same. Do you—would you want to talk about it? Over dinner somewhere? Seeing as I know the man and all, you wouldn't have to explain much."

True, but there were some things she didn't want to explain, not to him. Not really to anyone. "Do you?" she asked, instead of answering. "Want to talk about yours, I mean. I don't know your, um . . . situation, but I'm a good listener."

He was quiet a moment. "I'm sure you are," he said. "But I don't think I should discuss it right now, not with you."

"Oh," she said, stung. "Okay. I guess I'd better be—"

"I mean," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken. "Complaining about a soon-to-be-ex with another woman—it's not the best way to go about it."

She looked at him, puzzled. "Go about what?"

He smiled. He looked younger when he smiled. "Well . . . I don't want to ruin my chances, do I?"

"Chances?" She blinked. "With me? Tonight?"

"Yeah," he said, still smiling. "With you. If not tonight, then maybe next week?"

She felt her stomach drop—had she got it all wrong again? "Your chances of . . . of what, exactly?"

It was his turn to blink. "Wait, you think—no! No, not like that," he said, scrubbing his neck. "God, I'm out of practice. I mean, I'd like to get to know you better without boring you to death or scaring you off. And I'm doing a piss-poor job of it, too," he muttered.

She stared at him and started to laugh. She couldn't help it, and when she saw the puzzled frown on his face, she only laughed harder, grabbing his arm for support, and to show him that she wasn't laughing at him. "I'm . . . sorry," she said, gasping for breath. "It's just, the last couple hours have been . . . "

"You don't have to explain," he said, his smile returning. "I've met Sherlock Holmes. So, have I ruined my chances?"

"For dinner?" She shook her head. "No, I don't think you have."

"Tonight?" His brown eyes looked hopeful. "Unless you have other plans?"

"No other plans." She smiled at him, then looked down at her decidedly unglamorous outfit. "I'm not really dressed for anywhere fancy." She looked up at him, wondering if he would ask her to change into the dress and wondering if she would if he did.

"Good," he said, instead. "Because I could murder a curry. If that suits you, we just have to figure out what's open on Christmas."

"There's a place just down the street," she said, buttoning her coat. "They have good poppadums."

"Sold." He took the Tosco's bag and offered his arm. "Ms. Hooper?"

She took it. "Detective inspector."

They put the bag in her car on the way and half-skated down the two blocks to the warm, inviting restaurant, where Molly was welcomed as a regular by the oldest daughter of the owners. They were lead to a booth instead of her usual table for one and Maryam managed to indicate her approval of Molly's handsome guest without his knowledge.

They ordered huge amounts of food and for once, she didn't worry if she was talking too much or too loudly, or if she was getting curry on her jumper or if the person she was with was having a good time.

He told stories about his job and she told stories about hers, and they reminisced about the stories they had in common, garnering some odd looks from a couple passing by on their way out as they discussed the details of a particularly gruesome case from footwork to forensics.

"Maybe we should keep our voices down," he said, grinning, and instead of being embarrassed, she grinned back.

"No, need," said Maryam, bringing a double order of gulab jamun. "We cater to medical students—we're used to it."

The only uncertain moment was when the check arrived, but he stopped her move towards it by covering her hand with his large, warm one.

"I may be out of practice," he said, reaching for the little tray with his other hand, "but I do know that the one who asks, pays."

"I'll get the next one, then" she said, without thinking, and then froze.

But he squeezed her fingers before reaching for his wallet. "It's a date," he said, his brown eyes crinkling in the corners. "Here." He gave her his phone. "Call your mobile, so I have the number."

She punched in the number and grinned at him when he sang softly along to Jingle Bells.

The walk back was cold and slippery, but Molly was too full of food and contentment to care. At her car, she turned to him and said, "Thank you for checking on me."

"My pleasure," he said, smiling down at her. "Thank you for saving my Christmas."

She hesitated, then hugged him. He wrapped his arms around her and she felt him kiss the top of her head. She lifted her face. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas." His gaze dropped to her mouth, but he didn't kiss her. "I'm trying to have good intentions, here," he muttered. "And it's cold and you've had a hell of a day. I'll call you tomorrow."

"Okay," she said, though at that particular moment, she didn't a toss about good intentions. "If you can."

"Even if I can't." And he reached out a hand and opened her car door.

She had her own police escort on the way home and he waited patiently for her to retrieve her Tesco bag and unlock her front door. She waved at him and he beeped twice and drove away.

Molly got ready for bed, humming a tune under her breath and laughing when she realized it was We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

"And a Happy New Year," she warbled, in a key that she knew would have made Sherlock scowl and say something nasty about her stunning lack of musical talent. "And I don't really care!" she sang for good measure, before sticking her toothbrush in her mouth.

The last thing she did was hang up her dress and put her good shoes away. She looked for the bow, but couldn't find it in the bag. Not that she needed it to remember this strange, terrible, wonderful day, but it would have been something to put in her memory box. She'd look for it in the car tomorrow.

She snuggled under the duvet told herself sternly that she wasn't going to obsess over whether or not he would actually call. He had a lot to deal with right now and yes, they'd had a very nice time, but if it never happened again, she would still have the memory of it, bow or not. And maybe a good friend, too, if she didn't mess it up.

She wasn't going to play what if with Greg Lestrade. She was done with those kinds of dreams.

If Sherlock Holmes never gave her anything else—and it looked as if he wouldn't—he'd at least given her that. Painful, she thought, maybe cruel. But necessary.

Perhaps she'd even thank him one day.

Chapter Text

Lestrade groaned as Donovan dropped two more folders on his desk. "Sorry, sir," she said. "But that's the last of them."

"How can one domestic produce this much paperwork?" he asked, knowing the answer all too well.

"Alcohol and mistletoe," she deadpanned. "Deadly combo."

"Yeah. We should remember that for our department Christmas parties."

She grinned and propped herself on the side of his desk. "But without the blackmail, how will we pay for the next one?"

"True enough." He opened the top folder and picked up his pen. "Fifteen GBHs and twenty-six contradictory interviews all out of one drunken kiss."

"At least this one was easy enough for us to work out on our own. It's been nice, not having the freak around."

"Sally," he said, as he began scanning a statement, "would you, as a special favor to me, stop calling him that? At least within my earshot?"

"I'll try." She pressed her lips together. "Sir."

"Yes?"

"Have you told Pitts about him?"

Lestrade sighed. The previous Chief Supervisor hadn't had any problems with consultants, not when they got results. But Gerry Pitts did—even unpaid ones. He thought outside assistance reflected poorly on the department. "Not yet. What he doesn't know won't hurt us." He gave her a look. "Any of us."

"But what if he finds out? What if the fre—what if someone tells him?"

"Sherlock has never asked for any public recognition for solving police crimes, and I don't see that changing."

"No?" She reached out and flipped over his copy of the Times to show yet another photo of Sherlock trying to hide under that ridiculous hat. "I do."

"Leave it, will you?" He met her belligerent eyes. "If you can't trust him, even after all he's done for our success rate, then trust me."

She opened her mouth, caught his expression, threw up her hands and walked out.

Lestrade rubbed his eyes and glanced at the clock. Later than usual, but not too late, he hoped. He reached for his desk phone.

It rang four times. "Hello? Oh!" There was a thump and a clatter. "Sorry," said Molly, after a moment. "I dropped the phone. And a few . . . other things."

"It's just me," he said. "Are you busy? Sorry I missed your break."

"You didn't. I couldn't take one, but everything's settled a—wait. I've lost one. It's rolled somewhere. . . there it is! Can't have that lurking behind the bin," she added, with a hint of giggle. "The cleaners would have a fit."

He leaned back in his chair and grinned. He couldn't believe he'd wasted so much time not talking with Molly Hooper. "Do I want to know?"

"Probably not," she said. "I'm cleaning up after Sherlock."

"Definitely not, then," he said, losing his smile. "You, ah, you saw him today?"

"He came in to use the lab and needed some extra bits and pieces to work with," she said, her voice echoing. He heard a metallic sound, like a door shutting, and the echo stopped. "John said it was for the Steinham case—is that one of yours?"

John had been there, too. He relaxed and told himself not to be stupid. "No, I haven't called him for a while. Haven't needed to, thank God."

"That's good," she said, accompanied by the familiar double snap of latex gloves being removed. "Isn't it?"

"We all seem to think so. Busy day?" And exactly how much of it had she spent with Sherlock?

"Three autopsies." She sighed as if she'd just sat down. "Nothing out of the ordinary, but I've been on my feet all day."

He relaxed further. "Almost done, then?"

"Mmmm. I have to type up the rest of my notes," she said. "But that won't take long. You?"

"Two more reports to verify, and I'm free until morning. Criminal classes willing," he added.

"Would you—are you free for dinner tonight?"

"Absolutely," he said. He looked forward to their daily conversations, which were all they'd been able to manage, the weeks after the holidays being what they always were, but he wanted to see her. "Where and when?"

"Well," she said, clearing her throat. "I thought I might—"

"Molly!" said an all-too familiar deep voice. "I need an extra pair of hands."

"Um, for what?" she said.

"An experiment upstairs. Say goodbye to whoever that is and let's go. Shouldn't take more than an hour, maybe two."

There was a pause.

"I'm sorry . . ." she said.

Lestrade exhaled. He wasn't surprised—he'd been half expecting it, really. Why choose a graying, almost-divorced policeman over a brilliant force of nature? "That's all ri—"

" . . . .But I have plans."

There was another pause.

"No you don't. What plans? You never have plans."

"Sherlock," said a calmer voice. "Of course Molly has plans—we all have plans. You just ignore everyone else's."

"What sort of plans could she possibly have on a Friday at this hour?"

"The sort that are none of our business," said John. "Come on—I'll do whatever it is you need done."

"You?"

"Yes, me. I was required to pass basic chemistry, you know."

"Over a decade ago. And you have a hand tremor."

"Which you insist is psychosomatic. Just tell me how dangerous it will be if I drop something—that should fix it. Sherlock, go. Enjoy your evening, Molly," he added.

"Thank you, John," she said faintly. "Are you still there? Greg?"

"I am," he said, feeling the smile spread across his face. "Are you?"

"Yes," she said, sounding a bit stunned. "I am."

"So," he said. "Where and when?"

"Oh! Um, you were saying the other day how tired you are of take out, so I thought I might make you dinner? At my place? Seven o'clock? If you aren't finished with your reports by then, you could look them over while I cook."

"I'd like that," he said. "I'd like that very much. Can I bring anything?" he asked.

"Just you—criminal classes willing. Bye!"

"Bye," he said. He put the phone back in its cradle, feeling as though he'd won some kind of victory.

 

ooooOOOOoooo

 

Molly answered her door in a casual jumper and jeans, thick socks on her feet and her damp hair held back with an Alice band. An earbud cord trailed to the small MP3 player clipped to her waistband. She looked about seventeen.

"Hi," she said, her pleased smile warming him from the inside out. "The criminal classes were willing?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, for once. Here, I thought you might like this."

"You didn't have to bring—" she looked at the bottle and laughed. "Chocolate liquor! How did you know?"

"Detective, remember?" He hung his overcoat and scarf next to hers on the massive coat tree next to the door and followed her into a small, cozy living room. "Something smells great," he said, glancing at the framed photographs scattered about. One of them was of Molly and an older man—the man looked gaunt and Molly looked pale and tired, but both were smiling the same loving smile at each other.

"It's almost ready," she said. "Did you finish your reports?"

"I did. How about your notes?"

"Just about," she said, tapping the player at her waist. "We'll be eating in the kitchen," she said.

"Suits me."

The kitchen was bigger than the other room, and featured a table set for two with a round loaf of bread and a fresh salad. A heavy lidded pot of something was on the stove, and Molly typed something into the open laptop on the counter and closed it. "I know it's odd to write up autopsy notes while cooking," she said, unclipping the player and wrapping the earbud wire around it, "but I promise I didn't get confused."

"The thought hadn't crossed my mind until now." He chuckled at the face she made and leaned against the counter.

She took a dish towel and lifted the lid of the pot, sending a wave of deliciousness through the room.

"You couldn’t have made that in an hour," he said, breathing deeply.

"It's an estouffade," she said, setting the lid to one side. "It's been cooking itself all day in the oven. I'm supposed to add olives at the last minute, but I know you don't like them."

"How did you know that?"

She stirred the stew with a large spoon. "You told John once that you didn't drink Martinis because you can't stand olives."

"I did? When?"

She frowned. "You were talking about the Blind Banker case, I think. Both of you agreed Martinis were how the other half drank."

"Good memory," he said.

"For some things." She passed him, opened the cupboard to his left, and strethed up on her toes. "Darn, pushed them back," she said, dropping down. "Could you get two of those bowls, please? Those brown ones?"

He lifted them down and turned to hand them to her. She was standing closer than he'd thought, and for a moment, they both held the bowls between them.

Molly had beautiful eyes.

"Thanks," she said, taking the bowls and moving away. "It must be nice to be tall."

"It has its uses. What would you have done if the criminal classes had decided to act up tonight?"

She went still. "I don't know," she said, looking up at him with an expression he couldn't interpret. Then she cocked her head to the side. "Used a chair and put olives in the pot?"

He grinned back. "That's me shown my place," he said.

"Go and sit. I'll dish up."

The estouffade was delicious and he ate enough to be embarrassed, if she hadn't been so pleased about it. "Sorry," he said. "Man can't live by curries alone, but I've been trying."

"Don't apologize," she said. "An empty pot is a compliment, or that's what my mother used to say."

"Used to?"

"She died when I was young. She was a good cook."

"So is her daughter."

She smiled. "That's what Dad always said, even when I burned everything."

He thought about the photo he'd seen, but didn't ask. There was time.

Molly tried to shoo him into the living room while she cleared the table, but he wouldn't go and washed up the few dishes while she put the leftovers away and they talked as easily as they had over the phone, eventually carrying a friendly argument over chain of evidence into the living room.

They sat on the small sofa, and he noticed that she made that same relieved sigh as she settled.

He interrupted her in the middle of a sentence. "Here," he said, reaching down for one small foot.

She hesitated, then pulled her legs up and swung her legs around so her back was against the sofa arm.

"I used to be good at this," he said, beginning a gentle foot rub. "Kick me if it hurts."

"Okay," she said, but her blissful sigh told him he hadn't lost his knack. "But I don't see the point, if the evidence bags have those seals on them."

"The point is, even if the bags are still sealed, sometimes all it takes to contaminate the chain in the eyes of the jury is the wrong person coming near them."

"The wrong person being the defendant or someone close to them?"

"Or a friend or relative of the victim."

"Oh." Her eyes were half-closed. "What about Sherlock?"

His thumb dug in and she hissed. "Sorry. What about Sherlock?"

"Is he the wrong person?"

He switched feet. "Often—just ask Anderson."

She frowned. "I don't like Anderson."

"Few do. But that doesn't mean he isn't right about the evidence. So we make sure to get as much independent confirmation as we can, just in case someone decides Sherlock's brilliance isn't enough."

"Hmmm. Good."

"Good?" He wouldn't have thought she'd doubt Sherlock's abilities.

"You're very good at this," she said.

"Thanks." He'd had a lot of practice early in his marriage, when his soon-to-be-ex had started teaching, but it had been a long time since he'd offered. Of course, it had been a longer time since she'd accepted. He shook off the memories. "Does that mean I've won?"

"Hmmm. Okay."

He chuckled "Maybe I should use this technique on the higher-ups. But touching Pitts' feet would be a high price to pay."

"As long as you don't use it on Sergeant Donovan—" She opened her eyes and blushed bright red. She pulled her feet away. "I mean . . ."

He moved to face her. "Sally isn't my type," he said. "And I'm not hers."

"Oh."

"Yes, oh." And he waited for her to ask.

But she didn't.

Instead, she stared at him for a long moment, then gathered her legs under her and knelt up on her cushion. She put out a hand to his face, then leaned in close.

Her hair smelled of lemon and vanilla.

And when she kissed him, she tasted even better than he remembered.

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

Chapter Text

Lestrade woke up suddenly, confused for a moment by the sounds of traffic instead of ocean. Reassured and reminded by the scent of lemon and vanilla and the warm comfort of a quilted duvet, he carefully stretched half his body, trying not to disturb the woman sleeping on the other half.

Molly made a noise of protest and snuggled closer. Now that they were back in London, she was wearing clothes to bed again, but as she'd nicked one of his shirts as a nightgown and hadn't put on much else, he hadn't complained.

He smiled to himself and pressed his lips to her hairline. This past week had been one of the best of his life. Sand, sun, sea—and Molly.

Thank heavens he didn't have to pay alimony—together, he and Molly had easily afforded a small bungalow at a beachfront resort on Majorca. He smiled as he remembered how he'd made sure to request a fold-out couch, just in case.

He hadn't wanted to make assumptions or rush her into—no, that was a lie. But the day his divorce had become final, two capital cases had landed on his desk and Molly deserved better than an hour between interviews and much better than a man running on bad coffee and next to no sleep for a week straight.

Molly had said she understood how important his job was to him, but that hadn't been what he'd meant and he hadn't been certain he could explain why he wanted everything to be right for her without sounding like he was offering lame excuses.

And once they'd arrived at the bungalow, he found himself as nervous as a bridegr—as nervous as a teenager. He'd carried her cases into the bedroom, trying not to look at the enormous bed that filled most of the room.

"Thanks," she'd said, going to the window and raising the wooden blinds. "Oh! It's so beautiful here, isn't it?"

He'd moved next to her. It was gorgeous, but all he could think about was her, and how desperate he was to . . . "So," he'd said, looking at his watch. "It's about two hours until dinner." He placed his hand on her back and slid it up to her neck. "How would you like to pass the—"

"Why not a walk, maybe a quick dip in the sea?" she'd asked in a rush.

He'd dropped his hand and told himself to take things slow. "Sounds good. It'll help shake off the flight."

It had taken him all of five minutes to change into his swim trunks and find a short sleeved shirt. He left it unbuttoned—it was much warmer here than London, but not oppressive— and went to explore the small kitchenette.

