Author's Note: Here we go - the third and final part to this story. Took a lot of (figurative) teeth-pulling, this did. Maybe that made it better - I dunno. You be the judge. I have very little else to say but to thank the anon who requested the story in the first place and to thank absolutely everyone who has favourited, followed and left reviews on this story. Thank you very much, and please, enjoy!
Entering inside, Sherlock found the hall to be a cacophony of noise. A game of Blind Man's Bluff was being played, with children, laughing and yelling, running around in every direction they could. Among them was the centre of attention, Felix. Wearing a blindfold, he happily stumbled and zigzagged around his group of friends, laughing as they sidestepped him.
Blindfolded as he was, he only knew of Sherlock's presence when he bumped into him. Delighted, Felix reached out and clutched tightly at the hem of Sherlock's coat.
"Ha!" he cried. "I got you!"
Letting out a chuckle, Sherlock crouched down and reached around to remove the blindfold. It fell away with ease and Felix fixed his brown eyes on Sherlock.
Sherlock gave a nod. "Yes I am."
"See, I was worried, because I thought you wouldn't, because of your feelings for my mum."
Sherlock swallowed slightly. Molly's perception, coupled with the blunter side of his nature. It was a lethal cocktail indeed.
"I wouldn't have missed the party for the world."
Felix perked up. "Hey! That's what my mum said!"
"Is it?" Sherlock asked, with a quirk of an eyebrow, and he reached into his pocket, bringing out a small, well wrapped present. "Here's your present – if you want it, of course."
Felix nodded. "Of course I do!" Eagerly, he took the present from Sherlock's fingers and ripped at the wrapping paper until a pair of safety glasses fell out onto his open palm. He made a quick noise of delight.
"Cool!" He slipped them on, and he blinked, eyes shining. "They fit me exactly!"
"Of course they do – they are your safety glasses after all," Sherlock said and he tapped gently at the side of the glasses, where the letters FH were expertly engraved. "They've got your initials."
"What's got your initials?" Molly's voice was bright and cheerful, but that didn't appear to reassure Sherlock's internal organs. For on hearing her voice and her footsteps, he could feel his stomach flip over several times like he weren't a grown man but once more a gawky schoolboy who didn't quite know how limbs worked. Still, he somehow managed to straighten up and greet her with a smile. Molly, tucking her hair back behind her ear, looked to her—their, Sherlock realised with a jolt—son.
"Did Uncle Sherlock give those to you? You look incredibly clever in them."
Felix blinked again. "But I am incredibly clever."
Either Felix had known since he was young that Sherlock was his true father and this was all an entirely contrived plan to throw him and Molly together, or since the discovery of his drunken misdemeanour, the traits he and Felix shared were just all the more obvious. Sherlock however, was not given much time to weigh up either option, for Felix quickly ran off, chattering about his new glasses, and left Sherlock and Molly to stand in silence.
"Good – um – party." Well, that was one way to start a conversation. A crap way, but still, a way.
"Yeah." Molly laughed, tucking her hair behind her ear. "Felix wanted it to be at the Science Museum, but that was too expensive, so Donald – he, uh, paid for the hall."
"He – paid for it?"
"It wasn't much – his friend owns the hall, he managed to get a discount—"
"Having fun then?" On cue, Donald seemed to bound up to the pair of them and came to stand by Molly's side.
"Oh, we were just discussing the hall – nothing big," she said with a genial smile. Despite their close proximity, neither of them was outwardly affectionate to the other, with only smiles and short glances being exchanged. So whatever thing they were in was no doubt hovering around the area of romance, but not yet totally there, so to speak.
"Saw Felix," Donald noted. "He was wearing a, a pair of safety glasses? I mean, Christ – who gets those for a kid?"
"I do." Sherlock's tone was icy, and Donald's smile dropped. Molly swallowed, shuffling on the spot.
"I'm sorry, my mouth runs—" The doors flinging open, broke off whatever apology Donald had prepared and a party clown of all people burst inside, his clothing predictably colourful and his voice booming. Apparently thankful for the interruption (if his grateful sigh was anything to go by), Donald jogged towards the group of children and ushered them towards the stage, Felix right at the front of them.
"Donald's idea?" Sherlock asked.
