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I O U

Chapter Text

 

Right after the (Reichenbach) Fall

Mycroft, as always, has missed everything

Yes, she was only allowed five precious minutes with Jim Moriarty in the same room.

But nobody said anything about phone-calls.

 

A bug-eyed and heavily brainwashed guard drops the phone in her cell hatch.

She knows Jim is expecting her, but he only answers on the fifth ring.

She clears her throat and starts to sing a familiar tune. A Christmas medley, if you will.

“I want to break free…” she chants hoarsely. “I want to break free…”

She can hear him breathing, rather sonorously, on the other line. This is their first conversation in three years.

She continues singing in a childlike key, the music both sweet and bloodcurdling, until she reaches the fatal lyrics.

“I’ve fallen in love…” She pauses abruptly, like a string that has been scratched by a clumsy bow. “Are you in love, Jim? Has sentiment overcome your faculties?”

She hears him pacing regularly on the other end, expensive shoes scuffing the gleaming parquet.

“Are you like all the other men? Are you flat, ordinary?”

This seems to garner a reply from him.

“News must travel slow in your dollhouse, my dear. I’ve given Sherlock a vigorous fall.” His jolly, spring-in-your-step tempo is slightly marred by his heavy breathing.

Eurus laughs heartily. The sound is grotesque and ungovernable. Her cell echoes with the jeers of a beast.

“You were supposed to provide him with the game of a lifetime. Instead, you offered him a cheap charade. A joke."

Her endless guffaws seem to freeze the air around her. Her jaw is unhinged. Her eyes shine like fireworks.

“You should really take the Valium they give you, sweetheart. It’s not just for show,” Jim taunts, unruffled by her gaiety. But she can hear him running thick, stubbed fingers through his perfectly coiffed hair.

“I thought you were brilliant,” she continued snidely, “but you are nothing but a disgrace. You let him win so easily, a riddle so simple, even Mycroft could figure it out.”

Jim has stopped pacing. He is dangerously still, head cocked to the side. “I am getting rather bored  with your school-mistress act, little Holmes. In fact, I’m downright peeved. You are spoiling my good mood with your silly squawks–”

“Greg Lestrade,” she says to him then, quietly.

“Greg fucking Lestrade,” she repeats in the silence, letting the obscenity linger, fester.

“Nice chap, bit dim, what about him?” Jim quips, his pitch slightly higher than average. The tension unfurls between them, growing claws and heavy tusks.  

Eurus spits more venomous laughter.

“You just couldn’t risk it, could you? Not your precious Molly. You ruined the entire game for a corpse-smelling spinster.”

She can hear the way his index finger tightens its grip on the phone.

“You practically screamed the answer at my little brother. Of course, he had absolutely no trouble faking his death; there was really no obstacle in sight, since you handed him a fucking pathologist on a silver platter."

There is silence on the other end.

“Deny it, Jim. Tell me you did not change the names. Tell me you didn’t have your snipers target a washed-up detective whose first name Sherlock can’t even recall. Tell me you did not do it all for a skirt.”

Jim blinks fast, his eyelashes making a sound only she can hear.

He’s not a man who lies; he doesn’t do it often, not if he can help it. So he brazenly blows air through his mouth and curls his lips into a mad grin.

“Jealous?”

Eurus chuckles softly, the beast has gone back to sleep. “Oh, Jim. Jim, Jim, Jim. I didn’t think you had one.” 

“Had what?” he demands, his voice developing a chill.

“A weakness. It’s rather unfortunate that you do. You see, whenever I catch a bug, I simply must squash it. That’s why they locked me up in here. Bug-squashing.”

Jim is perfectly rigid now, an arrow taut to shoot straight for the heart. His expression, which has been described as "murderous" on a good day, has stretched beyond the confines of violence and plunged into pure wrath, the likes of which no man has witnessed without dying shortly after. 

“Is that a threat, little loon? Have you forgotten who I am?” he grinds the words, caring little for decorum. “I don’t squash bugs. I don’t even kill them. That’d dirty my shoes. No, I boil  them in their own blood, crack their shiny black shells into a million pieces, and then put them back together, so they can watch it happen again and again and again.”

Eurus is breathless for a moment, captivated by the Moriarty that lies behind the social trappings and the witty repartees. The Moriarty that was born for horror.

His final words are decisive, almost historical, as if he’s already committed the act. “I will boil  Sherlock if you touch her. I will boil him and make you and the Iceman eat him, piece by piece. Until your bellies are so full you will cry, no more…”

Eurus smiles sweetly into the phone, her lips trembling.

She sings in staccato now. “I’ve fallen in love…I’ve fallen in love for the first time, and this time I know it’s for real…”

Jim hangs up on her.

 

 

Of course, this means war.

He knows it. She knows it.

A traditional game of chess; Moriarty guards his queen, she guards hers. It’s only a matter of time now.

 

 

Jim is not a fast thinker, contrary to popular belief. He’s a slow, meticulous, almost pedantic student of the mind. More like a geriatric with a home puzzle, Sebastian sometimes quips under his breath. But it’s true. Jim doesn’t like to be rushed. Yes, he’s faster than everyone else, but he’s not really rushing, never has.

So, he needs time – certainly more than five minutes - to think of all the ways he needs to protect Molly Hooper. Forever.

The little Holmes bitch will never be satisfied unless she’s stuck her claws inside his little pathologist.

He knew very well what his decision would cost him. He’d known beforehand what it would do. Keeping Molly out of the fray meant putting a target on her back. He’d done it anyway, because half of his snipers by now were under Eurus’ control.

You just couldn’t risk it, could you? Not your precious Molly, her voice taunts him wryly.

This is what happens when you collaborate with a mad harpy.

But oh, she had no idea. He was madder than all of them. He had given birth to the harpy; he could make it slither under his little toe.

He was a madman with a trinket, and no one would touch Molly Hooper. No one, but him.

 

Oh, Molly-Moll. Darling buttercup. Apple of my eye. How did we get here?

How indeed.  

 

 

 

Days before the (Reichenbach) Falls

 

When she spots the ziplock bag on her desk, she suffers a brief spark of cognitive dissonance.

All right, I’m not fond of apples…but I must’ve brought one for lunch. Nothing's the matter.

It’s a rhyme Molly has come to recite quite often these days. Everything is fine. Nothing’s the matter. No one can hurt her. She is small and insignificant and plain, and if Sherlock’s taught her anything, is that this is her strength. Sneaking under the radar, minding her own business, staying unnoticed. 

Except, the apple inside the bag has already been bitten into. It has already been carved. The skin has yellowed with time.

There’s a semblance of an O in the bite, and a slanted I and U next to it, like a pair of gilded laurels.

I O U

Her heart beats a mile a minute. She is faster than lightening. She grabs the bag and dumps it unceremoniously in the trashcan under her desk.

Molly looks around wildly, wondering if anyone’s seen her, if the cameras perhaps caught the wildness of her gesture.

She leaves the room, muttering to herself about “going down to the lab”, as if offering an excuse for her momentary lapse in judgement, pulling on the hem of her knitted sweater with a little too much energy.

 

 

That is how he used to sign his little “love” notes which he sent up from IT. Jim – the man she had known as Jim, a shadow really, a ghost – had never mastered the language of “XOXOs”. He had a vocabulary of his own, endearing enough to mask its peculiarity.

He always wrote to her, “I O U,  Jim.”

“It’s very practical,” he explained, charmingly embarrassed, over coffee. “It means I owe you lunch, but also....I fancy you, quite a bit.”  

Molly giggled noisily, although privately she thought it was a bit much, that things were moving too fast. But maybe she simply wasn’t used to a man paying her attention and finding her agreeable, more than agreeable. It was a nice change of pace from all those self-loathing boys who only ever asked her out because they thought she was as pitiful as they were. 

No, Jim definitely liked her without regrets. 

She grew reluctantly fond of his IOUs. Expected them almost with a little domestic thrill. It was their  little secret. Jim's and hers.

 

She sinks her gloved hands inside the corpse and expels a shudder.

 

 

 

She is, after all, the apple of his I.  

Chapter Text

 

Three months before A Study in Pink

 

It’s been a lousy day for consulting. The weather was all wrong; not humid, not dry, just a mixture of piss and smog.

On top of that, he had to babysit a bunch of stooks who don’t know that murders don’t just grow on trees. Honestly, people these days want their spouses dead quicker than they want their latte orders. And they obviously assume he can just tap his polished Berlutis twice like that provincial girl in the Wizard of Oz, and make murder happen. They don’t know this job is not really that glamorous when you get down to it. You have to practice humility. You have to count your chicken, like that provincial girl in the Wizard of Oz. He suspects she counted chicken. She lived on a farm, or something. Anyway, these imbeciles expect him to be a bloody omniscient god.

In general, men who call themselves gods have no imagination and probably suffer from serious erectile dysfunctions. Their ultimate fantasy is an effortless vacuum of power, which is so, so boring. No wonder their cocks don't work. 

He likes having to fight against the odds. He likes the possibility of failure, just to spice things up. And his cock works perfectly. 

In any case, he’s awfully tired and is only yearning for a hot bath to get the smell of humdrum out of his Westwood. He might also lounge with a Robert Rankin classic to tune out the stupid. Tonight, he feels in the mood for Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls, but all in due time.

The minute he steps through the door, Sebastian is on him.

“Bedlam called.”

Jim rubs the back of his neck, trying to get an annoying crick out of it.  “Now, now, Seb. There is such a thing as ableism, you know.”

“Able-what?”

Jim sighs. “You never follow any of my jokes. What does Holmes, the Missus, want?”

“Just calling to check your progress,” Seb informs him with a detached air, because well, if this whole operation doesn’t work out, he won’t be the one footing the bill. “You ought to look over the files tonight, Boss. This is just a reminder.”

“Remind me to also dock your pay,” he grumbles, throwing his Berlutis at whatever piece of china he’s decided to decorate their pad.

“It’s already shite,” Seb responds glibly. He’s smart enough to know he can only afford one spiffy comeback a day.

Jim laughs good-humouredly. “Bath, and then files.”

“You’ll get them wet, Boss.”

“Oh, language, Sebastian, really!”

 

 

He usually never falls asleep during a patchouli scented bath, but God, if he’s got to read one more trite line about DI Greg Lestrade’s divorce he is going to turn into Rip Van Winkle.

So he decides to come back to him at a later time and focus on someone more palatable for a change. Definitely not the druglord’s neurotic wife who happens to be Sherlock’s landlord (ha, drug lord-land lord, he gets it), and he’ll be damned if he goes over the titillating sexual history of one named Mike Stamford.

No, let’s see, what else can Sherlock’s underwhelming posse offer?

It might be the infuriating stress and disappointment of the day or just the fact that he’s getting older, but when his dark eyes stumble upon her picture his mouth opens wide, almost against his will, and a great big, liberating laugh escapes his lips.

He almost drops her photo in the foamy water.

The photographer has captured a dowdy-looking woman (who appears to be in her thirties but has the overall gait of a twelve-year old) as she is very gracefully stepping into a giant puddle on the way out of her flat.

How she accomplished said feat is rather impressive since the pond looks easily avoidable.

Not only that, but in unexpected fashion, this spinster-in-the-making tried to jump out of it and ended up splashing more mud on her ridiculous plaid trousers. And there she stands now, like a brave trapeze artist, her legs splayed wide, as if she could somehow catapult herself into the air and escape her current predicament. The expression on her face could only be cataloged as pained

The riveting saga is capped off by a third photo, in which one can clearly see that she is swearing her mouth off at the puddle, as if the poor thing were to blame for the whole thing.

Jim can’t stop his fit of giggles. She even has one matronly finger drawn up towards the inanimate body of water, aiming to punish it with her digit alone. 

It really is a terrible work of art, the whole bloody mess.

Jim runs a wet hand over his face. Oh, he hasn’t laughed like that in ages.

He’s guessed that Seb included these particular photos to cheer him up.

But upon exiting his entertaining bath, his right-hand man informs him that “No, uh, those were actually the most decent ones. There was an incident with a bag and a flight of stairs when she got to St Bart's.”

 

 

Oh, he’s going to have fun with this one. She’s so utterly hopeless, it’s almost endearing.

 

 

For the next month he’s busy. With the entrance of John Watson into Sherlock’s life, things have a way of getting rather interesting. An army doctor is certainly a pretty asset to wield in this game of cat-and-crazier-cat that Eurus is intent on playing. Oh, he’s just so lucky to be part of the team. Isn’t that what all those award nominees say when they win the big prize? It was a team effort. Well, he’s willing to let her have the spotlight and craft her little ruse for Sherlock, he’s even willing to play his part, but once she’s satisfied her need, he will satisfy his.

He made the terms perfectly clear to her. Quid pro quo, hahaha. Movie references are all the rage nowadays.

So Eurus will let him have his fun with Sherly, while she lives out her maudlin family drama. It’s a win-win, really.

He doesn’t have time to focus on anything else except The Great Game and his regular criminal work.

And yet, he finds a minute or two in his busy day to check in on the puddle-hating pathologist.

It’s not really all that noteworthy; he’s keeping tabs on all of Sherlock’s people, even that oaf Anderson, but he has to admit, it’s rather delicious when he gets to peek in at the fumbling, bumbling, stumbling mess that is Molly Hooper.

Even her name is ill-fated. Molly-Hooper.  Say it in one breath and it sounds like a comedic belch. It’s as if the stars aligned in order to create the most painfully awkward creature alive.

He’s reviewed her record. She’s consistently shown to be among the best pathologists at St Bart’s but she comports herself as if she were the dumb fish at the very bottom of the barrel. She’s got less gumption than the cleaning staff.

Nothing in her family history warrants such a cosmic lack of confidence, but there’s not a day in the calendar where she won’t look frazzled or unnerved by the general populace around her. Sherlock, most of all. It’s quite obvious she’s got a crush on him and it’s quite obvious the virginal detective has no clue. It’s a depressing When Harry Did Not Even Know Sally Existed scenario. He would honestly despise her for her lack of fiber, but she’s just too much fun. There’s something so authentically wrong about her, he can’t look away. A train wreck that keeps wrecking.

“God, look at this one, classic Hooper!” he guffaws as he shoves a photo of the pathologist into Seb’s face. She appears to be trying to rip open a bag of chips. She’s sitting on a bench in the courtyard, looking like she’s disarming a bomb for all the effort she’s putting into it.

Sebastian rolls his eyes. “Boss, the Armenians called again, they’re not happy.”

“Don’t spoil the moment, will you?”

She already spoiled it,” Seb mutters, pointing a finger at Molly.

Jim scoffs. “You’re no judge of comedy.”

As punishment, Sebastian is supposed to catalog her hairdos for an entire month.

