AN: The time has come, the walrus said...

This is the longest story I have ever written and I'm a little shocked that I was capable of producing this work and that it was so well received. I have so much gratitude for everyone who came along for the ride and reviewed, followed, favorited, and enjoyed. Thank you all so, so, so much! Virtual hugs for everyone! Happy reading :)

A dozen or so agents milled in and around Baker Street, drawing the attention of neighbors and irritating the motorists who expressed their feelings about the road being closed off with a horn blast. People only concerned with their own lives who couldn't be bothered to understand the scene unfolding in front of them. All they could see was the inconvenience to their day. Not a thought for the lives of those in the building; lives which had almost been destroyed.

Sherlock observed it all from the pavement, looking up at the brick facade and squinting slightly in the late afternoon sun. John and Mary had dashed inside the moment they pulled up, eager to get to Joanna, who had been left with Mrs. Hudson and a heavy guard. Molly had followed, desperate for a change of clothes and the extra pair of glasses she had started keeping in Sherlock's room. For whatever reason, Sherlock was not ready to join them just yet. Perhaps it had to do with the strange MI6 agents rooting through his home, the sight of which would just send him into a fit if he caught them messing about with his things. He would have much preferred to be only in the company of the Watsons and Molly.

"You're sure you won't reconsider?" Mycroft asked, coming up to stand alongside his brother.

"As tempting as it is to spend months tracking down a trafficking network, I do believe your team has it well in hand," Sherlock replied. "It'll fall apart quickly enough now that their leader has been eliminated."

"Hm. And I doubt Miss Hooper would be pleased to see you leave yet again," Mycroft said casually. Sherlock gave him an indifferent shrug. "You know that Mummy will want to meet her."

"Why would she want to meet her, she doesn't even know about her," Sherlock said, looking towards his brother with confusion before realization dawned. He looked away again in irritation. "Oh for god's sake, you told her, didn't you?"

"Well she's always been so very keen to see you happily attached," Mycroft said with a far-too-pleased smile.

"Pity she couldn't be bothered to focus on your love life every once in a while."

"She knew I was destined for bigger and better things," Mycroft informed him, tilting his nose up slightly. "She'll be very pleased, brother. They'll get on quite well, I should think."

"Of course they will, they already have a very important thing in common," Sherlock said with a smug smile. "They both adore me."

Mycroft rolled his eyes, straightening his jacket as he made to turn away.

"Mummy is obligated by blood," he said. "There's no accounting for Miss Hooper's reasons."

Sherlock chuckled to himself as he watched his brother walk away and climb into a black car, off to some meeting about saving the country or home to admire the opulence he had built around him. It was likely that he would never crave anything more from life than his work and solitude, satisfied with feeling superior to most aspects of the human condition. That would be fine for him, as long as he'd given up habit of trying to make Sherlock live the same way.

Noticing that the agents were slowly leaving the building, Sherlock looked up at the windows of 221B and wondered how to proceed. The learning curve was still rather high, but he couldn't see ever going back to how things once were for him.

Only fools failed to accept change when faced with facts that supported adjustment.

Taking in a deep breath, he walked towards the door to 221.

When Molly emerged from Sherlock's bedroom, dressed in a pair of his pyjama trousers and a jumper she had left on one of her visits, she found Mary standing in the kitchen, her hands gripping the counter as she stood over the kettle, waiting for it to boil. She looked up when she heard Molly, giving her a small smile and raking a hand through her short hair.

"Thought I would make tea," she said. "Seemed like the right thing to do."

"Tea's good," Molly agreed. She clasped her hands in front of her, unsure of how to continue. "Are you…I mean, is everything okay?"

Mary let out a sigh and nodded, walking to the table and taking a seat. Molly followed suit, adjusting her glasses as she sat down.

"John's collecting Jo's things from Mrs. Hudson's flat," Mary told her, crossing her arms on the table and leaning forward. "Thank God she's too young to remember any of this."

"You won't tell her?" Molly asked, genuinely surprised.

In quick reflection, she realized that, no, of course John and Mary would not want to tell their daughter about the time she was kidnapped by an international criminal who was after her mother. Not exactly a classic bedtime story.

"John hardly knows anything about who I used to be," Mary said quietly, looking down at her hands. "That part of my life is behind me. The last thing I want is Jo asking questions when she gets older."

