She's finished up another Christmas suicide, a man in his forties, living alone and not found for two days. These are the kind of things that wake her up at night sometimes. The idea that she could die alone and there'd be no one to notice for days. She knows logically that she'd be missed at work, but she's so immersed in work and finishing her studies that she hardly sees her friends. She wonders if Sherlock has ever had such thoughts. Other than John and some rather dicey sounding flat mates he'd had on Montague Street in his mid-twenties, he's lived alone his entire adult life, and even his brother doesn't check in on him daily. She'd thought about texting him to come take a look at this one—he's always interested in decomposition—but decided against it. He'd been very specific about when he wanted to see her again and she's not even quite sure he's back from the country. She doesn't want to be that girl. Not anymore.
As she makes her way into the break room, she glances at the telly. For the first moment—before she hears the digitized voice and the poorly animated mouth—she thinks it's just his mug shot on some true crime show.
"Did you miss me? Did you miss me? Did you miss me?"
There's the nausea and the heat starting in her forehead and flowing down her body.
"Is this a fucking joke?" she says to the empty break room. Hand shaking so hard she can barely press the button, she picks up the remote and turns the telly off.
She can still hear it, faintly, from other parts of the hospital.
"This is impossible," she says. "He's dead. I saw him."
Molly almost runs back to her office and reboots her computer. "You're fucking dead," she says as she types in her password and enters his name into the records search. She's finally pulled up his record when her phone rings. She looks down at it and exhales in relief.
"Sherlock what the—"
"Molly are you alone?"
"I need you to go to the most crowded part of the hospital you can find. I'm sure there are people standing around gawking and gossiping. Go find a group. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
"Sherlock I'm pulling up his autopsy report right now. I have to see if I missed something."
"We can do that when I get there," he said, his voice rising in panic. "Please. Molly? Molly, answer me."
His voice is faint, coming from the floor where she'd dropped her phone when she pulled up the autopsy photos.
All the photos had been replaced by pictures of James Moriarty, alive and well, laughing and holding up newspapers from the last week. Molly ducks down and scrabbles around under her desk to find her phone.
"Sherlock," she says, still crouching, afraid to stand up and find the real thing standing in front of her.
"What is it?" he says. She tells him and he curses, then implores her again to go to a more public area. This time she complies, running out of her office and into the canteen, where the televisions are all turned off. It's crowded but few people are eating, everyone talking about what had just happened. A few people stare at her, the ones who know about Jim. She finds a group of acquaintances and joins them, though she doesn't participate in the conversation.
A few minutes later, Greg Lestrade and Sally Donovan enter the canteen make their way to her.
"John called us," Greg says. "Said we'd be able to get here before they do. He told us about the autopsy report."
"Do you want to see?" Molly says and the two officers nod.
Back in Molly's office, she sits at her desk and pulls up the autopsy report again as Sally and Greg peer over her shoulders.
"Christ," Sally mutters. "How the hell did he pull that off?"
"Sally I swear to God, the back of his head was gone. I had a whole pan of pieces of his skull and brain that'd been scraped off the roof. So either that wasn't James Moriarty or this isn't," she says, gesturing to the photos of the smiling man.
"Is the paperwork still, you know, like it was?"
Molly clicks on the file and a fresh wave of nausea hits her. It's a scan of a standard autopsy report, but the name on top is hers, and it catalogs an assortment of injuries that would be sustained by a victim of a bomb blast.
"Jesus Christ, Molly," Lestrade says.
"I don't think he'll be much help in this case." They look up to see Sherlock standing in the doorway. He leans against the jamb nonchalantly while removing his gloves, but Molly notes the rigidness of his jaw and the flash of his eyes. She moves out of her chair as he walks around the desk to look at the screen. As he scans the fake report, his nostrils flare and his grip on the mouse is so tight that she fears he might break it.
Donovan pulls out her phone. "I'm sending bomb disposal to Molly's block to evacuate the building and do a sweep," she says as she heads out into the hallway.
"Get them here, too," Lestrade says, following her. Sherlock saves the files to a memory stick and stands.
"You're coming with me."
"They're going to evacuate and sweep the hospital so you're not likely to get any work done. You won't be able to go back home for hours and even then it won't really be safe. It makes the most sense to come with me."
"Don't you have to, you know, work on the case?"
He shook his head. "Not enough yet to require any leg work. Besides, if it's really him, he'll contact me. Oh, will you call over to records and have them send whatever's in Moriarty's hard file to my flat?"
"Shouldn't your building be checked for bombs?"
"Mycroft's people are already on it. Come on, get your things."
He fell silent again in the cab, firing off text after text. His jaw is still tense. She wants to reach out and touch his face, will him to relax. She knows he can't, won't, until this is over.