 

 

 

“Ponytail…ponytail…butterfly-bloody-clip….ponytail…braid-with-butterfly-bloody-clip….ponytail…ponytail….”

Jim raises the champagne glass to his lips. “Do go on, my dear fellow.”

 

 

 

He’s shooting tapes for Richard Brook in late December (he’s got a timeline to follow, after all, although he does feel a little sad he won’t be able to reveal his full thespian range until a year later, at the earliest), when he receives a call from one of his well-placed informers. They’ve got some transcripts he might be interested in from Scotland Yard and Baker Street and St Bart’s. You see, he loves putting bugs in people’s sacred homes and institutions, but he doesn’t like listening to the actual audio. People make such awful, artless sounds.  He’d rather read about their ignoble affairs.

And perhaps he should read Sherlock’s first. But who is he kidding here? He needs a good laugh.

 

 

MS: Oh, Gods, Molly, I’m so damn stiff today, I shouldn’t’ve had that pint last night…

MH: Well, you can’t be stiffer than Mr. Gladstone over here, can you? Sorry, Mike…(polite cough) I meant, how was your night?

 

 

MH: What’s – what’s wrong, Evey? Is it Arnold again?

EC: Who else (sniffles)? He finally broke up with me, the sod. Over whether we should buy a new stove or not, can you bloody believe it?

MH: Oh, rats. That’s awful. We should scalpel  him. You know, like scalp, but with a scalpel.

EC: I have to go (walks away).

 

 

ELECTRICIAN: Yeah, this is gonna take a day or two to fix, Ms. The automatic lock’s fried for sure.

MH: Oh, that's all right, I guess when they say dead as a doornail, they really mean it literally, haha. 

ELECTRICIAN: The door’s not the problem, Ms., it’s the lock.

MH: Um, right, yes, I was just –

ELECTRICIAN: Do you still want to go inside the lab?

MH: Yes, sorry. I – sorry. Thank you.

 

 

The pathologist makes puns. About death.

Jim sheds a small tear. His long-buried Catholicism resurfaces with a vengeance, because he wants to thank the benevolent saints of his childhood for this unearned gift.  

 

 

When he tries the “scalpel” joke on Sebastian one night, the hitman ends up challenging him to a duel, which hasn’t happened since 1989.

They end up destroying the original 1778 muskets they usually keep under lock and key.

 

 

The doddering taxi driver has made his third kill, one Beth Davenport. The chips are falling into place.

Soon, Jim will have to move some of them and see how they fit into the grand scheme of things. He’s not too worried. Sherlock’s literally too stupid to figure it out. It’s not his fault, his mind has been vacuumed of any memory of his sister. It’s almost unfair. But Jim relishes the imbalance, because it’s such beautiful poetry. When the great smarmy detective finds out he overlooked some buried secret in his psyche, he will freeeeeak.

And Jim will be there to witness it.

In the meantime, he decides to bug Molly Hooper’s apartment, just for fun.

Seb’s going away on a contract mission, and he needs some quality entertainment.

What?

It's not like it's a thing

Chapter Text

 

During A Study in Pink

At first, Jim really doesn’t understand the point of Enya. Mix a wind chime with the repetitive drumming of a washing machine and you’ve pretty much got the same effect.

But she listens to Enya quite a bit, so he’s forced to put up with the assault on his ears.

Molly Hooper loves to crank up the same tired CD every Saturday night – what he’s begun to dub as her “spa” night. He’s not embellishing one bit. She goes through this entire inane ritual where she lights up incense sticks and scented candles, spreads a grubby mat on the floor of her living room and pretends to stretch to the deathly-dulcet tones of Enya for at least an hour.

The only good thing about this nonsense is her outfit. At work, Molly dresses like a premature grandmother, opting for shape-obliterating clothes the likes of which one usually finds at Good Will. But during spa night, she wears a pair of fitting yoga pants and a similar comely tank top. They’re in a god-awful bright fuchsia and there’s a Disney character plastered on the front of her top, but it’s better than her trademark octogenarian fashion. And though he has to put up with Rapunzel – or whoever the fuck that is – on her chest, he has the leisure to appreciate her assets, such as her sizable breasts and her not-too-shabby derriere.

Jim hardly ever goes wild about tits and arses, he’s never been the sort of man with a weakness for the female body, but he appreciates surprises, and the fact that she’s hiding these curves underneath her spinster tent is quite satisfying. Mostly because no one else knows. It gives him a perverse thrill that he’s the only man privy to the private Molly Hooper.

He has been watching her on and off for three weeks now and she has never brought a man home. To be expected, she’s not exactly a looker and her sense of humor and general inability to hold conversation tend to chase away any pretenders.  But he’s still quite pleased he’s the only one witnessing her intimacy. There’s something so pathetic about her that it almost feels like he’s playing that popular Sims game and she’s his made-up character whom he’s guiding through the motions.

Sometimes he’ll point his mouse on the screen and say “Okay, Molls, be a good girl and walk to the kitchen, then make yourself a tasteless cup of tea” and sure enough, at one point, she will “obey” his command, because she’s that predictable. He laughs so hard whenever she happens to perfectly synchronize with his directions. 

“Okay, Molly-Moo, to the shower with you!” he coos, directing her with the mouse towards the bathroom. He hasn’t planted any cameras there; not because he has any sense of shame, but because complete nudity is frankly boring.

He did expect to get bored of this game at one point, but he’s almost a month in and it’s still pretty fun to sit on his queen-sized bed in the evening with a glass of sherry and act as the all-seeing God while Molly barely suspects who is watching her.

He doesn't do it all the time, of course, he’s got a network to run, but he can’t deny the relaxing properties of her routine. For she hardly ever deviates from her schedule. He’s seen those “Draw My Life” videos on Youtube and he finds them rather brilliantly succinct. While he is no sketch-artist himself, his calligraphy is still impeccable, so if he were to try his hand at it, her life would look something like: 

He's particularly proud of his 't's, they look like sharp sickles. You know, the kind the Reaper carries with him on his death appointments. In any case, no one could render a 't' so cuttingly. Oh, if people only knew how the great criminal mastermind fills up an evening. 

But the Great Game is begun and Jim is expected to join the gladiators' arena. Sherlock has already taken over the case of the so-called "suicides", and he is sniffing mighty close. 

Of course, it's going to take him a few days to realize it's the taxi that's the clue. He's such a posh-boy, he doesn't ever think about the little man behind the wheels that drive him across London. 

It's like he always tells Seb; a good detective has to be a Marxist. 

He laughs at this little quip now as he points the mouse on the screen, urging Molly to move to the corner he's clicked. Will she do it? Oh, the domestic suspense.

She is, ironically, the most stable element in his life at the moment. 

 

 

 

"Sir?"

Jim presses his thumb on the green pin until it sticks on the paper. He's looking over the map of The Cabbie's nocturnal activity. Jeff Hope's stupid cancer is making him reckless. Jim told him to stick to the area he's designated for him. Sherlock is adequately intelligent but he and the police can't "pin" him, pun intended, if he gets sloppy and erratic. 

Serial killers are only caught if a "serial" pattern is observed. You'd think this was common sense... Jim shakes his head, the world's gone to the dogs. 

"Sir?" a small voice tries again.

The older woman before him is sorting through the network's internal requests - the crimes that can be carried out on British territory. She has been in his service for ten years now, and not once has he bothered to learn her full name, which she rather appreciates. Everyone in the network is invisible, or pretends to be so.

"What?" he demands, pressing on the pin so hard it almost goes through the solid table.

"I -uh, sorry, I thought you were saying something."

"Now why would you think that, Deborah?" Might've been her name. 

"You were humming, Sir?"

Later, he'll realize he was.

 

 

"Let me sail, let me sail, let the Orinoco flow," he hums as he presses the buttons on the intercom and the three consulate employees get shot between the eyes. 

All right, so it is a bit catchy. 

 

 

 

God, that consulate business took forever. He's home now, ready to enjoy a good ol' fashioned Sims session with Molly-Moo. His faithful little drone. 

Here she is walking into her apartment now, kicking off her sensible flat shoes, about to pull out her butterfly clip and let her lusterless hair loose. There is always a moment, right before her hair falls down her shoulders, where she looks innocent. No, not in that fetishist way avuncular men with a passion for Nabokov might describe it. She does not look angelic or childlike. She just looks like she couldn't hurt a fly. It lasts only a few seconds, but it makes a rather pointed contrast with his day-to-day clientele. It makes a rather pointed contrast with him too, and he chuckles -

- his chuckles subside when he hears another voice in the hallway, coming through the door, blundering in a heavy coat and a wet umbrella. A man.

And then Molly's saccharine reply, "...gosh, I was about to drop dead in that hailstorm, but then again it is January, I don't know why I expect it to be spring already, haha, but you have to let me treat you to something warm before you get back out there." 

Her desperate torrent of words makes it difficult for the young man to say no. He smiles appreciatively. "One cup."

Jim reaches forward for his phone. There is a whip-like crack to his tone when he asks, "Why the bloody fuck has no one told me about the new lab assistant at Bart's? How do I know he's a - if you make me explain my deductions, Deborah, I swear to God - good, pull up his file."

He can piece together the scene. It was pouring outside, this twit happened to have an umbrella, she didn't. How convenient. 

"Make yourself at home. TV remote's under the cat probably," she calls out cheerfully from the kitchen where she's making quite a racket, slamming cupboard doors and rifling through her tea caddies. Lord, she's nervous. For this underwhelming specimen. The only thing remarkable about him is his weak chin, and that's only remarkable because it is so very un.

Molly starts babbling right away. "So, what do you think about those recent suicides?  Pretty eerie, eh? The police are considering murder now, thanks to Sherlock. I think I told you about him. Sorry - I know it's rude to talk shop, but honestly, it's the most excitement we've had at Bart's recently, which is not to say that suicides are exciting, but you know..."

The young man nods distractedly and walks towards the couch in the living area where a possessive-looking Toby is watching him between narrow slits. He doesn't seem very much at ease in Molly's apartment, but Jim has read enough people like him to know that his discomfort is also self-serving. The git is waiting to see if she'll put out, and he expects she will since she's a frumpy old maid and he's, well, a man, but he's also wondering if she's worth the bother.

Normally, Jim would find this Brechtian theatre almost compelling, but he's not one for peep shows and he is already highly irritated by this unwelcome intrusion into his relaxation time. 

Deborah's voice rings in his ear. "...all right, he's got a son from a failed marriage, Dennis, age six. He is currently in the care of his grandmother in Lewisham. I have the exact address."

Jim smiles at the screen. "Oooh, little Dennis. Let's send daddy a text that'll make him fear for his life, shall we?" 

 

 

She's rather hurt that Jeremy didn't even bother to make up an excuse. He just shouted at her from the hallway that he had to dash - "it's an emergency! sorry, another time!" - and before she'd come out of the kitchen he was gone, her apartment door swinging gently as if he'd made a run for it.

That's what you get for opening up to people.

That night, she starts her own blog. She'd like to think it wasn't fueled by this humiliating overture, but she'd be lying to herself. 

 

 

Hi. My name is Molly Hooper. I work at Barts Hospital. I'm 31. Sorry. This is sounding like a list. I'm not sure why I'm doing this. It's just nice to have someone to talk to.

 

 

Jim reads her first entry with a sense of accomplishment.  He's surprised it took her this long to acquire a kitty-themed blog.

But it's really his doing, isn't it? He grins, delighted, as he sips from his glass of sherry and slides the mouse along the screen. He drove her date out the door, he prompted her to write that dainty little web journal. He did that. It really is a perfect game of Sims. 

He clicks on her figure as she's rolling out her mat for 'spa night'. Her movements are a little shaky. She bunches up her sweater and throws it in a corner, revealing her tight tank top. There's a sheen of sweat under her breasts. Little Molly is angry at the world. Her bad mood gives her face a certain glow. He finds he likes her this way - frustrated and ungratified. There's a gap inside of her that no one seems to want to fill. And why not? she wonders. She's not that bad. 

Jim plans on keeping her this way. Unspoiled, untouched. 

He's the God of her life, he'll decide if he wants to be merciful.

 

 

Molly raises her arms to the ceiling and arches her back as Enya ululates about the Caribbean Blue. Her round eyes seem to seek that elusive paradise beyond the four walls of her apartment. She wants to be transported far away. 

 

(Poor thing, she's made a comment on her own post. 

"Hahaha!! That makes me sound so lonely!
I meant it's nice to have somewhere I can share my feelings."

 

"Oh, Molls, you're sharing far more than that." )

 

Jim tilts his head back, following her in her dreams. He suspects she will flourish under cruelty. 

Chapter Text

 During A Study in Pink

 

“I thought we could go three days without breaking the Geneva Conventions,” Seb muses as he lathers his toast with marmalade. He is looking down at a set of photographs depicting a group of rebels which were starved out by Jim’s cell operation.  

“Now, now,” Jim warns, walking into the foyer and dumping his briefcase on a shelf next to a group of Cameroonian statuettes. He fondly remembers receiving them from the dictator himself. “You always grow soft when you visit Ecuador. Must be all that sun.”

“It was monsoon season, actually,” Seb quips. “And I’m only thinking of your health, Boss.”

“My health?”

“Yeah. I was recently reading up on chakras.”  

Lord, not again,” Jim drawls comically, puffing his cheeks in despair. Sebastian has developed a series of strange hobbies over the years. One of them is “spiritual wellness”, which, Jim discovered, amounts to thinking your body is made up of Christmas lights.

“I’m telling you, Boss, inner peace is what you should strive for.”

“Do the world a favor and choke on that marmalade while you’re at it,” he mutters, not without a hint of humor, pulling out his tie and dropping it on the floor.

But the talk of inner peace reminds him of Molly’s yoga sessions and he smirks at the thought that his private hitman and his little spinster would have something to talk about.

“Thanks, Boss, but I won’t.”

“Hmm?” Jim asks distractedly.

“Choke,” he specifies.

“Oh. Your loss,” he replies airily. “I’ve been choked about a dozen times, and it never gets old.”

Seb wisely chooses not to follow that line of inquiry. Now that he’s back from the mission, he’s been snooping around Jim’s affairs and, if he has noticed that his boss is still closely surveilling Molly Hooper, he’s said nothing on the matter. But he doesn’t look pleased.

Mostly because, from his experience, anyone who was watched by his boss for a lengthy amount of time ended up dead and disfigured, at length. And while he doesn’t really care for this Hooper person, it would be quite messy if Sherlock’s pathologist wound up in a ditch somewhere.

“We should do some sparring tonight,” Seb suggests quietly, finishing his glass of milk. He prefers to eat his breakfast in the evening. He’s read up on its health benefits.

