They meet [the first time] at the lowest point of her life.
Her father's death causes her to spiral out of control, with alcohol replacing textbooks, early mornings spent running swapped with late nights spent at the bottom of a glass. People tell her that they don't recognize her anymore [what had happened to the quiet, studious girl they used to know?] but she brushes off their concerns with a shake of her head and simply drinks more.
The dean of her college informs her that she's on the verge of being sent down. She barely bats an eye.
She sits in a rundown pub until they close, accepting free drinks from lecherous older men and fending off advances from lustful young boys. Walking down the street she stumbles into a figure smoking a cigarette on the side of the pavement, lanky form leaning against the cool brick of the wall.
"Can I...?" she asks softly, looking up at him, his eyes bright even in the moonlight.
He doesn't say anything, just passes the cigarette down to her, and lights himself a new one.
She stares at his lips as he smokes it; beautiful, heart-shaped lips that she can't look away from [the old her, from before her father had gone and left her behind, would have been too shy to look at a man the way she's looking at him now].
They stand there together, silent along the edge of the road, and when the cigarettes burn down to stubs it seems natural enough that he follow her home, his shoulder pressed against hers as she fights not to stumble, pulling him into her flat just as the first streaks of dawn start to appear in the sky.
When she wakes up [hours later, she assumes] he's gone, the sheets rumpled from where he'd slept. Her eyes feel sore and her head is throbbing, and she's hard-pressed to remember his name [did he even give her one?]. She remembers little snippets – little fragments of memory that come to her out of chronological order [her hands threading through his curls, his hands on her chest, her lips on his throat, his half smile as she struggles to unbutton his shirt]. She remembers the pallor of his skin, the sweat on his brow, the way his eyes seemed too dilated, even in her drunken state. She knows another addict when she sees one.
When she finally manages to pull herself out of bed and into the washroom, she looks into the mirror and barely recognizes the reflection that she sees. The shadows under her eyes and the lines on her face are half-hidden by her unkempt hair, hanging down over her features. She thinks about showering but doesn't follow through with it, returning to bed and pulling the covers up over her head.
She dreams of her father sitting in his study, smiling at her warmly, and even in her sleep she can feel the tears on her cheeks.
A month after officially being sent down, she starts to wonder. Starts to wonder about the increasing number of mornings spent kneeling before the toilet, even after nights when she's had nothing to drink at all.
She buys three tests and they all turn positive, staring up at her from the side of her bed. She doesn't cry, doesn't feel anything really. But she does throw all the bottles out, one after another, and she wonders if there might be hope for her after all.
She wonders, occasionally, if she should try and find the man from the road, the man from that night. She barely remembers anything about him [mostly just that hair and those bright eyes], but she feels as if maybe he should know.
And then she remembers how he looked in the light, how he'd looked when he moved above her – and she knows that an addict is no fit choice for a father.
She has a boy, in the same University hospital where she'd once started [but not completed] her training. Some of the residents are so familiar, the same faces from her classes, and she tries to avoid their gazes, tries to ignore the judgement in their eyes.
She can't keep him – she's known that from the very beginning, even as the last hangover she'd ever have still wrecked havoc on her body. She's picked a lovely family from Norwich, two teachers with wide smiles, but she holds her son close to her as long as she can. The husband takes a few photos and gives her them to keep, and she fights not to sob as she hands the infant over to them.
"Did you have a name in mind?" the wife asks, beaming down at the baby in her arms.
The question takes her aback; she hadn't thought they'd ask her. "Michael," she answers softly, unable to look away from her baby. "After my father."
They tell her they'd like to keep the name, and that sends her off into tears again.
She returns to school a year and a half after her departure, and puts everything she has into it. She keeps a photo of Michael in her wallet, and another on her desk – the image of him spurs her on in her moments of darkness, keeps her going when she feels like she has nothing else at all.
She graduates only a year later than she should have and takes a position in London, working down in the morgue where it is quiet and organized and safe. She rents a small flat and keeps to herself, becoming more and more like the girl she was before her father passed, shy and reserved. Letters come from Norfolk three times a year, with photos that she keeps next to her bed, photos of a smiling little boy with curly black hair and bright blue eyes.
She nearly faints the first time he comes into her morgue. Her hands barely catch the edge of the examination table as her legs give out under her, as she stares at adult doppelganger of her son.
She's hit by a wave of memory as she looks at him: that lanky frame, filled out now; those razor sharp cheekbones; those lips, sternly locked in a frown. He looks different too, though; older now, and... healthier, she wants to say.
She realizes suddenly that Mike Stamford is speaking, looking over at her inquisitively. "Are you alright, Molly?" he asks, concern creeping into his voice.
The new man is staring at her, his eyes absent of any sort of recognition, his gaze that of a man staring at a perfect stranger.
"Y-yes, I'm – I'm fine!" she stutters, trying to pull herself together.
"Dr. Molly Hooper, this is Sherlock Holmes," he tells her, and she reaches out a shaking hand to him.
"N-nice to... meet you," she says softly, uncertainly.
He gives her hand a cursory shake and lets it drop. "I need to see the body in drawer 27D. Do hurry, Lestrade won't be far behind me."
She stares at him for a long moment, straining to see something, anything that might signify recognition on his part, but he only raises an eyebrow at her.
"Shall I retrieve it myself?"
"Oh! No, no of course," she answers, flustered now, and embarrassed. "Pl-please, come this way Mr... Mr. Holmes."
