Thank you to my fabulous beta, MizJoely!
When Sherlock Holmes crossed blithely back into the land of the living two years after taking a swan dive off of St. Bart's roof, the speculation on the players involved swirled like a hurricane. In the more intimate circles, the name of one of Bart's most talented and inconspicuous handlers of the dead was spoken with rapt curiosity and mild astonishment. Molly Hooper kept her head down and her lips tightly sealed when the flutterings of gossip reached her ears, even when it teased at the idea that her inclusion in his plight had led to a decidedly less platonic relationship. Especially when it hinted at that.
Because it was true.
She certainly hadn't meant for it to happen.
After being the one to declare him dead, she'd harbored him in her flat for a total of one night after his fall, during which he saw to plans that she was not included in. Her living room exploded with papers, maps, and laptops for that night, and when she finally realized he was trying his hardest to shield her from his plans she walked quietly into her bedroom and shut the door. Sleep was next to impossible, so she simply lay in bed, listening to him rustling around on the other side of the door.
Then, sometime around two in the morning, he walked into her bedroom. If she hadn't been awake, leaning against her headboard and worrying the nail of her thumb, she wasn't sure he would have stayed. Knowing him, though, he likely expected her to be awake. He stared at her for a long moment with an expression she knew well: tired, worn, raw to everything. The regular coif of his hair had fallen to disheveled strands, his shirt hung loose from his trousers, and he looked like he needed nothing less than a miracle from on high to put him back together.
He may have been flippant about what he had done during the daylight, but night had clearly brought everything into sharp focus.
The obvious desperation he showed for some sort of contact outweighed the awkward way he came to her bed, nearly crawling on hands and knees to reach her. The thud of her heart left her dizzy and it wasn't simply because he was in her bed. It scared her to see him so exposed. She enfolded him in her arms like a child, smoothing a hand over his hair as he buried his face in her shoulder, body trembling with leftover adrenaline and emotion. Running on pure comfort mode, she pressed her lips to his brow in a chaste kiss, followed by another as the trembling subsided. When he shifted, her hand slipped along his jaw to hold him in place as she pressed one final kiss to his cheek.
That was all she'd intended.
She'd never expected the sudden turn of his head, his own hand landing at the base of her neck to prevent her escape, his mouth hungrily seeking hers. There were a few dozen scenarios in her box of Sherlock fantasies that detailed how their first kiss would be. Desperately clinging to the last friend he had left in the world had never been among them and the only thing she could think, over and over, was, I'm kissing a dead man.
For the very reason that she couldn't sort out if that thought was for his present state or some awful premonition, she allowed it all to happen. The part of her that screamed, This is twenty layers of wrong! was told to stuff it. She needed it – needed him. Needed to know that he was alive, so very alive, in a way he never allowed himself to be.
It was fevered and clumsy and wonderful and he proved he was very much alive. Twice.
When he lingered in her bed, an arm wrapped firmly around her waist as she lay draped across his chest, listening to the beat of his heart, she grew concerned that she had distracted him. She knew what he was up against and she would be damned if he faltered now just because she wanted one self-indulgent night with him.
"Don't you have plans to make?" she asked.
"Everything that can be done at the moment has been taken care of," he said.
"You should go if you need to."
"You don't want me to stay?"
"But you have to go," she said, snuggling closer into him.
"Just ask me, Molly."
She swallowed and peered up at him.
She could feel him contemplating the benefits of losing days in her bed; not dealing with the reality of what he'd done. It would be the easiest diversion in the world, but he would come around quickly and she worried that when he did he would resent her for the lost time. That was something she could not deal with, even if he didn't really mean it. Not on top of the grief she would be facing from John and everyone else.
She would kick him in the arse to get him to leave if she had to.
Fortunately, it did not come to that. As the grey dawn crept in, he stirred and disappeared into her bathroom, emerging some ten minutes later dressed in baggy, ratty clothes and looking like he was already mentally calculating his first move against his enemies. She walked him to the door and he stared down at her.
"I took advantage," he stated, sure he had assessed his actions correctly.
"You did not," she said firmly. "Don't think it."
"I'm…not sure this will happen again."
She tried not to hear the more fatalistic reasons behind his words. Though, the less fatalistic reasons were not all that pleasant either.
"Tell you what – you worry about taking down a criminal network for a bit. Then we'll see where we are," she said with a smile she only half felt.
Taking firm hold of the front of his zippy, she stood herself on tiptoe and pressed her mouth to his, solidifying the memory of his kiss. He caught her around the waist when she began to pull away, keeping her millimeters from him.