"But you saved her," Molly said. "All of us."

"And when she's fifteen and can't stand to have me in the same room, that won't make one bit of difference," Mary told her with a smile. "But she'll be safe, and she'll love me even if she doesn't say it, and that will be enough. She doesn't need to know that I used to hunt the scum of the earth and hid my identity."

"Well," Molly said as she let out an exhausted breath. "If you ever get tired of nursing, you've something to fall back on – that would make a fantastic book."

Mary laughed, shaking her head.

"No one would read about that," she said.

"I, I definitely would," Molly assured her. "Sounds a good deal better than most books I pick up these days."

"Mm," Mary nodded, considering. "Something to keep in mind, yeah?"

"Yeah," Molly said with a smile.

For a moment, Mary stared down at the table, using the hem of her sleeve to rub at some blemish on the wood caused by Sherlock's experimenting. It was odd for Molly to see her in that moment, quietly doing something so mundane, when she knew what Mary was capable of. It was the same person, but at the same time, it somehow wasn't.

"I didn't realize for a long time that you and Sherlock were…well, you and Sherlock," Mary started, looking up at Molly. "So I'm sorry for not checking to make sure how you were doing after the wedding and…everything else. If I had known, I would have done something - "

"Mary, it's okay," Molly said quickly. "You don't need to explain. It's all okay."

She truly meant it. Whatever the details were, Molly didn't need to hear them. Sherlock and John had forgiven her and moved on, and that was all she needed to know. The woman sitting in front of her had just risked everything to save Sherlock and Molly and that was enough to convince Molly of her true character.

The electric kettle let out a series of beeps, letting them know the water had finished boiling. Mary stood up and walked over to a cupboard, pulling out two cups and setting them on the counter. Molly's brow furrowed.

"Aren't you staying?"

"John wants to get home," Mary explained. "Feeling rather the same way myself."

Molly nodded in understanding. Her head turned as she heard John come into the flat, Joanna's carrier in one hand and a diaper bag in the other. He looked like he was ready to take his family and hole up for about ten years. The feeling would probably only last until the next exciting case came along, but she understood his current state of mind. It was tempting to stay shut away for a while, hoping to forget everything they had been through.

"Ready?" John asked, hooking the bag over his shoulder and holding his hand out for Mary.

She nodded and walked over to Molly to give her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek before joining her husband.

The flat was horribly quiet when everyone had gone. She realized she could no longer hear the fuss of the agents in the building and got up to wander over to the window, pulling the curtain back and looking down onto the street. Aside from a couple of suits chatting by a car, there was no one. She blinked, thinking quickly before turning and walking out the door. For the first time since she'd been frequenting Baker Street, Molly climbed the stairs towards John's old room, then continued up to the roof access door.

She was unsurprised to see the ancient piece of metal cracked open and she gave it a push, grimacing at the grating sound it made. Stepping through the doorway, she caught sight of Sherlock standing near the front of the building, one hand tucked behind his back as he gazed out at the sky.

Sherlock heard the door to the roof creak open and his mouth quirked up in a smile. It had taken her less time than he'd estimated to find him. Not that he was hiding. He had just needed a little time away from the chaos, away from the presence of so many people in his space.

Molly, on the other hand, was a very welcome presence. Even if he had just been caught smoking on the rooftop like a teenager. He turned slightly, watching her approach, and flicked a bit of ash over the side of the building.

She held out her hand and he looked at her, confused. Wiggling her fingers impatiently, she looked pointedly at the cigarette. His face dropped, resigned, and he handed the cigarette over expecting her to extinguish it and chastise him for his habit. To his great surprise, she held it up to her lips and sucked in a breath, closing her eyes in relief. She held the breath for a moment before letting it out, the smoke shooting up into the air in a thin stream. Her eyes opened again and she handed the cigarette back over to him, her face passive as he looked her over.

"I didn't know you had any real vices," he said.

"Two," she replied with a small smile. "Cigarettes, which I gave up ten years ago, and you…which I can't seem to give up."

"Both could wreck you."

She was silent for several moments, taking in the view of London, before looking at him.

"I'll take my chances," she whispered. She turned fully, wrapping her arms around his waist in a desperate hug and burying her face against the front of his shirt. He flicked the cigarette away and slid his hands across her back, holding her, feeling her, smelling the familiar, sweet scent of her hair and feeling almost intoxicated from it. "Let's go in, Sherlock."