"Yep." There was a tangible edge of dread in her voice. "Donald's idea."
The clown got to work, telling jokes and performing tricks, and all of the children laughed as they were meant to, including Felix. His laughter, however, soon faded into a wary, closed frown when the clown, clearly believing this gig of his to be going rather well, grabbed at Felix's hand and pulled him onto the stage. With a clear flourish, he made a bouquet of paper flowers pop from out of his hand. Yet Felix, clearly uncomfortable, only shook his head, mumbling softly. The clown leaned forward.
"What's that kiddo?"
"That isn't magic," Felix said, raising his voice. "You had the flowers hidden up your sleeve."
The clown chuckled uneasily. He leaned further forward. "Why don't you smell my flower?"
"No," Felix said, stubbornly clenching his fists. "You've got a small water pump hidden in that flower, I know it, and you'll just spray me with water—"
"Oh God," Molly said quietly and she watched the clown, shaking her head, her fingers rubbing slowly against her temple. Sherlock narrowed his eyes at her, following when she began to step forward.
"What is it?" he asked softly.
"Felix… he's – I think he's about to—"
She didn't have to say anything more. Sherlock had already half-figured it out. Lowered gaze, clenched fists, rushed speech? It was quite clear that Felix was heading towards the beginning stages of a panic attack.
Pity really, that the clown was so intent on lightening the increasingly tense mood. With a booming laugh from the clown, water quickly sprayed from the flower and all over Felix's new safety glasses.
"Gerroff!" Felix shouted, his cheeks flushing red and his hands flying to his face, ripping his safety glasses from his face. "You're a rubbish clown!"
With that, he ran from the hall.
They found him in the cloak room, obscured by coats, the safety glasses—still spattered with water—now abandoned on the bench and only his dark shoes, tatty and well-loved, visible. With Molly following on behind, Sherlock stepped towards the cloak room. As soon as they stepped past the doorway, Felix spoke, small and soft from within his hiding place.
"Give me a minute?" Sherlock asked, but Molly frowned.
"What are you going to do?"
"Just going to talk to him, that's all." Quietly as he was able, Sherlock made gradual steps towards Felix and crouched in front of him. Brown eyes, brown eyes so very similar to that of his mother's, peeked out from the nest of coats.
"Did I do something bad?"
Sherlock shook his head. "No, you didn't. Everyone panics from time to time."
Just by an inch, Felix pushed the coats further aside, his brow creasing into a tiny frown. "Even you?"
"Yes, even me. Did I ever tell you about the case I took at Baskerville?"
"No. What's Baskerville?"
"A big army place, based in Devon. Mostly a place for experiments – some good, some bad, I suppose it depends on the scientist – but I was hired by a man who was often very scared. He claimed that his father had been eaten by a large hound. 'Hound' was actually what got me on the case. Who has, after all, ever used the word 'hound'? Not since the 1800s, surely. Of course, it actually turned out to be nothing more than a suppressed memory, and the hound he 'remembered' was actually an acronym for an illegal drug experiment that took place in the 1960s, but that doesn't matter right now – what matters is that, for a time, I believed that this giant hound existed. And I panicked."
Felix, who had shifted forward, listened in rapture as Sherlock weaved his tale. When all was finished, a giggle burst forth from his mouth.
"You got scared by a phantom dog?"
"Mm – not my proudest moment, I will admit. It was a combination of sighting a rabid dog while being doped up from the drug, triggered by pressure pads hidden in the ground. Very clever, actually. One of my best cases." Sherlock straightened his shoulders and picked up the abandoned safety goggles, swiftly cleaning them before he put them on back onto Felix. "People get scared by the most unexpected of things. In my case, it was a phantom dog – in your case, a rubbish party clown."
He drew back to stand, but stopped when he felt Felix's weight press against him in a large hug. His immediate response was to freeze—his son, his son, was hugging him—but as the small boy hugged his neck, Sherlock found himself hesitantly enveloping Felix in a hug that was just as tight.
"Everything sorted then?" Molly asked, moving forward. Nodding, Felix drew away from Sherlock and walked towards his mother as she knelt in front of him.
"I'm sorry Mum," he mumbled, but Molly shook her head, waving a hand.