"Thank you, Molly," he said with the emphatic tone of someone who's just learned new manners and wants to show the talent off.
He found little ways to let her know he was alive, usually through his homeless network or, occasionally, Mycroft. Curt notes slipped under the door of her flat left her bemused but happy.
The Detweiler case – it wasn't drowning, don't let Lestrade close that one
Don't work with Whittle, he contaminates his post-mortems and pushes blame onto others
How he knew the workings of her life, she never quite figured out. After half a year, when the fuss of his demise had died down and people were beginning to heal and move on with the passage of time, she started receiving different sorts of notes.
Your bed was warm
I wanted to stay
These almost broke her heart. Because she had always been far too empathetic to the plight of anyone who was less than happy, her mind conjured images of him shivering in some dank room in St. Petersburg or Kabul or some other harsh, unfriendly place and it made her fret in a way he would have sneered at. The worst part was having no way to respond. She spent hours trying to spot the source of these deliveries to no avail. The one time she fell in the presence of Mycroft during a particularly snarled political case at Bart's, she'd flustered herself attempting to come up with some clever code phrase to deliver to him; something, anything to pass on to Sherlock.
She needn't have bothered.
"Miss Hooper, you are doing well?" he asked her upon leaving the morgue.
"Yes," she said with a sigh of relief.
"It's been noted," Mycroft said with a gentle raise of his eyebrows.
Not a month after that encounter, after a typically trying Monday, she returned home from her shift at Bart's to find all the lights in her flat on, a mess of takeaway in the kitchen, and several articles of clothing dropped on the floor outside her room.
She smiled, shaking her head as she hung her coat up and placed her bag on the table, knowing exactly what she was about to find in her bedroom.
It did not stop her heart from pounding as she approached the doorway.
There were no words to describe the relief and happiness that filled her as Molly took in the sight of Sherlock Holmes sprawled out in her bed, face smushed down into a pillow. The blanket and sheets were bunched at his waist, leaving his bare back exposed and her heart in her throat. His hair was longer, wilder. He seemed uninjured… thank God. She wanted to go forward, to lay her body down next to his, her hands itching to run along his skin and reassure herself that he was really there. But she couldn't bring herself to disturb him.
Moving quietly as she could, Molly collected her pyjamas and pulled the door almost shut. She fed Toby and helped herself to the leftovers in the kitchen before curling up on her sofa, wasting time on her laptop until she was too tired to wait for a sign of consciousness from her room. She was thankful her bathroom was separate from her bedroom, leaving her free to get ready for bed without worrying about disturbing Sherlock. She grabbed her glasses from the counter and shut off the light, padding out into the living room and pulling the afghan from the back of her sofa. With one more glance towards her bedroom, she settled into the cushions and waited for sleep.
The scent of coffee was probably what woke him the next morning. Molly was enjoying her first cup, leaning against the counter, still in her pyjamas, and reading the morning newspaper when he nearly staggered out of her room. Naturally, he hadn't bothered to put on a shirt and his pyjama trousers hung low on his hips. He took one look at the sofa on his way to the kitchen and fixed her with a stare that held a multitude of opinions.
"You didn't need to sleep on your sofa."
God, she had missed his voice. Deep and precise, like every word was important. She smiled at him.
"Could hardly have slept on the bed, you were taking up most of it," she said.
Sherlock nodded, looking unsurprised to find out that he took up so much space. He gestured towards her face.
"Toby got his paws on the last pair," she said. "Scratched the lenses."
He smiled a bit at that. Her fingers tightened on the newspaper as silence descended on the room and he continued to stare at her. She bit her lip holding back the dozens of questions she had about what he had been up to, where he had been… was he all right? He looked fine. More than fine. But Sherlock Holmes was a master at hiding his own pain and she desperately wanted to know for sure.
Just when she thought she would succumb to those questions, he stepped forward. Her breath hitched as he slowly made his way to stand directly in front of her, reaching up and pulling the paper from her hands, tossing it on the counter. His arms enveloped her and he kissed along her temple, her brow, ghosting against the edge of her mouth before claiming it fully.
"I wasn't sure you would want…" she sighed into his kiss.
"I couldn't stop thinking about…"
"Neither could I."
"Am I taking advantage?"
"Not a sodding bit."
He laughed, a short, low laugh, and it sounded so strange, like he hadn't laughed in ages and was out of practice.
He knew her better this time, more attuned to her body and her reactions. He took his time, and she suspected it was because there was no ticking clock hanging over their heads or the risk of delaying a seemingly impossible task. She saw stars a few times, that was certain, and if his incoherent pleading was any indication, so did he.
