AN: I've been pining for the next season of Sherlock and I just heard that there will be no new episodes until 2016. Thus, this fic was absolutely necessary to preserve my personal sanity. No consulting detective, pathologists, or Watsons were harmed in the making of this fic. Sherlock belongs to the estimable Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Molly Hooper is the brain child of Misters Mofat and Gatniss.

The Adventure of the Empty House

He was tying his scarf as the hurried down the steps of the private jet, undaunted by the scent of fuel from the recent landing. John couldn't quite contain his joy at seeing the familiar figure so much sooner than he could have hoped.

"Do stop beaming John; I was only gone fifteen minutes." There was a ghost of a smile on his lips, but it disappeared quickly as his mind focused on the matter at hand.

Sherlock Holmes turned to Mycroft. "I saw the video on my phone. Have you sent someone for her yet?"

John was quite clearly confused. "What? Who? I thought you were back because of Moriarty?"

Mycroft obviously understood Sherlock's apparent non sequitur. "I personally called Detective Lestrade. Four armed policemen are with her at Bart's. I will have a safe house arranged in a matter of moments."

"Is Grant with her?" Sherlock started toward the waiting car as quickly as his long legs could carry him.

Mycroft raised a brow. "Who?"

Sherlock rolled his eyes and spat out. "Detective Lestrade."

John groaned at his friend's astounding (and he sometimes thought deliberate) social ignorance. "For the last time Sherlock, his name is Greg."

Sherlock increased his stride. "Yes, yes, very well…Greg…is he with Molly Hooper?"

Mycroft glared at his brother for the rude pace. "I thought it best to have him stay at the station with a hundred armed police. After all, last time, he was one of the people that Moriarty threatened to kill to gain your compliance."

Sherlock turned viciously on his brother. "Don't you see?" He broke into a run, practically pulled the driver out of Mycroft's sleek black Mercedes, and sped away, leaving Mary, John, and Mycroft looking just a bit puzzled. Mycroft rolled his eyes and dialed Anthea.

When Sherlock arrived at Bart's he found her in her tiny office, quietly staring at the four policemen who had been assigned to protect her.

Sherlock waved them off as he approached. "Oh for God's sake, don't you read the papers? I'm Sherlock Bloody Holmes."

Molly's posture relaxed slightly and she gave him a tiny half-smile.

Sherlock shooed the Yard out and sat on the desk.

She looked up at him with her clear brown eyes. "So, Sherlock-Bloody-Holmes. Interesting choice of a middle name."

He gave her a half-grin back, mostly for her courage. "My parents were eclectic in their tastes." He stared at her with his fathomless blue eyes.

"Mycroft wants to send you to a safe house."

She was clearly biting the inside of her lip. "Do you think he's really back? Moriarty?"

"I have formulated over a dozen hypotheses at this point. It's most likely that I missed an operative among the ranks of his network." He took her hand. "If it is Moriarty, you know who he will be after."

"Me." Her hand slipped out of his and balled into a tight fist; her knuckles whitened. "I know he will. I'm not sure why, but I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that if he's alive he'd come back for me."

Sherlock shook his head fondly. "That's because you are fundamentally too decent to understand how his mind worked. On one level he chose to use you to get access to me because he believed that you were a non-entity in my estimation. On the other, he was pleased to have wrested some of your loyalty away, if only under false pretences…in a sense, in his mind, he stole you from me. When you helped me fake my death, I essentially won you back…your affection for me outweighed your affection for him."

Molly groaned and put her head in her hands. "So I'm the rope in a tug of war?"

Sherlock wrapped his pale hands around her arms. "No Molly Hooper. Moriarty treated everyone like chess pieces in a giant game designed to save him from boredom. You were no different, at least not in that sense. I suppose there might be some comfort in knowing that he didn't single you out to use…he used everyone. But for my part, I have a very short list of friends…people who matter." He cleared his throat and dropped his hands self-consciously.

She cocked her head to the side almost managed to pull off nonchalance at this mystifying bit of information…almost. "You aren't about to invite me out for a pint at the pub are you?"