She can feel her heart sink as she leads him over the drawers, strangely saddened by his lack of recognition, disappointed somehow.
Every once in a while, she tries to see if she can catch some sort of flash of recognition from him, some sort of sign that he might remember her at all.
"May I help you, Molly?" he'll ask her if she lingers too long, and she'll draw away, embarrassed as always.
She stares at the photos of her son on those nights, and wonder to herself why it hurts so much that neither of the two males in her life remember her at all.
She considers telling him now, telling him about the son he never knew he had, but if he doesn't even remember her, how the hell she is supposed to explain a child? So she keeps quiet and tries to push the pain of it away inside, willing herself not to remember the way he'd leaned against that building, the cigarette balanced between his fingers as he reaches down to pass it to her, his eyes locked with hers.
Despite herself, she falls for the arrogant and selfish detective that bursts into her lab, always unannounced, always demanding. She knows that it's because of the way that he is that reminds her of her son, how when his eyes flash in excitement over the discover of another clue she is reminded of the way Michael reacted to a gift he'd received anonymously from her, in a video his parents had been kind enough to send to her.
It's the reason why she lets him walk all over her, why she lets him demand things from her, things that she probably shouldn't be doing for someone who isn't a police officer, let alone doesn't even work at the hospital. She does things for Sherlock because she can't do them for Michael, hoping somewhere deep inside of her that when Sherlock thanks her or smiles at her [as rarely as he does] it's like Michael is doing the same. It's crazy and it's stupid and it's downright ridiculous, but Molly can't help herself, not when she looks into Sherlock's eyes and see her son looking back at her.
"What happened to the lipstick?"
Molly starts. It still surprises her the things he notices and the things that he really, really doesn't.
"It – uh – it wasn't working for me," she answers, flustered.
He walks away from her, as he always does. "Really? I thought it was a big improvement; your mouth is too small now."
She remembers, despite herself, little flashes of kissing him, her lips on his in the dark, his mouth pressed against hers.
It hurts more than he'll ever know, the way he tears her apart, the way he strips her down to the barest elements of her with just his deductions, ripping her to pieces. She's brought him a gift – the first gift she's bought for anyone in a long, long time [it hurts too much to keep sending them to Michael – to send them on and know that he won't ever know where they came from]. She fights not to cry in front of them – in front of him – so she just shakes her head and bites her lip.
Her cheek burns afterwards, where he'd kissed her. It takes a long time for her heart rate to slow again.
John tells her, offhandedly, about the whole "deletion" thing, the removal of extraneous data. It makes sense, really, that he would remove that memory from his mind, but it stills hurts more than she would care to admit, that he could get rid of that night so easily while she lives with the consequences of it forever.
She hides him in her flat after he jumps, after she replaces his body in the morgue with a double, and the sight of someone that even just looks like him dead on her table makes her weak and nauseous. She tries not to think of Sherlock; she tries not to think of her son, either.
She gives him the bed to sleep in; he looks and sounds exhausted and somewhat broken, so she takes a spare blanket and retreats to the sofa without another word. She lies there a long time, unable to sleep, her mind reeling with what's happened and what's happening and what might still happen.
She gets up to check on him during the night, pushing open the door slowly so not to wake him, but when she steps inside she sees that he's still awake, staring down at sheets of paper strewn in front of him on the bed, his eyes fixed on them.
And then she realizes they aren't sheets of paper, but photos, the photos from her bedside drawers, and she can't breathe –
She stumbles back against the wall and he looks up her, finally noticing her presence. She can see that he's looking down at a photo of Michael at his last birthday, smiling at the camera in front of a big cake, his eyes wide and his hair wild, as always.
Sherlock is staring at her, looking at her in a way he's never looked at her before, his eyes looking over her body and then down to the photograph, trying as if to put all the pieces together, in order.
"Is this – this is your son?" he asks slowly, still staring down at the photo.
She just nods, unable to speak.
"You gave him up for adoption," he says slowly, looking back down at the boy in the photo before him.
"Y-yes," she manages to breathe, still propped up against the wall. Hadn't he seen, yet? Hadn't he -?
He looks back up at her, and there's something new in his eyes, something unfamiliar there. "That must have been hard," he says softly, before sifting through the photos again.
Her breath catches in her throat. Did he – could he not see what was right in front of him? It must be like looking into a mirror, like seeing himself as a child again. How could he not...?
He picks up the photos and places them back in drawers, and looks back at her again. "Goodnight, Molly," he says softly.
She stares at him long and hard, but he says nothing else, only staring at her expectantly. Her heart drops down into her stomach as she realizes that if he doesn't remember now, he won't ever remember at all. Her ribs ache with her refusal to cry in front of him, and she barely manages to whisper a reply before stumbling out the door, tears sliding down her cheeks, as she settles back onto the sofa and wills herself to sleep.
When she wakes up [hours later, she assumes], he's gone.
She tidies up the flat in the wake of his departure, and nearly misses seeing the two items on the edge of the bed, almost blending into the fabric of the duvet. It's a photo – a photo of her and Michael, at the hospital on the day he was born. She collapses onto the bed and clutches at her chest as she picks up the second item – a single cigarette, resting underneath where the photograph had been.
She thinks there's a photo missing. The one of Michael on his sixth birthday, smiling up at the camera. She doesn't mind.
She doesn't mind at all.