For my beautiful darling Paula, who I miss terribly. January Molstrade, as requested. Hopefully this is what you were looking for, love.

Betaed by Sam, because she's fabulous. Any mistakes that may remain are, of course, mine.

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The first time you meet her, you don't really notice her. She's a lab tech, fluttering around in the background behind the coroner you came to see. You're newly appointed homicide division and too busy trying to impress.

She says her name is Molly. She looks young, fresh out of school, maybe not even. You promptly forget her name.

.

The first time you look at her, really look at her, she's not just a tech anymore. She runs this lab and she looks at you like you should know her but the problem is that you don't. And she can tell. She doesn't even look surprised. Just, disappointed. She introduces herself again. "Molly."

You nod like you knew that all along even though she knows you didn't.

She still looks very young, very inexperienced, but she knows her way around a body and despite yourself, you are impressed.

.

The first time you see her, really see her, is years later. You know her now, Molly at Barts, because you're homicide and she's bodies and the two naturally overlap. But she's just Molly the coroner until John hosts a Christmas party. (And you all know it's John and Sherlock's just going along with it because it was John's idea and… you aren't sure what's there but you just know you've never seen Sherlock respond to anyone the way he responds to John.)

She shows up late and it's the first time you've ever seen her out of that long white coat and she looks… gorgeous. And you're supposed to be making up with your wife today after yet another fight (even though Sherlock says she's cheating on you and Sherlock's never really wrong about these sorts of things but a man can still hope, right?). You're supposed to be making up with her and so you don't really mean to think it but Molly looks beautiful.

But she also looks fragile, you think. It makes her look young and insecure and breakable and you watch her face fall as Sherlock's tirade goes on and on, talking about her new boyfriend, still too thick to realise that Molly is interested in him (because he's Sherlock and he's brilliant but somehow despite his observational skills with things, he still doesn't get people — that's more his brother's division).

She looks shattered, because Sherlock, Sherlock knows exactly where to push to make it hurt the worst, even when he doesn't mean to.

Sherlock apologises (and that's its own Christmas miracle) and Molly fixes a fake smile on her face and the moment breaks.

You aren't really sure how you're supposed to react so you don't.

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And life goes on, as it does. Your life isn't entirely defined by a series of moments with her. You catch your wife with the gym teacher because of course Sherlock is right. You try again and again to mend whatever the two of you still have because you love her, or at least you loved her once. She's fiery and independent and lovely, unafraid, and that's why you once loved her but it's also why she's all too much right now. She can't take being bound to you, no matter how much freedom you tried to give her. She feels like you've clipped her wings even though you never meant to. She chafes in captivity and you can't stand to see her in such a state.

So you let her go. No matter how much it hurts you let her go, divorce her because it's what she wants. You let her have whatever she wants. She takes the house and you don't care because you walk into your bedroom and all you can see is the image of her with him, burned into your retinas forever.

You could've tried harder, you think. Been better.

You walk away. You walk away from her and that house.

And life goes on.

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The first time you notice her behavior change, Sherlock has died. Sherlock is dead and you know that everything is going to change, but you didn't really expect Molly Hooper to be a part of that everything. She grows distant. She stops chattering the way she used to when you'd come in, and it makes you feel… oddly lonely. You didn't know you'd miss it but you do.

You lose Sherlock and Molly and John all on the same day.

John, you understand. John had rebuilt his entire civilian life around one man, and now that man is gone. It isn't surprising that John retreats.

Molly, though, you don't understand. You don't understand why she won't talk to you. You understand why she would grieve but you don't understand why that would make you a person to be distant from.

You aren't brave enough to ask her. You don't want to reopen healing wounds.

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The first time you are mad at her, Sherlock is not dead. You're a detective, and despite what Sherlock maintains, you aren't an idiot. You can make the connection between Molly's behavior after his "death" and Sherlock's sudden reappearance, and really, Molly isn't that great of an actress.

And you are furious, as you have every right to be, because the world has lied to you, she has lied to you, and that stubborn bastard is still alive and you don't know how to feel because… because he's Sherlock, just as he has always been. You're furious at him and her and everyone who knew (and maybe even Anderson just a bit for being right) but you also can't be entirely furious because he's back and brilliant as ever (and maybe you just don't want to admit to missing the bastard).

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The first time you find out Molly is engaged, you aren't sure how to feel but there's something sinking in the pit of your stomach as you put on a smile for her. Tom is… not a sociopath, and that's good, but… But. He looks like Sherlock and it worries you. And maybe that's not all it is but maybe you're not quite ready to admit that.

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The first time you see her at a wedding, John is marrying Mary and Sherlock is being an actual human being as best man. It's… peculiar.

She looks beautiful in yellow, and you tell her so. Tom doesn't. You can't help but notice.

The wedding is perfect (probably mostly because Sherlock doesn't actually have to talk for that part). John looks brilliantly happy, Mary blissful. Sherlock manages not to frown through the whole thing, which is his own sort of achievement.

Molly looks happy for them, but every time she looks over at Tom, she looks sad.

Your seat is beside her at the reception. You can't help but notice that every time she wants to smile or laugh at Sherlock's antics, she looks at you instead of looking at her fiancé.

You remind yourself that Tom doesn't know Sherlock, wouldn't get it in the same way, but it doesn't stop the little bit of hope from bubbling up inside of you.

Sherlock, being Sherlock, turns his best man's speech into a murder investigation (although, admittedly, not before he is suitably and surprisingly human about the whole thing).

Tom looks like an idiot, Molly stabs him with a fork, you make a stupid guess but at least you know yours is stupid while you say it, and John Watson saves a life at his own wedding. So, all in all, exactly what you should have expected, really.

.

The first time you see her cry, she looks broken. You wander into her morgue, looking for clues for the case you're in middle of, and at first you think she isn't there.

Then you hear a sniffle.

You find her in the back, behind one of the tables, her back against one of the cupboards, knees against her chest. She looks small and fragile. You can't see her face, but you can hear the way she breaths in jagged gasps, see the way her shoulders shake.

You don't ask. You don't say anything at all. Instead, you just drop down beside her, ignoring your old knees, and you wrap your arm around her shoulder.

She curls into you, resting her head on your chest. You hold her tighter.

Eventually, her breathing evens out and she looks up at you, eyes red, cheeks streaked. "Why is it," she says, "that every relationship I've ever had ends badly?"

You aren't sure what to say to that, aren't sure what she needs from you. You settle for, "They all end. Until the one that doesn't."

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The first time you realise that you are falling for her, it isn't extraordinary. She is standing in the morgue with her head bent over a corpse, hair tied back behind her. She looks the same way she always does, and you realise that at some point that stopped being plain and started being Molly. She is her own type of beautiful.

She looks up at you and she stumbles through a social discussion but then she starts talking about the man on her table and the awkwardness melts. She sounds competent and intelligent and the dichotomy is stunning.

You tuck the realisation in a corner of your mind and work the case because now… is not the time.

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The first time you kiss her, you apologise and she tells you not to. You hadn't really thought it through (or perhaps you'd over-thought it because you'd been thinking about it so long) but it doesn't matter because she is brilliant and you want to know if her lips taste the same way they look.

You need to have an actual conversation but Molly's never been much for words so she just pushes herself high up on her tiptoes and presses her lips against yours.

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And life goes on, as it does.

You tell her you are too old, too broken, that she deserves better. She tells you that she deserves love, that she's had what society calls better and she thinks they're wrong. She tells you age is just a number and you tell her that she is worth your love.

And life goes on.