Jim waltzes past him, grabbing his laptop on the way. “No can do, old boy. Daddy’s got to work.”

 

 

January 28

Do you believe in love at first sight? There's this man and I love him. At least, I think I do. I can't stop thinking about him. He's so intelligent it's like he's burning. And he's so cool but not really. And he's fit. Oh, he is really fit. And I can't stop thinking about him. I'm a sensible girl, I always have been. I've worked hard to get the job I have and I've got plans but he just rides all over everything. It's like I'm Molly Hooper, in control. 'Little Miss Perfect' as my mates call me. Until he walks into the room and then suddenly I'm this little mouse. He turns me into a mouse.

 

Jim stares at the ghastly entry for a good minute. It always takes him time to process the average people’s idiom. He’s often shocked by it, disturbed by the display of merry idiocy. Normal people really do not care for speech. They just fling words around, like monkeys throw feces. They revel in the mud, like pigs in a sty.

There’s this man and I love him. Disgusting.

Oh, he is really fit. Wretched.

He physically shudders at the deluge of personal items being cast on the screen.

Little Miss Perfect, as my mates call me. He wonders which “mates” she’s talking about, because she’s got next to none. Unless she’s meeting someone behind his back.

He laughs hoarsely to himself.  She can’t be doing that.  She doesn’t even know he’s watching.  

....suddenly I'm this little mouse. He turns me into a mouse. This offends him most of all.

The idea that the great oaf, Sherlock Holmes, can exercise such powers of metamorphosis on her without even being aware of it, is downright grotesque.

She has no idea she’s pining after a clumsy, immature virgin whose only real talent is speaking faster than a newscaster.

Jim cracks his knuckles, one by one. Seb says that's bad for your bones.

But his anger is like a hard-boiled egg. It’s time to send her a little message.

 

 

Molly removes her goggles and rubs the red spot between her eyes.  She’s got a bad crick on one side of her neck from bending too zealously over the test tubes. But she had to observe the acidity levels carefully, otherwise she’d miss something.

Sherlock’s case is really eating away at her free time. She should have been out of the lab hours ago. But he insisted she should run a new batch of toxoid tests and he was quite persuasive about it.

(“Who can I count on, dear Molly, if not you?”)

To be perfectly honest, even if the genius detective hadn’t insisted, she would have probably done it anyway. He may be dashingly handsome, but it’s not all about him. The case of the poisoned suicides has been on her mind for ages, a captivating puzzle that shakes up her daily routine. Most of the corpses she inspects are – well, not to sound offensive – boring. She’s very glad they’re boring, because that means that those people died without suffering too much. But she must admit, she rather likes the ones who have a grisly story to tell. It’s a scientific curiosity, nothing more.

Her stomach rumbles rudely, breaking the silence. She hasn’t eaten in hours. She’s too lazy to go down the street to the falafel place, so she’ll just grab a banana from her bag. She always brings a bite to eat at work, even though by the end of the day, the snack will have developed a formaldehyde taste. Or, that could just be the way her mouth tastes. Remove the girl from the lab, but you can't remove the lab from the girl.

Her office is empty and dark, just as it should be, but when she swings the door open, she gets this funny feeling that something is different. She turns on the light, but she can’t identify the change. Everything is in its right place, and yet it feels disturbed. Maybe the cleaning lady mopped here recently. The floor is dry, though.

There is a smell, like camphor or rosemary, but that wouldn’t be so strange given the chemicals she works with, would it?

She walks around to her desk, still thinking about the smell, when she sees a dark-brown spot under her chair. She stops, hovers on her left foot, the right one still mid-air, looking for all intents and purposes like a confused ballerina.

There’s – there’s a mouse under her chair.

A dead mouse, by her own estimates.

Something crawls under her skin, something which manifests into a violent shudder. Her lips are moving, but there’s no sound coming from her throat. It’s all dried up.

Get a grip, get a grip, get a grip, her mind screams in a high-pitched tone.

She’s seen mice before, even dead ones. There were enough of them in her dorm to start a collection. She even had to dissect them at uni. But it’s never a pleasant sight. It’s never something you expect.

She can’t believe the cleaning lady missed this.

She could just walk out and close for the night and hope that in the morning the offensive thing would be removed.

But – but she can’t quite do that, because there’s a little note attached to the rat’s underbelly.

Hang on, rats don’t have notes.

Molly runs a harried hand through her ponytail, untangling the strands of hair, pulling at her scalp until it hurts.

She’s suddenly gripped with a different kind of fear – what if the extra hours she’s been dedicating to this case have been noticed by someone?

Sherlock has long said the suicides are murders. What if the serial killer has found her?

Molly clumps a hand over her mouth. What if! 

But then she slowly lowers it.

Don’t be silly. You've been watching too much CSI. No one’s after you, she chides herself in the prim voice that her mother used when she woke her up at night with a nightmare. She’s being absurd. It’s the long hours taking their toll. There’s not really a note there, just a piece of paper that fell in the way.

She’ll even prove it.

She’ll bend down and see that it’s just a random piece of –

Open me, the note says.

 

 

(He could be wrong about her. He could have misread her. This could be a mistake. But then – what is life without risks?)

 

Molly pulls the lamp over her head and ties a white mask over the lower half of her face.

She applies the forceps carefully, because there is a bulge in the middle of the stomach and she doesn’t want to nick it. The rat has already been opened and sewn shut. She’s only removing the previous stitches.

 

(Jim leans back in his chair with a beatific smile. He wasn’t wrong about her. He’s read her just right. It was never going to be a mistake. It almost feels like self-stimulation, watching her open up a dead rat.)

 

 

Inside, she finds a small, toy-like tape.

At first, she wants to toss it in the garbage, thinking this must all be someone’s idea of an elaborate, tasteless joke.

But she’s already gotten so far. Her gloves are rife with rat fut. And what if, her CSI-fueled imagination insists, this is a clue or evidence relating to the case?

Maybe someone left this for Sherlock.

She pops down to one of the DIY shops in the vicinity and finds an old recorder that could satisfy her needs.

 

 

You could stop being so obvious, Sherlock…She’ll do whatever you want, you don’t have to lay it on so thick.

That is where you’re wrong, John. Someone like Molly doesn’t respond to reason. She’s over 30, average-looking and desperate to find a man. I’m doing her a favor.

By pretending to flirt?

It’s the most action she gets, likely.

You’re an arse. She’s a person, just like you and me.

She’s also a means to an end, which is far more valuable than being a person.  

Hang on, do you think of me as a means to an end?

There is an awkward pause in the recording, before it comes to a sudden stop.

Molly never finds out if Sherlock thinks of John as a means to an end. She supposes it doesn’t matter.

She cleans up the surgical table with shaking hands. She dumps the remains of the rat in a ziplock and then into the garbage.  She does the same with the gloves. But she keeps the tape.

 

 

At home, she crawls directly into bed, still wearing her smelly lab wear, and she pulls the counterpane over her head. All Jim can see is a winding shape under the sheets, like the lump of an animal which has been swallowed by a boa constrictor. He's seen it live. There was once a natty family in Florida who offered him special viewings of live digestions. It is a very clean method to dispose of a body, he'll grant you that. 

He turns back to the screen. It seems like hours later, but she's still hiding underneath. She cries in wretched sobs, her body shivering and twitching under the covers.

She is miserable, he can see that.

And he knows this is a rather unaesthetic but necessary step in the proceedings. His little spinster will spend some hours crying her heart out, and then she’ll realize maybe the Holmes ponce isn’t worth crying about.

He pictures her face crumbling with fat tears, the snot running down her nose. God, the secretions that come out of the human body.

He almost appreciates her discretion. Hiding her pathetic whelps is a favor. He almost thinks, she did it to spare me. How thoughtful of you, Molly-Moo.

 

 

Jim is in the middle of a business meeting with a client when he gets the alert on his phone.

The elderly woman on the other side of the table is fiddling with a string of pearls around her neck. She’s rather nervous, because she knows she can’t afford the Consulting Criminal’s full fee, and she’ll have to compensate him some other way. And you never know what he’ll ask for.

She watches Jim Moriarty’s face with rapt attention as he checks his phone.

“Something wrong?” she asks, softly, pulling her shoulders together.

His eyes are far away. There’s a misty look in them, as if he’s contemplating something lovely. But she knows his tastes run a different spectrum. It could be anything from a decomposing foot to a burning building.

The woman clears her throat meekly.

What?” he barks, his eyes suddenly flashing at her. Gone is the reverie. Gone is the mist. He looks like a rabid bulldog, ready to tear her apart.

The woman flounders, picking up a napkin with trembling fingers.  God, will he stop staring at her? She didn’t mean anything by it, she swears.

“N-Nothing, Sir.”

“I didn’t think so,” he coos, and he thumbs the screen with the semblance of a caress. “Now, let us talk payment, shall we?”

 

 

Jim loves surprises. Ever since he was a child, he wanted things to be different than they really were. He expected boxes to have secret bottoms, and when they didn’t, he would hack them to pieces. He expected doors to open onto underground passages, and when they didn’t, he turned them into plywood. He expected people to reveal an undisclosed character, like dancers at a masked ball. When they didn’t, he’d skin them and turn them into furniture. Now that’s a surprise.

You might think he’s a bit barbarous like that, but actually, he’s just woefully disappointed all the time.

Notification: Molly Hooper has commented on her post. See the comment.

He clicks on the link. Under her profession of love there are two words, typed in Comic Sans.

Squeak squeak!

Jim inhales sharply. The convoluted mechanisms of his brain are tickled momentarily, made simple and uncomplicated.

Squeak squeak!

She surprised him.  

It could mean anything, it could mean nothing, it could mean she’s clever or that she’s very, very stupid - but Molly Hooper surprised him.

 

Chapter Text

During A Study in Pink 

 

“And how is your love life, M? Saving yourself for someone special? Or do you have a boy-toy stashed somewhere secret and you're just being coy?”

Molly tries not to choke on the weak tea. She dabs her mouth discreetly and smiles in the direction of her natty uncle. He caught her watching some old James Bond movie when she was ten and has taken to calling her “M” ever since.

“I, uh, no.” She winces. “No boy-toy.”

“No?” he echoes, leaning forward and making several dents in his ungainly Charmeuse slacks. “Well, what are you waiting for? All the good ones are already married, let me tell you. All you’re left with is peeping Toms and tosspots, if you know what I mean.”

Sadly, Molly always knows what he means.

“We had to beg Stephen to take your cousin off our backs! Poor girl had to lose ten pounds to ever turn his head, and I frankly don’t blame him.”

“Donny! That’s your daughter you’re talking about,” Catherine, her aunt, cries in despair, rolling her eyes upwards as if to say she's had enough of this man. But not really. She loves his crass mouth. They all do.

Molly simpers, rehearsing her overused pleasantries.  She has been congratulating everyone for the past half-hour. Her cousin, Gwenie, is getting married. She’s just turned twenty-five, which in her uncle’s estimation is already old stuff.

Donny lights up a cigarette. “You know I’m right, Cath. I tell you, Stephen is a real miracle man.”

Molly glances across the room where the “miracle man” and his fiancée are talking in hushed tones, heads bowed together. They don’t look all that happy with the festivities, and Molly can commiserate. Her aunt invited all her friends to the engagement party, which means that the busybodies lined up in the kitchen and the parlor are perfect strangers to Gwenie and Stephen.

“It’s a shame Timothy can’t be here to see it,” Catherine says in a grieving voice, staring into space.

Molly would feel the same pang about her father not being present at this event, except that Tim (that was his preferred alias) did not care one iota about his sister or her extended family. Tim had died four years prior and Molly had genuinely mourned him, because she had been very fond of him, but it would've been a sham to say he was affectionate towards the other members of the human race. He had been a taciturn, self-involved man who had only deigned to care for his daughter here and there. A dentist by profession, he had spent most of his time in his lab, looking over dentures. He wouldn’t have been caught dead at a family gathering.

Caught dead, she thinks with a little laugh. She does miss him from time to time. Predictably, he was the one who steered her towards surgery, though he wasn’t exactly thrilled about her subsequent “corpse career”, as he called it.

Her mum is a different business. She married her dad because she got knocked up with Molly and that was the extent of their marriage. She’s still alive, living by herself in a village in Kent, doing part-time work at a kindergarten. She and Molly have little in common, but they do spend the occasional holiday together.

“But you know Donny’s right, dear,” Catherine chirps, bringing her back to the present. “The marriage market is thinner and thinner these days. And you– you’re going on thirty-five, aren't you?”

“Thirty-one, actually,” Molly corrects, spying some canapés she hasn’t yet tried on the tray in front of her.

“Oh, well, that’s good. You still have plenty of time to get pregnant.”

“Mm,” her uncle chips in, “you’ve got plump shapes, M. Just right for motherhood.”

Under different circumstances, Molly would be much more annoyed by these comments. Of course, she would let them pass without a word, but inside she would be slowly simmering.

Not today, though.

No… she can’t be bothered to feel bad. She sneaks her hand into her pocket from time to time to see if the small tape is still there. Aunt Catherine took her purse to the guest room, but Molly stored the incriminating object in her trousers.

She nods to her aunt and uncle and makes inane conversation, all the while knowing that she has more important things to think about than pregnancy. It’s been a few weeks since she found the tape in the insides of a dead rat, and she is still getting used to it. It’s like carrying a gun on her all the time. She’s constantly on edge, looking over her shoulder in the street. It’s certainly made her life more…exciting. Although that’s possibly not the right word for it.

She inhales deeply.

She’s gone over many wild scenarios in her head. She considered that the tape might be a fake or a practical joke, but she quickly discarded that idea. Why would someone forge Sherlock and John’s voice for her benefit? Then she thought that maybe Mycroft had sent it as a sort of warning to stay away from his brother. She had met him a few years back. He had established a meeting - swearing her to secrecy, of course – where he informed her, in so many words, that he was a powerful man in the government and he was very concerned about his brother’s welfare. She wouldn't be a bad influence on him, would she? Molly hadn’t met him since, so it appeared he had judged her harmless, after all. But she wondered if he might have interfered using his connections. For that to happen, though, he would have had to read her blog and determine she had inappropriate feelings for Sherlock. And why use such an elaborate stratagem to tell her off? He could do that with a phone call. It didn’t seem right. Her next stop was serial killer, namely the killer responsible for the current suicides. Whoever he was, he must be clever enough to put Sherlock on such a spin, and he probably knew she was working on the bodies. He probably wanted to sow discord between them. Sherlock had told her at one point that he had enemies all over London, but she had taken it as a joke.

Molly heaves a sigh. No, Sherlock only pretends to joke with her.