She cradled him as they lay in bed, propped against the headboard and chin atop his dark locks, her arms wrapped around his chest and held in place by his own when his hand wasn't drawing a line along her leg. He asked her about work until there were no corpses left to discuss and his curiosity could no longer be stemmed when it came to more serious matters.
"John?" he said softly.
"Hasn't Mycroft been keeping you in the loop?"
"I want to hear it from you. He leaves out details he doesn't think are important."
"He's started working at another practice. Pretty serious these days, but that's to be expected."
"It's been a year," Sherlock said with a hint of confusion.
"He misses you terribly," she reasoned, thinking of her own time without him and amplifying it one hundred times to even brush John's pain level. "Mary's helped a lot."
"Mhmm. Smart as a whip," she told him with a smirk. "I think she scares him a bit."
"Good. He does better with someone challenging him."
She wanted to ask if he ever thought of her that way – his challenge, his match. Even if it only started when it was too late to make its way into their normal lives.
"Greg finally escaped desk duty," she said instead.
"Lestrade," she said with a roll of her eyes. "Detective Inspector. A title he might have back before the year is out."
"Spends a lot of time at Bart's, actually," she said thoughtfully, absently stroking his side with her fingertips. "I think he wants to keep sharp when it comes to bodies."
Sherlock hummed noncommittally at this, tightening his hold on her.
"I pop in on Mrs. Hudson every once in a while," she went on. "She hasn't let your flat. It's almost the same. Found a student for the basement, though. Bit of a lookie-loo, I think, when I met him. But really, who wasn't curious those first few months? God, it's strange, talking about your death with you right here. But she's all right…solid as a rock, you know? Flutters around me like a mother hen, keeps asking me why I haven't found myself a decent bloke to be with."
"Why haven't you?"
She was floored by his question. Laying in her bed, his body tucked between her legs and leaning against her bare breasts, and he asked her why she wasn't seeing anyone.
Brilliant. She had a sixty page thesis on the deterioration of human flesh and tissue under exposure to pathogens, several published journal articles, and she couldn't articulate that he was the reason she wasn't moving on.
"Yes, you," she reiterated, finding her voice. "How would it look, exactly, if I had a man over and there was a note waiting for me that said 'I miss your arms?'"
"I would have stopped if that were the case," he said, matter of fact.
"You would just give up on me," she said, her tone growing cold.
"Don't presume to deduce my actions, Molly," he said firmly. "I told you I wasn't sure this could continue. It might be better for you to find someone else."
"And don't presume to deduce what is best for my life," she returned, suddenly wishing they weren't in quite so intimate a position.
In answer to her thought, he sat up and turned to face her, bracing his weight on either side of her hips.
"I cannot be what is best for your life," he said seriously.
"Why don't you let me decide that for myself," she said with every ounce of conviction she could summon.
He glared at her and she wasn't sure if he was irritated at her or himself for letting things get so involved, so tangled.
He stayed for two more days, though she worked nights and slept on the sofa when he moodily took over her bedroom, resting and plotting his next move. It was much easier for him to use the room than for her to stay locked away, unable to access her kitchen, her bathroom, or her living room and all her reading material and home office.
On Thursday, she woke in the late afternoon light to find a note on the coffee table in front of her.
Didn't want to wake you. Goodbye, Molly.
Amazingly, she was not sad. She'd seen how well he was doing, how utterly determined he was to best Moriarty's network and return triumphant to London. It took away some of her worry.
The short time with him had also accomplished something she had at one time thought impossible – it lessened her ache for him. She didn't love him any less; she cared just as deeply as she ever had, perhaps even more so. But something had shifted, even before he had come to her for help in faking his death. He was suddenly more tangible, no longer quite the enigmatic being that had fascinated and flustered her for so long.
And she knew she was not just a convenience to him, not just a human asset to be called upon when he needed something. A new relationship was forged and solidified, but she still recognized his priorities to his work.
Two days later, she met Tom.
If she had been anywhere else in her relationship with Sherlock, she might not have noticed this awkward, kind man who had been invited to the pub by one of her friends. She certainly would not have paid any mind to him the next weekend when they all reconvened again for drinks and he had made sure to sit next to her, asking about her job and her likes and dislikes, listening intently to her answers. No, she would have taken one look at this man with his blue eyes and dark, curling hair and her heart would have lurched for someone who was not there. But she looked at him and saw…Tom.
Tom, who had a good job as an accountant and laughed at her off-color jokes and took three weeks to ask her on a proper date. Who fit her taste for tall, dark, and adorable.