"Hey, don't worry about it. You're forgiven. Anyway, Uncle Sherlock was right – everyone gets scared. And, to tell you the truth…" She looped her fingers around her son's wrists, smiling a conspiratorial smile. Her voice was a gentle whisper when she spoke again. "I've never been much of a fan of clowns anyway!"
Felix giggled again and the door clicked open. Donald looked around the door, wearing an apologetic grimace of a smile. "The, uh, clown's been paid, and sent away – the rest of the kids are back to playing Blind Man's Bluff."
"Oh, right – thank you Donald." Molly got to her feet and rubbed at Felix's shoulders, grinning at him. "How about we go and open the rest of your presents then?"
Felix nodded in answer, and the pair of them quickly left, with Molly throwing a smile over her shoulder at Sherlock.
"Well," Donald said with a sigh, circling around to stand beside Sherlock, failing to notice (or perhaps choosing to fail to notice) the indignant glare directed at him as a consequence. "That was eventful."
"How do you do it?"
The question came rather out of the blue, and Sherlock could do little but let his mouth drop open in surprise. His default answer immediately bled out from underneath his tongue, but Donald shook his head.
"No – not the deduction thing – I meant with Felix. How do you cope with his – neuroses?"
"You've got children," Sherlock muttered. "Surely you'd know better than I would."
"Well, yeah, but…" Donald gave a helpless shrug and for a glimmer of a moment, Sherlock could see where his sense of hopelessness was originating from. Yes, he was already a father, but (presumably) he had been involved in the lives of those children since the moment of conception. Felix was different. Felix was a charitable act he had made seven years ago. He wasn't to know that particular charitable act had been accidentally spilled by the very man he was talking to, but then, not everyone could know everything.
"The neuroses you seem so afraid of don't actually exist," Sherlock said, sighing. "They're habits, if they're anything, and every child has them. Of course, I can't speak for your children, because I haven't met them, but I'm sure they have a habit or a series of habits you have to 'put up' with. Felix is inquisitive, and therefore observes anything and everything – including the mechanics behind the tricks of a rubbish party clown."
He squared his shoulders a little, tilting his head towards Donald. "If you were wise, you'd return the favour."
Mary leaned against the bathroom doorway and slyly checked her watch. Her daughter happily brushed her teeth, her teddy bear shoved under one arm. Her mouth moved quickly with the force of her chatter.
"Felix's funny isn't he?" she asked brightly, leaning forward to spit into the sink. "I knew it was a good idea to become friends with him – but then, his Mummy's your friend, so it's only logical he should be my friend too."
Fiddling at the hem of her pyjamas, Mary bit back a laugh. "Logical? Is that why you made friends with him then?"
Ruby's brow creased into an entirely adorable frown. "I told you – I made friends with him because he's funny. He was really funny with that clown." She grinned, looking to her mother. "Just like Uncle Sherlock!"
Mary dropped her hand back to her side. Yes—just like Uncle Sherlock.
"I suppose he was…" Mary said quietly. Seeing her mother fall into such deep thought, Ruby's frown deepened and she turned her head.
"Mum? Everything okay?"
Mary snapped her head up at the call of her daughter and grinned. "Yes, fine. Thank you baby. Right – have you got your teeth all brushed? Yes? Good – let's get you to bed."
She steered Ruby from the bathroom but despite Ruby's customary whining that she wasn't at all tired and could stay up all night if she wanted to; she still dropped straight off to sleep almost as soon as her head touched her pillow. Softly wishing her goodnight, Mary pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead.
On shutting the door to the bedroom, she found John already in their bed, his reading glasses on (he hadn't needed them for the first few years of their marriage, but constant reading of GP records had taken its toll on his eyesight, much to his consternation, even though Mary wasn't exactly one to complain) and a book in his lap. He welcomed her with a smile and a brief kiss.
"Ruby got off to sleep okay?"
"We had the customary chatter, so she was fine." Mary sat on the edge of the bed, beginning to change. "Did you talk to Donald today?"
"Donald?" John frowned.
"Molly's new boyfriend," she answered. "Well, I say boyfriend – whenever I asked, she just changed the subject."
"Oh. So not boyfriend?"
"No idea – but I, um, I can't help but think he might just be another Tom."
Her husband's lips thinned considerably. Frowning, he pushed his glasses onto his forehead.