Because well, that’s the really painful part about all these theories. Whichever one is true, it doesn’t change the facts about what’s on that tape. What Sherlock said about her. She can’t think about it again, not in her aunt’s house. So she focuses on the danger. Yes, the imminent danger. Someone is listening in on Sherlock’s private conversations, someone who is probably not a good man, someone who knows about her too.  It should be enough to strike terror in any person.

“More tea, Molly?” Catherine asks obligingly.

“Spike it with some rum, will you, Cath?” her uncle winks like an accomplice.

Molly nods absently. She doesn’t know what she feels, actually. She had a good cry about it over the weekend, ingesting the entire contents of her fridge, and then – and then nothing. She arrived at St. Bart’s on Monday with the intention of telling Sherlock she’s not desperate to find a man, as he put it, and that he should be frankly grateful for her services (she struck out the last part, it made her sound like a prostitute), but when he and John strolled into her lab at noon she found she was just as tongue-tied as before. Granted, there were no butterflies swarming in her stomach, but she didn’t have the nerve to bring it up with him.

And more importantly, she didn’t tell him how she knew he was abusing her behind her back. She didn’t tell him about the tape.

“Have you been a naughty girl, M?”

Molly jumps. She stares at her uncle with wide eyes.

Donny grins. “Cath’s gone to the kitchen. Go on, you can tell me the truth now. Who’s got you so moony and glazed up? Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”

Luckily, Gwenie chooses that moment to come over with Stephen. Molly excuses herself politely.

 

 

She can’t tell you why she didn’t tell Sherlock. Maybe she’s still sour about his comments – and who wouldn’t be? - maybe it’s her small revenge on him, maybe it’s hard to explain how she found the tape. Maybe she’s afraid he won’t believe her.  He’ll dismiss her, like he seems to have done ever since they met. 

It’s the most action she gets, likely.

 Molly squeezes her eyes shut. Bits of his cruel observations float to the surface when she least expects, and she has to make an effort to quash them down.

 She teeters slightly on the sidewalk.  Aunt Catherine did not spike the tea after all, but Molly discovered a bottle of very concentrated cider under the sink and took generous helpings from it when no one was looking. She’s not drunk – not quite – but she’s getting there.

She looks over her shoulder. Traffic is light at this hour and few people are braving out the February chill, so the street is empty. If that demented serial killer were out to get her, she would at least see him.

She should catch a cab home. That’s the only place she feels safe at the moment.

 

 

Jim surveys her empty home with a degree of impatience that’s not just impatience. He drums his fingers against the desk, ignoring a call from Tirana. She ought to be sitting on her sofa by now, watching a vile programme on TV. It’s past ten. She’s never out this late. Sebastian informed him she was going to her aunt’s. But he’s certain that would be over by now. Even Toby meows in faint annoyance. 

Jim's phone flashes with another missed call. 

Ha, if the Albanians could see him now, wondering about Molly like some harried mother with her willful child. Those fat lards are still causing trouble about the ordnance delivery, but he told them he’s not a business man. Well…he had their actual business man shot. So, he supposes they are entitled to some complaints. But really, seven calls is overdoing it.

He strolls into the living room to find Seb is chopping up a banana into a bowl of yogurt. Jim groans. He’d make a pointed phallic joke, but he’s so fed up with this healthy eating stint he might just kick the lousy sniper out. Let him sleep in the cold.

“Where the hell is she?”

“Maybe she decided to sleep at her aunt’s,” Seb offers, unhelpfully.

“Don’t we have someone who can check on that?” Jim asks, almost rhetorically, because of course they do.

“On it,” Seb grunts, taking out his phone.

While he’s making the call, Jim walks into the kitchen, picks up the banana-yogurt concoction and throws it gracefully in the trash bin.

Seb's mouth sags downward, almost expectantly. “I was gonna eat that.”

“Well now, you don’t have to." 

 

 

Molly leans her head back against the dusty seat. She lucked out with this cabbie. He’s an old family man - he’s got a photo of his grandkids scotched on the glove compartment – and he’s very soft-spoken and kind. He doesn’t ask her questions, and doesn’t wonder why she smells like cider. He probably feels bad for her.

Molly takes out her phone to check her blog. It’s quite futile, she admits, but maybe someone left a comment. She still feels a flutter in her stomach when she remembers the night she had boldly written “Squeak squeak!” under her post.  After a Saturday of moping in her smelly PJs, she had decided to be rash and silly and – well, desperate,  as Sherlock had put it. At the time, she thought it was a clever message to whoever had sent her the rat, but now she feels it's rather unhinged. Anyone coming across it would think she's mental.

She hasn't deleted it yet, though. It's a matter of pride. 

No new comments.

She probably sighs a bit too heavily because the cabbie’s eyes lift to the rear-view mirror and he makes a few sympathetic sounds. “Bad day, eh?”

“You don’t know the half of it,” she mutters bitterly. Then, after a pensive pause, “Oh – sorry, your day was probably worse."  That doesn't sound much better. "Not that you wouldn’t have good days, but I imagine this job is demanding and the weather's so awful, there’s so much fog everywhere…”  She peters off, because she doesn't know what else to say about the fog.   Great, she's put her foot in it again. Why does she even attempt conversation? 

But the man laughs good-humoredly. “Yes, the fog’s a bit of an inconvenience. But the evening’s certainly looking up now. Say, do you believe in luck?”

“Luck?” she echoes tiredly. “Hmm, no, I can’t say I do. Not at the moment.”

“Well, your luck’s about to change, Miss. I have a good feeling about it.”

Molly smiles weakly. “You think so?”

“I know so.”

 

 

Sebastian gets this look on his face. It only happens when he’s scared. His whole expression is pinched, like he’s swallowed something bitter. The only man he fears is Moriarty, who is not always Jim. It takes time for his boss to step into the range of that unnerving persona. But when he does, it’s best to steer the fuck away.

He passes the phone to the still-Jim Jim.

“Sir, he’s got her,” the small voice on the other end squawks painfully. Everyone is reluctant to deliver him bad news. “The cabbie. Our cabbie.”

Jim’s nails scratch a dent in the Formica counter. His forehead grows wider and the veins protrude like horns on his temples.

He laughs snidely, always a misleading sign of self-restraint.  “Of aaaall the easy victims this city has to offer…”

“Well... Sir,” the man on the other side continues, unwisely, “he’s doing what you told him to, about following a pattern…”

“If you SPEAK again, I will have you sodomized over your mother’s bloody corpse,” Moriarty cuts him off with a snarl.

He considers his options carefully. He could have any sniper shoot Jeff Hope between the eyes when the car stops, but that would disrupt the plan he’s been preparing for the past months, and little Miss Holmes would be in a major strop. He could try to call him and tell him to save his pedestrian killing game for another day, but he knows the doddering fool doesn’t answer his phone during “jobs” because he’s a paranoid old coot. He could send someone to intercept, but he doesn’t trust that the luckless pathologist would not get hurt in the process.

No, there’s only one way to handle this.

“Get the car,” he tells Sebastian, who is trying to look inconspicuous in the background.

“Which one –”

Now, before I have you sodomize this idiot over his mother’s corpse.”

 

 

“I have a feeling you’re going to have to make a choice tonight,” Jeff Hope continues mysteriously.

Molly blinks wearily in the backseat. She hasn’t managed to sober up; in fact, quite the opposite. She’s just about ready to fall asleep.

“Mm…” she turns her head sideways and stares at the rain-drenched window and the blurred edges of the cars rushing past. She wonders why it’s taking so long to get back to her flat. Is the old man trying to take detours to cheat off the meter? She’d be surprised; he doesn’t seem the type to do that. If she were more clear-headed, she might find his whole attitude suspicious, but she’s currently so bogged down in her own thoughts that she can’t make out his intentions.

She takes out the small tape from her pocket. She stares at it like it’s got all the answers to her problems.

No, this is the problem, she reminds herself.

Just then, she’s jolted out of her seat so hard that the tape goes flying out of her hand and lands somewhere in the darkness at her feet.

Molly lunges for it with a frustrated groan, but she’s knocked back by the car's brakes. 

She looks up disoriented. It feels like someone's rattled her brains. The cabbie is swearing his mouth off. A black SUV has just blocked their path.

“What in the devil -?” he growls, his voice suddenly much harsher than before.

She can’t tell what’s going on through the rain-spattered windows, but she sees a dark figure coming out of the car.

Jeff Hope grabs his fake gun, but his door opens abruptly and he’s being pulled out by his grubby sweater vest.

“Hey!” Molly yells. “Leave him alone!”

She haphazardly pushes her own door open and clambers out on unsteady feet.

“Shame on you for trying to rob a poor cabbie!” she slurs more than yells at the figure holding the taxi driver. Molly blames her courage on the cider.

And then the figure is coming towards her. She tries to make out his face but he’s wearing a mask.

Molly panics and stumbles over her feet. She should run away. But she knows she can't make it far in this state.

A wild thought crosses her addled mind. She should pay attention to his shoes – Sherlock can always tell what kind of person you are by your shoes.

When she looks up again, he’s got her.

And everything goes black.

 

 

Jim raises her chin with a finger. It falls into her chest clumsily. There’s a crease between her brows, a small sign of vexation. The car has jolted her a few times now, and every time it happens, she moans tetchily to voice her displeasure.

“The lady requires rest, Sebastian,” Jim drawls, amused by her displays. The hitman has taken to driving more carefully.

Oh, she’s such a sweet dolt. She was a hair’s breadth from getting killed, but here she is, snoring and blissfully unaware.

Her proximity is a strange and electrifying experiment for him. No one has ever got this close to him, except Seb. He never allows targets to even know his name. But this mousy spinster is sleeping next to him in his car.

He looks over her features with a kind of perverse satisfaction. She’s completely vulnerable and at his disposal.

And she hasn’t shown Sherlock the tape. He had a feeling she wouldn’t.

He fingers a lock that escaped her pony-tail. It’s surprisingly soft, like the whiskers of a kitten. He wrinkles his nose and drops his hand. 

To confirm his comparison, Molly gives a kind of mewl in her sleep and she turns sideways, curling herself around the closest thing she can find – which is him.

Jim freezes.

Her head burrows into his chest, clasping her hands around his waist like he’s her favorite pillow.

“Mm, smells nice,” she mumbles sleepily, and buries her nose into his crisp 5000 £ suit, proceeding to go back to sleep.

The silence is deafening. Jim takes a few shallow breaths. He's been on some wild capers that did not leave him this winded. 

His expression is halfway to murderous, but he somehow stops himself from yanking her by the hair and pulling out her optic nerves with his bare hands. A tried and tested method of his. 

Instead, he leans back and lets Molly wriggle closer to him. He keeps his arms raised on the seat, like he’s dealing with a pet he can’t fully subdue.

She’s all soft and warm and spongy and it’s quite nauseating, but her breasts have conveniently fallen into his lap, and it's not altogether unpleasant.

She keeps making little sounds of pleasure, rubbing her cheek against his expensive shirt. 

His eyes grow dark like tar pitch. He’d like to do very awful things to her, but he will stand still, just this once. He’ll let her sleep.

He catches Seb’s look in the rear-view mirror.

“Not a word,” he warns, but the hitman is too stunned to make a snide comment.

 

 

She can hear Toby meowing aggressively in her ear. His sturdy paws sink into her stomach, making her cringe.

This can only mean one thing; she forgot to feed him this morning. But how is that possible? She always leaves him a bowl before leaving for work – except, isn’t she asleep right now?

Molly opens her sticky eyes. The cat is sitting on her chest, sniffing at her mouth.

Molly brushes him off. “Blergh, don’t do that.”

She’s read some horror stories online about cats eating bits of their paralyzed owners’ faces. She can’t wholly discard that grim possibility, which is why she usually sleeps with her bedroom door closed at night.

But it’s wide open now. Huh, must’ve forgotten.

She feels like retching, but it only comes out as dry heaving. Molly turns over and buries her nose in her pillow. She’s got a splitting headache and her mouth tastes like used nappies.

There’s no point trying to think straight now, it would hurt too much. She has vague memories of a cider bottle and a cab driver.

Eventually, she sits up, holding her head between her hands. She’s affecting the Buddha pose, ankles crossed, hoping this will help calm her. Only then does she notice she’s still wearing her street clothes. They’re crumpled and sweaty, which means she probably stumbled into her apartment last night and just fell on the bed like some sad wino.

That’s odd – she thinks she smells cologne. But she certainly never wears any of that stuff. It doesn’t smell cheap either; it smells like she spent the night rubbing elbows with bankers in West Brompton.

And something else is odd. Scratch that, it’s downright alarming.

When she shoves her hands in her pockets, she can’t find the tape anymore.

Chapter Text

During A Study in Pink 

 

No tape. This is bad. Very, very bad. I must've left it in the cab. Oh god. 

Molly almost scalds herself with coffee. Amati from Forensic Nursing casts her a worried glance over the kitchen counter. 

"Need any help?"

"Haha, no, just a bit clumsy today, is all. Had a pint too many last night," Molly titters, turning on the tap and placing her burning hand under the cool jet.

"Oh, I envy you. I don't get to go out that much these days, they're working us like dogs."

"If it makes you feel any better, I have a mountain of paperwork to catch up on. The dead wait for no one," Molly jokes weakly, and Amati smiles politely, but doesn't laugh.

"How are the suicides going, if I may ask? Any new developments?"  

The staff room suddenly feels very small and Molly's skin prickles uncomfortably. There's sweat bubbling on her upper lip. "You know what? I forgot to feed the cat."

 

 

Granted, not her smoothest exit, but she couldn't think of anything else to say. She just had to get out of there. Now in the sterile confines of her lab she feels a bit better, although her panic attack hasn't completely subsided. Its more stubborn remnants are still making her hands shake as she picks up the test tubes. Bollocks. 

She sits down in a chair and almost runs a gloved hand over her face before she remembers how abrasive the fabric is. 

The tape is almost secondary now. She's far more concerned how she got home, because she's sure she didn't make it on her own. The last thing she remembers is the black mask, getting hit on the back of the head (or was it the front?) and then a rather comfortable darkness, like being inside a womb. It was warm and ...safe. She was with someone, she was certain. She almost remembers feeling a solid body next to hers, and that cologne...it's still imprinted on her coat.  Whoever they were, they took her home and put her to bed. She thinks if they were dangerous people, they wouldn't have tucked her in? 

Molly chortles and then chokes on her own laugh. How silly of her, of course they were dangerous. What did they do to that poor cabbie? And how was this all connected to the suicides? Because these events couldn't be all coincidences or random encounters, could they? Otherwise she'd be the unluckiest gal in all of London. 

"Taking a nap so early in the day?"