He'd been holding a glass of water and staring at the couch, wondering how uncomfortable it was likely to be, when she'd walked out of the bedroom wearing a cotton robe that covered her neck to knee.

"Would you, um, would you mind doing my back?" she'd asked, holding up a bottle of sunblock.

"If you'll do mine," he said, taking it and examining the label. "I didn't know they made one so strong. This stuff is practically paint."

"I freckle," she said, her voice no more than a whisper, and when he looked up to see what was wrong, she dropped the robe and stood there in a dark green bikini.

It was a modest one by resort standards, but he knew from her expression the courage it had taken for her to wear it. For him.

"Turn around," he said, when he could.

By the time he'd stroked lotion over all that smooth, luminous skin, he'd been in no state to be seen in public and she'd been more than willing for him to see her not wearing the bikini.

Which, she'd confessed afterward—quite a while afterward—had been the idea.

The couch had stayed folded the entire time.

Lestrade grinned. He'd had similar ideas when the cab had dropped them off at her place yesterday afternoon and he'd insisted on going in with her to make sure everything was as it should be. He was fairly certain she'd been aware of his ulterior motives, but she'd asked him to stay for dinner anyway—and then just to stay.

He had hopes for tonight as well—neither of them had to be at work for another few days, and he found himself reluctant to go back to his own flat. Without her.

He leaned his cheek against her hair and sighed.

It was too soon to trust his feelings, he knew that much, and he also knew the danger of thinking that everything would remain as perfect as it was. He'd felt that way once before and look what had happened.

But as he lay there, drowsing, he couldn't help hoping that maybe this could be —

His phone rang.

He stifled a curse, slid out of bed as carefully as he could—Molly muttered and rolled over—and grabbed the phone out of his pants pocket on his way to the living room.

"Lestrade," he growled. He was still on holiday, damn it, and unless someone had nicked the Crown Jewels—

"Good morning, Detective Inspector."

He stifled another curse. "Mr. Holmes," he replied. "This is a surprise."

"My brother appears to have once again placed himself up to his neck in something better avoided."

That was not a surprise. "I'm sorry to hear that."

"I'm sure you are. Perhaps you've heard about the strange happenings near Baskerville?"

"No, I'm afraid I haven't. I've been—"

"On holiday." The word was pronounced with faint derision. "And now you've returned."

Lestrade had a strong feeling he was expected to apologize for leaving without permission. He took some small pleasure in not doing so.

"My brother is investigating rumors of a giant, savage hound on the moors and true to form has decided the best way to do this is to upset as many people as possible."

"I can call the local constabulary, in a few hours," said Lestrade, glancing at the clock and wincing. "But with all due respect I'm not your brother's personal Get Out of Gaol Free Card—"

"He's not presently in gaol—it might be better for everyone if he was."

Lestrade rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "So . . . you want me to have him arrested?"

"Tempting as that is, not just yet. You will go to Baskerville and assist my brother in his endeavors. A train is leaving in three hours. I trust that will provide you with sufficient time to put your . . .affairs in order."

Lestrade's head came up. "Now wait a minute," he said. "I've got plans."

"No." Pleasant, pointed, and final.

"But—assist him how? What about John?"

"However you deem necessary. And while Doctor Watson is intelligent, resourceful and an accurate shot, a more official armed presence might prove . . . useful."

Lestrade tried one more time. "Sherlock's not going to appreciate this."

"He never does. But he did ask me for help and is therefore in no position to argue if I send more than was originally requested—although I expect he will. Do we understand each other, Inspector?"

Lestrade blew out a breath. "Yeah."

"Good."

There was a click and Lestrade was left staring at his phone, wondering when exactly he'd become a puppet in the Holmes family panto.

He went back into the bedroom and found his clothes, wondering if he should wake Molly or leave a note.

"Greg?"

"I'm sorry," he said, "but it looks like my holiday is over."

"Criminal classes unwilling?" she said, turning on the light.

"I wish." He told her about it as he dressed, hoping for a little sympathy.

"How exciting!" she said. "There was an article about it in British Heritage It's like the Loch Ness Monster crossed with Area 51. There are tours and everything."

He yanked on his pants. "You don't think it's strange that I'm supposed to drop everything to join a monster hunt on the moors?"

"If Sherlock thinks it's worth looking into," she said, sitting against the headboard up with her arms around her knees, "then it is. Aren't you curious to know what's really going on?"

"Not really, no." He wanted to spend the day with her—and he'd hoped she might show a little disappointment that he couldn't.

But she didn't. "If his brother is worried enough to ask for your help, of course you have to go."

"Mycroft Holmes never asks for anythingAnd why me?"

"Because you're Sherlock's friend," she said. "And it's the kind of man you are."

"What kind is that?"

She gave him one of her smiles. "The very best kind."

He looked at her and sighed. "All right. I know when I'm outnumbered. But can I at least have some breakfast first?"

"Of course." She scrambled out of bed and yelped as he smacked her bottom as she passed.

Watching her cook wearing nothing more than his shirt and a pair of fuzzy pink socks almost made up for having to leave.

But not quite.

 

OOOOOoooooOOOOO

 

For the second time in three days, Lestrade woke disoriented, but this time wasn't nearly so pleasant.

Images replayed through his mind, dreams and illusions and memory twisting together. He shuddered.

Sherlock had said there wouldn't be any long term effects from the gas, but if the dreams were any indication . . .

He scrubbed his face with a hand and looked at the clock. Two a.m. Of course.

He should have gone straight back to the station after that warm welcome from Sherlock—what had the man thought his first name was? Inspector?—no matter what Mycroft Holmes might do and what Molly might think.

But at least John had wanted him there, and he'd been more than happy take his disappointing day out on a couple of opportunistic villagers who hadn't thought things through. He wished he'd found something to charge them with—too bad stupidity wasn't technically a crime.  But if it was, three-fourths of the country would be in lock up.

He should have known better than to assume it was over. He'd thought the call was from Molly until he'd heard that unmistakable voice:

"Lestrade—get to the Hollow. Dewer's Hollow. Now. And bring a gun."

Even with directions from the cowed innkeeper, he'd got lost, running through the night to a place he'd never been. He'd heard the shouting, from Sherlock and John and Henry Knight, and had reoriented himself and found them just in time for all hell to break loose—or so it seemed.

He shuddered. He knew it was just a bloody great dog, he'd seen it, afterward, but . . . He'd be grateful to get London back in his lungs after this—he'd take up smoking again, if it meant never going through that again.

A soft sound caught his attention—a whimper, a moan, a cry of pain—and he was spooked enough to poke his head out of his door, then step out into the hall when he heard it again.  He followed it a few doors down, steeled himself, then tried the handle.

He eased the door open a few inches and peered into the dimly-lit room.

Molly was on the bed in her green bikini, Sherlock lying next to her, touching her, and the sounds she was making weren't sounds of pain at all—

Lestrade threw the door open without thinking. "Get your bloody hands off—"

Sherlock leapt to his feet, knocking his chair over. "Shut up," he hissed. "The gas has triggered his PTSD. It's dangerous to—"

John—of course it was John—screamed in enraged anguish, and bolted upright.

"Sherlock!" he shouted, his eyes wildly searching until he saw the tall man standing at his bedside. He reached out and grabbed Sherlock's wrist, staring up at him for a long, searching moment, before he collapsed back. "Oh," he said. "Oh, my God. I thought you were . . . I thought the hound had got you. . . "

"Just a dream," said Sherlock, though he didn't pull away from John's grip.

"Bloody nightmare," said John, still breathing heavily. His eyes flickered to Lestrade and stuck. "Greg? Don't tell me I was that loud."

Lestrade shook his head. "I had a bad dream as well," he said. "I heard a noise and had to see what it was."

"From your expression, you were still dreaming," said Sherlock, finally stepping away from John. He sat on the other bed. "I suppose I should be grateful you left your gun in your room."

"Yeah," said Lestrade, rubbing the back of his neck. "You probably should." He was—there was no doubt in his mind that he would have aimed it at Sherlock, or where his mind had told him Sherlock had been.

And he also knew the hallucination and the rage weren't all an effect of the gas.

Sherlock tilted his head. "Who did you see? The gym teacher?"

Lestrade leveled a look of his own. "Who did you see in the Hollow when you were wrestling with Foster?"

The other man froze for a split second. "No one," he said with a sniff. "I saw Foster. No one else."

"You said, Not you. Not now," said Lestrade. "Care to share?"

"My . . . my brother," said Sherlock, glancing at John. "Certainly he's frightening enough."

This was true, but Lestrade didn't think it was true. Sherlock had sounded panicked, and while Mycroft Holmes might inspire a flight or freeze reflex in most people, he inspired pure fight in his brother.

"Can we discuss this in the morning, please?" said John.

"Of course," said Lestrade. "Sorry."

"Don't be," John said, with a tight smile. "I'm sorry for disturbing you."

"Not your fault," said Sherlock. "It was Foster and his neurotoxins."

"Yeah," said John, relaxing. "Almost a shame he blew himself up before I could thank him personally."

"I'd have held him for you," said Lestrade, meaning it and not caring whether it was a side effect or not.

"Agreed," said Sherlock.

The three men looked at each other in perfect understanding.

 

Chapter Text

Molly walked down the hall towards the morgue with an armload of case files, humming under her breath and thinking of the previous night with what was probably a very silly smile.

Greg had returned from Baskerville with an incredible story and what seemed to be a singular determination to make her forget why she'd ever fancied another man. And it was working.

"It's about time," snapped Sherlock, appearing in front of her.

"Morning, Molly," said John, gathering her files from the floor and handing her half. "Back from your holidays, then?"

"Your observational skills are sharp as ever, John," said Sherlock, eyeing both of them with imperial impatience. "Why does everyone insist on going away to do nothing? Most of them don't do anything of any significance while they're here."

"Present company excepted, of course," said John, as if he was prompting a child. "It wouldn't hurt you to actually try a pleasant greeting—especially to someone who's taken on the thankless job of keeping you from turning grave robber."

Sherlock sighed and stretched his face into his patented fake smile. "Hello, Molly, welcome back, I trust you had a pleasant time. You're looking well . . ." He made a vague gesture. ". . . freckled."

"I went somewhere sunny," she said, but he was already striding away to the double doors, which he threw open and let swing shut behind him.

"Lucky you," said John. "Greg Lestrade came back from his holidays with a good tan, too. He went to . . . Majorca, I think."

"Yes," she said, sorting through her folders as they walked. "He did. The bungalow was right off the beach. It was gorgeous." She realized what she'd said and sighed. She supposed it was silly to keep it from Sherlock in the first place—it was even possible he knew and simply didn't care enough to make one of his acidic remarks.

"Really?" said John. "I thought he said he didn't bother taking any pictu—" He stopped, turned, and blinked at her. "Wait. You were there? You and Greg? Together? I mean . . . together?"

She nodded, knowing he would be nice about it, whatever he thought. Not that he'd think anything bad, not John, and not that she needed his permission to stop fawning over his best friend like a twitterpated idiot.

But she was still pleased when a delighted smile spread over his face. "That's fantastic!" he said. "Since when?"

"Christmas. You know, the, um—"

"The so-called party?" He shook his head. "At least something good came out of that fiasco. I thought Greg seemed far more cheerful lately—you must be good for him. But you two're keeping it quiet."

"Not really," she said, nodding at the still swinging doors. "Some people just aren't that observant."

"So I've been told." John chuckled. "You would rather one consulting detective figure it out on his own, then? If at all?"

She shrugged. "If he likes. But it's not really his area, is it?"

His eyes crinkled. "I've been told that, too. I won't say a word about it, though under normal circumstances, he doesn't need one. You know, " he added. "I think Greg's been good for you, too."

"He is."

"Well, I'm happy for you both." He went thoughtful. "You and he . . . fit. You really do."

"Thank you, John," she said, and impulsively kissed him on the cheek.

Unlike most of her impulses, this one earned her a smile. "Thank you, Molly."

The doors swung open again. "If you two are quite finished beaming at each other, I need another pair of hands in here."

John and Molly sighed in tandem and did as they were told.

 

ooooooooooOOOOOOOOoooooooooo

 

Molly dropped the Times on the table and went to rescue the kettle and shove some bread in the toaster. Breakfast would have to be quick—she'd overslept and was running just a bit behind schedule this morning.

She wondered if there would be any articles worth clipping today. She was still keeping up the Sherlock scrapbook she'd started years ago—though only because she was planning to give it to John for his next birthday—but her real interest these days was any mention of one Detective Inspector Lestrade. He would tell her about his cases, the ones he could, but he was always modest about his role in solving them.

That made a nice change.

So was seeing his face, even if it was a smudgy photograph. They'd both been so busy for the last few weeks, though they managed the odd weekend and lunch date and he still called every day, sometimes twice, sometimes at odd hours—though if it was a choice between hearing his voice and having time for a decent breakfast, she'd take the late calls every time.

He'd even sent her an image of Sherlock wearing the ridiculous deerstalker the Yard had given him. It marked the first public recognition of what Sherlock had done for the police and Greg had thought the gentle mockery might help soothe his team's objections.

Molly had hoped Sherlock's growing popularity would've shown Donovan and Anderson that other people could appreciate his brilliance without being pig jealous. She of all people knew how abrasive Sherlock could be, but honestly, how old were they? If they didn't want their sordid little secrets told, they shouldn't antagonize the person who could deduce them just by looking.

She brought her toast and cup to the table and unfolded the paper. Attempt Made on Crown Jewels: Thief Waits for Police, asks for London's Favorite Sleuth.

One for Sherlock's book, then. She skimmed it for mention of Greg and glanced at the photograph.

Then looked again. She could swear that was Jim Culver, the one who . . .

She thought for a moment, then went to find her phone.

"Watson." It was more a warning than a greeting.

"John, it's Molly."

"Molly." His voice softened. "Sorry—I should have checked the number before barking at you. We're getting all sorts of calls this morning."

"Oh. Um, sorry for bothering you, but . . . Is this Jim Moriarty in the paper the same person as Jim Culver? Jim from IT," she added. "The one who—"

"Um, yeah. Sorry, yeah. He is."

"Sorry for what?" she asked, thinking that she really should have thanked Sherlock for being so blunt about Jim's orientation. "It's not as if you knew he was a criminal."

There was a pause.

"John. You . . . you and Sherlock didn't know he was a jewel thief, right?"

"A jewel thief? No, no, of course not. That was almost a year ago, wasn't it? You haven't seen him since then, right?"

"No," she said. "I broke it off after Sherlock told me about, um, the phone number. Is he . . . obsessed with Sherlock or something?"

John's voice went grim again. "That's a fair assessment. Dead on, actually."

"Should I tell the police that I know him?"

"I really don't think that's—"

She could hear Sherlock's voice in the background, demanding something.

"Sorry, Molly, I have to go. Ask Greg about giving the police your information before you talk to anyone else—and if you see Moriarty again, call Sherlock or me right away, okay?"

"But the papers said he's been arrested—"

"The papers don't know anything about him. For God's sake, Sherlock, I'll be right there! Promise me, Molly."

"Okay." John ended the call and Molly shut her phone and read the article thoroughly this time, ignoring her cooling tea and the kitchen clock.

She might have gone to embarrassing lengths to attract Sherlock's attention, but she'd never gone this far.

She picked up her phone again.

"Lestrade."

"It's me, Molly."

"Molly?" There was a pause, as if he'd switched his phone to his other ear. "Sorry—wasn't expecting you on my office line."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be—you're the one person I want to talk to today."

"Are you busy? You sound busy."

The sound of rustling paper stopped. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"I'm fine—well, not fine, but . . . You know the Crown Jewel Thief? Moriarty?"

"I should," he said. "He's created more than one mess for us over the last couple days. Why?"

"Oh. Well, I don't know if this is important, but I knew him. Sort of."

"'Sort of'?" His tone was sharp, the one she imagined he used with suspects. "What kind of 'sort of'?"

"We, ah, dated a bit. Just lunches. Last year. He was trying to get close to Sherlock. I didn't know if it was important, but John said I should call."

There was a short silence.

"Wait for me across the street."

"Why?"

"Because Moriarty is dangerous and unpredictable and if anything happens to—Look, please, just go. I'm on my way."

Molly called in sick and by the time Greg arrived, it was very nearly true. It didn't help that he'd brought two vans full of men wearing generic blue coveralls and serious expressions—and that the first thing he did was evacuate the entire side of the block while the men went through every house and flat looking for something that wasn't a gas leak, no matter what her neighbors were told.

It took hours.

After the vans had left and everyone was allowed to go back inside, Molly was left with a scowling Detective Inspector in her living room.

"You're angry," she said. "I didn't mean to—"

"I'm furious," he said and pulled her into a bruising hug. "But not with you." He loosened his arms enough to kiss the top of her head, but not much more. "Sherlock and John are very lucky we didn't find anything."

She pulled free and looked up at him. "What were you looking for? A bomb? Why would a thief use a bomb—and why would Jim—James—why would he want to hurt me in the first place?"

"Do you remember those bombs last year? All those people wearing explosive vests?"

"Of course. The first blast was on Baker's Street—Sherlock had to solve all these crimes to keep the vests from . . ." A shock went through her and she clung to him. "Jim did that? I had lunch with a murderer? How could they not tell me?"

Greg led her to her couch. "I don't know," he said, stuffing a few pillows behind her back as she sank onto the cushion. "But I mean to find out." He whipped out his phone and started pacing.

"Sherlock, what in the hell . . .no, no, you'll do, John. Why on earth didn't you two tell Molly about Moriarty? She dated him, for God's sake—she knows him.  And he knows her."

"It was only a few lunches," she said. "I broke it off and he didn't seem to care."

"He's a madman," said Greg, though she wasn't sure if he was talking to her or to John.

He listened for a moment. "I know he is—I put him there. And I also know what you and Sherlock said about how he operates . . . Then check with him."

He sat heavily on the couch next to her and put his arm around her. She leaned on him, feeling safer already, though she was still worried—and a little bit angry.

Hadn't she deserved to know? Sherlock was so quick to point out all the stupid things she did—why keep this one a secret?