"How did you know?"
"Female instinct?" Mary suggested. If the further deepening of John's frown was anything to go by, then such an answer had not convinced him. She shrugged, tugging her pyjama top over her head. "Or maybe Ruby pointed out their similarities."
"Whose similarities?" John asked carefully, but Mary rolled her eyes.
"Are we really going to play that game?" She clambered onto the bed and cupped at her husband's cheeks. Smiling, she kissed at his forehead. "C'mon. You know who I'm talking about – and I know who you're talking about. We can be candid with each other, you know."
John sighed, pushing his smile at his wife's words to one side, and flicked his glasses back onto his nose. "I knew Sherlock teaching her about deduction was always going to be a bad thing."
Mary sighed softly, laying her head onto his shoulder. "Mm. What do you think we should do?"
"Well, nothing good comes out of interfering," John mused, shutting his book. "Maybe we should just – let it play out?"
"Let it play out." Mary plucked the book from John's fingers, flipping it over with her hands. Letting it play out would inevitably mean having to watch, for weeks, Sherlock dither over the best way, the best time, to tell Molly what had happened seven years ago. But interfering? She and John could nag Sherlock as many times as they liked, but he'd still do nothing. The two courses of action would inevitably end with huge emotional consequences. In the end, it was more a choice of which would cause the least amount of damage.
If Sherlock had been mildly distrusting of Donald before, he vehemently disliked the man now. Ever since he had provided his little piece of so-called advice after the 'clown incident' (Donald's words, not his), the man had proved maddeningly keen to follow through on said advice. He spent practically all of his time swallowing up Molly's, taking her and Donald out on day trips to museums and parks and even the damn zoo. Every time Sherlock stepped inside her flat now, gifts and souvenirs from various attractions continued to engulf the flat, all colourful and pristine and brand new. The price tag was still on most of them.
"Have you ever stopped to consider the idea that you might be jealous of Donald?" Mycroft asked silkily, dropping the case file onto the coffee table between them.
"I'm working, leave me alone." He attempted to delve back inside the comfort of his mind palace, but his brother's continuing presence proved a sizable obstacle. He flicked his eyes to look back up at him, turning his head just the smallest amount. "What exactly makes you think I'm jealous?"
"Because, Sherlock, I just told you about a triple homicide of three small-level politicians, and you barely batted an eyelid."
"I've no interest in your stupid political games, Mycroft. That was established long ago."
"Whereas John here mentions in passing Molly's trip to the Peak District with Donald, and you—" Mycroft paused. "Aha. There it is."
Sherlock only realised he had bolted upright when he saw a snide smile creep onto his dear brother's equally snide face. John's poorly stifled snort bolstered that realisation. Coolly, he settled back into his chair and tucked his hands underneath his chin.
"I'm not jealous. Whoever Molly wishes to spend time with is no business of mine. We are, after all, friends. Friends don't become jealous."
A sentence sounding suspiciously like 'friends my arse' came out of John's mouth in a mumble, but the man only smiled innocently when Sherlock side-eyed him. Before any chance to verbally remonstrate his best friend could make itself known however, the familiar trill of Sherlock's phone had the consulting detective on his feet in a flash.
"Molly?" he asked. Behind him, Mycroft made an obnoxiously knowing noise with his throat.
"Sherlock, hi." She was breathless. Had she been running? He hoped she'd been running. "I need your help."
"Um, I'm in the Peak District at the moment and, well, I'm actually up the side of a mountain right now—" So that accounted for the breathlessness.
"The side of a mountain?" he echoed. Probably was Donald's idea of a good day out. It would've been.
"Yes, I needed signal and I couldn't get it in the cottage – but anyway. I'm up here with Donald, and Felix wanted to stay with a friend for the weekend, but I just had a call, and apparently Felix has got lice."
"Lice?" He stepped into the kitchen. Maybe from there he wouldn't be able to feel the waves of know-it-all smugness that radiated from his brother.
"Yes – please don't… Sherlock this, alright? There's no need to make this into a bigger situation than it actually is."
Sherlock paused in his habitual pacing. "Molly, you just used my name as a verb."