Her head snaps up like a Jack-in-the-box. Sherlock Holmes is bearing down on her with a pair of piercing blue eyes. Those eyes used to render her weak and blubbery, but now they render her silent for different reasons. 

Sherlock frowns, sinking his hands into the pockets of his elegant coat, a sure sign he is about to deduct something. "No...not a nap. A hangover. And a pressing need to find a missing item."

"What?" 

Oh, lord, is she that transparent? How would he - well of course, he's Sherlock. 

"I'm not missing any item... except perhaps a bottle of aspirins," she quips, her heart pounding in her chest. 

"Your eyes and fingers say otherwise," he replies without offering further explanation. Molly fights the urge to inspect her hands.

"So, let me guess. You got acquainted with a nice bottle of..." He sniffs for a moment in her direction. "...apples...is it? That makes it...cider. Yes, cider. Your intoxication led you to misplace some important documents, but you're a stickler for rules, so now you're worried -"

He stops there, and his expression changes. His long mouth, which she used to find so attractive, twists into a smug grin. "Ooh, I also smell cologne. Male."

Molly colors red. "It's not like that. I just - I was at a family thing." 

But Sherlock is already getting bored. His attention span is very low, as a rule. "No matter, I don't judge your nocturnal trysts as long as they don't affect your work here." 

"There was no nocturnal tryst," she mutters, the redness turning into an ugly maroon. She hasn't forgotten what was on that tape, oh no. She'd like to tell him, "anyway, wasn't it you who said that I don't get much action?" But she's not that brazen, and despite his cruelty, she still finds Sherlock Holmes far too intimidating to start an argument with. He's still gorgeous, even if now she finds that beauty a little repellent. He's like one of those carnivorous flowers that look plucked right out of heaven, but which actually devour you in seconds. 

She's already resolved to tell him nothing about the tape. Her one convincing piece of evidence is gone and she wouldn't know where to start without it. What's more, he doesn't deserve to know. Not right now, anyway. Let the great Sherlock Holmes stay in the dark about something for once. She'll tell him...eventually.  When she has sorted this out. Because she feels that this is her case. This string of events involves her more than it involves him. She's the detective now. Well, temporarily. And wouldn't it be marvelous if she could crack this whole mystery? That'd show him. He'd even grow to respect her and like her and -

Molly winces and scolds herself strongly. No, you don't seek his approval, you daft cow. 

Sherlock notices the internal conflict going on in her head, but chalks it up to her inability to admit to her dalliances. 

"In any case, you'll be happy to hear that I'm quite close to unraveling the case. It's only a matter of time now. We've sent a message to Jennifer Wilson's phone and the murderer must be getting quite antsy..."

His eyes have moved on from her and he's starting on one of his long-winded soliloquies. Molly breathes a sigh of relief. 

 

 

Jim opens his mouth and spouts the water like the fat cherub in the corner, the one he stole from a fountain in Rome.  He always wanted a statue in his bathroom. He really thinks most people have got it wrong. Sculptures are not meant to be exhibited as monuments. The ancient civilizations had them built as a personal fetish. They kept them private and projected on them their most lurid perversions. Historians like to omit such details if they can but most of what we call art nowadays started off as someone's insatiable desire to get off. It's not just about the libido. People get off without genitals. It gives them a surge of pleasure to know some rock was turned into a little plump boy for their own use. 

He's getting off-track, though.

Because he's trying to make a decision. Hot showers are good when he's in an indecisive mood. Baths are for when he already knows the answer.

Should he kill Molly Hooper?

It's a little bit disconcerting that he went to such trouble the other night to essentially keep her safe. He shudders at the word. He can't remember the last time he used it in a sentence not involving a large metal box filled with cash. But really, he nearly lost his head when his good-for-nothing lackeys told him she was in that cab.  He just doesn't like it when his toys are taken away from him. But good lord, he could find another toy, couldn't he?

Even Seb hasn't made any of his clever remarks yet. Jim knows he's trying to work out how much it matters. If it's all a game. Jim wonders that too. It should be a game. But if it were, he would be taking a bath right now and the bullet would already be lodged in Molly's brain.

Yes, it would take some combing afterwards. Eurus might claim it was a waste, but he could easily convince her to adjust their plan so that the pathologist wouldn't have to star in it.

And should Sherlock sniff around, he could just make Molly's murder another clue in the vast web that is Moriarty. Piece of cake. 

He tilts his head to the side and lets the hot water run down his back. He likes the way it stings him. The cherub is winking at him. What are you gonna do, Jim, old boy?  It almost sounds like his father's voice, the night he killed him. Funny, he didn't have to take a shower for that decision.

He still hasn't sent the suit to the dry-cleaners. Her redolent animal scent is all over it. She managed to get her grubby little paws on him, a feat which many a Russian mafioso would quite literally die for. He finds himself contemplating the idea of touch and what it would be like if she embraced him while fully conscious. Suppose he's growing soft in old age? No, he just likes the idea of the innocent spinster hugging a potential nuclear bomb. It's got a certain dramatic irony.

What to do. What to do. 

He looks down at the encrusted tiles. It's a mosaic from India, specially delivered. His big toe traces the outline of a jade-green square. He can picture her fleshy corpse on his bathroom floor, but it does nothing for him. He needs a better story. If she's going to die, the narrative has to be finely tuned. He's not ready to give up this toy. 

 

 

There's always one or two dying per month. Such are the vagaries of being a lab rat. Cancer is quick to metastasize. She feels for these poor creatures, picked by fate to be scapegoats. Animals becoming other animals. Although it should be said that their brief lives in a cage are sometimes better than their lives in the sewers. They are fed regularly and their environment is safe and clean, but...one would rather bathe in dirt than be kept in captivity, no?

Except, do they even know they're not free?

All right, that's enough. You're not bloody  Jean-Paul Sartre. 

She finds the cage which houses one of the dying rodents. His red eyes are half-shut, his breath is a staccato wheeze. He's in pain, she can tell. 

Molly scoops him out gently and places him in the large pocket of her lab coat. 

By the time she's back in her office, the hallways are deserted. The night shift doesn't start for another hour. 

She places the rat on a metal tray. He's still barely breathing. She takes out the syringe and taps it dutifully on the side. The poor thing finally finds peace. She knows this is the one good deed she can perform for him. The next step is more complicated. She's never practiced taxidermy and she doesn't really plan on starting now, but she knows a few basics. It's not hard to drain a rat of blood, especially one that's been so ill. He hasn't managed to produce fresh red cells in a while. Next she removes the vital organs, until his paunch is quite empty. She soaks his frail body in formaldehyde, all the while telling herself she's not being crazy. 

She's written her message on a clean piece of paper.

Thank you for taking me home. Hope to stay in touch. M. 

She's going to plant this in the rat's stomach. 

It took her a whole day to come up with this plan. She kept struggling to find a way to communicate with her mysterious assailants and coming up short. She had no address, no face, no name. She was scrolling hopelessly through her blog again, knowing full well there'd be no new comments there, when she reread her last entry about Sherlock and got her Eureka moment. 

...Until he walks into the room and then suddenly I'm this little mouse. He turns me into a mouse.

 At first she cringed at her laughable declaration. It's staggering what difference a few weeks makes in someone's life. But then she realized she had her answer. 

They - whoever they were - had contacted her first through a mouse. Maybe this was the point of entry. 

After that she agonized over what to say. She was tempted to accuse and berate them, but that would get her nowhere. What she wanted was to eventually find out their identity. You catch more flies with honey. Sherlock had taught her this, at least. 

So, she fabricated this little missive. She thought it was pretty clever, for what it was. It showed that she was open for future exchanges, and that she wasn't going to be hostile. 

Now, the big question was where to leave this rat? It was clear to her they knew where she lived and worked. If she left the rodent in her office, the cleaning lady would stumble upon it, but at home, Toby would make short work of it. 

It was one of those annoying Catch 22's. She finally settled on placing the rat under her welcome mat. That way, it'd be out of the apartment, but not too far away, and she could regularly look through her keyhole and maybe catch a glimpse of her mystery person. If some nosy neighbour noticed the odd bulge under the mat and decided to inspect, they'd probably turn away in disgust and call the exterminator. But that still gave her target some time to come fetch it.

Molly sews up the rat's stomach and pats it gently on the head. "Your sacrifice will have meaning, I promise." 

 

 

Seb whistles, but it's a garbled mixture of a cough and a hiss. He's never been good at whistling actually, so he doesn't know why he even tried. 

He levels out the piece of paper on the desk. "Well, she's got a pair of balls on her. Probably not very big, but... balls either way." 

Jim scoffs. "You men and your testicular fixations." 

"D'you think it's the fact that she's lonely?" the hitman wonders, scratching his chin. "I mean, maybe that Holmes priss was right. Maybe this is the most action she gets." 

Jim scratches the roof of his mouth with his tongue. He doesn't like Seb's casual dismissal of her, but he knows his second-in-command is only acting out a little jealousy. Lately, he probably feels neglected.

"You're not wrong," he offers with a small nod. "But you're not seeing the big picture, Sebastian." 

"Which is?"

 Jim points to the rat. "This little fellow's been euthanized."

"How can you -" but Seb stops short because Moriarty gives him a look, as if to say "don't insult me". 

"All right. I'm still waiting for the punchline," he concedes.

Jim snorts. "Honestly, how did you ever get into Cambridge?"

"I didn't. I blackmailed the admission committee." 

His boss gives him a genuine smile, and those are quite rare, so Seb guiltily basks in it for a while. 

"Well, you see old chap, our spinster went ahead and killed this rat and then drained him of blood," Jim explains with gusto. "Granted, it was already riddled with cancer, but that's not the point. The point is that Miss Hooper's line is movable. Some people, you know, have a limit they won't cross. She seems to be flexible." 

Seb appears to understand quite quickly. He's slow to the finish line, but once he arrives, he knows what to do.

"Huh. So, it's not just loneliness."

Jim's smile is once again beatific. "No. Not just."

 

 

He doesn't require a shower now. Gone are the "in-decisions". He's keeping this toy. Indefinitely. 

(Did she remember their time in the car? Or did she simply phrase it without thinking? hope to keep in touch. in touch. touch.  He's not used to second-guessing. She's perfectly predictable until she's not. It's just now he might have an inkling as to why. Underneath her mousy exterior, she's a little bit insane. She even signed herself as M. Might as well be a mirror) 

 

Chapter Text

After A Study in Pink

 

“Fancy that, the cabbie was the killer! What a world we live in. You can’t even trust old men anymore. Reckon my 80 year-old dad is the next big predator.”

Molly stares at the computer screen in suspended silence while Stamford bangs on about the indecency of the elderly and public transportation.

It can’t be him. But she’s not sure. It had been dark and rainy and, not to mention, foggy that evening. When the cabbie got pulled out of the car, she only caught a glimpse of him, and she wasn’t paying much attention. She hadn’t bothered to look at him while he was driving either. Suppose that’s the point; no one ever does bother with cabbies. But what if it was him? Had she almost been the killer’s victim?

And then what about the tinted SUV and the man in the intimidating black mask? She’d thought he was the mastermind killer, or at least connected to all of this, but it turns out he may have saved her from a batty old man with a vendetta.

Jeff Hope, the online article said. That was his name. He’s dead now and the dead don’t talk. Molly wishes she could revive him and ask him a few questions. His body hasn’t been brought to St Bart’s. She’s made inquiries, but it belongs to a different mortuary. More’s the pity. She would have liked to examine him. She thinks, once I have my scalpel inside him, I’ll know if he was the cabbie from that night.

But maybe she’ll never know for sure.  All she has now is a tenuous connection with the mystery person who sent her the rat with a tape inside. If they’re no longer the killer, then who are they? What do they want with her? Is it all because of Sherlock and her proximity to him? She’d still like to find out on her own.

Mike taps her gently on the shoulder. “Do you mind, then?”

“What?”

“If I checked my email real quick? Gosh, you’re really set on that picture, are you?”

She clicks the ‘x’ button and the nondescript photo of Jeff Hope standing by the see-saws in the park disappears.

“Sorry, here you go.”

“Heard from Sherlock lately? He must’ve come down here and bragged about the whole thing,” Stamford says with a small chortle, typing up his address.

“No, actually. Once he’s done with a case, he shows no interest in revisiting it...It’s old news to him, I guess.”

Mike scratches a latent pimple on his chin. “You’ve got him pegged, all right. But that’s okay, you can read about it on John’s blog.”

Molly’s eyes widen a fraction. “Sorry?”

“John Watson? He’s got his own blog, let me show you! Sherlock and him are in a tiff about it, from what I hear.”

 

 

Molly feels a bit inadequate perusing the sober and self-contained blog of Dr. John Watson. Her own extravagant cat-themed journal seems a tad much. But she wouldn’t like to be the person behind this blog. Some of his entries are downright bleak. He was obviously on the brink of chronic depression when he started it and it seems he only did so at the behest of his therapist, Ella. Molly suddenly feels ashamed that she didn’t pay more attention to Sherlock’s new flat-mate. She makes a mental note to talk to him more and reach out as a friend, but she has to admit that at the moment, what she’s interested in most is the entry titled “A Study in Pink”.

The first paragraphs are familiar enough; John describes meeting Sherlock and being dazzled by his intellect, while also being puzzled by his social ineptitude. Molly knows the experience too well; her first time meeting Sherlock was like being pushed out of a dark hole to face the unbearable rays of the sun. Plato’s cave aside, she swooned for days. She’s a bit more sober now, after a few sunburns. Unlike John, she wouldn’t classify Sherlock as maladjusted. He certainly wouldn’t consider himself out of place. It’s the world that has to adjust to him. She reads on, trying her best not to remember the detective’s awful words about her. The entry gradually becomes more interesting as the relevant facts and clues of the case are outlined. She can see how point A led to point B and then C. Sherlock is brilliant, but once the mystery is unraveled, you think you’re an idiot for not realizing it sooner.

It’s when she gets to the confrontation between Sherlock and the cabbie that things become muddled. John writes that

someone shot the taxi driver. Someone like that's bound to have enemies so it shouldn't have been a surprise but I hadn't seen anyone shot since Afghanistan. It's something you never really get used to. That someone could have the power of life and death over someone else - but I'm glad whoever it was did it, because they undoubtedly saved Sherlock's life.

The various articles online claimed that Jeff Hope was shot in the back of the head by someone with military experience. They said the shot couldn’t have been fired so precisely otherwise. Molly chews the ball-end of her pen. Could this be her masked man? He did drag the cabbie out of the car, intent on doing him harm that night.  Was he finishing the job? And what about John? He’s an army doctor. He must’ve had some training. He could’ve taken the shot, for all she knew. Her mind is rife with outlandish scenarios.

It’s when she gets to the last passage that everything seems to stop for a moment, as if time's pendulum temporarily seized up.

