We've taken a jump back in time here: this one starts a few days before Sherlock and Jasmine are due to get married.
Molly's grandfather turned at the sound of his name, abandoning his post by the window to beckon the younger Lord Holmes into his study.
'Come in, my dear boy, come in,' Sherlock seated himself in one of the chairs by the desk, unease seeping into his every limb at the sight of the other man's beaming smile. 'Hiding from the wedding preparations as well, are you?' Lord Hooper chuckled, faltering slightly when Holmes made no reply. 'Still, I suppose it will all be over in a few days, eh?'
'Actually, sir,' Sherlock found his voice, at last, although it sounded strained even to him. 'I wish to speak to you about that, as I have certain… misgivings, which I feel you must be made aware of.' He chose his words carefully, and he saw that the older man was struggling to puzzle out his meaning.
'Precisely,' Holmes paused again, aware that the next words, once spoken, would be very difficult to take back. 'Misgivings that I feel make me an unsuitable match for Miss Jasmine, sir.' Lord Hooper paled, the full gravity of the conversation dawning on him.
'You had better explain yourself quickly, young man,' Lord Hooper replied, with impatience.
'I understand that this is highly irregular, Lord Hooper, and I am ashamed to have to cause such difficulty so close to the wedding-'
'This is a dishonour,' Hooper slammed a palm on his desk, giving into his temper. 'You have given your word, man, that you will marry my granddaughter, and I cannot comprehend what-'
'Please understand me,' Holmes returned, equally firmly. 'This is in no way a reflection on your granddaughter, who would make an excellent wife for any man-'
'Naturally,' Lord Hooper scoffed, rage still evident in his eyes.
'But it is I who is not suitable, Lord Hooper, and I feel it is my duty to inform you of this now, before it is too late.' Molly's grandfather seemed inclined to hear him out, so Sherlock collected himself before he continued. 'I am not a normal man, sir; I do not often do what society expects of me. I spend most of my time in my flat, or aiding with the police, and my own wedding will be the first social event I have attended in a number of years. If you know your granddaughter as I believe you do, you know she would be disappointed with the life I would give her: one spent away from society, and her friends, with only myself for company.'
Lord Hooper listened to him most attentively, and gestured for Sherlock to continue, but his expression was impossible to read.
'My work is also of a most unusual nature, which requires me often to put myself and those close to me in danger in order to apprehend criminals. Of course, if Jasmine were to become my wife I would endeavour to keep her safe, but I wish for you to be aware of the risk that my chosen career poses.'
'Lord Holmes, I thank you for bringing all this to my attention, but I still cannot see any substantial reason why the marriage cannot go ahead,' Lord Hooper sighed in frustration. 'Just because you are recluse does not mean that my granddaughter must be also: surely you have some friends who can introduce her to London society, which is much richer than the social life Jasmine enjoys here anyway. As to the other matter, why, policemen marry all the time! I fail to see why she would incur any greater risk in marrying you than she would with any other of the Peelers.'
'That is not all, Lord Hooper,' Sherlock stated quietly, although he had hoped to avoid exposing himself to the other man by having to say what he said next. 'Prior to my arrival here, I met a woman whom I have come to care a great deal for,' Holmes paused uncomfortably. 'I… love her, in fact.'
'Ah,' Hooper looked visibly shaken as he brushed a hand over his face.
'I consider myself bound in honour to her, Lord Hooper, something that was not the case when my brother agreed upon the match with you.'
'I do not quite know what to say,' Lord Hooper admitted, regarding Sherlock closely over his desk.
'If I may say one final thing, sir,' Sherlock leaned forward in his seat, hoping to convey sincerity, for what was probably the first time in his life. 'If you still wish for me to marry Jasmine after all I have said, I vow that I will do so. My brother made a promise to you, and I will do my utmost to provide for Miss Jasmine's happiness if you want me to honour it. You are a decent man, and I will respect whatever decision you make.' Molly's grandfather looked rather alarmed to be apportioned such responsibility, and the men sat in silence for a long time while he considered all that had been said.