"It's a habit," she snapped, immediately sighing. "Sorry – it's really cold up here. Wore a coat but it's still – anyway, I need you to pick up Felix and look after him, only for tonight. I'll be back tomorrow morning, I absolutely promise. Will you do it?"
Sherlock glanced around the kitchen door. John, still slurping up his tea, ignored him. His brother flipped through the previously discarded folder, his smug smirk still affixed to his features. "My brother's currently waiting for me to accept a case for him – something to do with a string of politically-motivated murders."
"Could be. Problem is, he's solved it already," Sherlock said, throwing himself down on a kitchen chair and propping his legs up on the table. "I know because he's being particularly smug today. Even more unbearable than usual. Anyway, the killer was sloppy – saw it in the case file Mycroft forced me to look at – they left practically a trail of clues at every crime scene. I'm sure they're already being arrested, probably right about now. Mycroft's just convinced that if he doesn't 'keep me busy', I'll go off and do something stupid."
"Can't imagine where he got that from."
"Neither can I." Sherlock quirked a smile. "Anyway, I'm sure Felix's lice will prove a sight more interesting than an already solved case."
On the other end of the line, the wind crackling against her words, Molly half-laughed in relief.
"So you'll do it then? Great! Thank you so much, Sherlock. There are a few things you'll need to do though."
"What sort of things, exactly?"
She hesitated, and in his mind's eye he could see her, atop a mountain in nothing more than boots and what she believed to be sensible clothing, chewing at her bottom lip with her hand pressed to her temple.
"Okay…" she said. "Have you got a pen with you?"
Being the only consulting detective in the world, Sherlock often found that he could often alter that job description and what it entailed at whatever time and in whatever situation that suited him. Yet he doubted that his title could stretch to sitting in a bathroom, steadily combing dead lice from the hairs of a small child as a dryer, filled to the brim with washed bed linen pounded around and around, sounding more and more unhealthy with every cycle.
"This comb hurts."
"I think it's supposed to," Sherlock said thoughtfully, scooping out another set of eggs.
"Why though?" Felix pouted. "Is it to remind me not to have lice again? Because I didn't want to have lice – I have baths all the time."
"Clean hair, dirty hair. Makes no real difference," Sherlock said with a shrug. He'd had to endure enough nit combing at the hands of his mother in his younger years to know that.
"Liam at school says it does."
"Liam is like most people then – he's a moron."
"I'm like most people," Felix said softly, and Sherlock heard John scoff derisively inside the walls of his mind. The kid of the great Sherlock Holmes? Normal? Hardly.
"Then you're an exception," he said. "Now keep your head still, I need to catch every last one of these lice."
The rest of the 'lice capturing' process took an painstakingly quiet half an hour or so—aware of the concentration needed by Sherlock, Felix had barely said a word after their minute snatch of conversation—and by that time, the bed linen was washed and dried. Grabbing it from the dryer, he deftly made Felix's bed, only to look up and see Felix stood in his doorway, as always clutching at his stuffed lion but with his mouth dropped open in an 'o' shape. Sherlock chuckled. He'd surprised many people in many ways over many years, but he doubted he'd ever surprised someone with his level of domestic competence.
"Mum said that you didn't do stuff like that." His statement was blank, without teasing, without malice. Sherlock shrugged and pulled back the blankets for Felix to climb into bed. He burrowed happily underneath the blankets and Sherlock sat down at his side.
"Even machines need to do some things, Felix. I can't rely on Mrs Hudson for everything – as much as I'd like to." He gave a smile, but Felix only wore a sincere, deep, frown of concentration. Sherlock straightened up slightly. "What?"
Felix's eyebrows knitted together in a frown. Silently, he sat up and he reached forward. Still with that frown of concentration, he pressed his palm against Sherlock's chest.
"You have a heartbeat." Sherlock's smile dropped. What exactly was he doing? Of course he had a heartbeat. Felix looked up at him, a matter-of-fact smile on his mouth. "Humans have heartbeats. Machines don't. Basics of biology."
Felix might have inherited his ability to observe and his inability to sugar coat things, but if there was one trait of his mother's personality, it was her compassion. Compassion that had, in the past, saved his life.
"Right. I'll—" Sherlock swallowed thickly. "I'll try to remember that. Goodnight, Felix."