There was one other thing though. Before the taxi driver died, he said a name. A name of someone or something that had helped him. Moriarty. I've never heard of it and neither has Sherlock. Of course, he loves it. He thinks he's found himself an arch-enemy. He's a strange child.

Molly reads the paragraph more than once. In fact, she reads it enough times to have it half-memorized. She parses the words carefully, as if there might be some secret code somewhere in between. Maybe John left out some details. Surely, there has to be more to it than that? 

The cabbie said a name. Moriarty. Arch-enemy.

Why enemy? What does it mean?

Moriarty.

It has a strange, lullaby ring to it. Like the name of a malcontent dragon in a children’s story, or the nonsense rhyme you utter before falling asleep. Mooo-reee-aaar-teee.

She googles it, although she has a sinking feeling it won’t do her any good. It doesn’t.

It’s not a very common last name, but there are a few people who bear it; real-estate agents and romance novelists. Nothing to point her in the direction of serial-killers, but then again, dangerous people – the really dangerous ones – hide in plain sight, don’t they? That’s what Sherlock always says.

On the off-chance, she googles the name’s origins. It’s Irish, derived from “Ó Muircheartach”, which roughly translates to ‘descendant of MUIRCHERTACH”. Muirchertach, she finds, is Gaelic for “mariner”. It was also the name of an Irish king.

Lots of Irish signifiers. She doesn’t know what to make of that. It might just be a put-on pseudonym.

But she can’t get it out of her head, that somehow everything's connected; the SUV, the man in the black mask, the rat and the tape and - Moriarty.

It may just be the aftermath of the suicides’ case that’s got her so unreasonably suspicious. But the mouse she placed under her doormat disappeared the next day and she didn’t manage to catch a glimpse of the taker.

She could stop now and forget everything, put it all behind her. She could stop messaging them altogether, but – but what if?

 

 

Molly paces up and down her living room, Toby securely captured in her arms. The tomcat meows in frustration. He clearly wants to be released, but Molly’s too preoccupied to notice.

She has one shot at this, doesn’t she? Suppose she can’t ask for his initials. Sorry, does your name happen to start with an M? Haha.  And she can’t really bring up Jeff Hope, because that’s red territory now. Oh God, what can she ask? Please reveal yourself, I really need the confidence boost?  Or better yet, I’m a cat-lady soon-to-be-spinster who really wants to make a difference in the world?

She squeezes Toby a bit too hard in her feverish back and forth, and he hisses in absolute offense, scratching her just below the clavicle.

Molly drops him with a scowl. “Fine! Be like that! It’s not like you’re any help.”

 Of course, a few minutes later she tries to apologize and tempt him out of his sulk with cat treats. It doesn’t work.

“Don’t be upset with Mummy now. She’s busy with a case. Or, I guess, a stupid fantasy in her head.”

But then, as she’s crouched over Toby’s bowl, she thinks back to “mariner”. It only brings one thing to mind from her college days.

It’s silly and probably useless to even bother, but she wanders towards the bookcase occupying her living room wall. She scans the volumes idly – most of them medical journals, anatomy textbooks, a few Jilli Cooper’s and Sheldon Sydney’s and some hardback classics – and eventually finds what she was looking for.

 

 

Jim can guess why his mad little pet is anxious. She’s marching up and down her cubbyhole of an apartment with the restlessness of a spouse in the maternity section. She’s thinking about the cabbie, and whether she was close to death that night.

Yes, Molly-Moo, you were. And I snatched you right out of Death's grasp. I kept you alive. Your life’s quite literally in the palm of my hand, he thinks, lowering the screen of his laptop as he lies back against a silk pillow.

He sees her shuffling reluctantly towards her bookcase. Her fingers dwell on the neatly stacked spines, like she’s looking for something she’s not sure she wants to find. Jim yawns tiredly. It’s been a long day. It’s always a long day, come to think of it. Life just keeps on going. What did Goethe use to say?  "Everything in the world can be endured, except a succession of fine days."

With Jeff Hope out of the equation, he has moved on to the next trap he’s set for the nitwit detective. If Sherlock only knew the kind of dull, grunt work he puts in this little game, he’d give him a standing ovation. He’s had to talk customs policies, for fuck’s sake. General Shan was so grating with her paranoid delusions. Oooh, what if immigration turns its eye on us, Mr. Moriarty? Will your connections be enough, Mr. Moriarty?  Stupid cow, as if he’s ever failed a criminal organization before. He’s not that impressed with the Black Lotus Tong, if he’s honest. They rely too much on ritual and fetish. Namely, they want to remain obscure but can’t help indulging in telltale symbolism. Origami at the scene of the crime? How very puff.

His wavering attention turns back to Molly Hooper. 

She’s sat down on her sofa now, having chosen her reading material, apparently. He switches to a different angle, but the cameras don’t capture the book’s front cover. Molly is unwittingly hiding it from view with her elbow. It’s a little frustrating, but nothing a few extra cameras can’t fix. He should inform Seb. She’s flipping through the book at random, scanning passages here and there. He switches to a camera behind her back and zooms in. He can faintly see the print on the pages.

His tiredness evaporates gradually. He’s become interested in her reading.

He’s halfway to deciphering parts of a stanza, when Molly suddenly drops the volume on her chest and sighs in exasperation.

With the book lying on her bosom, the cover becomes visible. He switches to the camera right above her. The quintessential God angle. He’s watching from the fan in the ceiling - blades dormant but sharp.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

Jim’s face quirks up in a singular expression, one rarely used and tried. His brow crumples in confusion.

This is hardly kick-off-your-shoes leisure reading for someone who enjoys Katie Price tabloids. Why this of all things? And why her obvious frustration? No one's making her read it. 

Molly leans her head back and her eyes rise upwards, as if telegraphed by a deeper faculty than reason. 

She’s staring at the ceiling. She’s not looking at the camera - not quite - but her eyes sweep over it without realizing, like a blind person who can only sense but not fix on the object.

Can she sense him? Not likely. Not even close–

“What am I doing?” she wonders drearily, rolling her head left and right, her gaze spanning him without knowing.

Jim sits up now, all manner of rest forgotten.

“Yes, darling. What are you doing? Tell me."

He can’t stand not knowing. He hates it. What is it? What is this new riddle? How can it be a riddle when it’s got no obvious intent? She hasn't set out to trick him, and yet he's tricked.

He stares at her sprawled figure on the sofa. With her head thrown back, the arch of her neck is exposed. It seems a fragile slope, a snow mound that can vanish if you breathe too hotly on it. Jim almost reaches forward with his fingers. His knuckles collide against the screen. He wants to puncture through this feeble barrier.  He wants the hand of God to descend from the ceiling and seize her by the throat. He can feel the nerves tingling in his palm, the pulse of her aorta. 

Molly closes her eyes with another weary sigh.

She does not see how much the hand wants to reach down and grab her. She’s breathing regularly, she’s not mindful of him.

Eventually, she moves. She lets the volume slip to the floor as she gets up to make herself tea.

Jim doesn’t follow her this time. He stares at the book she’s abandoned so casually.

Why Coleridge? He must know.

He gnashes his teeth. Perhaps for many this would be an unpleasant action, a clenching of the jaw, a clash of the molars. For him it is like filing his fangs, like whetting his appetite.

How can this dumpy pathologist with an average life-span be more compelling than a whole family of geniuses? Not even Eurus, brilliant loony that she is, can make his fingers flex into claws.

 

 

During The Blind Banker

 

It’s a shame how long it takes him to realize: nearly a day later, which is unforgivable by his standards. He’s in the middle of a transaction with one of Shan’s men over Skype when it hits him.

He’s so excited he types “Got it!” in the message box, like a schoolboy who’s finally mastered his Rubik’s cube.

The befuddled Chinese man meekly asks exactly what he’s “got” and whether he should worry about it.

“Your mother, on her knees, pleasuring me. What do you think?!” Jim types, rolling his eyes. What a clumsy brute, to interrupt his ecstatic discovery. 

Well, safe to say, Shan’s men have no sense of sarcasm.  The idiot actually thinks it’s true.

“Please, my mother has nothing to do with this. I ask you to release her. We had an agreement.”

Jim groans, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sebastian!” He’s going to grant this fool’s wish and harass his stupid mother. He asked for it.

 

 

The cafeteria’s selection has never looked quite so unappealing, but she must choose between pork and pasta. The alliteration is not making things better. It's funny how much time we spend picking what to eat, she ponders. Imagine how much more we could do otherwise. She's sure that the pork/pasta decision stands in the way of discovering who or what Moriarty is.

When Sherlock materializes next to her, she almost gives a start.

“Oh, it’s you…”

“I’d stick with the pasta,” he advises with a slight twitch of his lips. “Don’t want to be doing roast pork, not if you’re slicing up cadavers.”

He’s looking as crushingly handsome as ever, particularly when he smiles, but she’s satisfied to find that there is only one lost butterfly in her stomach. A barfly, really. It’s amazing what a few cruel words can do to one’s budding sense of romance.

Molly chuckles nervously. Sherlock is scrutinizing her with his usual intensity. After their last little chat, she’s afraid of accidentally giving away too much. She’s not really  keeping a secret…more like choosing to remain private about a few things. Is that so wrong?

He’s still staring at her like she’s got more than one head attached to her body, so she clears her throat and asks, “What are you having?”

“Don’t eat when I’m working. Digesting slows me down.”

She sucks in a breath. “So you’re working here tonight?”

“Need to examine some bodies,” he elaborates, somehow stepping closer and bridging the space between them.

Oh, so that’s your game.

“Some?” she asks doubtfully.

“Eddie Van Coon and Brian Lukis.”

She has no doubt the names are related to his new case, but at the moment she couldn’t give a fig. She’s much more wrapped up in her own problems, thank you very much. Still, she doesn’t want him to notice she’s otherwise engaged.

Molly peers down at her chart. “They’re on my list.”

Sherlock’s expression softens. “Could you wheel them out again for me?”

Molly wavers, staring down at the greasy pork roast.

“Well…their paperwork’s already gone through.”

Sherlock looks positively miffed for a second before he regroups and schools his features into an air of pleasant surprise. He points to her forehead. “You’ve changed your hair.”

“What?”

“The style, it’s usually parted in the middle.”

She fights the instinct to raise her fingers to her hair. “Well, um…”

“It’s good. It suits you better this way,” he adds with a cavalier smile that would have made her knees go weak a few weeks ago. It’s very transparent what he’s doing. And the fact that he’s not even bothering to hide it hurts her even more. He knows she’ll give him what he wants, poor flirting or no.

Molly smiles wearily. “Sorry, um, I don’t think I can wheel them out for you.”

Sherlock’s smile falters. “Why not?”

“I told you, the paperwork’s gone through,” she mutters, picking up the pasta after all. She loads up her tray and tries to move past him. Sherlock’s arm bars the way.

“You’re upset.”

“Sorry?”

“You are upset with me,” he concludes, running over her disgruntled features.

Molly bites her cheek. “I’m just really tired, is all. And I can’t just…you know…always break the rules for you.”

“No, it’s not about that,” he interjects, eyes narrowed almost to slits. “You’re upset about something else. You were upset before I even approached you.”

Shite. Shite. Is it something on her face? Why can’t she fix her face? Why is it always giving her away?

“It’s really nothing, Sherlock. I, um….my cat’s been vomiting a lot.”

It’s the best she can come up with on the spot. And it’s true that Toby has a sensitive stomach.

“If your cat was vomiting, you’d smell like it. And there would be other telling biological signs.”

Molly’s stomach is broiling. She thinks she’s the one about to vomit. Oh God, how can she distract him?

“So, Eddie Van Coon and Brian Lukis? You still, er, want to see their bodies?”

 

 

Sherlock walks into the lab with another man who identifies himself as DI Dimmock. She shakes his hand limply. Dimmock, unsurprisingly, has been dragged here against his will and has little faith in Sherlock’s eccentric expertise. Molly wants to tell him to run before he gets caught up in the detective’s net. But instead she just wheels in the bodies.

“We’re only interested in the feet,” Sherlock lets her know.

“The feet?”

She finds it quite odd, but decides it’s better to let him explain later. She unzips the lower half and steps back.

It seems whatever he sees there satisfies Sherlock immensely.

“And now Van Coon…”

Molly obliges and unzips the other bag as well. She stares at both pairs of feet and notices, gradually, what Sherlock is so happy about. Both men are sporting a strange little tattoo on their heels.

“So, either these two men just happened to visit the same Chinese tattoo parlour... or I’m telling the truth.”

DI Dimmock nods reluctantly. He knows when he’s defeated. Molly feels sorry for him. We can’t all be brilliant. Some of us have to do the grunt work.

Having secured what he wanted, Sherlock promptly takes off without a thank you for her trouble or an explanation as to why the corpses are sporting identical tattoos. Of course. Now Molly has to wheel them back to storage.

Except, one more peek won’t hurt, will it? She wonders if she’s missed any other signs on their bodies.

She unzips both bags all the way through.

Van Coon’s physique is in good shape, and it is as unmarked as a newborn’s. He clearly had the money to take care of himself.

But  Brian Lukis is not so lucky. He’s pudgy and diabetic and cursed with bad genes. He’s the antithesis of Van Coon.

It’s the same conclusion she drew when she first cut them up. But – something’s changed.

In the last few hours, Brian Lukis’ body has suffered an...alteration.

Because she’s ready to swear on the Holy Bible that there wasn’t anything written on the side of his belly when she performed her examination. 

Molly turns on the overhead lamp. She stretches out his skin until the text becomes legible. The ink looks fresh. It glitters like diamonds in the harsh light.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

Molly runs her gloved finger over the taut skin. The words don’t fade. She brushes her thumb against “water”, but it doesn’t smudge. The ink has had time to set.

She’s almost tempted to run after Sherlock and DI Dimmock, to call them back in and show them… show them what? That one of the corpses has been... vandalized with a poem in the last couple of hours?

Poem.

She whirls around, feeling the kind of nausea that comes from having your whole worldview turn upside down. It can’t be.

She runs to the computer. She knew the stanza sounded familiar, but she has to make sure…

The entry comes up. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner  flashes on the screen. She stares at it in the same stupor with which she stared at Jeff Hope’s picture.

Molly runs to the nearest wastebasket and throws up the pasta.

 

 

“Water, water, everywhere…” Jim murmurs, fixing up his tie in the mirror.

So, his little spinster has entered the dancing ring with Moriarty. Let’s see if she has the stomach for it. Pun intended.

Chapter Text

During The Blind Banker 

 

Moly curses under her breath and sucks on her bleeding thumb. She’s managed to jam the stapler and injure herself in under three minutes. It must be some kind of record. All she’s really trying to do is to put up her notice on the staff bulletin board. It shouldn’t have to be this messy.