His eyes lightened in one of his mercurial mood swings. "Not presently, though there is a chance we'll get an opportunity to have those long-delayed fish and chips. Or perhaps view a dead body or two."

They did not go, as she expected, to some suburban safe house or isolated cottage, but directly to 221B Baker Street.

"Mary is picking up your clothing and your cat…please keep him away from the kitchen counters, I have several experiments involving the newest vegetable alkaloids…quite poisonous." He was texting at a rate that was frankly remarkable. She had no idea how she would keep Toby off the counters…perhaps Tom…no, not Tom, the messy break up was still to fresh, and he'd been so very angry at and about Sherlock, with good reason she supposed…perhaps Mary would be willing to keep the cat for the near future. She wasn't sure her feline would make it out of Sherlock's flat alive.

She walked over to the window to check to see if Mary was coming up the street. Sherlock's long, pale hand snaked out and pulled her away. "Leave the drapes closed for now. I have one or two ideas about that that may just lead us to our video perpetrator….but now is not the time to be careless."

Molly nodded, and lacking anything to do, sat on the couch for a moment. "Coffee?"

He shook his head absently. "None in the flat since John stopped buying groceries. My own forays into the market are somewhat less than successful from the standpoint of actually procuring foodstuffs. There's tea in the kitchen…somewhere. Jeanne moved it when she was pretending to be my girlfriend and I haven't taken the time to deduce where she put it."

Molly sighed in exasperation as she walked into the kitchen. "She wasn't pretending Sherlock. And those tabloids had a field day with your reputation."

He looked up from his texting and shot her a devilish smile. "Oh please. I hate that hat."

She rummaged around until she found the tin containing the tea.

She watched the electric kettle as it heated the water, and Sherlock absently put together a tea tray with a lovely set, milk that was miraculously in date, and biscuits that she strongly suspected had been nicked at some point from Mrs. Hudson's kitchen.

He looked up as the kettle sounded, almost surprised at his surroundings.

He put away his phone. "There, I think that will do. That may in fact do very well." He pocketed his phone with a satisfied chuckle and pulled the tray closer to him.

Molly sighed. "Is there any point in asking you to explain?"

"None at all." He poured the water into a fragrant mound of leaves. "One lump or two?"

Sherlock Holmes behaved very oddly during the next few days. He accepted police surveillance around his home (a fact that shocked Molly). He was in an excellent, if slightly caustic mood as the matter was being arranged. "Oh, and Lestrade, the louder and more obvious they are the better." He winked at Molly. "Feel free to set the least useful of your officers to the task…or if you have a trained monkey in a uniform that would work as well."

Meanwhile he spent hours in contact with his homeless network via text and the occasional unintelligible phone conversation. He practically ordered John and Mary to remain at their flat (John and Mary's guards were close-mouthed, steely-eyed men supplied by Mycroft).

Mrs. Hudson was quite content to remain in her own apartment, playing hostess to the now-completely-spoiled Toby. Molly despaired of getting her feline back. He would sit and watch crap telly with the landlady while she fed him neatly-cubed bits of fried chicken livers.

There were a few surprises of the first few days (Sherlock insisted she take his bedroom because he had experiments running in John's old room, she found the gesture equally disconcerting and thoughtful: she also found an experiment in medicine chest that completely convinced her that she really didn't need the headache medicine she'd been looking for.) But Molly Hooper found that she settled into the space at Baker Street fairly well, once she managed to get enough food delivered to feed both her and Sherlock (who would eat while he was texting if you put food and drink near him).

The only contact she had with anyone (other than Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson) was a series of e-mails from Tom. Their breakup was still fresh, but he wanted to meet her for coffee and return some books she'd left at his flat. Or that's what he claimed anyway. He was surprisingly persistent. She tried to give him the hint that now wasn't the best time for her, but his skills of deduction were (to put it mildly) lacking.

She couldn't tell her ex-fiancée where she was. The information would put normally-affable Tom in a petulant mood, (not to mention putting him in danger, and even though he set her teeth on edge sometimes, Molly couldn't bear the idea). She ended up putting him off with a white lie about being on holiday. His last e-mail wasn't nearly as affable as his first.