She could hear John's muffled voice from Greg's phone, something with "Molly concerned" and "Lestrade," but Sherlock's reply was quite clear:

"Why would Moriarty bother with Molly, John? It should be obvious to him from our first encounter in the lab that he can't get to me by hurting her. I doubt he remembers her name."

Molly stiffened, then relaxed. It wasn't as if it was news that she didn't register to Sherlock unless he needed something or she was in his way.

"John," said Greg through his teeth. "I won't bother explaining to Sherlock, since he obviously won't give a damn, but I expect you to understand: if Molly is hurt because of something he didn't bother to prevent, he's going to wish that damned hound had got him. Am I making myself clear?" He paused. "Thank you." He snapped his phone shut and tossed it aside, then turned to pull Molly into his lap.

She put her head against his shoulder and breathed in his warmth. "You shouldn't have yelled at John," she said. "He was worried, too—he told me to call you."

"That's the least he could do. The very least."

"I suppose," she said, "it's a good thing I'm insignificant."

He tipped her chin up. "You aren't insignificant," he said. "You matter very much."

"Not to Sher—"

"You matter."

And he kissed her until she almost believed it.

 

Chapter Text

The non-bomb scare—and it had been the scare of his life, without any kind of chemical gas to blame— had only confirmed what Lestrade had already suspected.

He was in love with Molly Hooper and that wasn't likely to change.

He'd even started thinking about rings at odd times during the day, something that had never happened to him before, even with his ex-wife—she'd dragged him shopping for one before he'd even proposed, lingering over the larger solitaires and making pointed remarks. But Molly would need a flat stone, so she wouldn't have to worry about either tearing her gloves at work or taking it off and keeping it safe. And she seemed more emeralds and pearls than diamonds to him, though he might be having bikini flashbacks.

Unfortunately, he still wasn't entirely sure of her feelings. He knew she cared for him, wanted him, responded to him . . . But she hadn't said she loved him and he wasn't going to presume.

Of course, he hadn't said it either—once bitten, twice shy, he supposed. But while his ex-wife's final rejection had only hurt his pride, if he lost Molly . . .

And then Moriarty had stepped into the limelight and Lestrade's love life had been pushed aside, more or lesswhatever John and Sherlock thought, Molly wouldn't be safe until that madman was finished.  No one was.

He and John—and maybe Sherlock, though he'd been even more closed-mouthed than usual—had considered it a good sign that Sherlock's criminal counterpart appeared to be staying quietly behind bars, visited only by his lawyer.

Until that farce of a trial.

Lestrade didn't know how Moriarty had pulled it off, but he had and now he was out there somewhere—with two innocent children, whom even Sherlock couldn't find.

He poured over the crime scene photographs for the fifth time in an hour, hoping to find something . . .

His phone chirped, breaking his concentration.

"Greg? It's Molly. Would you mind if I cancelled our lunch date?"

"I was just going to call you—I can't make it either. Again. I'm sorry, but . . . it's kids, Molly. A kidnapping."

"Not another one! Or—is it the same one Sherlock is working on?"

"Is he there?"

"Yes, he and John just arrived. He wants me to help him run some tests." She paused. "He, um, he said Moriarty was involved?"

He rubbed the back of his neck, hating that she would have anything to do with Moriarty, even by association. But John was there, and he knew John hadn't gone anywhere without his Browning since the trial. "Anything you can do would be appreciated," he said, finally. "We have to find them."

"I know." She took a deep breath. "Be careful, Greg, please. If I'm safe because I don't count with Sherlock, then you're in danger because you do."

"Molly, after this is all over, I'm going to prove to you—"

"Molly! Stop jabbering and say goodbye!"

"Sorry. He needs me."

"Yeah, so do I," he said, feeling tired. "But go on. I'll call later."

"See that you do." And she was gone.

Lestrade went back to his photos. With Molly and Sherlock looking, he hoped this whole thing would be over by dinner time tomorrow—and this time, he was going to throw Moriarty in a cell himself and weld the lock shut.

 

ooooOOOOoooo

 

But it didn't work out like that. At all.

And when it all went to hell, it caught Lestrade up and carried him along to a place he'd hoped he'd never have to go.

 

ooooOOOOoooo

 

"You arrested him? Greg—"

"I had to, Molly. I did warn John, but not in time. And better me than . . ." He rubbed a hand over his face. Better him than the people he had counted on to have his back—and who had trampled him underfoot in their efforts to destroy Sherlock Holmes.

He rubbed his eyes and looked around his office, wondered how much longer he would be allowed to stay in it. "And I thought if we had him in custody, we might be able to get it sorted."

"What did John do?"

"He hit Pitts."

"Good for him."

His lips twitched. "Well, yeah, but it was still a mess and it got him cuffed, too. And then Sherlock took John hostage and escaped—"

"What?"

"I said it was a mess. Look—if you see them—either of them—could you convince them to have Sherlock turn himself in? Or at least call me so I can try? It's important—he's in real trouble this time. So is John, but not as much."

She didn't say anything and in that silence, his heart sank. "You're harboring him, aren't you."

"Greg—"

"Christ—you're harboring Sherlock bloody Holmes and I'm an officer of the law."

"I'm at St. Bart's," she said. "In my office. There's no one in here but me." Her voice rang with sincerity and he was about to apologize when she added, "But if they do show up . . . Greg, he's done nothing wrong. You know he's not a fake—you know that. I don't care what the papers say or your precious Sally Donovan. He worked for hours in my lab to find those children! He was . . ." Her voice faltered. "He was worried."

"What I know or think I know has no bearing on anything right now, Molly! Pitts is on the warpath and he's not listening to me. Nobody is listening to me! If we're going to fix this, we need to know where he is and what he's doing."

"That never stopped anyone from misunderstanding him before."

"Look—I know you're his biggest fan, but Christ, Molly, even you can see that the circumstantial—"

"Even I can see?" Her voice shook. "Even gullible little Molly Hooper?"

"That's not what I—"

"I'm not the one who's blind here, Greg. I know he has his faults and I know he's not the nicest person and of all people on this earth I know he doesn't have that thing inside that would tell him he shouldn't step over people to get to the truth.

"But I also know that he choose to hunt down evil people when it would be so easy for him to join them. He could have turned on us, on all the people who made him feel so . . . so lonely until Mrs. Hudson and you and John came along and showed him he wasn't alone." She took a breath. "And maybe even me, even if I am too stupid to know my own mind."

"Molly, I'm—I didn't mean—"

"Maybe not, but you said it all the same. I'll . . . I have to go."

And she did.

Lestrade swore under his breath, only stopping when his desk phone buzzed.

"Lestrade." He closed his eyes, then opened them again. "Yes, sir."

He replaced the receiver, stood up, and went to face the music.

 

ooooOOOOoooo

 

She found him alone in the lab, staring at his phone. As she moved towards him, he touched the screen.

"It isn't going to be enough," she said.

"Of course it is," he said, his eyes still on the phone. He dropped it into his pocket and slipped off the stool. "Now isn't the time for second guesses, Molly —"

"No," she said, grabbing his arm. "Listen. You said I counted. You said you trusted me. Was that just another lie to make me help you?"

He looked at her—really looked, for maybe the third time since they'd met. "It wasn't a lie."

"Then you need to do something for me. No, not for me—for John and Greg and Mrs. Hudson and your brother—"

"My brother—"

"For everyone who cares about you. When the mob can't get at you, it will go after them—it already has," she added. "But I think there's a way to stop it."

He stared at her. "What do you have in mind?"

She told him. And, for maybe the first time since they'd met, he listened.

"It's risky," he said, over fingertips pressed together as if in prayer. "It could negate the entire purpose of my—"

"How? It might even help prove that you—that you're gone. And it might come in useful when you come back."

"If I—"

"When. When you come back."

He pursed his lips. "You can't use it unless it's a true emergency," he said.

"Who decides?"

He blinked at her, and his lips twitched. "I did say I trusted you. All right. Give me as long as you can—at least a month. And I think some adjustments might be in order. You won't be able to do it alone and Lestrade doesn't have the. . ." He gave her a sharp glance. "You called him Greg," he said.

"Yes."

"The mocha he brought—you like chocolate. He tanned, you . . . freckled."

She watched him work it out. She supposed she should be amused at his incredulous expression or anxious about what he might say, but she only hoped it wouldn't be the last time she ever saw that glow he had when he put together pieces of a puzzle, especially one he hadn't even known was there.

"Lestrade never said . . . You never said. Not a word"

"You weren't interested."

He snorted. "That never stopped you parading all your other—" His eyes widened. "You're in love with him."

She sighed. "Very, very much."

"And does he . . . Of course. Not the gym teacher. That is interesting." For a moment, his tone was all wicked amusement.

"What is?"

He made a dismissive gesture. "You've quarreled, though. Recently."

"We had a . . . a disagreement. When I was in my office."

"Over me." It wasn't a question.

She hesitated, then nodded. "He knows you didn't—but it's so hard for him to understand—and I lost my temper."

"You lost your. . .?" He reached out and touched her shoulder. "I'm . . . John's right. I've always taken you for granted and I always seem to repay you with pain."

"It's not your fault." She brushed her eyes with her hand. "Not this time anyway. And if you'd ever paid me any attention at all, I wouldn't be any use to you now, would I?" She tried to smile. "We'd better get started. There isn't much time to—"

To her shock, he pulled her into a hug. "I might not need to do this at all," he said over her head. "I might not need to—this is only Plan B . . . "

He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself.

"True. You're not always right," she said, her voice muffled in his shirtfront. He smelled of chemicals and expensive soap and Sherlock, and she wrapped her arms around him and wished with all her heart that he was Greg. "You get things wrong, sometimes. Just like the rest of us."

He froze, then she heard him chuckle deep in his chest. "Hold that thought."

 

ooooOOOOoooo

 

She had held the thought—held it as tightly as she'd been allowed to hold him, and for far longer.

Until it was over and done.

She disposed of her gloves and shed her stained lab coat and walked into the locker room, grateful for the security men who were keeping the press outside the building and that she had enough clout to bar everyone else from the autopsy room .

She opened her locker and changed, then rested her forehead on the smooth, cold metal.

"He's dead," she whispered. "He's dead. He's dead. He's dead."

She repeated it like a mantra until the tears came.

Not all of them were for her.

And this time, when she left—by a side exit—there was no one waiting for her.

 

Chapter Text

Molly filled the kettle and tried to remember if she had any chamomile tea left. She couldn't think of anything else that might help her sleep—the hot bath hadn't worked and she didn't dare turn on the radio or television.

Every time she shut her eyes, she saw John's expression as he was restrained from following the stretcher into the hospital. She couldn't bear to think of what he was going through right now, or Mrs. Hudson, or—

The doorbell rang.

She re-tied the belt of her dressing gown, checked the peephole, and took a deep breath. Then she opened the door and stared at Greg, who stared back for a full second before engulfing her in a hug. "Are you okay?" he asked.

She nodded against his shoulder, then shook her head. "I don't know."

"I'm sorry I wasn't there for—I was called to the carpet this afternoon and no one told me until . . . I couldn't get near Bart's and when I did, they told me you'd gone home. Why didn't you call? I would have taken you home."

She'd wanted to—oh, she'd wanted to—but she was a terrible liar and even if she'd been an expert, she didn't think she could lie to Greg.

What had Sherlock said? Then don't lie, Molly. Tell the absolute truth—but not all of it.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I was busy with . . . with the body."

"Oh, God," he said, holding her away from him so he could see her face. "You did Sherlock's autopsy? Whose bloody brilliant idea was that?"

"There wasn't a full autopsy," she said, avoiding his eyes. "The cause of death wasn't in question. I prepared the . . .him . . . for official identification."

"Why you?"

"It had to be me," she said. "I couldn't let anyone else touch him. But not Moriarty. I didn't want anyone coming back and saying I'd lied to protect Sherlock. Evan—Doctor Brooksbank—did it. He doesn't care about Sherlock one way or another—he won't be accused of wearing blinders."

He pulled her to him again. "I'm sorry, Molly. I didn't mean it the say it sounded—I was in a foul mood and I took it out on you."

She slipped her arms around his waist. "I know. I'm sorry, too. I should have called." She told another half-truth. "I wanted to, but I shut off my phone."

"The press?"

More truth. "One wanted to know how . . . how bashed up he was." She shivered.

Lestrade let out a stream of bad words. "Sorry. It's been a hell of a day. I still can't believe—poor John. How could he do this to him? To you—to all of us?" His voice rose. "What was he thinking?"

She felt the tears well up. "Greg, would you mind if we didn't talk about—about anything? Could you just . . . stay with me?"

He tipped her face up and kissed her forehead then her lips. "Anything you like. I don't much want to be alone, either."

She exhaled in relief and led him by the hand to her bedroom.

If she didn't think too much, maybe she would be able to sleep in his arms.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

She woke up alone the next morning, but she could hear the murmur of the television from the living room.

She got up and dressed for work. No one would blame her for taking the day off, but there might be something she'd missed . . . She'd have to watch everything carefully for the next week or so.

She went into the kitchen. The kettle was near-whistling, so she rescued it and poured, bringing both cups into the living room. Greg sat in her father's armchair, watching the news with a scowl.

"Don't you have to be at work?" she asked, handing him a cup and looking at the clock.

"No. Can you believe this?" He gestured at the screen. "They're blaming Sherlock for Moriarty's death."

"What?" She sat on the couch. "The wounds were self-inflicted. They can't possibly argue with Evan's findings."

"They aren't—they're saying Brooks killed himself out of remorse. They're calling it a suicide pact."

"Who would believe such a thing? Greg?" she asked, when he didn't speak.

He sighed. "I don't know what I believe right now. The Sherlock Holmes I knew would never confess to being a fake and I doubt he'd feel enough regret to jump off a building—but maybe he was never that Sherlock."

"He wasn't a fraud, Greg. You know that."

"I honestly don't know what I know. I can't make sense of it, Molly. I've tried, but I can't . . ." He scrubbed his hands through his hair. "I'm so bloody angry that I can't even think. I called John—he isn't picking up. I checked with Mrs. Hudson—she says he hasn't moved or spoken a word since he came home. She sounds shaky herself, and no wonder."

"Oh, no," she whispered. Though what had she expected? "You should go over there, since you've taken the day off." She hoped he wouldn't ask why she hadn't.

"Taken it off?" He barked a laugh. "They've suspended me. Indefinitely. Pitts wants me to resign."

Her heart sank. This was so much worse than she'd imagined. "You can't—you love your job. And you're one of their best detectives!"

"Molly, do you have any idea how many appeals have been filed in the past week alone? The courts are thinking of reopening every case that Sherlock touched or is suspected of touching. And since I've been accused of being manipulated by a madman at best and gross negligence at worst, all of my cases have been tainted, too, back to when I was in uniform." He shook his head. "And what's worse is that my own people did this to me. People I trusted. And part of me can't help wondering what they saw that I didn't."

"I'm sorry," she said, feeling the tears running hot down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry. But . . . But Sherlock isn't—"

"No," he said, shutting off the set. "Whatever he did or didn't do, he made a god-awful mess of things, dropped us all in it, and took the selfish, cowardly way out. I may never forgive him for that. And considering how you feel about him, I'm surprised you can."

"He didn't have a choice," she said.

"How do you know that? How, Molly? Do you have tangible, certifiable evidence that he was forced off that building? Because every witness who heard it says the gunshot came before the jump—every single one, which in all my years of police work has happened exactly never. And there's no evidence that anyone else was on that roof."

He stared at her, eyes full of pain and rage and hope. "So if you have anything that can save Sherlock Holmes' reputation and by extension my career and John Watson's sanity, I'd like to hear it."

"I . . I can't," she said. She'd promised. One month—two weeks, minimum.

"But you still believe in him. After all he's done to all of us."

"Yes." She was openly crying now, wiping her eyes with her sleeve. "Yes, I do."

He looked at her for a long moment, sighed and got up.

She started to protest—he couldn't leave her, not now— but he only scooped her up and sat down again, settling her in his lap. He tucked her head under his chin and held her like a child, rubbing her back with a warm, soothing hand.

"I don't know if I'll ever believe in him again," he said, finally. "But I believe in you."

She squeezed her eyes shut and wished that Sherlock had given her a way to contact him. Because if the choice was between breaking a promise and possibly risking Sherlock's life and helping the people he left behind . . . helping Greg . . .

What would Sherlock tell her to do?

She snorted a laugh through her tears, then covered her mouth.

"Here," said Greg, reaching for the tissue box. "Let it all out."

Molly accepted the box, blew her nose, and began to use her brain.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

She locked the door to her office, picked up her phone, and carefully punched in a number.

It rang twice.

"Yes?"

"Mr. Holmes, this is Molly Hooper."

"Molly . . . Oh, yes, from St. Bartholomew's. How did you get this number, Ms. Hooper?"

"Doctor Hooper," she said, the fingernails of her free hand biting into her palm. "Your brother gave it to me, before he . . . went up to the roof. In case of emergencies."

There was a short silence.

"And is this an emergency, Doctor Hooper?"

"Yes is it. Every police case your brother touched is under suspicion. Detective Inspector Lestrade is going to be fired. You must know what John Watson is going through, not to mention Mrs. Hudson. " She took a breath and told herself to slow down. "And these slurs on Sherlock's reputation can't have been good for a man in your . . . your sort of position."

"I thank you for your concern, but I've never suffered more than a momentary discomfort from any of my brother's—"

"It isn't momentary for them." she said, a part of her rigid with shock that she'd dared interrupt him, but the rest knowing she had nothing to lose "It's important to them. It's important to me." She swallowed. "Sherlock is important to us."

"As much as I regret what has happened, I'm afraid there's nothing—"

"There is. I can fix this. But I need your help."

There was a short pause.

"And just how can you 'fix this,' Doctor Hooper?"

"I can't tell you, exactly, not yet. I'm sorry," she said into the disbelieving silence, "but the chain of evidence can't be broken. Not even by you. Especially not by you."

"And why would I offer you my assistance without knowing the precise nature of—"

"Because your brother trusted me. And because he said that you owed him."

Another pause.

"I do."

