AN: I do not own anything you recognize, etc.
"Why do you do that?" Molly asked, hovering behind Sherlock as he sat at his favourite microscope, getting a better look at the sample she had just got him.
"If I'm right, and I usually am, these samples should prove that Mr Millar's death was no - " Sherlock started to explain, without looking up from what he was doing.
"No," She cut off his explanation of what he was doing, realising that in the several minutes she'd been plucking up the courage to ask, the question was now out of context, and would require a little explaining. "I don't mean that, I mean… I mean when you came in, you complimented my outfit, and …my eyes. Why?"
"I was just making conversation, small talk, you know-" He answered a little uncertainly, his face pulling back from the microscope a couple of inches, but still not looking at her.
"No, you were buttering me up to get me to let you have those samples." Molly corrected "I know when you're manipulating me, Sherlock, I've always known. At first I didn't mind, because… well, I was just happy you noticed me, and y'know, the compliments were nice… and better than the insults. But then when you asked me to help you fake your death, you just asked me, and I still helped you, and I thought we had an understanding. But you've been doing it again recently, and I don't understand why. You know you can just ask me, if you need anything, don't you Sherlock?"
Her question was met by silence. Sherlock's face still hovered a few inches from the microscope, not observing his data. Molly leaned around slightly to see if he had gone into his mind palace- the glaze and micro-movements of his eyes that would give him away - but as she leaned round he sharply turned his head away, not allowing her to see his eyes, though the movement made it clear he wasn't in his mind palace. What didn't he want her to see?
A second later Sherlock jumped to his feet, pulling his coat on, but still keeping his back to her as he started speaking rapidly.
"I think I've seen everything I need to see here, Mr Millar's death was definitely foul play, I'll swing by the yard and let Lestrade know my results, maybe have him send someone down to verify it, probably best to leave those samples out if you wouldn't mind – "
"Sherlock." Molly's voice bought his speech and movements to a halt, his hand gripping the door handle a little too tight in his desperation to flee rather than have this conversation. But he knew she wasn't going to leave it alone if he didn't give her some kind of answer, and in his line of work avoiding the morgue wasn't an option.
"Of course I know, Molly. As I told you before, I've always trusted you, I always knew I could rely on your help."
Her question fell dead as the door swung shut behind the consulting detective. Molly let him go with a sigh, returning to her work and leaving the samples out as promised.
Later that evening, Molly hesitated on the front step of 221b, having headed straight there as soon as her shift at Bart's finished. It was clear he didn't want to talk about it, but Molly couldn't stop herself thinking about it, and needed answers. If anything, his avoidance just made her more curious. Her mind made up, she let herself in with the spare key Sherlock had given her after his return, and padded softly up the stairs. The door to their living room was open as usual, and she could see him, laying on the couch in his dressing gown, his eyes closed, but not sleeping. She was sure by the tense set of his jaw that he knew she wss there, but gave a soft knock on the doorframe anyway to announce her presence.
"You just couldn't leave it alone could you." He murmured, still not wanting to open his eyes to face her.
"I need to know, Sherlock, I… I think I deserve to know." She replied just as softly, stepping lightly further into the room, until she stood the opposite side of the coffee table, facing him on the sofa.
Sherlock sighed loudly, swinging himself round to sit upright facing her, leaning forward with his feet planted on the floor and his head buried in his hands for a second, before he looked up, directly into her eyes, letting her see his inner turmoil written all over his face. It was subtle - not just anyone would be able see it - but she always could.
"Would you be satisfied if I promised not to do it again?
Molly bit her lip as she thought about it, dropping her a gaze for a few seconds. When she knew what she wanted to say, she met his gaze again, finding it just as sharp and desperate as before.
"I don't know if I want that. It all depends on why you do it. Please Sherlock, you said you trust me. So tell me."
Sherlock sighed again, standing abruptly and going over to stand in front of the window, with his back to her.
"It's not just you I don't want to admit it to Molly… I've been lying to myself about it for years too. Sometimes I can almost believe it. But to explain it to you - to say it out loud… that changes everything. There's no going back from that." He admitted shamefully to the streets below. He waited a second, giving her a chance to reconsider, but of course when Molly set her mind on something, there was no reconsidering. She stayed where she was, waiting to hear the rest of it and so he turned and gave it to her.
"So be it. I wasn't using flirting as an excuse to get something from you, Molly Hooper. I was using getting something from you as an excuse to flirt with you."
Whatever it was Molly was expecting to hear, it wasn't that. Her eyebrows pulled together, trying to make sense of Sherlock's twisted logic. "I don't understand. Why would you need an excuse to flirt with me."
"Because doing so would be giving way to sentiment. Sentiment is a distraction and a weakness that someone in position cannot afford. Look how much trouble my friendship with John has gotten me into. To give into romantic feelings, for someone like you could be disastrous. For both of us." Even as he said it he stepped forward, a hand reaching out hesitantly to touch her arm, running his hand down it in a warm caress in spite of his words. "When I told you that your hair suited you a certain way, or that your lipstick looked nice it was because I wanted to, but the only way I could justify it to myself was as a means to an end, if I was using it to flatter you into doing something for me. Then I threw in a few cutting remarks to push you away, for extra measure. Do you see? I did it to protect you, and now here you are, looking for trouble!" His soft admission gave way to frustration, and he pulled away from her again, going back to the windows, pacing in front of them. Molly was in shock as she took it all in, tears springing to her eyes in delight and in sympathy as she understood his struggle, but was unable to hide her own delight.
"Everything you've put me through… all the insults, the manipulation… it was all because you love me." She concluded.
"To protect you." Sherlock said as both agreement and reflex rejection of the word 'Love' "And it's worked so far, it certainly kept you below Moriarty's radar the first time. But this time it's different… it's impossible to deny that you helped me fake my death, you'll need protecting more than ever from the storm that is to come."
Molly nodded sombrely, very aware of the danger she was in. It had plagued her since she saw it on the television in the morgue, the hint of Moriarty's return. "And you think keeping me at arm's length is the best way to do that?" She said, a few more tears escaping at the idea that this all meant nothing.
"It was one option, along with extra surveillance and security placed on you by Mycroft, that if they're doing their jobs correctly you probably haven't noticed." Sherlock said dismissively. "I thought it was best to stick to what I know, but it won't work now, keeping you at arm's length, as I already said, this changes things."
"So what's the other option?" Molly asked, struggling to keep the hope from bubbling up through her voice.
He stopped and looked back at her, looking her up and down as though in thought, before walking straight over to her and pulling her against his chest in a fierce hug.
"Not letting you out of my sight."