Sherlock seemed to take notice of this. He didn't comment, but he came up with something to get her mind off of the situation.

"Molly, I need you to do something for me."

She looked at him, knowing that in all likelihood she'd end up doing whatever it was. It was Sherlock after all.

"There's a photographer who owes me a bit of a favor…I kept him from making a rather injudicious investment once…in any case I asked him if he would be willing to come and take some shots of you tomorrow afternoon."

She frowned. "Why would we need pictures of me?"

Sherlock sniffed lightly. "I noticed that, other than candid shots, there are no photos of you. You didn't even have engagement pictures made with the not-at-all lamented Tad."

She ignored the dig at Tom…of course Sherlock was not sorry the man was gone…his existence might have meddled with Molly's availability (or willingness) to aid a certain detective. "I'm not fond of pictures."

"Obviously. But these will be different. And you never know when a really good photograph might prove useful."

Molly was not fooled …she was quite sure that he had a very specific objective in mind.

She decided to toss her first theory out. "Plastic surgeons use photographs."

He actually looked startled for a moment.

"They do indeed. But that's no matter to you." He gave her a sharp look. "Unless you are planning to have elective surgery in the near future…a step that I would I argue strongly against."

She looked at him with a mixture of relief and chagrin. "I would too. I might not be perfect…"

Sherlock frowned as he sent another text. "Perfection is always an illusion. You are something so much more valuable and interesting than being merely perfect."

She couldn't ask what that something might be because she was blushing a deep crimson, and she didn't want to chance stammering.

The next day a small, straw-haired man brought his equipment to the flat. Sherlock nodded and seemed absorbed in his texting. Molly fidgeted with a mirror, applying lipstick and then wiping it off nervously.

The little photographer finished setting up the lights and a green background and motioned her to the center of it all.

"I'd like to start out with a series of test shots. Just stand still, no need to do anything…" He moved her around like a doll, seeming to get shots at every angle. It only took a few moments. He posed her sitting and standing, and moved her head in several positions.

"Now for a few head shots. If you wouldn't mind smiling for these Miss Hooper…"

She gave him a nervous grimace in place of a smile. Sherlock looked up from his texting. "It's Dr. Hooper."

The photographer nodded. "Please try to smile a bit this time Dr. Hooper."

This wasn't going well. She always looked stressed and unhappy in pictures. Then, quick as a wink, Sherlock was standing beside her, large warm hands on her shoulders, moving her hair. "Relax Molly. I just want a few decent shots of you, happy and care-free."

She rolled her eyes at him. "You don't ask for much do you Sherlock Holmes?" But she gave him the little half-smile and she was bathed in the light from the flash.

The photographer smiled. "Better." She looked down and the flash continued. "Tilt your head to the left slightly…thank you."

Sherlock adjusted her hair. She looked up in surprise. He grinned down at her and the light flashed.

Sherlock looked at the little photographer in annoyance. "You don't need more pictures of me. Focus on her."

The photographer wasn't the least bit apologetic. "It was a fantastic shot."

Sherlock stalked out of the line of sight. Molly gave an apologetic smile to the photographer for his behavior, and the camera flashed again.

It was over fairly quickly; the photographer gave them a nod, efficiently packed his things, and was out of the flat without too many words passing his lips. Molly watched him go, frowning.

"I hope those pictures are what you needed."

Sherlock's mouth twitched slightly. "They will be. Why don't you invite Mrs. Hudson up, I'll text in an order at Tony's Italian for dinner. Surely the hapless police squad stationed around this flat will be willing to pick it up. They should at least try to make themselves useful." He didn't wait for her to agree (or to tell him her preferred dish), he ordered with a few swift keystrokes and then picked up his violin…the tune was a trifle manic, but he kept it up until after the food was delivered.

Molly looked down at the chicken piccata. Her favorite. There were even snickerdoodles in a separate bag. Mrs. Hudson was pleased to have the take-out, but she eyed her lasagna suspiciously. Sherlock noticed.