"And you love him," she said.

His voice was faint. "Do I?"

"Yes. You stayed with him while he identified that woman last Christmas. You didn't have to."

"That was a. . . a matter of national security."

"No, it wasn't," she said. "Or not entirely. And I was there where you when you identified . . . him. I saw your face. And at the funeral, too, when you thought no one would notice."

"But you did."

"I don't count," she said automatically—but for the first time, it felt like a lie. "Will you help me, Mr. Holmes? Please?"

He cleared his throat. "What do you need?"

 

Chapter Text

Lestrade straightened his jacket, squared his shoulders, and entered the press room.

He was aware of the sidewise glances and whispers—some scornful, some sympathetic—as he passed, but ignored them all. It was the first time he'd set foot in the Yard in almost a month, and he would be damned if he'd show anyone how much he missed it.

Donovan and Anderson, looking at anything and anyone but him, were standing near the end of a row of seats, listening to a disgruntled-looking Pitts, who shot him a hostile look.

The Commissioner was seated one row back, along with several important-looking men and women. Lestrade thought he recognized at least one justice of the High Court and two MPs—not surprising, considering the person behind this conference.

There majority of the remaining seats were taken up by the press, with cameras and recorders set up around the perimeter. Front and center was Kitty Riley, wearing a chic pink suit that reminded him of the first case John had written up for his blog.

Lestrade wondered if she was bitchy enough to dress that way on purpose and decided she was.

He took a seat on the other side near the back and wondered why he was there. If his invitation—though summons was closer to the mark—to this conference hadn't come from Mycroft Holmes, he would have assumed that he was about to be very publically sacked.

It was still a real possibility.

God, he wished Molly was here—she'd left early, before the call requesting his presence. He'd called her, but she hadn't answered and he hadn't left a message. He brought out his phone, looked at it, then put it away. She couldn't get here from St. Bart's in time, anyway.

If she'd come at all. She'd been distant over the past week, as if she was holding a part of herself back, even though she clung to him every night. Maybe she was regretting—or imagining . . . no. No more speculation or jealousy. Once this was over, he'd talk with her, let her know exactly how he felt and that he could accept being second best to a ghost as long as she gave him a chance.

Someone sat next to him, and his heart leapt—but it was John Watson, who hooked his cane on the back on the seat in front of him.

"Hello," said John, with a tired smile. "You look like I feel."

"Thanks," said Lestrade, disturbed by the cane. John had told him about his leg one night over a pint, and it couldn't be a good sign that the pain had returned. "I dropped by last week to see you, but you weren't at home."

"No. I'm not . . . I'm not staying at Baker Street at the moment. It's . . . " John's mouth tightened and he looked at his hands. "It's a bit, um, a bit difficult right now."

"It must be. I'm sorry, John."

"Thank you." The other man's voice was gruff. "Thanks, Greg."

Lestrade waited a bit so the other man could collect himself. "Any clue what all this is about?"

"Ah, no." John cleared his throat. "No, Mycroft told me to be here—said it was by way of an apology." His chuckle was forced. "I couldn't miss that, could I?"

"Suppose you couldn't." An apology sounded better than a lynching, but perhaps Lestrade losing his job was the apology?

"How are things with you?" said John. "I heard about the suspension. I'm sorry."

"So am I," said Lestrade, grimacing. "I fully expect to be on the dole by the end of the week, if not today. Maybe I should quit, but I'm not fit for anything else."

John was quiet a moment. "You could always go private. I've, um, I've even got some experience if you need an assistant and general dogsbody."

Lestrade stared at him. "Are you serious?"

"Sherlock thought you were the only policeman he'd ever met with a working brain," said John. "He respected you."

"He had a funny way of showing it."

"Always," said John, with a hint of eye-roll. "But that doesn't mean he didn't."

"Even at the end?"

"Listen, Greg," said John before glancing at the front. "We'll talk later."

Lestrade looked up. As expected, one of the people coming through the side door was Mycroft Holmes.

The other was Molly.

Mycroft took the podium first. "Good morning," he said, in his reserved manner. "My name is Mycroft Holmes. I'm sure all of you all know, or know of, my brother Sherlock."

"You said you have new evidence concerning Holmes? Evidence of what?" someone called. Other voices joined him.

Mycroft's smile quieted the room. "To answer that question, Mr. Perkins," he said, somehow making it clear in those last two words that he knew more about the journalist than just his name, "I will defer to Doctor Molly Hooper, a senior pathologist at St. Bartholomew's."

Molly stepped up to the podium. She was dressed in a smart dark suit, her skirt just skimming her knees, and her hair was swept up in an elegant pleat—she looked like a successful woman who had earned two doctorates and excelled in a demanding career, and it wasn't until she swallowed hard that he could see how nervous she was.

"Good morning," she said, her voice a bit too high. "I'm here to present evidence that proves Sherlock Holmes was being systematically stalked by James Moriarty."

"Don't you mean Richard Brooks?" said Kitty Riley, her voice all malevolent sneer.

Molly looked at her for an unblinking moment, and Lestrade saw her expression change. "No, Miss Riley, I don't. Any more than I mean Raoul Rodrieguez of Madrid, Father Sean O'Briein of Dublin, or Jim Culver, who worked at St. Bart's for three months last year. "

She moved her hand to the console and the lights dimmed. Four identification cards appeared on the screens behind her, each showing a version of the man Sherlock Holmes had insisted was James Moriarty.

"The first of these is his Richard Brooks alias," said Molly, her voice growing stronger and more confident as she continued. "The next two were supplied by Interpol—Mr. Rodriguez disappeared after the oil tanker spill near Monaco four years ago and authorities assumed Father O'Briein died in the bombing of St. Rudolphus Cathedral in 2006.

"This last one is from the staff records of St. Bartholomew's; James Moriarty placed himself on staff in the IT department under an assumed name for three months last year, presumably in order to meet Sherlock Holmes, who was already aware of his, um, professional name." Molly swallowed again, and Lestrade thought she was waiting for someone to ask her how she knew.

"Why would he do that?" asked Kitty Riley, instead, sounding half bewildered, half belligerent.

"That's what he did," said Molly, as if the journalist was a particularly dim student having a difficult time with the concept that water was wet. "James Moriarty made a career out of manipulating people into believing what he wanted and doing what he wanted them to do. He was very, very good at it." She aimed a look towards Sally and Anderson. "Of course, he was a very charming psychopath."

Lestrade saw them both shift uncomfortably in their seats, like students who had been called out by the teacher.

"She's fantastic," whispered John.

"She's angry," replied Lestrade, unable to suppress a proud smile.

"Is that all you have?" said Kitty Riley. "Sherlock Holmes could have hired Richard to be this other person as well. All these other people."

"Why would he do that?" asked Molly. "Experiments? A dry run? Ego?"

"Careful, there," murmured John.

Molly shook her head. "Even if his only motivation was fame," she said, wrinkling her nose, "Sherlock Holmes didn't have to invent crimes to solve." She picked up a sheaf of paper.

"Chief Inspector Pitts, according to these records, the Yard's success rate rose almost seven percent since Sherlock Holmes was brought in as a consultant and nearly a third of your department's cold cases were resolved to the court's satisfaction—including crimes committed decades before he established his working relationship with Scotland Yard.

"Tell me, sir," she continued. "Do you really believe that Sherlock Holmes invented those crimes? And how far has your department's success rate dropped in the weeks since Mr. Holmes' funeral and the suspension of the Detective Inspector who employed him? An employment that your predecessor officially approved and that you didn't appear to question until two months ago."

As one—except for Kitty Riley—the press turned to the Chief Inspector, who frowned and glanced quickly back at the Commissioner. "Sherlock Holmes as much as admitted he was a fraud by the end," he said with a polite grimace. "I'm afraid the burden of proof on this matter isn't the Yard's responsibility."

"Then perhaps you should have taken the responsibility before he jumped," said Molly, tossing the papers down with a thump. "Instead of leaving it to the imagination of the gutter press."

Pitts reddened and stood. "Unless you can provide solid evidence, young lady, I'm sure we all have far better things to do with our time than listen to a member of the Sherlock Holmes fan club gush on about his supposed brilliance."

Lestrade tensed, his hands curling into fists.

"Easy," murmured John. "It's fun to hit him, but not worth it."

"It might be," growled Lestrade, but subsided as Mycroft cleared his throat.

"If you do not sit down and listen to what Doctor Hooper has to say, Mr. Pitts," he said in his silky, genteel way, "you may have cause to regret it."

Pitts turned purple. "Is that a threat?"

"Merely a suggestion," said Mycroft, pleasantly.

Behind Pitts, the Commissioner leaned forward and said something Lestrade couldn't catch. Pitts sat.

John and Lestrade exchanged glances and had to look away. John coughed into his fist.

Mycroft smiled. "Continue, Doctor Hooper."

"Thank you, Mr. Holmes. I do have tangible, verified evidence," she said, her eyes flicking to Lestrade for the first time. "Two recordings were made of Sherlock Holmes' last moments on the roof of the hospital. They were discovered and recovered a few days after the . . . the incident by the pathology department and the maintenance staff at St. Bartholomew's, respectively."

She waited until the muttering died down. "One is from a battery-powered digital camcorder that was placed over the exit to the roof of St. Bart's. The other is from a small camera that had been attached to Mr. Holmes' coat." She waited again. "Both recordings have been authenticated as genuine by experts from two disinterested, reputable agencies."

"Which agencies?" asked the High Court Judge, echoed by several reporters.

Mycroft smiled. "MI-5 and the FBI."

"In the interests of time, I'm going to play the recordings simultaneously," said Molly. "Only Sherlock Holmes' camera had sound."

Both screens lit up, the left showing a man in an impeccable suit sitting on the ledge at the edge of the roof some distance away, the second showing a closed door, which opened to the sudden sound of music.

A tall figure in an unmistakable coat stalked onto the left screen, while on the right, the image of the smaller man enlarged, eventually showing a close up of Moriarty, whose face was far less benign than in his recent newspaper photos and worse as he started to speak.

. . . You were the best distraction and now I don't even have you. Because I've beaten you.

Lestrade heard John's breath hitch, but kept his attention on the screens, where Moriarty was explaining exactly how he'd committed his last simultaneous crime spree and how he managed to escape conviction for it. How he'd led everyone around and around in a merry, deadly chase until there would be only one thing left for Sherlock to do.

Of course . . . My suicide.

It was dead quiet in the room, until Sherlock finally lost his temper and grabbed Moriarty by the throat.

"Do it," he thought he heard John whisper. "Do it."

But—

Your friends will die if you don't.

John? The fear in Sherlock's voice was heartbreakingly plain.

Not just John. Everyone.

Mrs. Hudson?

Everyone.

Lestrade, too?

Three bullets. Three gunmen. Three victims. There's no stopping them now. . .

Lestrade flinched. "Christ," he whispered. He'd had it all wrong, so wrong. He flinched again as he watched his friend—his friend—step onto the ledge . . .

. . . and then Sherlock had laughed.

What? What is it? What did I miss?

Lestrade looked at Molly, who was staring at the screens, her face tense. Not what, he knew. Who. The criminal mastermind had forgotten all about little Molly Hooper, who was systematically ruining his triumph.

And even knowing what he knew, Lestrade hoped for one of Sherlock's eleventh-hour miracles.

But then came that last, strange exchange, when Moriarty seemed to concede . . . and then stretched his mouth wide and raised a gun. . .

Lestrade heard Kitty Riley's cry above all the others as the body dropped and Sherlock reeled back in shock and horror on the screen. He forced himself to keep watching as he finally stepped up to the ledge again.

A lone figure on the left screen and a cab pulling up on the right, its passenger leaping out, phone to an ear as he hurried across the street—

John. Turn around and go back the way you came . . . Just do as I ask . . . Please. Tell Lestrade, tell Mrs. Hudson, Molly . . . Tell everyone.

Lestrade reached over to grip John's shoulder. It was like iron under his touch and he was careful not to look at the other man's face.

Sherlock tossed his phone aside, took one last deep breath, spread his arms . . . and disappeared from the roof on the left, while the right showed the pavement rushing up—

The screens went blank and the lights went up.

"As you just saw," said Molly, her voice wavering for a moment, then growing stronger. "Sherlock Holmes was not a fraud. His reputation—his life—was deliberately destroyed by James Moriarty. And the sole reason he threw himself off that roof was to save his . . . his friends." For the first time, her voice started to crack.

Mycroft stepped forward. "Might I assume, ladies and gentlemen" he said smoothly, looking past the press, "that this evidence will be taken under consideration if and when the courts are asked to reopen any case on which my brother or DI Gregory Lestrade worked?

"You may safely assume so, Mr. Holmes," said one of the women.

"Thank you. And I assume that there will be no trouble reinstating DI Lestrade?" It was not a question.

"Pitts," said the Commissioner.

Pitts shook his head. "No," he said. "I mean, no trouble at all. In light of the—of course." But he turned to glare at Donovan and Anderson. Anderson looked sick, and Sally had gone ashen.

The reporters raised their hands. "Doctor Hooper! Doctor Hooper!"

Molly shook her head. "I have no further comment. There are copies of these recordings and a transcript of my statement for the press."

"With the exception of Ms. Riley, of course, and any news service unfortunate enough to have employed her," said Mycroft, a hint of steel entering his tone. His eyes seemed to burn and Lestrade had never seen or heard the resemblance between the Holmes brothers as clearly as he did now.

His gaze rested on Kitty Riley, who froze like a rabbit facing a hungry snake. "Ms. Riley, you will write a retraction and a sincere apology for every single fallacious word you wrote about my brother and James Moriarty and distribute it to each and every newspaper in the United Kingdom including The Hereford Coupon Advertiser. If you do not complete this condition within one week, the estate of Sherlock Holmes will sue you for libel and slander and it will win. Is that understood?"

Kitty Riley squirmed as all her colleagues—former colleagues, Lestrade hoped—and their cameras focused on her. Her face was a study, but Mycroft waited her out.

She nodded.

"Then, ladies and gentlemen—and members of the esteemed press—that will be all. Thank you."

There was nothing Lestrade wanted to do more than go to Molly, who had been ushered through the side door by Mycroft, but he turned to John first. "Are you—?"

John stood up, grabbed his cane, and marched to the front. Lestrade followed close behind—he couldn't blame John for anything he might do, but he wasn't about to let the man get in trouble for it.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

They went through the side door into the conference room, where Mycroft was holding court in one corner with several of the important people from the back row, including the Commissioner.

Molly, her hands twisted together but her face composed, was talking to two others. She ended her conversation with a hand shake and a solemn nod, then turned and saw John bearing down on her. She bit her lip and put out a hand to grip the edge of the table.

"You knew," said John. "You knew about the camera and the confrontation beforehand. Sherlock confided in you."

Lestrade moved closer, just in case, though part of him was shocked. She'd known? And she hadn't told him?

"John," she said, her eyes filling, "I'm sorry—I couldn't tell you. I didn't know—" Her eyes darted to Lestrade and skittered away. "And then the chain of evidence—"

John held up a hand and leaned his cane against the table. "I'm very, very angry with that arrogant, know-it-all git," he said, in a voice that came straight out of Afghanistan. "But if he . . . if he wouldn't let me . . . I'm glad he had you, Molly Hooper. So very glad." And he reached out and hugged her. "Thank you," he said, his voice cracking. "Thank you so much. You've given him back to us. To me."

Over John's shoulder, Molly's face contracted, as if she'd been struck. Tears rolled down her face, but she hugged him back. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm so sorry."

With that, Lestrade realized the sheer weight of responsibility and guilt she'd obviously been carrying since Sherlock's death—a burden she couldn't possibly have shared with anyone, until now.

John released her and turned to hold out a hand to Lestrade.

He took it.  "A great man," he said. "And a good one."

John pulled him into a half-hug. "Take care of her," he said in a low voice.

"If she'll let me," said Lestrade at the same volume.

"Ask—don't wait. Never wait." John pulled back, his face wet, but composed. "Both of you are coming to tea this Sunday," he said. "No excuses."

Molly brushed her eyes and nodded, though she didn't smile, or look at Lestrade.

At that moment, Anderson slunk over, followed by Sally.

"Doctor Watson," said Sally, but shut up when John turned his back on her. "If you'll excuse me," he said to Lestrade and Molly, "it's time I went home." he turned with military precision and strode out of the room.

"He's left his cane," whispered Molly.

"He doesn't need it," said Lestrade, waiting until she looked at him. "You did that for him. You, Molly Hooper."

She searched his face. "Greg, I—"

"Sir," interrupted Sally. "I want to . . . I didn't mean for any of this—"

Molly narrowed her eyes. "Yes, you did," she said, stepping between Lestrade and the startled sergeant. "You wanted Sherlock gone and you didn't care how it happened or who else it hurt. You two and that . . .that bitch of a reporter are the real sociopaths. How can you live with yourselves?"

Sally shook her head. "If he hadn't been such a—"

"Don't. You. Dare," said Molly, jabbing the other woman with a finger. "Sherlock Holmes wasn't an easy man, but he was on the side of the angels, every step of the way. And if you'd given him half a chance before deciding you hated him because his mind worked differently from yours and he didn't understand all the social cues and didn't suffer your relentless insults gladly, he might still be with us. Next time you two want to forget you're police officers and play at being spiteful children, I hope you remember that."

Anderson sniffed and stuck his nose in the air. "I don't know why we're supposed to believe a word you say about Sherlock Holmes—you've always followed him around like a lovesick puppy. You would do anything for him, say anything for him. You're still in love with the man, for God's sake."

Lestrade took a step forward, intending to make good use of the time left on his suspension.

Molly grasped his arm, stopping him in his tracks. "Wrong again, Anderson," said Molly. "I'm in love with this man."

Lestrade blinked, then took her by the shoulders and spun her around. "Say that again," he said.

She went still, but her eyes were shining. "Anderson is wrong. Again. I never loved Sherlock the way that I love you. I didn't do any of this for him, or even for John. Not really. I did it for you."

He bent his head and she surged up and met him halfway. She smelled of lemon and vanilla and tasted of his Molly and he knew that whatever happened, they would take care of each other.