Amati from Forensic Nursing stops by the board with her coffee mug and gives her a sympathetic look.

“You been evicted?”

“Oh, no,” Molly laughs nervously. “I just need a place to stay for a few weeks. I – er – I'm getting my flat fumigated.”

“Ouch, that sounds like a proper hassle.”

“It really is. Do you happen to know anyone – or maybe happen to have a spare room?” Molly asks hopefully.

Amati laughs. “I’ve got two roommates, is what I have. I can't even spare oxygen for a third, sorry.”

“Ah, that’s all right, I’ll keep looking.”

Amati frowns. “Why don’t you book a hotel room until your flat’s ready?”

Molly winces, having expected this obvious line of questioning. She can’t spell out the truth for her because it would sound rather insane. Well, you see, Amati, I’m sort of afraid of being alone these days, because you never know who has access to a hotel room. A very powerful criminal might be after me. 

That would go down smoothly. 

“Umm, the problem is I’ve run into some debt and I can’t afford to stretch my budget,” she lies instead.

Amati shrugs, trying to appear nonjudgmental. “I’ll ask around, if you like. People don’t really look at the bulletin board.”

Molly beams at her. “Thanks! I’d appreciate it.”

She sounds a lot chipper than she feels, but she doesn’t want to give people the impression that anything bad has happened. It’s just for a few weeks. Then, perhaps, her apartment will feel safe.

It’s taken her two days to come to the conclusion she really can’t live there right now. She’s turned the matter over in her head incessantly and there is no possible way that Moriarty (and she’s sure it’s him) could have found out about The Rime of the Ancient Mariner unless he's been spying on her in her own home. She never brought the volume to work and she did not tell anyone about her furtive investigation. He must have found a way into her apartment, just as he found a way to tattoo that stanza on Brian Lukis’ corpse.

Sherlock was very happy  about that. He loves it when criminals return to the scene of the crime. Poor Brian Lukis is still being examined by the police, his corpse decomposing under their merciless gaze. They are all looking to make a connection between his murder and the poetry on his stomach. Sherlock thinks it has something to do with the Black Lotus Tong, that it's their deliberate message to the authorities to stay away. Something about swimming with the fishes.

On her end, Molly is wracked with the need to confess, and yet she is still uncertain about coming clean and what the consequences of that would be. She has learnt that Moriarty, whoever he is, has a vast array of resources and can get inside people’s homes, if he so wishes. If she goes to the police, they won't take her up on it just because of bloody Samuel Taylor Coleridge. And Sherlock might want to know how this whole thing started, namely what she's done to incur the wrath (?) of a master criminal. 

She feels trapped, like a chess piece that can’t go in any direction.

In other words…check mate, she thinks grimly.

She looks down at her phone to see she’s got a message from Meena. Her old uni friend agreed to take her cat in for a while, until she sorted things out. But she can't have Molly staying over because she’s got a three-month infant and a five year-old to cope with on a regular basis. Molly is always surprised when people her age have children.

Toby’s being a sweet little nightmare, Meena’s caption says, and above is a photo of her cat sprawled on the kitchen counter, clearly eyeing the milk bottle that’s being warmed up for the baby. Molly feels a foolish lump in her throat. She really loves that furry thing. And Meena probably can't wait to get rid of it. 

She wipes her wet eyelashes quickly. She can’t have a crying fit at work, that wouldn’t do. First off, she’s got to order some equipment off Amazon. She googled all sorts of information about Cold War Era spying gadgets and found out that installing hidden cameras in someone’s house is ridiculously simple. Dismantling them should prove just as simple. She just needs to get her hands on a few bug detectors.

However, the idea that some stranger could go in when she’s gone and put the cameras back up is more difficult to deal with. So, when her computer freezes on her mid-purchase, Molly gives a loud, plaintive wail of despair, something she wouldn’t ordinarily do if her life was going a bit better.

She does the usual combos on her keyboard to get it unstuck. She tries to restart it. Nothing seems to work. She starts hitting the side of the screen angrily. “Get on with it, you bloody twit! My life’s on the line here!”

The screen takes offense at the name-calling and turns into a grainy blue, making her want to put her whole fist through it, but she miraculously refrains from any violence. She picks up the phone and dials IT.

The line is running busy, but eventually, she hears a friendly voice on the other end.

“Hiya, how can we help?” He sounds young and nerdy, which is exactly what she needs.

“This is Dr. Hooper. I’m having some trouble with my computer, the screen’s turned blue. Could you come up and have a look?”

“Have you tried restarting it?” the man asks politely.

Molly grinds down on her teeth. “Yeah, um, pretty sure it’s gone beyond that.”

“All right, is there a pop-up message on the screen? Can you see the Windows logo?” he continues in the same leveled and gentle tone, as if he’s reading a bedtime story.

Molly sinks her nails into the receiver. “Just please come up, will you? I’m not seeing anything.”

“All right, er, if you’re sure,” he says sheepishly. “I’ll see you in a –”

But Molly hangs up because she is far too cranky for small talk and she feels she might abuse him if she stayed on the line. She goes to the lab sink and sprinkles some water on her face. It’s going to be fine, you’re going to be fine. Just breathe. You’re going to tell Sherlock everything, and then he’ll take care of it. He’ll know what to do. It’s not your fault. Well, yes it is. No, it isn’t! If you hadn’t meddled….But you just wanted a chance to prove yourself! Oh, more like you tried to do something on your own and it blew up in your face, what a shock!

This rather confusing Jekyll and Hyde dialogue would have gone on further if not for the meek knock on the door.

Molly removes her hands from her faces. She almost erupts in hysterical giggles. She’s looking at an identical copy of the geeky tech guy who used to haunt her dorm hall at midnight, looking for snacks while he worked on his revolutionary piece of software.

He’s got the dopey fashion sense and the pathological self-consciousness to go with it. 

Molly stops cataloging him when she realizes she's sounding like her mother. She plasters a guilty smile on her face and waves him in. “Thanks for dropping by. Sorry to bother you –”

He shakes his head quickly, nervously scratching at his arm. “No bother at all, it’s my job. I’m happy to fix you –I – I mean your computer.”

His blunder makes his cheeks turn slightly red. Molly recognizes the chronic shyness of a fellow introvert and she finds it somewhat endearing, even if now’s not the most convenient time for empathizing. But she makes an effort. She picks up the ornamental bowl on her desk.

“Do you want a mint?”

The geek’s eyes widen considerably and she finds that he looks like a lost puppy dog, the kind you see on "missing" ads stuck to telegraph posts. “Oh gosh, does my breath – is my breath that bad?”

Molly laughs. “No, no, I’m just offering.”

He starts laughing too, and picks up a mint. “Okay, if you say so.”

For a few seconds, she watches him chew and suck on it awkwardly and they both stand there as if they’ve forgotten their purpose.

“So the computer…” she trails off.

He coughs and swallows a little too quickly. “Right! Yeah, let’s have a look…”

Molly shows him the ineffectual blue screen and he whistles, as if he’s never seen one like it.

“Did you install a new program? Or maybe download some malware? That’ll sometimes get you in a scrape…”

She bites her lip. “No, I wasn’t doing any of that.”

“But you were doing something?” he insists gently. “I just have to know so I can figure out the problem –”

Molly heaves a weary sigh. “All right, don’t tell on me, but I was doing some online shopping. I know we’re not allowed to do that on our work computers, but it was a bit of an emergency.”

He chuckles and she notices that his canines jut out over his lips. The puppy dog image pops into her head again.

“’s all right, I’ll keep your secret,” he says playfully and raises a finger to his lips. “It’ll be between us.”

Molly mirrors his gesture and smiles. “Between us.”

“Er, did you know your face is wet?” he remarks all of a sudden.

Molly touches her cheek. Sure enough, there’s still moisture on it. She forgot to dry the water off with a tissue.

“Sorry, that was a stupid thing to say,” he mumbles, turning back to the screen.

“No, it’s fine, I just like to keep hydrated. I sometimes spray myself like a plant, haha.”

Much to her surprise, he erupts into laughter. “Like a plant, that’s a good one!”

Her world might be imploding, but she got the IT guy to genuinely laugh at her inane remarks twice. It feels rather nice.

He tells her he has to unplug her computer and then “boot it in safe mode”, whatever that means, but she doesn’t question him. She’s trying to figure out if she’s seen him at the cafeteria before.

“Do you eat?”

Oh, great, that came out normal, she groans.

He looks up at her, confusion clearly etched on his face.

“I mean, do you eat at the cafeteria? I haven’t seen you there.”

“Ah, yeah, when I remember to drop in. I get so absorbed writing code that I forget I’m hungry. Mum’s always chewing my ear off about it.”

“I get like that too when I’m working on a good corpse,” she confides, and then quickly rectifies. “Not that there is such a thing as a good corpse but –”

“I understand,” he smiles and his eyes almost brighten. But then something like sadness flickers in them, like the blinds being pulled down. “I’m sort of new around here, so I tend to keep to myself…which is why I don’t eat with other people.”

“Oh, that’s – well, I’m sure you’ll make friends in no time.”

It’s not a lie. Blokes like him can get away with looking dorky. He’s definitely cute, and he’d even be handsome if he tried to put less gel in his hair and wear a different pair of pants.

“I’m Jim, by the way,” he offers and raises his hand. It’s soft to the touch, and she likes that his palm is not moist.

“Molly.”

They shake on it and she feels a nice little pressure in his grip.

Her screen is now a string of numbers and figures but apparently, this is good and it will return to normal functionality in a few minutes.

“That’s good to hear,” she sighs.

“Listen, er, I hope this doesn’t sound strange…I honestly don’t mean to pry or anything…”

“Yes?”

“Actually, forget it, it’s stupid.”

“Come on, you can’t leave it at that,” she protests.

“Well… are you the same Molly Hooper that left that notice on the bulletin board?”

She suddenly feels tension descend between her shoulder blades. “Um, yes. It’s a funny story, actually. I’m having my flat fumigated –”

“Well, I just - you know, I have a room I don’t use.”

“What?”

“My roommate moved out. I sort of need a new one.”

Molly blinks. “Are you serious?”

 

 

He watches as disbelief and hope and suspicion all flit across her face, a delicious cocktail of uncertainty. Humans are, for the most part, uninteresting bores. But they can offer some quality entertainment when they experience cognitive dissonance. That’s when their pathetic little wheels start spinning and you can see the agonizing process in their facial muscles. Molly is a particularly edifying creature. He loves to watch her work through this conundrum.

 “Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack,” he replies with a soft chuckle.

She bites her lip until it turns blood red. He tries not to stare at it. She proceeds to ask him about his flat, where he lives, what the rent is like, what her half would be. She hastens to add that this is all temporary and she’s not sure if she’ll take him up on his offer - she’ll have to think about it. But he knows he’s almost got her. He just needs to clinch it somehow.

“I’m okay with pets too, if you have any.”

Molly’s face slackens without wanting to.

Jim beams at her. It’s so electrifying to play this servile, dotty version of himself. He’s had practice with multiple personalities before, but never one so lamentable. It’s a totally new experience and, since he rarely has the opportunity to try something new, he is relishing every minute of it.

There is a bit of a challenge involved in playing a deplorable mouth breather, but isn’t that half the fun? It’s like trying on a new pair of gloves, stretching your fingers inside, curling them into fists, making the leather crack. 

Ooh, and how delectable to be seen this way. Her soft eyes regard him without fear, she think he’s harmless. He can’t remember the last time someone looked at him and thought “he won’t hurt me”.

At the same time, he senses an obscure instinct in her that tells her to withdraw. To refuse him. It’s the latent suspicion, the unnameable reluctance she can’t quite identify.  Cognitive dissonance. He won’t harm me, and yet… This is only a coincidence, and yet…

Jim smiles and ducks his head. “Look, I’ll find someone else, it’s okay. I mostly offered out of self-preservation, since I really can’t make rent this month, haha.”

He’s got a silver watch in his pocket that cost more than the hospital’s MRI machine, but he’s playing ‘Jim from IT’ who eats cheap Ramen directly from the container every night.

Molly is a good person, deep down. She wants to help herself, but she wants to help others too. If she can do both at the same time, it’s what the idiots in marketing call a win-win.

But there’s never a genuine win-win in life, and Jim knows it. One person always ends up on their knees. She'd make a lovely pose. 

He gets up and runs a hand through his hair in a fit of boyish nervousness. “I’ll see you around, Molly. Ring me up if the computer acts out again.”

He walks to the door slowly, hands stuffed awkwardly in his pockets.

“Jim! Wait,” she calls just as his hand connects with the door.

Moriarty grins.

Chapter Text

After the Blind Banker

 

Molly opens the fridge and stares at the contents in perfect wonder. Jim was not kidding about his habit of forgetting to eat. There’s some weeks-old parmesan cheese on the top shelf, a forgotten vat of ice cream and some shriveled tomatoes in the produce compartment. She’ll have to do some shopping tomorrow.

Toby rubs himself against her leg and gives a grumpy “meow”, as if to comment upon the barrenness of the fridge.

“Now don’t you give me that,” she chides him. “You’re better off here than at Meena’s.”

Toby swishes his tail in skepticism. He jumps on the window sill and licks one of his paws with indifference.

Molly sticks her thumb in her mouth and bites down. She’ll have to improvise if she wants to make supper. She figured it would be a nice gesture. She’s not necessarily anxious about being liked, but she doesn’t want to look like an ungrateful moocher. She wants to make herself useful.

The kitchen, she’s relieved to say, is just the right amount of messy. He’s not a neat freak, God bless. There are a few empty bags and cans which he’s not got round to chucking in the trash. He’s washed the dishes, but he hasn’t dried them properly and they’re stacked haphazardly in his cupboard. Meanwhile, the two coffee mugs he owns are both caked with dregs. But she doesn’t touch them, because that would feel too personal.

Instead, she makes a small space for herself next to the stove and gets busy. She is lucky enough to find a packet of pasta in the back of one of the cupboards. It’s already been opened and seems to have been lying there for months, but a good boil should put her mind at ease. She also stumbles upon a few cloves of garlic abandoned on the bottom of a bowl. Together with the parmesan cheese and the tomatoes in the fridge, that should make for a nice sauce. It’s almost as if fate planned it all.

She’s in the middle of chopping the shriveled tomatoes when she hears the front door open and his voice call out hesitantly, “Roomie?”

She darts out of the kitchen wielding the chopping knife. “Hi!”

Jim discards his messenger bag on the floor and raises his hands dramatically.

“I surrender!”

 Molly looks down at her hand gripping the blade and titters nervously. “Sorry, I was just um, doing some cutting.”