Felix, snuggling up against his pillow, mumbled a soft "Night, Uncle Sherlock" in reply. Such a nickname, once a safety net, was now akin to a stab in the gut. Sherlock quietly stood, switching off the light before he departed.
Sherlock's tartan dressing gown skimmed around his legs as he turned, with a bag of flour in hand and he stood at the worktop, ready to receive instructions from Felix who, standing beside Sherlock, had seemingly marked himself as the leader of this particular endeavour. Slowly, he read out from the recipe book propped up on the worktop.
"Okay, we need 100g of flour exactly. Are you doing it exactly, Uncle Sherlock?"
"Wouldn't do it any other way," he said with a smooth, amused grin. "You can check if you like."
He stepped back as Felix moved over and reached up on tiptoe, clasping onto the worktop, eyeballing the glowing blue numbers of the scales. In an act of pure indulgence, Sherlock carefully spooned the flour into the bowl one at a time, listening as Felix counted the numbers under his breath, an excited smile appearing as the numbers periodically increased. The pair of them, concentrated as they were on their adventures in cooking, entirely failed to hear her footsteps, or even see her when she stopped in the kitchen doorway and absorbed the sight of her friend and her son cooking together—which, she had to admit, was not a sight she might've believed she'd ever see.
"Have the lice been vanquished then?" she asked lightly. As one, the two paused and turned their heads. Sherlock's mouth flicked up into a smile and he nodded as Felix broke into a grin and shoved his way past Sherlock, zooming towards her and she dropped into a crouch, laughing when he threw his arms around her neck.
"Uncle Sherlock killed them all!" he declared and Molly smiled, drawing her son in for another hug.
"Well then, Uncle Sherlock is very brave," she said and looking, she didn't fail to notice the minute roll of Sherlock's eyes as he whipped up the batter before he deftly poured the batter into the waiting frying pan. Standing, she patted at Felix's back. "And so are you, come to think of it. Go and watch telly for a bit, sweetie – I'll help Uncle Sherlock with the pancakes."
"Not that I need it," Sherlock said, still smiling as Felix ran from the room.
"Bit of an indulgence," she remarked, nodding to the pancake currently bubbling away. Sherlock smirked and wrapped a tea towel around the handle, lifting the pan off the hob.
"Considering I had to retrieve over 60 lice from Felix's hair last night…"
"Ah, okay." Molly tucked her hands against her hips. "So this is your treat, not Felix's."
"No, it's Felix's too." With a flourish, he flipped the pancake. His smirk widened when it made a perfect landing.
"Consulting detective and pancake flipper," Molly said coolly, but a small giggle bled out from underneath her tongue all the same. Sherlock grinned, setting the pan back on the hob.
"How did the weekend go?"
"With Donald? It was – lovely actually. Really enjoyed myself." The faintest shade of pink blossomed in her cheeks at her words, and Sherlock's grin grew just that little bit more slack. He chose to focus on the pancake.
Molly pressed her back against the worktop, leaning her head against the overhead cupboard. "Um, I'm actually going to go back, pretty soon. About a fortnight, maybe?"
"I suppose I'll be called upon to babysit Felix again."
"No, there'll – there'll be no need of that." She let out a breath and folded her arms over her chest. Excited, that's what she was. Excited but nervous. He'd seen that expression only once before; and about a month later, she had been pregnant. She spoke and his suspicions were confirmed. His chest tightened. "I was going to take Felix there – with Donald – as a sort of trial run, really. That's the best way I can put it. I'm really excited about it. Things are good, things are – moving."
Sherlock said nothing. A few weeks ago, they hadn't even wanted to declare themselves as officially dating, and now they were thinking of moving in together? Either the cottage had been impressive, or Donald had been, or perhaps the thin mountain air had drained her mind of the ability to make a proper decision.
"And his divorce holds no relation to this decision then?" His tone was far bitterer than he'd intended, but he could find little regret in his words, or the way he'd said them. She was making a mistake, and the sooner she saw that, the better. He fixed her with a stare, and she gradually straightened up.
"What's that supposed to mean, Sherlock?"
"The man lost his wife and his children only a few months ago, and now he wants to move in with you? There's clearly some sort of need to substitute there – I'm surprised that you didn't see it sooner."