Dimly, he heard Pitts say, "Donovan, Anderson, my office." And the Commissioner say, "No, Pitts. My office. Lestrade—oh. Never mind. Someone tell him to report to my office first thing tomorrow morning."

Lestrade rested his forehead against Molly's. "I've loved you since Baskerville," he said, when he had his breath back, not knowing or caring if they still had an audience.

"I fell in love with you before Majorca." She put on a stern face. "And don't tell me I don't know my own mind."

"I wouldn't dare," he said. "Do you have any idea how strong and brave and beautiful you are?"

She blew out a breath. "Maybe. A little." A small smile appeared on her face. "I might need reminders every once in a while."

"I think I can—"

"If I might interrupt?" asked Mycroft in a pleasant tone that didn't care about the answer. "I do have a few things to go over with Dr. Hooper. In private."

"Of course," said Molly, stepping back from Lestrade. "Wait for me?"

"As long as it takes," he said, and was rewarded with a smile from Molly and a cough from Mycroft, who reached into his pocket and pulled out a letter.

"This should keep you sufficiently occupied," he said, handing it to Lestrade.

It was an envelope stamped with St. Bart's address. His name was written on the front in Sherlock's peculiar, spidery hand.

Inside was a sheet of notepaper with Molly's initials at the top under a drawing of a kitten in a basket. The words on it had been written in obvious haste.

 

Dear Lestrade Greg,

Forgive Molly—she did what she had to do. She hated the idea of keeping secrets from you—I had to persuade her that it was the only way to keep you and the others safe. If you're reading this, it worked.

You seem to be making her almost as happy as she deserves. Take care to keep her that way.

And please, take care of John. He's as special to me as . . . I wouldn't have left him if . . . I wouldn't have hurt him for . . . He's been a true friend.

As have you.

SH

(If that idiot Pitt gives you the sack, go private—with John's help, you'll do very well)


Lestrade read it over again then looked over at Molly, who was talking earnestly with Mycroft in the corner. He seemed to ask her a question and she shook her head, threatening her hairstyle. Mycroft visibly sighed, produced another envelope, and gave it to her.

She opened it, pulled out a scrap of paper, read it, and put her hand to her mouth.

Mycroft offered an immaculate handkerchief, which she used to dry her eyes. She said something and he replied, an almost gentle look on his face. Then he picked up her hand, said something else, and kissed it.

She blushed.

Mycroft glanced at Lestrade, gave him a nod, and left, accepting his umbrella from the young woman waiting at the door.

Greg watched her tuck the note back in its envelope and stuff it in her bag along with the handkerchief. "Letting a strange man kiss your hand?" he said, lightly. "That puts me in my place."

She smacked him on the arm. "He isn't a strange man. Well . . .he's not a stranger. I wonder if John would mind if we brought him along for tea?"

"I'd mind," he said, tucking her arm through his. "Lunch?"

"Yes, please."

She didn't ask about his note from Sherlock . . . and he found that he didn't mind that she didn't tell him about hers.

He was sure it was just a personal note between good friends.

Chapter Text

Molly poked her fork into the last gulab jamun, but just couldn't. "I'm too full," she said, sitting back in her chair. "You have it."

"No, I'm done." He gave her a searching look and she looked down at herself to make sure she hadn't dripped honey on her blouse, aware that what little makeup she'd bothered with that morning was long gone, her hair was a limp mess, and her fingers had chemical stains on them that wouldn't wear off for days. Greg had almost convinced her that she would be beautiful to him if she was covered in mud, but she knew this wasn't one of her better days.

And if she was honest with herself—and she had to be honest with someone—her better days had been few and far between since Sherlock had left. The stress of worrying about him and about Moriarty's spies and keeping that worry from Greg, let alone from John and Mrs. Hudson, was beginning to wear on her.

She sighed, and realized that he was still watching her, though he'd added a half smile to his odd expression. She was about to ask him if she had something on her face when their waitress appeared with the bill tray.

"More tea?" asked Maryam, with her usual cheer, clearing the remains of their meal.

"Yes, please," said Greg.

Molly reached for the tray. "Whose turn is it?"

He captured her hand with his. "Mine."

She frowned. "Are you sure?"

"Very sure." And he brought something out of his pocket and set it in front of her.

Her heart gave one solid thud, but when he pulled back his hand, she saw a gift bow of silver ribbon.

She drew her fingers out of his and picked it up. "Is this—?"

"You wore it in your hair on Christmas," he said. "It fell out of your bag in the parking lot. I meant to return it . . . and found I didn't want to." He took it back and smiled at it. "It's become a sort of good luck charm, actually. A good memory to keep with me." He reached out and tucked it behind her ear, stroking her cheek with his fingertips. "But I wondered if you could keep it for me." His fingers traced her cheek

She pulled out a hairpin to secure it. "Of course," she said, confused but touched that he'd kept it all this time. "If you want me to."

"I do. And this goes with it," he added, holding up a ring that flashed green and gold in the flickering light of the candle.

Her heart gave another thud and she drew in a shaky breath. "Is that . . . Is this . . ."

He picked up her unresisting hand. "Will you keep me, too, Molly?" he asked, his eyes intent on hers.

She stared at his handsome, expectant face and told him the truth. "I'd keep you forever, if . . . if you want me that long."

His smile as he slid the ring onto her finger and the kiss he gave her as Maryam led the other diners in happy applause almost made her forget that he wouldn't.

Not once Sherlock returned and he found out he'd married another selfish liar. . .

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

Lestrade waited patiently until John stopped spluttering into his pint.

"You proposed in a curry shop? That's hardly romantic surroundings."

"It worked, though." Lestrade's first proposal had been in given on bended knee at an expensive and exclusive restaurant that he could barely afford, as instructed by his wife to be—who had made sure to be dressed to the nines and that her best friend had been at a nearby table to take photographs.

His second—and last—might not be half as posh, but he'd meant it with all of his heart.  "So will you be my best man or not?"

"'Course I will," said John holding out his hand to shake on it. "I'm honored. When is it?"

"We're not sure. I'm all for short engagements, but Molly wants her family there and they're spread all over the place. She said if I can't wait, she could always ask Mycroft to give her away."

John's eyes went wide. "Call her bluff."

"Molly doesn't bluff—and I think she actually likes him."

John shook his head. "Who's bridesmaid?"

"A friend from her school days—and she's a Matron of Honor, I'm afraid. Better bring a date."

"Perhaps I'll escort Mrs. Hudson."

It was Lestrade's turn to splutter. "No offense to your lovely landlady, but you can't be having that bad a dry spell."

John finished his drink and set down his glass. "Yeah, well, looks like the papers were right about one thing. I appear to be a confirmed bachelor. I won't be good for anyone until Sherlock comes back, anyway. And maybe not even then," he added to himself.

"John," said Lestrade, "how many of those have you—"

"I'm not drunk, Greg. Or delusional—no more than usual, anyway. I'm slow, you see, compared to him, but I do get there eventually. And I flatter myself that I know him better than almost anyone in the world."

"He's . . . John, you were thereMolly was there. He's—"

John raised a hand to signal the barmaid. "When you dismiss the impossible, what's left must be the truth. He said that once, or something like it. And it's not impossible that he faked his death—especially if Molly helped. He did it for—he's done things like this before."

"You think Molly lied to us? To me? About something like this?" But underneath the automatic anger, the part of him that made him a good detective, if he did say so, went on alert.

"Did she?" John's voice was calm. "Did either of us just ask her?"

"She doesn't want to talk about him. She says she can't, that it's too hard." But the Sunday after her press conference, she'd given John that scrapbook of Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson a framed photo of him from their University days. They'd all told stories about the man for hours, until all four of them were laughing and crying and at peace with his death.

Or so he'd thought.

But Molly been on edge ever since, hadn't she? He'd put it down to a busy schedule and bridal nerves—he often caught her looking at him as if she expected him to change his mind. But now that he thought about it, it was like the weeks before the conference, when she couldn't tell him about the evidence . . .

Lestrade took a thoughtful sip of lager, and then drained it as the barmaid arrived with the next round.

John waited until she was gone before leaning forward. "If I'm right, Greg, Molly's been in a terrible position for months now—and it's just like Sherlock to put her there . . . But if she thought it would keep us all safe, especially you, she'd do it, even if you hated her for it afterward."

"I couldn't hate her if I tried. In fact . . ." He tried to sort out the thoughts whirling in his mind. "If she knows Sherlock is alive and still agreed to marry me, that proves I'm not second best."

John rolled his eyes. "Sherlock's right. You are an idiot. She agreed to marry you because you're the most important person in her life. The most, Greg. Trust me," he added with a smile. "I'm a doctor."

"You're half-pissed."

"That, too. Doesn't mean I'm wrong. You're a lucky man, Lestrade."

"I know. But do I tell her I know? Or think I know?"

John shrugged. "You could tell her I know and take it from there. And tell her I won't do a thing about it, unless she thinks it's a good idea. "

Lestrade snorted. "You're joking."

"What? Sherlock trusted her with our lives—that's good enough for me, even if I do want to kill him myself for pulling a stunt like this."

"I wasn't talking about Molly—I trust her a damn sight more than I ever will him, even now. But you're telling me that you aren't going to try to track him down?"

John turned his glass in his hands. "I think . . . I think the only reason he stayed away, stayed dead, is to take down the rest of Moriarty's people. And if the only way I can help is to stay here and keep quiet, then that's what I'll do until he decides he's done."

"Can you live with that?"

"With him not being dead? Oh, God, yes. It might half kill me to sit on my hands, knowing he's out there somewhere doing heaven knows what, but only half." His smile was wistful. "And I have to hope, don't I, that he's planning on coming back?"

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

When Lestrade came home, Molly was in the bedroom, folding laundry. Her eyes brightened as he came in and she returned his kiss with such enthusiasm that he was sorry the bed was covered in clothes. "You're back early," she said. "How's John?"

"Fine," he said. "He's agreed to be our best man."

"Good.' She sighed. "Helena's not sure she can make it now—her doctor might put her on bedrest until the baby comes. Maybe I'll ask Mrs. Hudson."

"Might as well—John thought she might be his date for the evening."

She shook her head. "Poor John. I know at least three women who would love for him to notice them. And one or two men, too," she added, with an impish smile.

"None of them are Sherlock," he said, leaning against the bureau.

Her smile dropped. "No, but—no. No, they aren't."

"John told me he thinks Sherlock might have faked his own death."

Her hands stilled for a second, and then continued folding. "Does he really? That's not . . . that can't be good for him."

"Is it true?"

She closed her eyes. "How can you ask me that?"

He moved around the bed and wrapped his arms around her from behind, resting his chin on her head. "Because you're smart and brave and resourceful—and you don't have to do this alone any more. You've got me and I'm staying."

"You hate liars," she whispered, her hands mangling a tee-shirt.

"First, I could never hate you. Second, you've never lied to me or to anyone—you've tied the English language in knots trying to avoid it. All to keep us safe. All by yourself."

She turned in his arms and started to sob, big wrenching ones, as he stroked her hair and whispered, "It's okay. It's fine. It's all fine."

"It's not," she said, lifting a reddened, shiny face. "They're watching John and Mrs. Hudson and you—and me, too, now. It was bad enough when I cleared his name so early, but if any of us shows a single sign that we think he might be alive. .. "

He pried her fingers from the shirt and dried her eyes. "John says he won't do or say a thing—nothing— until you tell him it's safe."

Molly shook her head. "I don't know if anything is safe, for him or for us."

"Is there anything we can do?"

"I don't know. I was supposed to make sure his cover held and that none of you suspected. I don't know how to reach him, I don't know where he is . . . the only thing I have is the letter Mycroft gave me after—oh! Maybe . . ."

She went to the closet, rummaged around and brought out a sturdy cardboard carton. She put it on the bed and took off the lid. "Keepsake box," she said, pulling out a fabric-covered shoebox. "I needed more room."

The carton was half full of sparkling cloth. "Is that your Christmas Dress?" He'd wondered what had happened to it—she'd never worn it again, not even when he'd taken her to the best Indian restaurant in London for her birthday.  He'd assumed she hadn't wanted a reminder of Sherlock's rudeness.

She nodded. "It's special," she said, setting aside a stack of assorted papers and a scrapbook that was the twin of the one she'd given John. "I know it's in here," she said to herself.

He picked up the book and opened it, expecting Sherlock's face to stare out at him. Instead, he saw his own, from an interview he'd given earlier in the year. He turned some pages, seeing his name again and again, article after article. Press conferences, a citation, quotes, even simple mentions that he was leading an investigation.

He looked at Molly, who was pulling the dark green bikini out of the box and setting it on top of what he recognized as a menu from Veeraswamy and a brochure from the resort on Majorca.

These weren't remembrances of Sherlock Holmes—this was the courtship of Greg Lestrade and Molly Hooper in a box.

"Here it is," she said, brandishing a St. Bart's envelope. She handed it to him. "I haven't read it since that day—maybe you can see something in it."

"Are you sure you want me to read this?"

She smiled. "It doesn't matter now."

The note was written on the same kitten stationery that Lestrade's had been, and the handwriting was just as hurried and with several crossed out words.

 

Dear Molly,

As you're reading this, I assume you've cleared my name—I'm sure you chose the right moment and the right reasons. You always have.

I'm sorry for all the trouble you went to over the years on my behalf. You were my first real friend, though I was never one to you, or not the kind you deserve. I'm sorry that I didn't realize any of this in a more timely fashion, though I suppose I owe my life to my idiocy ignorance.

I hope that Lestrade will manage to convince you of your worth. He might actually be worthy of you—he's a good man. Almost as good as One of the best I've ever met.

I'd tell you I'd dance at your wedding, but we both know I don't dance.

Don't let John I know you'll be there for John and for that I thank you, too.

Yours,

—S


Lestrade examined it. "So Mycroft knows, too," he said. "He must have read this before he gave it to you."

"Do you think so? Sometimes I thought he must . . . but I couldn't risk asking."

"I find it saves time to assume Mycroft knows everything." He took out his phone.

"Wait." Molly went to the bureau, picked up her phone and fiddled with it. "Use this number."

He exchanged the phone for a kiss and tapped a button.

The phone rang twice.

"Dr. Hooper," said Mycroft in what could pass for warm tones. "I hear congratulations are in order."

"They are," said Lestrade. "And that's why I'm calling. We need you to help us send a very special invitation to a very special friend."

There was a long pause. "He might not care to attend; formal events have never been his area."

"He told Molly he wouldn't dance at her wedding—but only because he doesn't dance. I believe he'd travel some distance if she wanted him there. But at this point, even a one-word refusal would be welcome."

"I do see your point." There was a longer pause. "I'm afraid I've mislaid his current address. But . . . have you already published the banns?"

"No. We haven't set a date, yet."

"Might I suggest the middle of next month? I'm sure my assistant would be pleased to assist Dr. Hooper with all the arrangements, including announcements in all the major newspapers."

"That sounds fine to me, but I'd better check with Molly. Wait, you can tell her yourself—she wants to ask you something, anyway." He handed her the phone.

She raised her eyebrows, but took it. "Mr. Holmes?" She listened. "Thank you . . .Next month? I don't think I can possi—oh. Well, if she wouldn't mind. . ."

Lestrade smiled. He'd met Mycroft's assistant and thought she probably would mind, but would never let it show.

". . . but only on one condition. Would you walk with me down the aisle?" She smiled. "No, there really isn't and I wouldn't want anyone else anyway—no, not even him. I know, but you might as well watch for him inside the church. Please say you will?" Her smile widened. "Thank you, Mr. Holmes . . . and it's Molly, please. Thank you so much! I'll wait for her call. Good-bye!"

She closed her phone. "You don't mind about him giving me away? Only he seems so lonely."

"Right—like a shark is lonely. Ouch!" he rubbed his side where she'd thumped him. "But it will be worth it to see Sherlock's face."

She leaned against him. "I hope we do. It would be the best wedding present."

Lestrade agreed, though he thought privately that it would be gift enough just to know their friend was still among the living.

 

Chapter Text

Molly looked at her reflection in the half-circle of mirrors and wished her mother was still alive, wished she had closer female friends, wished it wasn't bad luck for the groom to see the dress before the wedding . . .

. . . And she wished that elegant woman sitting on the leather divan with her perfect legs perfectly crossed would look up from her . . . her blasted Blackberry and pay attention to the fact that Molly wasn't thrilled about the prospect of looking like a nitwit smothered in whipped cream on what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of her life.

"I hate this dress," she said under her breath, glaring at it in the mirror. She raised her voice. "I hate this dress." She looked at the sales clerk, who was hovering around Mr. Holmes' assistant instead of paying attention to the actual bride.

No one was paying attention to her. And while Molly had spent most of her adult life being overlooked and dismissed, she seemed to have lost her tolerance for it over the past few months.

She understood that this woman probably had more internationally important tasks to do than organize the wedding of a complete stranger, but she might keep in mind that the wedding was quite important to that stranger.

Sherlock's dismissals were far easier to take. At least he'd always listened before he called Molly an idiot—at least he'd bothered to call her an idiot and to tell her why. He didn't just smile distantly and go back to thumbing a keypad without saying more than two syllables at a time.

Molly had had enough.

Hauling up as much of the dress up as she could, she hopped off the small, round platform and dragged herself into the changing room, knowing that no one would notice or care that she'd gone.

She locked the door behind her—not that anyone would bother looking for her—and went to her purse for her phone.  There was only one person she could possibly call.

"Hello?"

"I can't do this."

"Molly? Molly, what is it? What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" She aimed her phone at the elaborately framed full-length mirror, took a photo, and hit send. "This is what's wrong!"

There was a choking noise and much clearing of throat. "It—um—it is sort of wearing you instead of the other way 'round."

"This is the least fluffy of two racks of these things. They were waiting for me when we arrived—that. . . that frighteningly efficient and extremely rude woman out there thinks I'm twelve!"

"Ah. And have you told her you're not?"

"She won't listen and everyone else is listening to her. I can only imagine what she thinks I'll want at the reception! Sausage rolls and fairy cakes . . ."