Sherlock's heart beat frenetically beneath his waistcoat, unsettled by the gravity of the gamble that he was taking. Lord Hooper would be well within his rights to demand that the wedding go ahead, and Sherlock was man enough to comply without argument. But it would mark a turning point in his life that would render true happiness impossible thereafter, and he it was not easy for him to admit to himself that of this, he was extremely afraid.
'A part of me wishes that we had never had this conversation, Lord Holmes,' Sherlock attempted to vocalise the same, but Hooper held up a hand to silence him. 'Nevertheless, you have been very honest about your concerns, and I respect you for your oath to marry Jasmine regardless of the circumstances.' Sherlock's stomach dropped. 'I do not, however, believe this to be necessary.'
Blood rushed in Sherlock's ears, and if he had been a more sentimental man, he would have been inclined to associate this moment with a sudden lightness somewhere near his heart.
'I release you of your engagement to Jasmine, and I would advise you to return to London before both she and my wife get hold of you.' Lord Hooper blanched at the thought of having to inform both women of this sudden change of plans himself.
'Thank you very much, sir,' Sherlock rose to shake the older man's hand, clear in his mind that Lord Hooper was one of the most admirable men he had ever had the pleasure of offending. He also recognised that this was the source of Molly's own tremendous spirit, although the thought cost him some of his composure.
'Oh, and Sherlock,' Lord Hooper called to him as he turned to leave, with a distinctly paternal smile. 'I hope that this woman, whoever she is, will make you very happy.'
Two Months Later
Molly knew that she would have to face reality at some point, but she was still surprised when she found Mary sitting in her armchair, only a week after her relocation.
'My dear cousin, how lovely to see you,' Mary grinned, depositing the anatomy book that she had pilfered from Molly's tiny library on a side table.
'How on earth did you get in?' Molly laughed in spite of herself, some measure of happiness at the familiar face seeping through her current misery. But Mary only grinned in response to the question, loath to reveal her secrets just as she had been when they were children.
'Thank you for replying to my letters so effusively, by the way,' Mary said sarcastically, pointing at the still unopened envelopes on the dressing table. 'We were worried when you disappeared like that.'
'I know,' Molly removed her coat, and guiltily brought a chair over to her cousin. 'I can't explain to why I did it, but I am so sorry to have scared you all.'
'You can't explain?' Mary returned sceptically.
'Is this about Sherlock?' Molly gasped, her eyes wide with terror that her relationship with Sherlock was now common knowledge. Mary seemed to interpret her fears, and rushed to assuage them. 'I'm engaged to his best friend, Molly, how else would I have known?' Somehow this made Molly even more miserable.
'Oh I'm so sorry, Mary, I completely forgot! How is John? Have you set a date for the wedding?'
'Don't worry about that now,' Mary brushed her off impatiently. 'What happened with Sherlock?'
'What do you know already?'
'That he asked you to elope and the next morning you were gone. I couldn't believe it when John told me; I hadn't realised you'd said more than two words to the man.'
'We met on the train: shared a carriage up from London.'
'But if you didn't want to marry him, Molly, you could have just said no. No need to run all the way back to town-'
'I did want to,' Molly's voice was barely a whisper, but she had at least finally said that which she could not admit even to herself. 'I wanted to marry him, Mary, that's what frightened me.'
'Christ,' Molly had never heard her cousin swear before, but she had to admit that this was the perfect situation for it. 'You do know that he didn't marry Jasmine, don't you?' Mary seized Molly's hands desperately, relaxing at Molly's nod of confirmation.
'Grandpa sent me a letter-' She ignored Mary's muttered comment that at least that letter had been opened. 'He explained that Sherlock had been to see him, had protested himself not good enough for Jasmine, and that his job would put her in danger but-'
'That silly man,' Mary murmured. 'Far too discreet for his own good.'