There's a black car sitting outside 221 Baker Street when they arrive. Sherlock stops to talk to the driver briefly before leading Molly inside. He doesn't say a word as they hang up their coats and scarves and before she takes a step toward the sofa he spins her around and envelops her in his arms. His heart is absolutely pounding against her ear and his breath is ragged.
"No," he says. "Not yet."
She nods and lets him hold her, his heart slowing gradually, though she counts and it never quite makes it to a normal resting rate. He pulls away finally and tells her to sit down. She watches from the sofa as he paces in front of the fireplace.
"Sherlock, is there something you want to tell me?"
He stops and faces the fireplace, looking at himself in the mirror for a long moment. Then he sits heavily in his chair, not looking at her as he speaks
"I didn't plan on getting into any of this since the current situation has nothing to do with it other than being timed very fortuitously. I just wanted to put it behind me. But I can't let your trust in me be based on false pretense or previous circumstances." He glances at her briefly then looks down, swallowing hard.
"What's happened?" she asks.
He looks over at her again, staring at her, scanning her, memorizing her. Like a drowning man taking his last look at dry land. And then he tells her everything. From Lady Smallwood's first appearance in his flat to the moment he decided that the only way to stop Magnussen was to kill him.
"I killed a few times while I was away. Mostly in self-defense. Nothing like this. It was easy, once I decided. I felt—righteous. That's the kind of man who's offering you protection, Molly. That's who I've become. And if Moriarty or whoever this is hadn't hijacked all the television screens in the country I'd be halfway to Bosnia right now to fulfill a suicide mission."
Molly is so busy trying to process everything she's learned, trying to come to terms with her anger with Mary, her sadness for John and Mary and her devastation for Sherlock that it takes her a moment to catch up to the last part.
"You were…you what?"
"I've put so many criminals away that there wasn't a safe place in England to incarcerate me so my punishment was being embedded in Eastern Europe on a mission that Mycroft estimated would kill me within six months. The plane had barely taken off before I was called back to handle-this."
Molly stares at him and she doesn't know who she is looking at. This man has been the sole focus of all her heart's longings for years. She's risked everything for him. He's been inside her. And no matter how well she thought she knew him she's not sure now she knows anything about him at all.
"You were going to leave. To go off—to die. And I was expecting to see you on New Year's Eve and I never would have known."
"John would have told you."
"Did John know you weren't coming back?"
Sherlock looks away, at the empty fireplace. "Molly—"
"What he fuck is wrong with you?" she shouts, then claps her hand over her mouth. Tears stream down her face and she feels like she's suffocating. He's at her side in an instant, reaching out to hold her, but she pushes away.
She can forgive everything. Every insult and slight and even his committing murder but she can't forgive this. Not his leaving again without saying goodbye. Leaving her dangling, expecting his return. Leaving her on the fucking shelf because she never again would have risked crushing some poor man's heart because she's branded herself for Sherlock Holmes.
"Molly, please," he says. He pulls her to him again and this time she lets him, even though he's the last person she wants right now, because he's the only person she wants for always. He cradles her head in his hands and brushes away the tears, even though they keep flowing, and presses his forehead against hers and whispers "Please, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry I hurt you. I don't ever want to hurt you."
The laugh that escapes her doesn't mock him. She knows he means it this time, that he's not just sorry that she's mad at him; he's sorry that he hurt her. He's sorry for all the times he hurt her. She laughs, one bitter exhalation, because she doesn't know what the hell she's supposed to do.
Then he's kissing her and she forgets that she's supposed to do anything other than return it. He is gentler than he's ever been with her, in word or action, but the tension in his bicep as she runs her hand down it to rest on his forearm is enough indication that he could fall over the edge and drag her with him. It would be so easy to let him, to forget for a little while how terrified she is. But she pulls back and puts her hand on his cheek. His mouth is still slightly open as he slowly opens his eyes.
"I forgive you, Sherlock. For all of it. Though you can't keep getting away with being a prick. And when all this is over we're not leaving this flat until we've made up for a lot of lost time. But right now you've got a case to solve and this can't get in the way."
Sherlock smiles at her, the sharp gleam in his eyes returning. "Of course." He kisses her one more time, hard on the mouth, before jumping up and taking the memory stick out of his pocket. He opens his laptop and inserts the stick into the drive.
Molly goes to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face. She looks in the mirror and squints. "Right. "Well. Let's do this," she says. When she returns to the sitting room he waves her over to the desk to look at the laptop screen with him. She stands beside him and he puts his hand on the small of her back, briefly.
"Okay," he says. "Let's go over it together. Tell me everything you see."