"Molly, make them listen. You made the entire country listen to you not long ago—you made Mycroft Holmes listen to you. Decide what you want and tell them."

"I want to elope," she wailed. "But we can't miss the chance to see . . . family and friends. And I can't just reject Mr. Holmes' generosity—it would hurt his feelings."

There was another choking sound. "Hurt his . . .? Are you . . .? Okay, look. . . Weddings aren't my area at all, or fashion, so don't ask me for opinions—but if you need someone to back you up, I can stand to one side and glare in a menacing way."

"You would do that?"

"'Course I would. Where are you?"

She told him.

"Can you cope for the next . . . um . . . forty minutes?"

"I'll try. Thank you." She closed the phone and thought about what she wanted. Then she looked in the full-length mirror and thought about what she didn't want.

Then she wiggled out from under the dress—one of the advantages of its size—put on her own clothes, and left the dressing room.

The assistant—Molly had asked three times for a name and received three different answers, as if she wasn't worth a plausible lie—was still on the divan with her Blackberry but the clerk was across the salon, fawning over a bride who had just arrived with a whole entourage of excited women.

For a moment, Molly almost walked back into the changing room to avoid those happy faces. But that wasn't who she was anymore. Was it?

She glanced at her watch. She had thirty minutes before reinforcements arrived and nothing to lose. "Excuse me," she said.

The beautiful eyes didn't move from the screen. "Finished?"

"Oh, yes. I'm finished." Molly put a pleasant smile on her face and tried to imagine that this woman was one of her interns at St. Bart's. "Tell me, would you choose a dress from these racks?"

"Hmmm?" The eyes flicked up and down again and that small smile appeared. "No."

Molly sighed, then remembered Greg saying that police interviewers asked questions that couldn't be answered by a simple yes or no. If nothing else, it gave the interviewer something to build upon.

She tried again. "Neither would I. So, what kind of dress would you wear if you were going to marry the love of your life?"

"I'm sorry? Is that relevant?"

Molly wondered if she could get the wretched device away without being shot and if she could shatter a mirror if she threw it hard enough. "Oh, I think it is. See, I have a feeling that any dress I'd wear is halfway between the one you would choose for yourself and these monstrosities. So I thought I'd better set a baseline."

There was a sigh. "Miss Hooper—"

"That's Doctor Hooper, Ms. Blackberry. Though I suppose it's partially my fault that people forget. See, when you cut up dead bodies in refrigerated rooms for a living, you tend to wear jumpers and odd-colored blouses and other things that aren't any great loss if they get stained. And when part of your job is to talk to the families and friends who loved the people those bodies used to be, your jumpers might have kittens on them, and the blouses might be frilly, and the rest of your everyday clothes might be as comforting, normal, and unintimidating as possible.

"But there are times that those qualities won't do. Did you see the press conference about Mr. Holmes' brother? That was my suit I was wearing—the one I wear when I testify in High Court. Because sometimes pink fluffy kittens aren't appropriate.

"And I am trying to find a dress for my wedding. And while some brides might think that is the place for miles of pink fluff, I'm afraid I don't. And while other brides might have friends and family to shop with them and help them decide and . . .and share the day . . . all I have is you.

"So I'm asking you to give me some of your undivided attention this afternoon—just an hour or two of your precious time. Time that Mr. Holmes set aside for the sole purpose of making this wedding happen in four weeks for reasons that he might not have shared with you."

The thumbs had stopped moving over the touchscreen. Molly noted this, but kept talking.

"So even if you can't find it in the goodness of your heart to help me this afternoon, you might consider that Mycroft Holmes wants this wedding to happen. And I'd love for him to walk me down the aisle.

"But you know . . . Greg would marry me tomorrow in a register's office, even if I walk in all by myself wearing a lab coat and a pair of trainers. And I'm fully prepared to do that unless you and I can come to some kind of understanding."

Molly met the beautiful eyes, which seemed to be reassessing her. She bit back an automatic conciliatory response and held her ground. "Do we have an understanding?"

The Blackberry beeped twice. The assistant wavered for a moment, then sighed. "Yes, Doctor Hooper."

Molly smiled.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

Molly looked at her reflection in the half-circle of mirrors and wished her mother was still alive.

"I love this dress," she whispered. Simple satin with an overlay of Irish lace and not too much train.

"Here's the veil that was made to go with it," said the clerk, a different one who had been more than helpful. "There are others if you'd like to try them, but this one won't drag you down or get in the way when you dance." She settled it on Molly's head and helped secure the combs before stepping away.

"Oh," said Molly. staring at herself. "Is that me?"

A familiar face appeared in the mirror behind her. "Molly?" said John. "Is that you?"

"Yes," she said, beaming. "I actually think it could be."

  1. "Don't you look . . .   You're . . ."

She turned to face him, enjoying the luxurious swirl of the skirts. "Do you think Greg will like it?"

He laughed. "Are you joking? I'll have to hold him back when he sees you. You're lovely, Molly. Really, very lovely."

"Thank you, John. And thanks for coming to my rescue."

"Any time. But it looks like you didn't need me after all. What did you do with—" His eyes widened as Mr. Holmes' assistant stepped out of the changing room wearing a sheath dress in a gorgeous shade of blue.

The woman looked at Molly and smiled. "That's the one."

It hadn't been a question, but Molly didn't mind. "Yes, I think it is. What do you think of yours?" she asked. "Come stand next to me."

The assistant did so and half turned to see the back. "Better than the last one," she said, but her eyes were shining and she looked very pleased. "But I don't think it will work for your matron of honor."

"That's all right. She called me last night—she can't be in the wedding. She can't even be at the wedding." Molly was disappointed, but not horribly so. Helen and she had been long distance friends for longer than they'd been close. "I'll find someone else."

The assistant hesitated, then said, "Let me know. Doctor Hooper would like this dress and the veil," she told the clerk. "I'll schedule the fittings as soon as I change."

Once she'd gone, John said, "You're a miracle worker. I thought it would take radical surgery to get her to disconnect from her Blackberry."

"We had a nice talk," said Molly.

"Must have. Are you done for the day? I thought we could have tea—Greg, too, if he's free?"

Now that she didn't have to avoid John for fear of giving something away, Molly had started to see him as the brother she'd always wished she'd had. "I should be. I'll call Greg in the changing room. Do you like curry?"

"Love it."

"Then I know just the place. I'll be right back."

The clerk knocked on the door in warning and opened it for Molly. Mr. Holmes' assistant, fully dressed in her smart outfit, was just hanging up the sheath. "That's the dress sorted," she said, producing her Blackberry and turning it on with a discreet chime. "We'll have to take the floor model," she told the clerk. "There's no time to have it made. I'll arrange the fittings."

"Do you need my schedule?" asked Molly, carefully removing the veil.

"I have it." But the other woman smiled as she said it. "Cake tasting tomorrow."

"Can we move that if Greg can't come?"

"Hmmm. Could you take away samples of your favorites for him to try at home?"

Molly stepped out of her dress with the help of the clerk. "Good idea. He says he trusts me for the rest of the catering, though, so whenever I'm free."

"Good." The thumbs started moving again.

"Speaking of food, John and I are going to get something to eat. Would you like to come?"

The Blackberry beeped, and its owner sighed with what sounded like real regret. "Thank you, but I'd better run. Loads to do."

"Thank you," said Molly, pulling on her top. "For sharing this with me."

"I . . . it's been an . . . interesting experience, Doctor Hooper."

"Molly, please—Ms. Blackberry." Molly zipped up her skirt and grinned.

There was a look of astonishment and a sudden snort of laughter that was anything but elegant. "I'm not sure Mr. Holmes would approve of the familiarity."

"He's not here." She lowered her voice. "Is he?"

"Not in this room, no." The other woman paused, glanced at the clerk, who was busy zipping the wedding dress into its protective cover, and leaned close to whisper a name in Molly's ear. "But you can call me Anthea," she said at normal volume. "I've always liked that name."

"All right, Anthea. See you tomorrow."

"Bye."

"Miss?" said Molly, obeying an impulse and hoping it wasn't a mistake. "Could I add something else to the order?"

"Of course, madam" said the clerk. "May I ask—is that John Watson out there? The John Watson? The one who worked for Sherlock Holmes?"

That wasn't quite true, but close enough. "He's a good friend of mine.  And of my fiancé."

"Does that mean that you're the Doctor Hooper—the one who told everyone Sherlock Holmes wasn't faking?"

"Yes," said Molly, picking up her purse. Not everyone had been happy about that—she'd had to change her phone number. But if this turned unpleasant, John was right outside.

The clerk stuck out her hand and Molly took it. "Thank you," she said. "A few years ago, Sherlock Holmes helped catch the man who killed my best friend and put my brother in a wheelchair. We knew he was the real thing, but we were afraid the courts wouldn't see it that way. Because of you, that rat bastard will stay in prison."

"You're very welcome," said Molly, squeezing the woman's hand before letting it go.

"I'm just sorry that he, Mr. Holmes, I mean . . . you know. That he was forced to . . . do what he did."

"So am I," said Molly, and left it at that. "Would you like to meet John?"

"Oh, I don't want to bother him. Or remind him of, you know."

"Don't worry about that," said Molly. "He loves to hear stories about Sherlock's brilliance—he collects them."

"Well . . . If you're sure he won't mind." The clerk opened the door and they left.

"John?" said Molly, stepping out of the room. "There's someone I'd like you to—"

There was a plink followed immediately by a puff of plaster inches from her face.

"Get down," hollered John, diving behind the divan. "Sniper!"

 

Chapter Text

Lestrade sped through the streets as fast as he could without siren or lights, cursing the late morning traffic.

He glanced at the phone on the seat next to him, reached for it, then pulled his hand back. He didn't dare call Molly or John—the last thing he wanted to do was give away their position—but he was frantic to know what the hell was going on. If Molly had been—

He stomped on the brake, roaring abuse at a lorry driver who had misjudged how long it would take to complete his turn and smacking his hands on the steering wheel as the lorry sailed through the changing light, leaving him stranded at yet another intersection.

The phone rang and he snatched it up. "Lestrade!"

Three seconds later, he tossed it down again. He was taking calls from only two people—no, three—and everyone else in the world could wait.

The light went green and he hit the gas.

Molly been so happy that morning, excited about shopping for her wedding gown. She'd pored over a stack of bridal magazines at breakfast, muttering about that neckline and that train and shoes—so many shoes—asking for his opinion of a photograph and interrupting and thumping him over the head when he'd finally suggested that a lab coat and a pair of trainers would be more comfortable.

But he'd understood. Molly's wedding day should be all about her . . . and it wouldn't be, not entirely. The dress, though, was one of the few things that were entirely her decision---and not dictated by security concerns.

Maybe it should have been.

The phone rang again and he checked the number and jammed his thumb on the speaker button. "John! Tell me the bloody dispatcher got it wrong and Molly is nowhere near you and your bloody sniper—and if you can't tell me that you better damn well tell me she hasn't been—that she's not—"

"Greg! Greg, it's me, Molly" she said in a rush. "We're fine—well, not fine but no one's been shot and they seem to have stopped. We're in a good place, John says, and he's got, um. . ."

"I've got the Browning." John's voice was tinny but clear. "And we can hear sirens."

"Thank God," said Lestrade. "I'm on my way."

"Good," she said, her voice wavering. "This isn't exactly how I'd imagined—" Her voice cut off.

"Molly? Molly!" He swore and barely missed rear-ending the car in front of him as he checked the battery level on his phone. It rang in his hand and he almost dropped it. "What just happened?" he barked, nerves shot.

"That is a very good question," said Mycroft Holmes. "Take the next right, Detective Inspector."

"I don't have time for your games," said Lestrade, but he made the right.

"I'm fully aware of that. The next left."

Lestrade turned and saw nothing but empty streets and green lights.

"Go."

"Thank you." Lestrade tossed the phone aside and floored it.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

Lestrade leapt out of his car, ducked under the barrier tape and scanned the area, his heart jolting as he caught sight of Molly standing by an ambulance, talking to a uniformed officer.

Her hair was a mess, her tights were laddered, and the rest of her clothes looked as though she'd been rolling on the floor in them. But she was alive.

He headed for her, and she looked up and saw him, her whole face lighting with a relieved smile. The officer glanced over his shoulder and stepped out of the way just in time.

"Greg! John's phone died and mine was—" she managed to say, before he grabbed her. She wrapped her arms around his middle, resting her head on his shirtfront.

He let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding. "Have you caught the shooter?" he asked the officer.

"In a manner of speaking, sir." The young man pointed. "We found his body on the third floor of that building."

"His body? He's dead?"

"Yes, sir. Somebody shot him."

"Good," growled Lestrade, though he knew it wasn't. Dead men couldn't be interrogated.

"Um, yes, sir," said the officer. "Thank you, Doctor Hooper. We may have more questions later."

"All right," she said, unburying herself for a moment.

Lestrade dropped a kiss on her hair. "Are you really all right?" he asked, unwilling to let go to see for himself.

He felt her nod. "Scared," she said, pulling back a little and looking up at him, her nose pink. "But not hurt. I might have been," she added. "Naomi—the clerk—pulled me out of the way." She nodded to one side.

He looked in the same direction and saw an attractive young woman with a mass of braids falling down the back of her navy pinafore dress. She was talking with one of the techs and gesturing to the shopfront, which was missing a large pane of glass.

"I'll have to thank her. Where's John?"

"Inside."

He allowed himself five seconds before letting her go. "It's not my case, but . . ."

"Can I come with you?" she asked. "I don't really feel safe out here."

"You've given your statement?"

"Just now."

"Good. You can show me what happened."

He winced as they entered the shop and he saw where the glass went. "Are you sure you weren't cut?"

"I was nowhere near the glass," she said. "We hid in the changing room, there, and John was behind the divan."

Lestrade took a look around. He didn't see Donovan or Anderson, which was, in Donovan's own words, a blessing. He did see Dimmock, though, which was another blessing—he was one of the few who had vocally refused to support the Yard's suspicions of Sherlock and had protested Lestrade's suspension.

The D.I. was across the room with John, who was pointing at a series of holes in the cream-colored walls. They reached him as John was saying, "No, that one was first—I'm sure of it. Then that one there and this one here . . ."

"These are all over the place," said Dimmock, glancing at Lestrade with a brief nod of acceptance. "Are you sure of the order?"

"As sure as I can be," said John. "It looks like overadjustment to me—or frustration. But this last one, right there, was completely wild, as if the shooter wasn't even aiming anymore."

"So an amateur with a temper?" asked Lestrade.

"Maybe," said John, rubbing his chin. "Or something spooked him."

"Being shot in the back of the head would do it for me," said Dimmock. "We're canvassing the area for witnesses." This last was directed at Lestrade, who appreciated the courtesy.

"There's one right here," said Mycroft's assistant, appearing as if by magic, Blackberry in hands.

"You saw him?" asked Lestrade.

"Oh, yes," she said.

"While he was alive?" asked John. "Or after?"

"Both."

Dimmock stared at her. "You killed him?"

"Self-defense," she said, still working her Blackberry.

"Would you mind telling me how a shot through the back of the head could be considered self-defense?" asked Dimmock, with more polite patience than Lestrade would have expected—though the man had dealt with worse.

She smiled without looking up. "My employer would be very cross if Doctor Hooper was hurt on my watch. Or Doctor Watson," she added. "Very probably."

"Thanks very much," said John.

Dimmock was clearly having trouble reconciling a dead sniper with the elegant woman ignoring him in favor of electronics, but he was still game. "You're a close protection specialist, then, Miss . . . ?"

She paused. "Yes. You could say that."

Dimmock shot Lestrade a questioning look and Lestrade replied with a small shrug, suddenly glad it wasn't his case—let forensics and Mycroft Holmes sort it all out. "Any idea who the target was?" he asked.

"We were both in—or near—the line of fire," said John. "There's no telling. It might even be Naomi Carpenter."

"The clerk?" asked Lestrade. "Why?"

"Sherlock got her brother off a murder charge," said Molly. "And the man who did it tried to get his case thrown out after, well, you know."

"Until you stopped all that nonsense in its tracks," John said. "I'm sure there were several people who were upset about that—even murderers have friends and family."

"So the shooter might be out for revenge on any of you," said Dimmock. "Terrific. Maybe there's a clue or two on him."

"He had no identification," said the assistant. "I captured his fingerprints and sent them to your people to save time. I'm going through the CCTV footage right now for a viable image of him. You check your files and we'll check ours."

Dimmock opened his mouth, then closed it. Lestrade knew the feeling.

"Doesn't that thing take pictures?" asked John.

She gave him a brief look. "Headshots can be messy, Doctor. Particularly exit wounds. I've scheduled a cake tasting tomorrow at ten-thirty," she said, turning to Lestrade. "Will that work for you?"

Lestrade blinked. "What? Oh. Right. I'll do my best. Can your boss assign a permanent security detail for Molly?"

"They've been in place for fifteen minutes."

Molly stepped past Lestrade, took the Blackberry away, and threw her arms around her. "Thank you, Anthea," she said.

To Lestrade's surprise, the woman hugged her back. "My pleasure," she said.

He had a feeling she meant it.

Dimmock all but threw up his hands. "I'll need a statement."

"It's waiting in your in-box," said Anthea, retrieving her Blackberry. "And now, if you don't mind, I'd better get back to the office. I'll pick you up tomorrow at ten, Doctor Hooper."

"Please inform us if you plan to leave the city, please," said Dimmock. "We might have further questions."

She raised a polite eyebrow and walked out.

"Who is she?" said Dimmock.

"Sherlock Holmes' brother's assistant," said Lestrade.

"Oh." Dimmock nodded slowly. "That might explain a thing or two. I suppose I'd better check my inbox, then."

"We'll get out of your way," said Lestrade. "Keep me posted, would you?"

"Of course I will," said Dimmock, walking with them to the door. "Thanks for your help, John. If we have any further questions—"

John nodded. "You know where to find me."

A tech called to Dimmock and he excused himself.

"Is anyone else hungry?" said John. "Because I was promised curry."

"Is it safe?" asked Molly.