She found herself genuinely smitten and it took nearly a month to realize that the notes had stopped. True to her nature, she worried more that she had hurt him rather than about her own feelings. It was a worry that would not be addressed for another year.
Molly had no indication that her life was about lurch back onto its old path when she plodded down the hall to the women's locker room, rubbing at a shoulder that was sore from a long day. She still wasn't used to thinking about the little failures of her muscles and joints, always starting a bit when the phrase "I'm getting old" popped into her mind. Already planning for ibuprofen and a large glass of water when she got home, she practically slammed into her locker door when she saw the reflection of the man standing behind her. He smiled at her when she spun around and the corner of her mouth turned up immediately.
"Hello, Molly," he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly with his smile.
"Hi," she said, suddenly slightly giddy and timid. They stared at each other stupidly for a few moments before she found her voice again. "Are you back? For good?"
He nodded and her heart swelled with relief. Her eyes drifted down to the cut on his lip and her brow pulled in concern.
"You've seen John, then?" she asked.
"How'd that go?"
"Oh, good, yes, very good," he said, just shy of rolling his eyes and she smirked.
"You can hardly blame him" she said gently, stepping forward and peering up at him. "Though I do wish he hadn't been so brutish."
At this, she reached up and softly touched her fingers to the edge of his mouth, instinctively wanting to assess his injury. He went still and the air suddenly crackled with a year of forgetting just what his presence did to her.
Her mobile chimed in her locker and she jolted back, her hands shaking a bit at her sides as the personalized tone reminded her that she had one very good reason not to be standing so close to Sherlock. Tom. It scared the living daylights out of her that in one minute her mind had gone completely blank of the man who had asked her to marry him not two weeks prior.
Wasn't the timing in life just fantastic sometimes?
The abrupt movement seemed to startle Sherlock and he shuffled backwards a step or two, looking somewhat rejected.
"I should be going," he said. "Haven't seen Baker Street in two years, it'll be nice to know for sure that Mrs. Hudson hasn't utterly ruined my organization." Molly raised an eyebrow and he gave her a challenging look. "I have a method."
She giggled and looked down, a thought creeping into her mind as she stared at his polished shoes.
"You haven't been home yet?" she asked.
"No," he replied. "Just seen John."
If it dawned on him why she asked, she didn't find out. He turned and swept out of the room the moment he stopped talking, leaving her with nothing left to do but hang up her lab coat, slip her ring back onto her finger, and try not to think constantly about the fact that he came to see her immediately after John.
Tom did not seem to notice her distraction when she met him for dinner, though he looked disappointed when she claimed exhaustion at the end of the meal and hinted heavily that she wanted to go home alone. Too much Sherlock on her mind would have led to guilt-ridden sex and she'd successfully focused purely on Tom every other time up until that point. Successfully and without effort and she planned to keep it that way.
Of course, Sherlock couldn't be counted on to be helpful in that area at all. Just as she curled up on the couch to read herself into sleepiness, comfy in her sweatpants and thermal shirt, the knock at the door came. She thought about not answering, pretending not to be home. She thought about what would happen if Tom decided to let himself in after all and found him there. She thought about the fact that his best friend in all the world had bloodied his lip and his nose and shut him out…
Moving quickly, she pulled out the lab reports she had meant to type up the day before and started her laptop, hoping the staging looked at least somewhat convincing. Then she answered the door.
"Sorry," she said with a smile. "In the middle of some work."
He nodded, looking unsurprised to have disturbed her. He looked tired and he gave up all pretense of why he was there when he spoke.
"Do you mind if I…rest here. For a few hours."
Her heart sank for him momentarily.
"Don't tell me Mrs. Hudson - "
"Oh, no," he said quickly. "She was embarrassingly happy…after she stopped screaming. The flat is just…a bit of a mess. Not habitable at all until it's had a proper dusting, sheets are in a deplorable condition."
"You left her to do all that by herself?" she asked, incredulous. Sherlock frowned at her.
"She hates when I help. Says I just get underfoot." He looked at Molly expectantly and her heart thudded, warring with herself about what to do. "You don't have to…"
"No, it's okay," she said hurriedly and found herself stepping aside to let him in. "I just, um, I've got to get these reports done before tomorrow, so I'll just be out here. Help yourself to anything and the…well, you know where the bedroom is."
She said it with a smile and a mind flooded with memories. Feeling her cheeks grow hot, she turned away and headed back to the sofa before he could say anything. She tried to focus on the screen of her computer as he wandered slowly into her room and shut the door.
Fiddling subconsciously with the ring on her finger, she realized he still hadn't said a thing about it and she had no idea how that made her feel.