He followed her down the stairs and into the flat, closing the door behind him and reaching out for her hand to turn her towards him. He stepped forward, placing his hands on either side of her face, and leaned down to capture her mouth. Two days without her near him, without touching her or kissing her, not knowing if she was all right, had felt like an eternity. With Molly finally in his arms again, he felt the weight of what had happened more viscerally than he had during his captivity. His body shook with it, tightening his chest and making him grasp at Molly with a force he couldn't explain as he backed them towards the bedroom.

She did nothing to slow him down. She pushed at his jacket as he navigated the hall and moved quickly onto the buttons of his shirt, her movements fevered and nowhere near delicate. They only paused when he lowered her to the bed in the darkening room, Molly tossing her glasses onto the bedside table as he undid the cuffs of his shirt and yanked the piece of clothing off before lowering his body over hers once more. He lost himself in the feeling of her mouth, drowning in her love, barely aware of how they lost the rest of their clothes. He wasn't sure if it was their ordeal catching up with them causing the desperate need for closeness, but neither reached for a condom. He hesitated, but Molly slid her hands down to his backside and wrapped her legs firmly behind his, pulling him to her. When he finally sank into her, his mind was overcome with a feeling of completeness.

He rocked into her slowly, holding her far too tight and acutely aware that he was never going to be able to give her up. He latched onto every breath, every gasp she made, every quiver of her body, and followed her into bliss.

Even if she hadn't been holding him to her, Sherlock wouldn't have moved once they recovered. He wasn't ready to lose contact with her body.

"Stay here," he murmured, pressing a kiss into the curve of her neck.

"Of course I will," Molly said, holding him tighter.

A look of surprised crossed her face when he pulled back to look her in the eye.

"No…I mean stay. I want you here at Baker Street."

Her eyes widened and her mouth dropped open slightly. Not exactly the reaction he had hoped for.

"Sherlock," she said slowly. "We've had a frightening time…but…"

"But what, Molly?" he asked, entirely unsure why she was wavering.

Very gently, she encouraged him to pull back and slid herself up to sit against his headboard, reaching out to take hold of his hands as he knelt between her legs.

"Sherlock," she repeated. "Less than a year ago, we were falling apart. Both of us. It's gotten so much better. But…I just don't want you to ask anything that you might regret…"

"Regret?" he said, feeling a clawing sense of uncertainty. "What would I regret?"

Molly swallowed and took a breath.

"Asking me to live with you," she explained. "I understand why you want it now, but I don't want to push things. If, if you're not really ready…I just want to make sure this isn't just because of what happened."

Sherlock blinked, processing her words. She wasn't saying no. But she was worried…concerned his current feelings weren't sincere.

"You think I won't want you here in time," he clarified.

She licked her lips, carefully choosing her answer.

"Only if we jump in too quickly," she told him, looking down at their entwined hands. "Heightened emotions and all that…not always the best time to make big decisions."

"There is nothing irrational about this, Molly," Sherlock said firmly, his voice growing in intensity as he tried to get her to understand. "I want you close to me after everything that has happened, I'll grant you that, but isn't this the next logical step anyway? Is this not how I'm supposed to feel? Am I not supposed to need you like my next breath? Years of being told that I don't feel, I don't understand, that I have as much empathy as a block of stone…and now I can't stand the thought of falling asleep without you in my arms. So am I wrong feeling what I do? Tell me, Molly, am I wrong?"

"Oh, no, it's not wrong, Sherlock, it's absolutely not wrong," Molly said earnestly, reaching up to cradle his face in her hands. "I feel the same way. I do. I would love to share a life with you. I just, I know how you are about your space and…and everything. I want it to be…right."

He understood her hesitation. He knew he wasn't the easiest person to live with, and one misplaced row or expression of frustration with her company would ruin everything. But the fact of the matter was that he couldn't see coming home to an empty flat anymore, not when he'd learned to crave the way she fit right into his life.

Taking one of her hands in his, he turned his face and pressed his lips to her palm, then looked into her eyes and nodded. She needed time to think about the situation; he would give her that.

"I'll be here anytime you need me," she promised him with a smile. "I'm not going anywhere."

"What is this racket we're listening to?"