"There's little chance this was tampered with. The owner owes me a favor, and Moriarty's network is a faint shadow of the organization it was in its heyday. The police who picked up the food are as incorruptible as they are dull, Mycroft saw to that. For now, as long as we remain indoors and don't follow a set pattern, we can allow ourselves to ease up on this wretched security a bit. In between my homeless network and Mycroft's satellite surveillance, getting within six blocks of Baker St. would be well nigh impossible…even Moriarty would need time to plan around it."

"What happens if he's back and he plans around it?"

"Then we'll have a bit of a surprise waiting." Sherlock gave them a Cheshire cat grin that made Molly decidedly nervous.

It wasn't until Molly's second week of hiding in Sherlock's apartment that the detective allowed John to visit. He sent his friend a text after a short phone conversation. John was quicker than Molly would have thought.

John un-zipped his well-worn jacket. "Mary wanted to come but she saw reason when I pointed out she was pregnant."

Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Even I know that you'll be sleeping on the couch after that sort of comment. Why didn't you bring her? We could have used another crack shot."

John glared at Sherlock.

The detective raised a brow. "Not good?"

John glared. "Nearly 'a fist in the face' not good."

Sherlock seemed totally unconcerned with the threat, but he did move away from John and toward the window.

"I think I have discovered Moriarty's missing lieutenant." John lost his smile and Molly sank to the couch.

"So it wasn't him!" Molly let out a relieved sigh.

"No. James Moriarty is well and truly dead. I thought that I had dismantled the entire network before I returned to London, but I realize now that one particular branch must have remained…it was the legitimate front for Moriarty's network, people who supplied information and support, individuals the performed criminal acts only in extreme need."

Sherlock paced in front of the window. "I think I have a solid lead on the ringleader of this group. He was once an OF-5 in the British marines, who was loaned out to the American CIA for some work in Africa. There is every chance he could arrange our little video distraction, though his specialty was never on the technical side of the business. His sniper abilities were without peer. He was implicated, though never convicted of some very nasty doings in Egypt…it was always questioned if the arms smuggling was actually a black ops project, so he was allowed to retire on a small pension, and he has lived what to all accounts was a rather quiet life, without a hint of wrong-doing up until last month." Sherlock moved the heavy drape slightly and smiled. "At that time, he was involved in an odd case that only managed to escape my notice because I was quite buried in the Magnussen business." Sherlock moved the drape slightly again.

Sherlock tossed down a provincial paper with the headline "No Leads in Apparent Suicide of Society Favorite."

"A very odd case indeed. She was shot with a revolver bullet, but no gun was found, nor was there any powder residue on the body. It led me to the obvious conclusion."

The silence stretched. John cleared his throat. "Which is?"

Sherlock seemed to come back to himself abruptly. "Unimportant at the moment, though it did give me the key to discovering the identity of our adversary. In any case, Detective Lestrade is arresting one of the likely suspects as we speak, so this whole business will be put behind us soon…once I see to a few last details."

John looked puzzled. "Then why in God's name did you ask me to bring my service revolver when I came?" He frowned fiercely. "If I'd known the danger had passed I would have brought Mary and saved myself an uncomfortable night or two on the couch."

Sherlock chuckled. "Why don't we all go to her? I think it is safe enough." He pulled on his coat, helped the ladies into theirs, and offered Mrs. Hudson one arm and Molly the other.

Molly had rarely seen Sherlock in a more charming, lovely mood. He was telling stories, making Mary laugh, tutting John about old escapades, re-filling Mrs. Hudson's wine glass until the older lady was more than middling tipsy. Halfway through an anecdote involving a clever theif with a hollow prosthetic leg, the landlady let out a delicate snore.

Mary looked at her fondly. "She's lost her tolerance." Sherlock moved to wake her but Mary stilled his hand. "No, Sherlock, we've got the guest bedroom. John can carry her in there…"

Sherlock looked very grateful. "I'll do it."