'Who? Sherlock?' Molly had to laugh at this, well aware that Sherlock Holmes was the most indiscreet man she had ever met.
'Grandpa left a very important detail out of his letter, Molly: listen very carefully.' Mary spoke with a great deal of urgency, pinning her cousin under the intensity of her gaze. 'The main reason that Sherlock gave for breaking of the engagement was that he had fallen in love with someone else. You, Molly!' Mary clarified, when it appeared she had struck Molly dumb with the revelation. 'Don't you see what this means?'
'Molly,' Mary spoke very slowly, anxious that Molly should apprehend her meaning. 'He would rather be alone than marry anyone but you.'
'Oh,' Molly's eyes widened quite suddenly. 'Oh! I have to go, Mary, right this second, please call me a carriage.'
After months of trancelike existence, Molly could now see everything quite clearly. Mary's visit had had the desired effect of jolting her to action, and she felt restlessness flood her entire body as one directive finalised itself in her mind.
She left Mary in her rooms, and threw herself in a hackney-cab, the address that her cousin had written down for her clutched in her hands, on which all her hopes now depended.
Sherlock Holmes took the stairs up to his flat two at a time, buoyed by a post-case high, which had been a welcome distraction from the daily monotony of his life of late.
'Mrs Hudson,' he bellowed in no particular direction, trusting that his landlady would bring him a cup of tea from wherever she was in the house.
His front door was unlocked, which he did not think suspicious considering his earlier desperation to follow Lestrade, and he whipped off his coat as soon as his feet crossed the threshold.
'Mrs Hudson,' he repeated, slightly louder this time in the face of her frustrating silence.
'She isn't here,' came a voice from behind him, so soft that for a moment he was convinced he had imagined it.
But he turned, and she was there, sitting in his favourite chair, hands primly folded in her lap. He reached out to the doorframe for support, feeling the telltale quickening of his pulse that always betrayed her presence.
'Hello again,' she murmured, her eyes full of tears, but he could see the smile that was threatening to appear.
It was all he could manage, as he crossed the room to her, slowly enough that if she were a figment of his imagination, his brain would have time to reconsider its cruelty in conjuring her.
But then he felt a small hand curl around his, and she pressed her cheek against his palm, drawing him down to kneel before her. And she felt real, so real that it overwhelmed him, and he had to rest his face against her skirts to steady himself after the shock.
'Sherlock,' she whispered, because only he needed to hear her. She coaxed him up until he met her gaze, and cradled his face in her hands. 'I am so sorry for running away, my darling. For leaving with no explanation, being too cowardly to admit how I feel about you, I can never-'
Her speech ended there because at that moment he chose to kiss her, channelling so much of the longing and frustration of their separation into it that they were both breathless when he pulled away.
'How you feel?' He clarified raggedly, his hands caged protectively around her waist.
'Yes, Sherlock,' she smiled fully for the first time in two and a half months, brushing a curl away from his forehead with affection. 'I love you, you brilliant man.' He exhaled happily, and pressed his lips to hers again.
'Will you marry me?' Sherlock murmured into her neck, refusing to part with her for a single second now that he had her back again.
They had much to discuss, about what had happened in Derbyshire, and why she had left. It still bothered him that she had not trusted him enough to stay, and he wanted to devote himself to discovering how he could ease all her doubt in him forever.
But then she said yes, throwing herself into his arms, cooperating most enthusiastically when he rolled them over so that she was pressed between him and the carpet.
And, just like that, there was no need for talking for a while.
A/N: So this is a kind of ending I suppose, which I had no idea of when I started writing the chapter. I hope you don't mind the fluff, but I thought it was needed after two chapters of angst! I'm not sure yet if I will post anymore (I am inclined to write some kind of reunion with Mycroft, but we'll have to see if inspiration strikes).
Until then, writing this story has been a pleasure, largely because you have all been kind enough to read, leave reviews, favourite and follow it. I am so grateful to have had such a lovely readership, and I hope that I have made it worth your while.