"No." She shook her head, her movements growing increasingly short, clipped and quick. "You can't ruin this Sherlock – not this time."
He snorted. "I never ruined your relationships. The idea of purposefully 'ruining' something would entail some active involvement on my part."
"You—" Seething, she sighed and pinched at the bridge of her nose.
"As far I can remember, all I'm guilty of is pointing out your inability to choose a suitable partner," Sherlock continued.
"What?" She rounded on him, her cheeks flushing red. "So it's my fault? Again! Oh, you're so bloody predictable sometimes. Every time, every time you act like an arsehole, I get the blame for it!"
"You don't exactly make it easy for yourself…"
"Because I always have to do what you don't!" she hissed. "I've lost count of the amount of times I've apologised on your behalf. Tell me, have you ever once apologised to anyone, of your own accord, for anything you've done? And don't use John and Mary's wedding as evidence, because pointing out something people already know isn't an apology!"
"Christmas, 2011. I apologised to you then."
"That doesn't immediately absolve you of all the other shit you've done! You know what? You have never bloody well changed." She was lashing out now, spitting and snarling out truths she had no doubt always brushed to one side for the one day she could release them. "Seven years, and you're still exactly the same as you always were."
"You've hardly changed either Molly." He spat out her name with misplaced venom. "You're still a pathologist; you still have an astonishingly poor ability in regards to choosing a boyfriend. Admit it – the only thing that's really changed is the fact that you gave birth to a child. Other than that, you are still the same person you were. And you still think that having Donald around will change that?"
Her gaze dropped, and her cheeks paled.
"At least I'm trying," she mumbled, worrying at her lip. Seven years, and he still couldn't shut his mouth fast enough.
"Molly…" It was a tentative olive branch, but understandably not enough. She'd spewed the truth of her own frustrations; he'd just been petty and personal. She shook her head at his voice, quickly wiping at her eyes.
"Thank you," she said quietly. "For looking after Felix and – making breakfast with him."
That was the end of it. No more to it. There was a small knock at the kitchen door and a smile stretched across Molly's lips when Felix stepped inside. She turned. His innocent, inquisitive look showed that he hadn't heard their argument.
"Is Uncle Sherlock staying for breakfast?"
"No, sweetie," she said sweetly. "It's very polite of you to ask, but Uncle Sherlock's got lots of things to attend to today."
"Mm. Things." Swiftly, he departed from the kitchen. When the flat door closed behind him ten minutes later, Felix's goodbye ringing in his ears, Molly didn't bat an eyelid.
"I don't know Mary, it's just something – I can't really put it into words, you know?" Tucking her feet under herself, Molly sipped at her wine. "I mean, when I first met the man, I was totally head over heels for him but then everything happened, over the years, and I just sort of – accepted that nothing would ever happen. Trust me; it's so much easier to be in love with a bloke when you know nothing's going to happen. Then he comes back after two years and yeah, sure, the whole Tom thing was… unwise of me, I'll grant him that. And yeah, I did pretty much expect him to deduce Tom right there and then – or just ignore him. Or maybe do a combination of both! He's bloody well capable of it. But he comes back and is all chivalrous and all 'oh I hope you're very happy' about it all – and since when is Sherlock Holmes ever chivalrous? I remember when I told him about my plan – you know, to get pregnant – the man went as white as a sheet! A far cry from how he'd behaved when he learned of my engagement to Tom. It's just so… weird. One minute, he's distant and snappish with me – but I can cope with that, I've had way worse attitudes off my sister. Another minute, it's like we're glued to the bloody hip and he's telling me not to go out with that person, reeling off this, like, laundry list of what's wrong with them. Okay, so that helped when I inadvertently dated a psychopath, but at other times, it's just so damn odd? I think that's why I was – at first – kind of hesitant at having him and Donald meet. What if he'd said something horrible to him? So when he said nothing, I was – I was pleased. I'm sure I was. Of course, he then he tells me I should slow it down with Donald! Right back to square one! He's just… so infuriating! To think he can dictate my love life. And how many girlfriends has he had? Urgh. Eleven years I've known the bloody man, and I still can't get a handle on him – tell me, just how fair is that?"
Molly waved a hand. "No, actually, don't answer that. In fact, just don't talk about him."