When the older lady was tucked in for the night, Sherlock walked back into the Watsons' den, and noted John and Mary fighting yawns themselves.

"Wait until after you hear from me in the morning before you return to your normal routines." He was subtly less charming now, but John and Mary were tired and Molly didn't think they noticed.

Sherlock helped her into her coat and tied his scarf. He even offered Molly his arm as they walked out.

She eyed him warily as they walked back to Baker Street.

"Why did you need to get Mrs. Hudson out of the flat?"

"You saw me dose her?"

"I inferred it. Her tolerance for alcohol is good as ever as of last evening."

"I added a bit of a sedative to John and Mary's sparkling fruit juice as well. They'll all sleep in tomorrow."

"By which time we will have accomplished whatever it is we are doing tonight."

"Excellent deduction Dr. Hooper."

"So the story about Lestrade arresting someone?"

Sherlock smirked. "True, as far as it goes. Not the right someone, but we're going to pretend that we think we have our man. If I'm right, I've applied the correct pressure to our quarry. As soon as the detectives were pulled this evening, I'm certain he was informed. We've had a watcher for over a week. I expect this clever assassin will be paying us a visit….tonight unless I miss my guess."

He unlocked the familiar front door and motioned for her to proceed up the stairs.

She absently started to remove her coat and he stilled her hand. The straw-haired photographer stepped out of the shadows.

Sherlock obviously wasn't surprised. "All set?"

"You might have given me more time. It wasn't easy to smuggle everything up. I had to come and go through the sandwich shop."

"But were you seen?"

The shorter man grinned. "Not at all. Everything is set." He handed Sherlock a plain-looking remote control. "You've only got about an hour of footage, then it starts to loop around."

"That should be more than enough. Thank you Rodger. Be sure to leave out the back way will you?"

The straw-haired photographer nodded. Then he reached inside his coat and pulled out a thin envelope. "The other matter we discussed."

He nodded pleasantly to Molly and was gone.

Sherlock went to the window. "Get into the hallway Molly." He waited until she had backed out and then he opened the heavy drapes.

He smiled at her fondly and walked over to the door, out of the line of sight of the window, and dropped suddenly to the ground.

He crawled to the door, shut it firmly and pressed a button.

"And now you and I sneak out as well."

Molly was rushed down the stair, very aware that Sherlock was holding her hand in his haste.

"Won't anyone notice?"

Sherlock grinned. "No…this exit isn't watched." He produced the key to 221C, Mrs. Hudson's basement apartment.

"One of the reasons she can't find a renter for the place is that I make sure she doesn't." He glanced at Molly's distraught expression. "Oh don't worry…I make it up in my rent."

He opened a closet and flicked on a light. She felt the change in the air before her mind registered what it was.

"I rarely use it, but I feel so much better when my home has a bolt hole. This tunnel leads to the empty building across the street. We should have an excellent vantage point to watch my attempted assassination. "

Molly followed him through the tunnel. It was narrow and rather dark. Sherlock produced a light from his coat. "They built it after the second world war, when they were repairing the street. Everyone was a bit paranoid back then, after two world wars in as many generations." It felt longer than simply crossing the street, but she doubted that it was more than one hundred and fifty feet. He led her up four flights of stairs, to a dark empty room.

And Molly looked straight down into the open window…and saw herself.

"Sherlock?"

He looked down at the window. "Yes, it's very good isn't it?"

"What is it?"

"Rodger isn't just any photographer. He works on 3D holographic images. Very high-tech, not available to the public."

"But they look so real."

Sherlock practically purred. "They should fool anyone at ground level."

"Why would Moriarty's sniper be at ground level?"

"He has a remarkable air gun that he commissioned. It is virtually silent, doesn't leave any powder residue. I have a list of cases where the weapon was certainly employed. If he has a confederate left that he trusts, I assume he will create a disturbance, a backfiring car or something like it, and shoot from the street. Makes for a quick get-away. This particular man has been very, very cautious to avoid being caught all these years: I doubt I've rattled him enough for him to abandon all reason, though I hope that I have rattled him enough to make him act in less than his usual precise manner."