"For now, I expect it is," said John, as they stepped outside. "Mycroft's people are in place. And if the shooter wasn't acting alone, the others will be a bit more cautious after what happened to him.  Although—"

"Doctor Watson?"

John turned.  "Ms. Carpenter," he said with a polite smile. "Almost recovered?"

"Yes, thank you. And it's Naomi, please." She gave him a look bordering on hero worship. "Could I, um, speak to you for a second?"

John blinked. "All right."

"We'll wait for you at the car," said Molly tugging on Lestrade's arm.

Lestrade allowed himself to be herded away. "Matchmaking?"

"Just giving them some privacy," she said. "It's difficult enough without an audience."

"What is?" Lestrade glanced back and saw Naomi Carpenter standing very close to John and tucking something in his jacket pocket. "Oh. Yes, she's having a terrible time. How does he do that to women?"

"The same way you do," she said, sliding her arm through his.

"Yeah?" he said. "And what do we do?"

"Oh, no," she said, shaking her head. "It wouldn't be safe for either one of you to know."

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

"I'm paid in full," said John an hour later, leaning back so a smiling Maryam could take his plate. "Very full. Thank you for lunch, Molly."

"It's the least I can do," she said, smiling. "Excuse me, please." She slipped out of her chair, picked up her purse, and disappeared in the direction of the restrooms.

Lestrade swallowed a last bite of poppadum. "You never did say how you happened to be there."

"Molly needed some support and no one cares if the best man sees the dress before the wedding." John smiled. "You're a lucky man, Greg."

"I know I am." He grinned. "Speaking of luck, what did Naomi Carpenter have to say?"

John shrugged. "She thanked me for keeping cool in a crisis and for having a semi-illegal firearm about my person."

"Uh-huh. Does this mean Mrs. Hudson will have to find her own escort? Molly will want to know," he added.

John smiled. "I'm not that fickle. And a wedding isn't my idea of a good first date—or even a third." He chuckled easily. "Especially when a certain someone has always taken such pleasure in wrecking them."

"I hope you mean dates and not weddings."

"Well, we'll find out, won't we. Or I hope so." John turned pensive. "I thought it would be enough to know, and it is, in a way. But it also makes it more difficult to wait. And then I wonder why I'm bothering . . . Why I'm putting my entire life on hold for someone like him."

"Why have you?" asked Lestrade, sincerely curious. John didn't have his motivation—or not all of it. At first, Lestrade wanted to catch criminals and put them where they couldn't do any more harm and Sherlock was the means to that end. Over the years, though—and it had taken years—he'd started to see more to Sherlock Holmes than brains and arrogance and had eventually come to like him for his eccentric self. Or at least the better, nobler bits that he occasionally let slip.

But John and Sherlock had clicked instantly, and John had stayed despite everything someone like Sherlock Holmes could throw at him.

"I think," said John, slowly "it's the loneliness."

"It must have been tough, leaving your friends behind in Afghanistan," said Lestrade. "Especially under the circumstances."

"Yes it was," said John. "But I didn't mean my loneliness, or not just mine. I meant his. As difficult as it is to deal with him. . . it must be just as difficult to be him. He needs people, even if he doesn't know it or doesn't want to—and so few have ever bothered to make the effort."

"Molly said something like that once."

"She's a wise woman," said John. His lips twitched. "Despite her terrible taste in men."

 

Chapter Text

Molly peeked through the doors into the chapel proper and studied the guests—it was more difficult to identify people from the backs of their heads than she'd expected.

Plus, she had no idea what to look for; Sherlock could be practically anyone, though there were certain things he surely wouldn't be able to hide—the blonde lady violinist in the string quintet at the far end of the long room was simply too short and the verger's hands were too small.

She'd been keeping a close eye on the second ugliest hat among the guests—the first being part of her Aunt Celeste's legendary wedding gear—until its wearer turned around to greet someone, revealing a neckline that was far too low to cover a fake bosom—and Molly was fairly certain even a self-professed genius of disguise wouldn't have gone so far as to surgically implant quite that much . . .

She gave up for the moment and wondered exactly how many of the people waiting in the pews were employed by Mycroft Holmes. Quite a lot of them, she imagined.

A shiver went up her spine and she suppressed a nervous giggle. Other brides were allowed to have jitters about grooms showing up drunk, or caterers running out of shrimp puffs, or aunts cornering other guests to rant about the state of the government and the outdated aristocratic class after half a glass of sherry—actually, that last one had been worrying her, but she and Greg had worked out a—

A throat cleared behind her. "Doctor Hooper?"

She turned and smiled at Mycroft Holmes. She'd all but given up trying to persuade him to call her by her given name and had decided to see his formality as a sign of respect.

"Ah. How lovely you look," he said, quite distinguished himself in his morning suit, though she couldn't imagine him ever looking less than distinguished, even in his pyjamas, which were probably dark blue silk with light blue piping and an embroidered, authentic crest on the breast pocket—and she must be nervous if she was imagining the power behind . . . everything . . . in his sleepwear.

Molly suppressed another giggle. "Thank you, Mr. Holmes. And thank you for everything you've done—especially offering your home for our wedding." If home was the right word for a mansion with its own fortifications and private chapel. "I know there were other reasons, but I can't think of a more beautiful place to be married."

He gave her a warmer version of his polite smile. "It's an honor to stand in loco parentis, my dear."

"You aren't anywhere near old enough for that," she said, peeking at the guests again. "Maybe an older brother or a very young uncle? Do you see him anywhere?"

"No, but in cases like this, it's best to allow him to find you," he said, dryly. "Ignore him and he'll come running—it rarely fails. And you should be concentrating on yourself and your husband-to-be." He raised his eyebrows. "No bridesmaid?"

"Oh, yes," said Molly. "She wanted to speak to the—"

"I’m sorry, Molly."  Anthea, looking chic in the blue sheath dress and upswept hair, appeared through a side archway,  followed by a besuited older gentleman who stationed himself by the double doors to the chapel.  "There was a small issue with the—oh, Mr. Holmes," she said, suddenly slightly less serene and slightly more pink than usual. "We're only five minutes off schedule, sir."

"No need to rush," he said, and Molly noticed he'd straightened his already perfect posture. "Weddings have their own timetable. I, ah, I wasn't aware that Dr. Hooper asked you to stand with her. Not that I have any objection," he added.

"There's no one I'd rather have," said Molly. "She's been wonderful these past weeks."

"You did leave the details to me, sir," said Anthea. "And if the Chinese Ambassador hadn't called you away from the rehearsal dinner . . ." She raised an eyebrow and he smoothed his tie and looked away.

"Yes, well . . ."

Molly raised her own eyebrow, unsurprised that he'd manufactured a reason to stay away—Mycroft Holmes' comfort zones might well include hosting terrorists for tea, but they did not include playing happy families with someone else's family. "Oh? I heard it was the Bangladeshi consul," she said, before breaking into a smile. "It's a good thing you'll be back in the office soon—he needs you to keep his excuses in order."

He cleared his throat. "Don't we have something we should be doing?"

Anthea dimpled and went to pick up the flowers waiting on a carved mahogany bench in the corner. She handed Molly her bouquet, tweaked the ivy a bit, and smiled. "Are you ready?" she asked.

Molly took a deep breath and let it out. "I think so," she said. Mycroft Holmes offered his arm and she took it, glad for the support.

The older man opened the doors wide and Anthea gestured to the string quartet near the front of the church. They began to play, and she settled her own flowers and began swaying gracefully down the aisle to the music.

"Isn't she beautiful?" whispered Molly.

"Indeed," her escort said quietly. "I've always thought so. But might I ask—"

"Where she's keeping her Blackberry?" Molly grinned up at him. "I've no idea."

She was rewarded by the first surprised laugh she'd ever heard from a Holmes, but didn't have much time to enjoy it before the music changed.

Everyone stood.

And then it was their turn.

Molly told herself not to search the rows as she passed, to let the agents liberally scattered through the guests worry about security and whether or not a certain consulting detective had decided to return from the grave. However, it was perfectly acceptable to smile at friends and family in passing and if she happened to see anyone she recognized . . .

But before she took four steps, she looked up and saw Greg watching her, waiting for her, standing tall and handsome and as stunned as she could have wished . . . and the idea of paying attention to anyone but him vanished from her mind.

 

oooooOOOOOooooo

 

Lestrade looked over the guests from the sacristy doorway, eyes lingering on each face.

"Nice turn out," said John, looking far more comfortable in his dress uniform than the groom felt in his well-tailored morning suit.

At least this rig didn't have a hat. "How many are Mycroft's, do you think?"

He wouldn't have minded if all of them were. The sniper had quickly been identified as one Robert Hudson, who had turned mercenary after his dishonourable discharge from the Canadian Army, but they still didn't know who his target might have been or why, and his known associates hadn't been able to provide answers, even when Mycroft was the one asking. He'd been hired by someone, but there was no payment to trace. And no assurances that there wouldn't be another attempt.

"Less than half, I think." John shrugged. "How many invitations did you send?"

"I'm not sure. They're mostly Molly's." He didn't have much family left, or friends that his ex-wife hadn't claimed in the divorce—and there were several reasons there weren't many Yarders, though Dimmock and the Commissioner were front and center. "Do you see him anywhere?"

"I'm not looking— safer to have him find us, I think, when he's ready."

"All these arrangements, and for all we know he's hundreds of miles away."

John was silent for a moment. "No," he said. "I think he'll be here. I have to think it."

"Well, then," said Lestrade, "I hope he doesn't have trouble getting inside—the Queen doesn't have this level of security."

"I think she does, actually. But Mycroft seems to think Sherlock will manage—they grew up in this house."

Lestrade pursed his lips in a silent whistle. "No wonder." It was a gorgeous pile of stone . . . but it wasn't his idea of a home.

"I know—I understood both of them a little better once I saw this place." John chuckled. "But I'm sure it holds enough hidden passages for two labyrinths and that they know them all. Though it's also possible he arrived with the catering staff. But I think he'll want to attend—he told Molly he would, or as good as. And if he's the one underneath that extraordinary hat in the second row, I'll want photos for the blog."

Lestrade checked. "I wish. That's Molly's Aunt Celeste. Sherlock in drag would be easier to take." That came out a big sharper than he'd meant, but the tension was getting to him. He hadn't been this restless at his first wedding—of course, all he'd had to do at that one was show up sober. "This entire wedding is all about him, isn't it? And I let it happen."

"No it isn't," said John. "Only half the guest list and most of the security measures are about him. The rest—the important part—is about you and Molly."

Lestrade took a breath and let it out. "You're right. Thanks."

"That's what I'm here for—to keep you from getting the vapors."

"That and the rings. John?"

"Hmmm? The what?"

"John . . ."

The vicar walked through the small room and gave them a look.  "Gentlemen? Are we ready?"

Lestrade and John exchanged grins and followed him to their spots. The doors at the far end of the chapel swung open and the musicians lifted their instruments and began to play. Lestrade couldn't help looking over the violin player, just in case, but she was far too short.

Anthea glided down the aisle in blue, a sheaf of flowers in her arm.

Lestrade leaned toward John. "Where do you suppose she's keeping her—"

"Best not to ask."

The guests stood. The music changed.

And he saw Molly. His Molly.

He felt John clap him on the shoulder and dimly registered that Mycroft looked genuinely pleased . . . but that faded when the woman he loved met his eyes and smiled.

Let Sherlock Holmes rise from the dead in his own time.

This time belonged to Molly Hooper and Greg Lestrade.

 

Chapter Text

Molly had dreamed of her wedding many times when she was younger. The details had changed over the years, the dress and the music, the food and the venue, though the groom had always remained vague—a practical necessity to be acquired in time, ranking well after the cake.

But as she danced in the arms of her new husband, it didn't matter at all what they were wearing or that Mycroft Holmes' house boasted a ballroom that might as well have been in Buckingham Palace, or even that the cake was filled with chocolate ganache.

It only mattered that this man—this man—was the one smiling down at her.

The song ended and another began. Lestrade led her away from the orchestra to continue accepting well-wishes from their guests, the perfect excuse for checking cheekbones, as Greg called it.

Near the bar, she could see Mycroft Holmes surveying the room over a glass that was never emptied, though she thought he was mostly looking at the table where Anthea was ignoring a plate of cake—and the queue of men trying to chat her up—while surreptitiously checking her Blackberry. Nearby, John was trying to extricate himself from the determined clutches of Aunt Celeste, who appeared to be  either objecting to or admiring his uniform at great length—possibly both.

"Have we looked over everyone?" she asked Greg, wiping the Commissioner's wife's lipstick from his cheek with a napkin.

"Most of the guests, I think. But there's still the—"

"Molly!" said a male voice in a low tenor that sounded almost familiar, though the accent didn't. She turned to see a tall, broad-shouldered man with ginger-brown hair, warm brown eyes, and a well-cultivated beard that surrounded a rounded, beaming face. "It's so good to see you after all this time," he said, bending to kiss her cheek. "I never thanked you for the Christmas present," he murmured in her ear.

She blinked at him . . . and then it clicked. Oh!" She reached out and grabbed him, mindless of her dress, feeling his long arms come around her just as they had once before. "Oh, it's been far too long."

"I know—though I wasn't expecting to see you quite this soon, eh?" He stepped back and smiled, then extended a long-fingered hand. "And you're Greg, of course. Welcome to the clan."

Greg glanced at Molly and shook. "Ah, thank you," he said. "I'm afraid I haven't memorized Molly's family tree, yet." The lift of his eyebrow suggested that he wasn't certain this man had a place on it.

"Of course not, I'm sorry—Basil Sigerson, one of Molly's cousins. The distant sort—my branch went to Amsterdam a generation or two back. It's no wonder you didn't recognize me, Molly—I couldn't grow a beard when we last played together. Mother wanted to come, but she isn't well and sent me in her place. I hope you don't mind?"

"No," said Molly, struggling not to hug him again and cry and ask a million questions and hit him and ruin everything. "I don't mind at all. You've . . . you've changed quite a bit, Basil."

"Needs must," he said gently. "How have you been?"

"It . . . It's been a rough couple of months for everyone," she said. "But maybe that will change now?" She couldn't help but make it a question.

His voice deepened a moment. "I certainly hope so."

John appeared next to Greg, looking frazzled.  "That woman," he said. "I thought you were joking."

Molly seized his arm. "Have you met our best man? John Watson, my cousin, Basil Sigerson."

The two men shook. "Have we met?" asked John, pulling away slowly.

"I believe I would remember, Doctor Watson. Afghanistan or Iraq?"

John froze for a moment. "My tan faded a long time ago," he said, pleasantly, though his eyes had gone sharp.

"I said I believed I would remember," said the other man, with an intent look. "You aren't very observant for a soldier, are you?"

"So I've been told." John looked around. "Would anyone know where the lavatories are in this place?"

The brown eyes crinkled in the corners. "I found one earlier—here, I'll show you."

"Thanks." John turned and marched away, leaving his guide to catch up.

Molly took a step, but Greg held her back.

"Let them work it out," he said. "Though if they don't, I may handcuff them together again."

"I'll help," she said. "Should we tell Mycroft?"

"Your bridesmaid will see to it," he said, nodding towards Anthea, who nodded back. At the bar, Mycroft pulled out his phone, checked it, and visibly exhaled before tucking it away and returning to his drink.

"I don't know as I'd be that reserved," said Greg.

Molly watched Mycroft turn his glass in his hands, then take a small sip. "You don't have to be," she said.

Greg grinned. "And thank God for that," he said, raising her hand and twirling her around. "Would you care to dance?"

She would.

It was two dances, a small piece of cake, and one Aunt Celeste emergency involving the vicar, before the two men reappeared. Molly noticed that Basil/Sherlock's cheek was reddened over the beard and John had a handkerchief wrapped 'round his hand—but it seemed to be Sherlock's pocket square and they both looked at peace. She breathed a sigh of relief.

"All sorted?" asked Greg.

"Nearly," said John. "We'll thrash the rest out later."

"I do hope that's a metaphor, Doctor Watson," said Sherlock.

"Just be grateful for all that padding in your cheeks." John examined his hand. "I know I am."

"It's so nice you two have hit it off," said Greg with a straight face. "Isn't it, love?"

Molly nodded, not trusting herself to speak.

"Lestrade," murmured Sherlock, accent firmly in place. "I have a favor to ask."

"As long as it's not postponing the honeymoon . . ."

Sherlock raised a ginger eyebrow.

"Damn it, who do you think you—"

Molly put a hand on his arm. "Tell us why and then we'll decide."

"Not here," said Sherlock.

"Not today," said Greg. "I'd like a little time alone with my wife, if you don't mind."

Sherlock snorted. "From the looks of things, you've been unofficially cohabitating for some time now and it's obvious that you've been intimate for at least that long. So I don't see why a small delay—"

"No, I'm sure you wouldn't," said Greg. "But I'm not prepared to argue about it."

"But surely you could put off the archaic ritual of consummation for a few—"

"No," said Greg.

"Molly—"

"No," she said, smiling up at Greg. "We really couldn't." She was rewarded with a sound kiss and a sound of impatience from Sherlock.

"Oh, fine. First thing—"

"After lunch," said Greg. "At the earliest."

"But time is of the essence. You can't expect me to sit in my hotel room twiddling my thumbs while you two—"

"Mr. Sigerson," said John. "I expect London has changed a bit since the last time you visited. I'd be glad to show you the sights tomorrow morning, if you're free?"

Sherlock blinked. "I . . . Thank you, Doctor Watson. I think I'd enjoy that."

"Call me John."

"Basil."

"Molly," said Greg. "Your Aunt Celeste has cornered Mycroft again and it's your turn."

Sherlock turned to look. "Don't bother," he drawled. "They make a lovely couple."

"Ask the musicians to play a waltz, please," she said. "That'll do for an excuse."

"You're going to ask Mycroft to dance?" asked Sherlock, his scorn shining through his accent.

"I promised myself I'd dance with a Holmes brother at my wedding," she said. "And since everyone knows the younger one wouldn't even if he was here, I'll be happy to ask the older." She smiled at him as she passed.