She kicks herself internally. Doing some cutting? Why can she never master the English language when a fellow human being is addressing her? Why is that so hard?

But Jim smiles, as if he doesn’t mind her inadequacy. Probably because he’s not a smooth talker either. He pats his cargo pants awkwardly. “Something smells good.”

“Ah, it was supposed to be a surprise,” she says and rushes back into the kitchen where the pasta sauce boils on the stove.

Jim rubs the back of his neck self-consciously. “Oh…you didn’t have to, Molly.”   

“Least I could do,” she says, watching him from the corner of her eye. “It’s my pleasure.”

Jim’s smile broadens, making his chin wobble slightly. It looks as if he’s about to laugh or cry. “How can I help?”

“You just sit and make yourself comfortable,” she says, biting down on her thumb again. A nervous habit.  

It’s very odd to find yourself living with someone you only properly met hours ago. Still, Molly thinks, it could have been much worse.

Jim’s flat is cozy and comfortable. She likes that it’s not filled up with sports paraphernalia or gym gear. She also appreciates that it’s not oozing masculinity. There’s color on the walls and cushion on the sofas and actual curtains at the window. Nothing too excessive, however. Just a normal chap who doesn’t care if his bedspread sports a floral pattern. That’s refreshing.  The only thing she’s actually curious about is the guitar she saw stashed behind one of the cabinets in the living room.

Maybe he’ll play her something. Or maybe it’s just an adolescent keepsake.

He’s asking her something. She snaps out of her reverie.

“Do you like cooking?”

Molly nods. “When I have the time for it.”

“That’s nice. I honestly thought we’d just order in.”

“Oh, no. And waste good pasta?” Molly goes for a wink and fails admirably. It looks like half her face is wincing. She decides to change the subject. “Um, how was work?”

Jim clasps his fingers together and rests his chin on the steeple they make above the table. “Not very eventful…unless you’re a fan of malfunctioning RAM modules.”

“That sounds icky.”

“It is!” he concurs with a rather forced grin. “How was your morning shift?”

“Oh, you know. Dead bodies and such.”

Jim nods, hiding his mouth behind his hands. His eyes are glazed over. It’s his turn for a reverie, it would seem.

Molly notices that his foot taps intermittently under the table and his shoulders are slightly raised too. She’s no body language expert, but if she had to guess, she’d say he was uncomfortable. She wonders if maybe taking over his kitchen from day one was not the best move.

She clears her throat. She wants to apologize, though she’s not sure what for.

“Look…I hope I’m not putting you out. It’s just that, you told me you sometimes forget to eat and I thought –”

Jim’s eyes widen in alarm. “Oh, God no, I mean yes, I mean of course you’re not putting me out. Have I given you that impression?”

“Not exactly, but –”

“I’m thrilled you’re here, honestly! Well, not in a weird way. And you’re absolutely welcome to...” he gestures, flustered, towards the stove. “It’s just no one’s cooked for me since I was ten. And er…let’s just say I haven’t lived with a girl in a long time. Shit, I didn’t mean to say “girl”, is that demeaning? And I’m not implying that we’re living together like that but–”

Molly holds up her hand. “Hey, it’s fine, breathe. I know you’re only being nice.”

Jim exhales, lips trembling.  “I hope so. I hope you don’t think I’m taking advantage of you. You don’t think that, do you? Sorry I’m such a spaz sometimes,” he shakes his head. “Let’s start from the top. Hi, I’m Jim, and I promise I’m not a nutcase.”

Molly laughs.  “Nice to meet you, Jim.  I’m Molly and I honestly can’t promise you the same.”

Jim blinks. At first it looks like he didn’t get her joke, which happens often to her. But a moment later he opens his mouth wide and crows out a laugh so loud that she nearly jumps out of her skin.

“You’re actually funny,” he says, through fits of laughter. “That’s a rare find in a hospital.”

“Well, you need a sense of humor in that sort of environment, don’t you?” she says, cheeks pink from the compliment. She feels a bit better now. He does want her to be here, he’s just nervous that she’s a girl. It’s kind of sweet.

“Tell that to my mates in IT,” he says with a grimace. “They wouldn’t know a joke if it hit them. They’re always so glum.”

“That’s because they’ve never worked on the corpse of a nine year-old girl. It sort of puts things in perspective,” she remarks with a bitter smile. Now she’s worried she sounds glum, but Jim nods emphatically.

“Yeah, you tend to appreciate life a bit more after you’ve stared death in the face so many times.”

“Well said,” she lifts the knife in agreement.

“Hmm, this would be a good moment to toast,” he murmurs and then he thumps his forehead in annoyance. “I’m such a knob, I don’t have any wine!”

“Oh, it’s fine –”

“We can’t have pasta with beer. Hang on, I’ll just pop downstairs.”

He slips on his jacket and fishes his wallet out of his messenger bag and heads for the door. Molly doesn’t have time to stop him.

On his way out he almost steps on the cat and Toby hisses at him with outrage. 

She laughs to herself, he’s so eager to please.

It’s a comforting thought.

 

 

Jim leans his head against the grimy alley wall. He doesn’t mind the dirt, it blankets his face. He laughs like a hyena. He sinks his teeth into the brick, relishing the abrasive feel in his mouth.

His laugh is the only thing he can’t quite mask, and he doesn’t try to. It goes well with the boyish persona. But oh, sometimes he wants to laugh like an animal and he can’t do it in her presence. She would be spooked.

Or not, he’s not quite sure. And the ‘not being sure’ is so exciting!

Sure, he is playing her like a fiddle but there are some strings in her mousy repertoire that he has not yet touched and he doesn’t know what sound they’ll make. And that is thrilling, indeed.

Everything about this set-up is infinitely compelling. The girlish living quarters, the greasy food, the crumpled clothes, the childhood guitar – all sticky and human and sordid. He can see the appeal of slumming it.

He stores the image of her wielding the big chopping knife as he walked through the door. He will have a grand old time wanking to that lovely visual tonight.

 

 

“Cos maybeee, you’re gonna be the one to save meeee….and after aaaaall, you’re my wonderwaaaaall….”

Molly’s jaws hurt from smiling. She nods encouragingly every time Jim looks at her. His fingers strum against the cords like wood stumps. She feels awful thinking it, but it’s the truth. He’s not very good at playing the guitar. And his singing voice is too uneven and gurgly. But she has to keep on smiling. It would be very rude to tell him to stop. And well, who doesn’t like listening to Wonderwall?

Toby doesn't. He looks pretty indisposed. He’s glowering menacingly from behind the TV set.

Molly thought Jim would be reluctant to share with her his hidden talents, but the moment she mentioned the guitar behind the cabinet, it looked as if a light bulb sparked to life behind his eyes. It was as if he’d been waiting for the chance to perform all night.

Now, twenty minutes later, she is sitting next to him on the couch, trying to enjoy the “jam session”.

Molly is a patient person by nature. She’ll tolerate a great many things for the sake of someone’s feelings. But she can’t help but hear her father’s sardonic voice in her head. Good grief, make him stop already.

And he does eventually stop, thank God.

“Does the lady want an encore?” he asks with a grin, fingers tapping the side of his guitar.

“Maybe not right now!” Molly sputters quickly. “I mean, we haven’t even finished our wine.”

“Ooh, if I get one more glass in me I might start singing something really embarrassing,” he replies playfully, and it almost sounds like a threat.

Molly gulps. She can’t quite contemplate the possibility. She has to make him let go of the damned instrument.

“Have you been playing long?” she asks, because if he’s talking he can’t sing.

“I picked it up in high school. Me and some lads even started our own band in Hammersmith,” he brags, lowering his eyes, as if to convey some modesty. “We wrote original songs and everything, but no radio station wanted to pick us up. We played at some small venues, maybe you heard of us? We were called The Spinning Plates.”

Molly swallows a small giggle. Her father’s voice chimes in her head again. How on Earth would I have heard of a bunch of feckless blokes from Hammersmith? And what is that – the spinning plates? A circus act?

She digs her heels in the carpet, trying to discard the sarcasms. She doesn’t want to harbor these mean thoughts – they’re not very Molly.

“That’s brilliant. You were very brave to put yourself out there at such a young age,” she comments heartily, skillfully avoiding his actual question.

“Nah, it was nothing. Everyone dreams of fame, of being a rock star, of people knowing your name…” he trails off wistfully. “Sorry, I sound like a kid.”

“No! It’s very cool. I mean, I would have liked to be an artist too.”

Really?”

Molly winces. She was just saying that to agree with him. But now it’s too late. “Uh-hum.”

“What kind of art did you want to make?” he asks, eyes brimming with excitement.

“Um…you know just…any kind of art…" she waves her hand desperately. "Live my life as…art…be art.”

Oh, God. That’s utter rubbish. She must’ve read it in a magazine once, but it doesn’t sound any less stupid.

“Be art?” Jim echoes, cocking his head to the side. “That’s fascinating.”

No, it’s not, you’re just being polite, she thinks, suppressing a sigh. She just wants to put this entire subject to bed.

And then, her own light bulb sparks to life. He likes music, he was in a band. What could be more perfect?

“This reminds me,” she says, leaning forward eagerly, “have you ever watched Glee?”

 

 

(Oh, if she wants to be art, he can certainly make it happen. He can turn her into a painting, a statue, a song. But that is rather lazy, rather formulaic. No, the art he's contemplating is more visceral in nature. More flesh and blood.  

He grins inside his own skin, waiting for an opportunity)

 

 

It’s Glee that saves the evening and really cements the beginning of their friendship. Jim has never seen a single episode of the hit series which frankly shocks Molly. They spend the next few days getting him caught up on season 2. She must admit, it is a delightful experience.  He takes to the formula of each episode like a fish to water. He hums to every song with the kids and he’s seemingly riveted by their high school drama. He even wonders sadly why British school choirs are so dull in comparison. If they happen to ride the tube together on their way to work, they swap theories about the various conflicts and couplings that might occur in future episodes. Jim doesn’t sneer at her talk of romance, which she finds almost incredible. Most men she knows would rather die than speculate about “ships” and “shipping”. But Jim is different – he’s awkward and nerdy and a little silly, and she is learning to like him.

It almost distracts her from the terrible ordeal of having her own apartment de-bugged. Almost.

She finds a company online that does a residence bug sweep so she doesn’t have to bother with the equipment (which, as it turns out, is more expensive than her salary can afford), but she specifies to them that she wants to be present for the sweep. She wants to see exactly  what she’s dealing with. Meena would call her paranoid. Uncle Donny would say she’s just lonely and acting up. But she’s determined to get to the bottom of this, one way or another.

She leaves work early for the purpose. She meets with the two men who’ve come to handle the job. One of them old and grizzled, the other one a younger, handsomer replica. Father and son, she thinks wryly.

They bring in their assorted gadgets which look like walkie-talkies mounted on sticks. She’s asked for a full-sweep of any electrical devices and outlets and the two men assure her that no inch of her home will go unchecked.

“This will take some time, Miss.”

“I can wait,” she says folding her arms and leaning against the wall. The air in her apartment feels different, as if sifted through a fine powder. Her nostrils are ticklish with the new sensation. It must be an accumulation of dust. Nothing has been moved or touched since she abandoned the place a week ago. She knows because she left long, invisible hairs on almost every surface available and they’re still there, intact. She read the tip about the hairs on a website about spying and surveillance. Now, she feels silly just thinking about it. Moriarty, whoever he is, probably knows those tips already.

At the end of an hour, the men shrug their shoulders helplessly.

“There’s nothing here, Miss. No bugs.”

“That’s – are you sure? Please, could you look again?”

“We checked all the electric outlets, we checked the furniture…checked the internet connection…checked every corner.”

“It’s just – I’m sure someone’s been watching me,” she mutters into her chin, afraid to look them in the eye and find pity there. "I can't give you the exact details but -"

“Course, Miss, we'll sweep again and give you a discount. Don’t you worry.”

Another hour, the same results.

Molly shakes her head in denial. She stands in the middle of her living room and stares at each piece of furniture in turn, as if she could shame it into a revelation.

Show me your secrets.

She almost feels like upturning every single object, making a mess of it all. But what would the point of that be?

Maybe she’ll hire another company to sweep her place again. Maybe not.

Maybe Moriarty didn’t bug her place after all, but he knows where she lives. The rat she left for him disappeared only hours later.

Can she be safe here?

She thinks about telling Jim she’s moving out. She thinks about thanking him for their brief adventure in cohabitation.

And then the younger of the two men – the son – comes up to her and shoves his hands down with pockets with a cocky grin.

“Eh, guess you don’t have a stalker after all.”  

Molly narrows her eyes at him. Of course, he must be thinking, the hokey spinster, who’d watch her?

No, she’s not going to move back in. Not yet.

 

 

Seb is rather horrified about the hairs.

“She even left one on the toilet,” he shudders.

“Enterprising creature,” Jim murmurs, discarding the cargo pants on the floor. He treads on them for good measure.

“What’s weird is that she aligned them perfectly, three bloody centimeters apart.”  

“Didn’t I tell you she’s deliciously repressed?”  

“If that’s your idea of delicious…” Seb trails off, making a face. “Please tell me you’re not going to practice Wonderwall again.”

Jim grins. “Keep up, Sebastian. We’ve moved on to Glee.”

“To what?”

Glee. It’s her favorite TV Show.”

His hitman gives him a long look. “Yeah, so how much longer are you gonna shack up with her?”

“Patience, poppet. I haven’t come so far only to give up the game.”

“Just remember you gotta keep her alive,” Seb mutters, bending own to pick up Jim’s pants. “Loony Holmes needs her for her climax.”

He should know better than to expose his back to his boss. His knees hit the ground sharply as Jim knocks his ankles off-course. He feels nimble fingers at his nape, dragging the back of his hair. He may be twice Jim’s size, but Moriarty is a fucking feral cat when he needs to.

He’s got Seb under him, face planted in the ground.

The hitman tries, in vain, to get him off his back.

Jim’s breath tickles the shell of his ear. “Now, now, stop the charade. We both know you enjoy it.”

Seb can’t deny he gets off on being a bottom, but tonight feels different. Tonight feels heavy and unpleasant.

“And we both know I have a short temper,” Jim continues lazily, shifting his weight, making Sebastian gasp. “So it’s best not to tell me what to do, hmm?”   

His second in command grunts a muffled reply.

“Well?” Jim demands, louder.

“Yes, Boss.”

“That’s what I like to hear,” and Jim kisses the back of his ear.

Sebastian can’t quite muster to get up from the floor, even after he’s released. He’s got a bad feeling in his gut. Boss has had other toys before, but this is different.

The thought flashes in his head like lightning. Molly Hooper is gonna ruin him.