Molly watched the hologram across the street as Sherlock spoke.

She blushed at the obviously affectionate way the two holograms were acting as they moved around the apartment. There were small, subtle touches, glances…they looked for all the world like a happy couple. "I think your photographer friend was misled."

Sherlock was scanning the street. He glanced at the display. The holographs were holding hands now. "No, this was what I asked for. I told you…I wanted to put the proper pressure on the man."

Molly was certain her blush could be seen from space. "How would this put pressure on him?"

But a noise from the first floor caused them both to freeze.

Sherlock pulled Molly away from the window into the absolute blackness at the far corner of the room. Just in time too. A figure in black street clothing padded into the room, snarled at the window (where hologram Sherlock was kissing hologram Molly's neck) and flung himself down to the floor to aim a small air-powered rifle through the window. There was a slight sound as he prepared to take his shot, enough to cover the light footstep of the world's only consulting detective. The assassin went deathly still when he felt the cold barrel of Sherlock's gun against the base of his skull.

Molly watched as Sherlock disarmed the man and backed up three paces.

"There now, Molly, please take the phone from my jacket and hit send. I've already taken the liberty of writing the text to our dear Detective Lestrade."

Molly hit send as a very familiar head turned to look at her in anguish.

She nearly dropped the phone.

"Tom?"

Sherlock held the gun steady.

"Sebastian Thomas Moran."

Tom's eyes were on Molly and filled with loathing. "How could you Molly?" He started to walk toward her but Sherlock cleared his throat and made a vaguely menacing motion with the gun.

"I'm afraid you were deliberately mislead, Tom. When you began pestering her with e-mail it was child's play to send you a message via that medium. I'm afraid Molly's password wasn't difficult to guess. Once you 'knew' about the two of us it was only a matter of time before you came for me. The message implied Molly was living with another man. I knew your few remaining criminal contacts would tell you the rest."

"What about that?" He spat the sentence out like it was poison and nodded to the window, but if he hoped to distract the detective, he was disappointed: Sherlock's eyes never left his quarry.

"Holograms put together by an expert with body doubles for both of us. I knew we were being watched, so I had to get creative…wouldn't want you to sense a trap."

Molly took a step back. Tom's mask of affability slid away and his eyes were mad…completely mad. "She isn't yours Sherlock Holmes. She won't ever be yours."

Sherlock gave the assassin a pained smile, but the gun never wavered.

The unmistakable trampling of booted feet announced the arrival of the police.

"Ah, detective. Good of you to stop in." He handed him the air rifle. "I think you'll find that there are several puzzling cold cases that lead back to this weapon." Sherlock's gun disappeared into the folds of his coat. He looked at the gun with unfeigned admiration. "3000 psi of air, an ingenious suppressor…you can fire what, 10 bullets, over this distance before you lose accuracy. What a marvelous weapon." Tom made a feral lunge at Sherlock, but the consulting detective ducked away easily.

Lestrade rolled his eyes as he cuffed Molly's former fiancé.

"Any chance you'll share the evidence now Sherlock?"

Molly stood, shivering, as Sherlock gave Lestrade a quick rundown of the rest of the night's events, and then she found herself being led out of the empty building and through the door of 221B once again.

Sherlock poured a stiff brandy and handed it to her. "Drink this; I believe you are going into shock."

Molly winced as she tasted the strong alcohol. "Can't imagine why."

Sherlock wrapped his coat over her. She looked up at him; she was more numb than anything…she'd known for some time she and Tom weren't going to work…but…

Sherlock had the soft, almost regretful look on his face that she'd only seen once before, when she originally told him of her engagement to Tom. "I think that Moriarty fancied you a bit more than you knew. I guessed that he must because he never once mentioned you to me. He couldn't afford to bring you into question because he couldn't face the consequences. In turn I never mentioned you either, allowing him to believe that you didn't matter was the surest way to keep you safe, at least if I lived…and I did have a back-up plan for getting you out of the country and into Argentina if I died. I think he always intended to come for you after he finished with me."