On the way, she spied one of the few people Anthea had pointed out, in case of an emergency. She stopped at his table. "Mr. Holmes needs you," she said, hoping that would be enough.

He put down his cake and followed.

"What's your name?" she asked, as they approached the bar.

"Smith, ma'am."

"Mr. Smith, I'm very sorry for what I'm about to do to you."

Molly inserted herself physically between aunt and victim, took Mycroft Holmes' drink out of his hand, set it on the bar, and said in a loud, jolly voice, "Aunt Celeste, I'm afraid I have to steal Mr. Holmes away—but Mr. Smith here was just telling me how much he enjoys Downton Abbey, and I know he'd love to hear your opinions of Violet Crowley."

Aunt Celeste zeroed in on the agent with a militant gleam in her eye and Molly deftly tugged Mr. Holmes free.

"Thank you," he said as they made their escape. "That woman lost a great career opportunity when England outlawed torture."

"She was the sports mistress at a public girls' school for thirty years."

"I'm not at all surprised—I was considering calling for an air strike."

"Dance with me instead?" she asked, as the orchestra struck up the Danube.

"Wouldn't the groom be more appropriate?"

"Greg prefers modern. Please, Mr. Holmes?"

"How can I refuse?" he said, but not as if he really wanted to know.

By the time Mycroft had taken Molly on one circuit, they could stop concentrating on the steps and avoiding other dancers and talk as they moved.

"You waltz very well," he said.

"Thank you. My father taught me." She felt a pang, but smiled. "You do, too."

"Our mother insisted we take classes. I rather enjoyed them, until my brother was forced to join."

"Oh dear."

"Yes. He managed to alienate all the young ladies within a week and I was forced to partner with him. It was ghastly, as I'm sure you can imagine—aside from the lingering psychological trauma, my insteps have never been the same."

"He trod on your feet?" Sherlock always seemed so graceful.

"Only when it was my turn to lead. He's always been so competitive."

"I wouldn't expect anything less. From either of you."

He gave a genteel snort. "I suppose we both—"

"May I cut in?" said an accented voice.

"No," said Mycroft in a pleasant voice. "Wait for the next one. Lovely wedding," he said, whirling her away. "I'm having a wonderful time."

"So am I," she said. "Your assistant deserves a raise—or at least a turn around the dance floor."

His eyes twinkled. "Do you suppose I could persuade her to put down her electronic appendage long enough for the Minute Waltz?"

"Try it and see," she said.

"Hmmm."

Two circuits more and the music came to a close. Mycroft swung her to a stop and looked over her shoulder. "Ah, here he is again."

"Mycroft Holmes," said Molly, "This is my cousin, Basil Sigerson."

"Charmed," said Mycroft.

"There's cake left, Mr. Holmes," said Sherlock. "Don't let us keep you."

Mycroft gave a courtly bow to Molly. "I know a very good podiatrist, should you need one, Doctor Lestrade." He winked and, to her delight, headed in the direction of his assistant.

Molly held out her hands and grinned as another waltz began. As she'd expected, he led her so deftly and anticipated her steps so quickly that they could talk almost at once. "You aren't surprised," he said.

"Of course not. Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes won't dance, and you certainly aren't him. Plus, you couldn't possibly allow anyone to think your brother can do something you can't—even if they don't know it's you. Elementary."

He stared at her. "You've become an interesting person, Molly Hooper Lestrade."

"You've become more observant, Basil Sigerson," she said.

He blinked, then gave a great, un-Sherlock-like shout of laughter. "Touché, cousin," he said, in his Dutch accent. "Touché."

 

Chapter Text

It was far later than they'd planned when Lestrade and Molly finally left Mycroft's guest cottage to meet John and Basil/Sherlock for lunch—they'd made the mistake of taking what was intended to be a quick, shared shower that had turned into something that was neither quick nor, strictly speaking, a shower.

Or, in Lestrade's opinion, a mistake—with Sherlock back, who knew how much of their honeymoon time they would be using for its intended purpose?

"As much as possible," Molly had said, leaning in again—before proving his point by glancing at the clock, leaping out of reach, and announcing that they were terribly late and needed to hurry.

They took the time to stop at the mansion to thank Mycroft for all he'd done, but instead found Anthea, who looked her usual cool, competent self and not at all as though she had still been dancing with her employer when the bride and groom had taken their leave of the ballroom as near midnight as made no difference.

She was directing the battalion of staff who were restoring the interior to its pre-wedding state while giving the majority of her apparent attention to her Blackberry. Though she paused long enough to return Molly's cheerful good morning.

"Is Mr. Holmes here?" asked Molly.

"He left for his office several hours ago," said Anthea, giving nothing away, for which Lestrade was grateful. "Is there something I can do for you?"

"You can accept our thanks for everything you've done," said Molly.

"You're welcome," said Anthea. "I actually enjoyed it. All of it." She sounded mildly surprised.

Lestrade couldn't help but think of the dead sniper, but Molly only grinned. "Mr. Holmes is a good dancer, isn't he?"

"Yes," said Anthea. She smiled a small smile at her Blackberry. "Quite good."

Lestrade cleared his throat and wondered if he should wait in the car—he might be a copper to the marrow, but there were certain things he never wanted to know.

Molly glanced at him, clearly torn. "Lunch soon?"

Anthea's smile grew. "I'll synch our schedules."

"Good. Come on Greg, we're going to be late," said Molly, as though he'd been the one tacitly discussing . . . something he never wanted to discuss. "We're going to owe John an apology."

"He said it was fine," he said.

"John always says that. But my, um, cousin can be difficult to deal with when he gets impatient."

"Dr. Watson should be used to that by now," said Anthea, before gliding away to supervise a knot of staff carefully shifting an uncomfortable-looking antique settee.

"Please tell me you two were in fact talking about Mycroft's dancing skills," said Lestrade, as he and Molly made their way across the cobbled paving to the car.

"What else would we have meant?" But she smiled.

"You do know that there's no actual rule that married people have to match up all their unmarried friends." Especially the dangerous ones.

"Of course there isn't," she said. "But if two of those unmarried friends are already matched and don't know it, what's the harm?"

He tried to calculate the extent of international . . . well, harm was perhaps a bit pessimistic . . . the far-reaching changes that might result from Mycroft being happy in a personal relationship. But if he'd been any good at politics—or abnormal psychology—he'd have been Commissioner by now. "Right," he said finally. "You'll be trying to find matches for John and Sherlock next."

She cocked her head at him. "I don't know any women—or men—who would want to share Sherlock with his work or John with Sherlock."

"Do you think," he began, before thinking better of it. Even after all this time, Lestrade wasn't entirely sure about all the facets of John and Sherlock's relationship—and none of them were his business, anyway—but he respected, even admired, its depth and strength. It would be a damn shame if . . . "You think they'll be all right, then? It's a rough business, all this cloak and dagger stuff. It must have taken its toll."

Molly patted him on the thigh. "They'll be all right," she said, simply. "They know what they have to lose now."

oooooOOOOOooooo

Lestrade pulled into the car park of the restaurant and walked around to open her door. "We're terribly late," she muttered, glancing at her watch.

"Regrets about taking our time this morning, Dr. Lestrade?" he said.

"Not a single one," she said, with a smile that made him want to bundle her back into the car and drive straight to her—their—place. "And I'm sure John and Basil had an interesting morning as well."

"Not too interesting, I hope," he said, as he escorted her to the entrance. "I'm still an officer of the law."

To his relief, the two men waiting for them at the table near the back displayed no new bruises—or residual anger. In fact, they were speaking quietly and pleasantly, though it was still disconcerting to see the round-faced ginger-haired man instead of the dark, angular one and even more so to hear him laugh in a perfectly normal way.

"We're sorry," Molly began, but Sherlock interrupted, jumping up from his seat in full Basil Sigerson mode.

"Nonsense," he boomed, shaking Lestrade's hand and kissing Molly on the cheek. "Newlyweds never have to apologize for being late—not for the first few weeks at least." He winked.

Molly blushed and John smiled, though Lestrade though he looked a bit uncomfortable. Certainly being completely at ease with someone one had just met the night before might raise red flags with anyone watching—at least anyone who didn't know how quickly Sherlock and John had become friends.

But Lestrade wasn't entirely sure John was acting.

They sat and the waiter arrived, forestalling conversation, but once he'd left, Sherlock immediately launched into a humorous retelling of his favorite parts of the wedding reception—Aunt Celeste featuring heavily—and of the tour John had given him that morning.

As Molly and Sherlock debated whether or not the care for the ravens in the Tower was adequate, Lestrade took the opportunity to lean closer to John.

"Everything settled?" he asked in a low voice.

"Nothing is ever completely settled," said John with a tired smile. "But yeah, we're . . . good. Or we will be, once he can drop all this hale fellow, well met stuff."

Lestrade nodded, suspecting that wasn't the whole story but knowing this wasn't the time or place to press. "The smiles are . . . odd."

"Because they aren't odd?" John chuckled. "I know. I half-suspect he's doing it to keep me off-kilter in case anyone's watching. And it's working."

"Molly seems to like it."

They looked at her, her chin propped in her hand, listening in fascination to the Dutch-accented ramblings of her new favorite relative. Or apparent fascination—she glanced at them and rolled her eyes with a mischievous smile that had Lestrade catching his breath.

"You're a lucky man," said John.

"Yes. Yes, I am." He tore his gaze away. "Don't worry. He'll be back to his old, infuriating self soon enough and the two of you can begin plaguing us honest policemen again."

John's grin was wicked and reassuring at the same time. "Those were the days, weren't they?"

Before Lestrade could answer, Sherlock turned to them. "The only thing we were unable to do was visit the London Eye," he said. "Dr. Watson has agreed to let me bore him with it this afternoon. Would you care to join us? Do Londoners even notice it anymore?"

"We see, but we no longer observe," said John, with a bland smile.

"Oh, I haven't been for ages," said Molly. "Greg? Can we?"

"Sure, if John doesn't mind."

John shook his head. "I don't mind at all. The more the merrier."

Sherlock actually clapped his hands. "Marvelous!" he said.

"Where are you staying, Basil?" asked Molly suddenly. "Surely not with Aunt Celeste."

"She did offer, actually," he said, with a rueful shiver, "but no. No, I'm in a nice little hotel in Camden. I might stay a few days longer, actually. It's so nice to catch up."

"We have a guest room," she said. "You could stay with us. Couldn't he Greg?"

Lestrade hesitated. It was one thing to meet in broad daylight in a public place and quite another to bring home a targeted man and he wasn't about to place Molly in danger.

"Thank you, but I couldn't possibly intrude on your honeymoon week," said Sherlock. "That would be incredibly rude."

Molly, who had been sipping from her water glass, gave a loud snort and started coughing and warding off a solicitous Sherlock who had leapt up to pound her on the back. "Sorry," she croaked, red-faced with embarrassment and oxygen deprivation.

The table fell silent as Sherlock resumes his seat.

"I have a spare bedroom," said John quietly. "And I wouldn't mind the company."

Sherlock looked at his former flatmate for a long moment and Lestrade thought he could see something like longing in his expression before the affable disguise closed over it again. "Thank you," he said. "But Camden suits my needs very well." He smiled that natural smile that seemed so wrong, and once again captured Molly's attention with a glowing description of the apiary a friend of his was keeping near Dordt.

John chuckled softly to himself and Lestrade raised an eyebrow, wondering what he'd missed. "Bees," he murmured with a shrug, and asked him what he thought of the English team's chances this year for the Ashes. The mutual commiseration kept them nicely occupied until their meals arrived.

oooooOOOOOooooo

The Eye did have a lovely view.

It hadn't surprised Lestrade much that the four of them had been ushered into a private capsule without any mention of time limits. Though he doubted Sherlock had risked traded in one of his infamous favors, Mycroft certainly had the means—anyone who could immediately reroute London traffic patterns for a single car would have no trouble arranging this. And there was a box of Molly's favorite chocolates on a seat and a selection of champagne wines on a stabilized trolley in a corner, and Sherlock, whatever his disguise, would never have thought of that.

The moment the capsule left the ground, Sherlock spat his cheek padding into a hand, straightened to his full height, and threw back his shoulders with an audible crack. "Thank God," he said in his own deep voice. "Small talk is the worst form of torture."

"It is the way you do it," said John, standing at something like parade rest, though his arms were folded.

"I liked it," said Molly. "Or at least the bees. You really like them, don't you? I could tell."

Sherlock had opened his mouth, no doubt to say something scathing, but closed it. "Quite right," he said, studying her a moment. "They're fascinating creatures."

She smiled at him. "So what have you really been doing all this time?"

"Unraveling Moriarty's client list and neutralizing his network," said Sherlock, as if this should be obvious. "Starting with the three people assigned to kill John, Greg, and Mrs. Hudson." He walked to the front windows and looked out over the landscape, hands clasped behind his back. It was such a classic Sherlock pose that Lestrade was almost surprised his reflection wasn't wearing that long coat of his, in place of the tweed suit.

"That must have been difficult," he said.

"Not particularly. Yours was easy enough—a member of the civilian staff at the Yard. Matthew Foster," he added.

Lestrade felt his jaw drop. "Foster's disappearance is top priority—we've been trying to find him for a month."

Sherlock's grim smile in the window was at odds with his appearance. "You won't."

"Good," said Molly. She slid her arms around Lestrade's waist and hugged him tightly.

Lestrade couldn't honestly argue. He'd known Foster—not well, but it still cut deep to know the man would have shot him in his own office. "Was he blackmailed?" he asked. "Or just planted to kill me when the time came?"

"Both," said Sherlock. "But the reason for his blackmail—" Unusually, he glanced at Molly. "He wasn't . . . a good man led astray, Greg. None of them were. I did make sure."

Lestrade blew out a breath and inhaled the scent of Molly's hair. "All right," he said. "Thank you."

Sherlock nodded.

"How far have you got?" asked John.

Sherlock brightened. "Almost all the way and far more quickly than I had anticipated, considering the international extent of Moriarty's business interests. It was remarkably easy once key personnel were identified and located—there are definite hazards to paranoid, narcissistic micromanagement. In fact, when I saw the wedding announcement to De Telegraaf, I was already planning to follow a promising trail back ho—back to England."

"So you didn't come back for the wedding at all," said John, evenly. "Or to see the people who care about you. You only came back for revenge—to win against a dead man."

Sherlock stopped moving. "Not only, John" he said, with a peculiar intensity. "Moriarty was far too fond of contingency plans—who knows what sort of posthumous surprises he might have had in place? I had to keep you—all of you—safe."

"Safe?" said John, and Lestrade had rarely heard more sarcasm and pain packed into one word.

"Yes" said Sherlock. "As safe as I could make you—all of you," he added, though obviously as an afterthought.

"And it worked just fine," said Molly in soothing tones. "Aside from the sniper,"

Sherlock whipped around. "Sniper? What sniper?" He listened as John and Molly gave their accounts and Lestrade, who had read Dimmock's report and Anthea's official statement, filled in the corners.

"Sebastian Moran," he said.

"Is that an alias?" asked Lestrade. "Because the dead man's name was—"

"Not him. His employer. Sebastian Moran. He's the last real remnant of Moriarty's empire—dishonorably discharged ex-Army man turned mercenary turned right-hand man and personal bodyguard for a criminal mastermind. He was no doubt the man behind the laser-sights the night we met Moriarty at the swimming pool."

"I thought there were at least two men up there," said John.

"One was enough, especially when that one was Moran. Do you know him, John?"

"The Army isn't a small town," said John. "I'm fairly certain he wasn't a Fusilier and I don't think he ever crossed my surgery table—though I might have forgotten him."

"You would remember," said Sherlock, tapping his fingers against his lips.

"He's that distinctive?"

"You care that much," said Sherlock absently, still tapping.

"Why would a sniper hire a sniper?" asked Lestrade. "And who was he shooting at?"

"Good questions, Detective Inspector," said Sherlock. "Each with completely irrelevant answers. My brother's security measures might have made Moran cautious about risking his own skin or perhaps he wasn't in London at the time—at this point, it doesn't matter. It also doesn't matter if the target was John or Molly or both."

"It damn well matters to us!" said Lestrade, taking Molly's hand. He was going to keep her safe if it meant moving to an underground bunker in Australia.

"It shouldn't," said Sherlock. "Because he didn't want to kill either of them."

"And how do you figure that?"

John spoke slowly. "Because if he had, he would have hired a better man or there would have been a maximum of two shots fired. He didn't want us hurt—or not hurt badly. He wanted us frightened."

"Precisely," said Sherlock, approval in his voice. "But why?" He began to pace, though there really wasn't enough room for him to take more than three long-legged paces in either direction. "Revenge? Loyalty? Or . . ." He inhaled through his nose.

"Well?" asked John, before Lestrade could.

"Or he wants to flush me out."

Molly tightened her grip on Lestrade. "But he doesn't know you're alive."

"Perhaps not. But he knows someone is destroying his Moriarty's legacy," said Sherlock. "And while my brother is perfectly capable of doing so, he's far too busy running the world to devote his complete attention to the matter—and his methods, however covert, would still follow certain protocols. Mine do not.

"But he couldn't be sure, so he set up a test. He must have assumed I would hear about the attempted shooting and come running or otherwise show my hand."

"That's . . . not a great plan," said John.

Sherlock smirked. "He's no Moriarty. Though he's still very dangerous."

"Then why are you still here?" said Molly, as sharply as Lestrade had ever heard her speak. "He'll be looking for you."

"Oh, I'm counting on that," said Sherlock. "But he'll find me on my terms."

"Our terms," said John.

Sherlock nodded. "And Greg's as well. Officially," he added. "Wouldn't want to jeopardize your career again."

Lestrade opened his mouth, realized the other man's tone hadn't been sarcastic. It might have possibly been apologetic. "Much appreciated," he said, wondering how much his non-death experiences had changed the other man.

"My terms, too," said Molly. It wasn't a question.

"Of course," said Sherlock, seriously. "You're absolutely essential."

Before Lestrade could protest Molly sighed. "How many?" she asked.

Sherlock lips curled in a way that made it clear that some things would never change . "Just one."