"It's a Christmas album, Mikey," Mary said with a smirk, handing him a drink before settling into the plush sofa in the Holmes' family living room. "Hardly a racket."

"I beg to differ," Mycroft replied, giving her a tight smile and knowing he couldn't do a thing about the nickname with his mother just steps away.

Not that Mrs. Holmes would have noticed, being far too busy holding onto Joanna's little hands and helping her to stand and take a few tentative steps. The little girl was dressed in an emerald green velvet romper with a shiny red and white candy cane stitched on the front. It was Molly's present, of course, and Joanna adored it inasmuch as a ten month old could.

Sherlock was fairly positive that Mycroft could be smoking at the moment and Mummy would not be the least interested. The only thing that seemed to be on her mind other than the Watsons' child was pointing out that she had no grandchildren of her own while looking very unsubtly at Sherlock and Molly.

To her credit, Molly handled the chiding with good-natured smiles, far too pleased to be amongst the group and surrounded by Christmas cheer that rivaled any Sherlock had seen since his childhood. His mother and father had been overjoyed at the prospect of so many visitors and the decorations and baking had reached unheard of levels. He'd eaten more roast goose and gingerbread that day than he had in his entire life.

It was frightening.

The only thing keeping him in his place was Molly tucked up against his side on the love seat, her hand resting on his knee and a permanent smile on her face as she watched Mrs. Holmes steer Joanna around the room. He tightened his arm around her shoulder.

"Bit more Christmas cheer coming your way," John announced as he entered the room from the kitchen, carrying a tray of hot toddies.

Sherlock smirked as Mr. Holmes jumped up to help John distribute the drinks. John had insisted on preparing the drinks the entire trip, shooting Sherlock a stony look when he tried to help. There was no repairing that mistake anytime soon, apparently.

The afternoon wore on in the most mundane, ordinary way Christmas day possibly could, complete with complaints from Mycroft, shared stories of holiday traditions, and Mummy pulling out the photo albums much to annoyance of Sherlock and Mycroft. John and Mary thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to tease both of them and Sherlock would have found it in himself to be more irritated if it hadn't been for the look on Molly's face as she slowly flipped through the album in her lap. She smiled in the most endearing way as she looked at pictures of him helping his mother in the garden at the age of five or running across the hills with Redbeard at his heels.

When the drinks and the food finally caught up to the group, the Watsons excused themselves and wandered upstairs to put Joanna down for her nap and take the chance to catch some sleep themselves. Mummy and Dad began the process of cleaning the kitchen and Mycroft followed to help, though he feigned an air of being burdened with the task the entire time.

Sherlock took Molly's hand, leading her towards the front door.

"Care for a walk?" he asked.

"Lovely," she said happily, grabbing their coats from the coatrack and following him out the door.

He led her down the path through the back garden. A thin layer of snow had stuck to the ground and it crunched slightly under their feet as they wandered over the fields, eventually reaching a lane that stretched towards town, passing cottages and farms as they went. They'd been walking for just over half an hour when he stopped.

"What do you think?" he asked.

Molly looked up at him, a bit befuddled.

"About what?"

Sherlock nodded towards the cottage tucked away from the road in front of them. Molly turned to look, her expression slowly taking on understanding.

"It's charming," she whispered.

"An investment my parents made for me when they weren't entirely sure London was agreeing with me," he told her, tucking his chin down as he looked at the stone and wood structure.

"It's yours?" Molly said, staring up at him.

"Ours, if you want," he said quickly. "Not anytime soon, obviously, both of us being so occupied London. But it would be very useful for holidays. And years from now, as a home when Baker Street no longer suits."

He couldn't quite read her face when he finally looked at her, but when she reached up to grab the lapels of his coat and yanked him down for a snog right there on the road, he had the feeling she was very pleased with the idea.

"Do you have a key?" she murmured between kisses.

"Of course," he replied, breaking his hand away from holding her to reach into his pocket.

"Perfect," she told him. "Because as much as I have loved being with your family these past few days, there are certain things I've been missing…"

"Well if you weren't so vocal, we could get away with it," he said with a smirk as he pulled her up the walk towards the cottage.

"And whose fault is that?" she countered.

"Certainly not mine," he said, giving her a wolfish grin before unlocking the door, then bending over to scoop her up into his arms. Molly let out a delighted yelp, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling his mouth down to hers as he carried her inside.