Molly shuddered. Sherlock didn't quite meet her eyes.

She found her voice. "And Tom?"

"Moran was the closest thing that Jim Moriarty had to a friend…a bit deranged, obviously. I think he really was fooled by my death. He simply picked up where Moriarty intended to, acquiring you, so to speak. Then when I came back…"

She looked up at Sherlock, suddenly understanding. "He was furious when he worked it out, it was the only time I'd seen him like that. He said I'd lied to him…about helping you. I thought, at the time, that it was just the lies…"

Sherlock frowned. "That would have been just after John's wedding, and my seeming decent into the sordid world of illegal addictive substances. Right before…"

Molly took a large gulp of the drink. The warmth might be false, but it was still rather comforting. "I'm sorry I slapped you, when you showed up high. I was just so angry."

Sherlock nodded. "You'd given up so much to help me live, even watching it sabotage this latest chance at happiness, and seeing me apparently throwing that life away…I understand."

Molly gave a bitter laugh. The sound surprised her. "It wasn't just that Sherlock. I care for you."

The holograms were still acting out their farce by the window. She looked at Sherlock wearily and said 'Turn it off will you?"

She watched the holograms until they blinked out of existence.

She turned back to Sherlock again. "Why would this bother him, if he were simply acquiring me? You said that you were putting the proper pressure on him. Why was that necessary?"

Sherlock had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "I know we took a liberty with your image, but it was one thing that would lure Tom out quicker than any other. I was alive, his friend was not. For me to also get you would be intolerable. He'd always intended to kill me, but I needed him to be sloppy…thus, I played on his fears."

"So I wasn't the rope. I was the bait."

His lips compressed and his eyes flashed. "There were other ways to get him Molly, but I couldn't risk you being off in some safe house while I worked this case."

"Why?"

"In case there was something else I'd missed; something Mycroft had missed…some link that would put you in danger while I was luring out Moran. I couldn't afford the distraction of worrying that you might be harmed." He paced around the room, poured himself a finger of Brandy and downed it in one.

"I can't allow myself to be distracted like that during a case. People get hurt when I can't focus. People like you and John, and Mary…people I care about."

Molly couldn't help it. She beamed up at him.

He sighed and dropped into his chair across from her. "You still doubt that you matter."

"There's no reason for me to think that I do."

Sherlock scoffed. "Do you know why I didn't realize that Tom was one of Moriarty's men before?"

"Because you've been a bit busy since you came back?"

"Because he was yours. I purposely avoided deducing him. John chastised me often enough about doing it to his girlfriends…I knew it put undue strain on the relationship…people love their little white lies. I wanted you to be happy, so I avoided speaking to him" He pinched the bridge of his nose"….the 'meat dagger' incident was particularly difficult. Though you quite made up for that by stabbing him with a fork." He shot her a slight smile.

That was almost sweet, in a slightly demented way, but it didn't make Molly feel much better. She put her head in her hands.

"I just wanted to be happy."

He kept looking at her with that oddly soft expression. "You certainly deserve to be, Molly Hooper."

"Why does it always seem to end like this?"

"Because you are attracted to sociopaths?"

He pulled the envelope from his jacket pocket and took out a picture of them, the one the photographer had gotten in spite of Sherlock. He placed it carefully on the mantel, next to the skull, and turned back to her.

"I suppose you'll want to go home now." The set of his mouth looked less than happy about that inevitability.

She hesitated, and then decided to try to lighten the atmosphere. "If I can pry my cat away from Mrs. Hudson."

Sherlock brightened visibly. "The feline seems to be very comfortable here. You may need to bring him back frequently to visit…so he doesn't pine away." He seemed to come to some sort of decision and changed the subject entirely. "Hungry?" He pulled his scarf back around his neck. "I know an excellent place that serves fish and chips, they stay open until two."

Molly pulled on her jacket. That was Sherlock Holmes. He was an enigma, wrapped in a riddle…and bundled in a good coat.

"Ready? " He turned his collar up. "You can always tell if the chips will be crisp by inspecting the salt shakers…"