"Wouldn't dream about it." Mary sipped at her wine, swallowing a smile and silently wondered just when her friend was going to realise exactly what the reason for her confusion actually was.
The heavy weight of the slow melody clung to the walls of 221b and John Watson inevitably cursed himself for having picked such a melodramatic friend. He slammed the door closed, and Sherlock had the temerity to look bored by his arrival. The pair of them settled into their chairs, but Sherlock continued to hold onto his violin, his fingers tracing over the strings to pluck at random, irrelevant notes.
"Any new cases come up lately?" Nothing. Only a blank look and more snatches of notes. John shifted in his seat. "Any progress on the current cases?"
"Take a look for yourself." He nodded towards the wall where sheaves of paper, photographs surrounded a large map. John rose to his feet, peering at it. He stopped when he noticed exactly what was off about it. Every piece of it was empty, free of the familiar impatiently written scribbles. John gave a nod and tucked his hands behind his back. He turned to the consulting detective.
"Mary told me about the argument you had."
"I didn't argue with—" Realising, Sherlock sank back into his chair. More moodily plucked notes made themselves known. "Yes – Molly and I did have a – disagreement."
"Sounds like it was a little bit more than a disagreement, Sherlock. Assume it was over Felix."
"No," Sherlock said plainly. John blinked.
"Well then – what was it over?" He shifted his weight a little. "Sherlock, have you – you have told Molly, right? That you… Oh my God."
Preposterous as the situation was (and was turning out to be), he could do little but laugh and run his hands over his face, leaning forward. His gaze fixed on the carpet, he spoke.
"You didn't tell her." He raised his gaze up to meet Sherlock's. "Did you?"
Sherlock calmly began to examine his violin. "No, I didn't."
"Oh…" John growled. "Sherlock, I know you're a genius but you – you are a moron. A selfish moron at that. You are a parent. You don't have a choice in that. It doesn't matter if you 'don't want to be the Viking' – you have a duty, if not to Molly then to Felix, to tell the damn truth. Otherwise – well, you'll just end up as Uncle Sherlock for the rest of your life."
"That wouldn't be such a bad thing," Sherlock admitted quietly. John took a step back. He knew that Sherlock could be cold, but never that cold. John shook his head. No. Not cold. Careful. Always careful, never to involve himself with sentiment. It was why he'd turned to drugs, why he had danger nights, why he constantly spent his life fixing other people's problems. He could observe the sentiment of others, but to touch, to interact, to realise his own sentiment? Impossible.
"You're scared. Aren't you?" His friend's head snapped up. "You don't want to say anything because you know you'll end up losing Molly. That's it, isn't it? For fuck's sake – Jesus Christ. And I promised myself I wouldn't interfere… Do you want to know something, Sherlock?"
"Go on then," Sherlock sighed. "You'll put it upon yourself to tell me anyway."
"If you don't tell Molly, or just say something, then I will."
Sherlock started up at this, darting towards John. "That's an invasion of my privacy, and Molly's—"
"If you want to talk about invasions of privacy Sherlock," John spat out, "then think back to the decision you made seven years ago!"
Sherlock's nostrils flared and his breathing grew heavy, but he couldn't say anything. There was no retort to be had. Eyeballing him, John flexed his shoulders, his features twitching.
"I'll say this slowly and clearly: you can either lose Molly, or lose both her and Felix. Which—"
Hurriedly picking up and shoving on his coat, Sherlock pushed past John, whispers of irritated curses reeling off his tongue. Watching him leave, John felt himself smile.
Sherlock ran up the steps two at a time towards Molly's flat. The knock he levelled at her door was rapid and quick and the door soon swung open. Felix beamed up at him, fitted out in a well-ironed shirt and a dark blue bow tie.
"Uncle Sherlock!" Yes, there was the stab, right against his gut. Uncle Sherlock. He couldn't do anything but smile when Felix immediately wrapped his arms around his legs. "Mum's having a party – it's really boring – but now you're here!"
Molly's laughter sounded down the entrance hall, followed by the woman in question. "Felix, what are you—" Her laughter and speech soon died away on seeing him stood there.
"Molly," he started, gently prising Felix's arms from around his legs. "I-I need to speak to you. About something rather urgent."
She shook her head and stepped back.
"I'm sorry Sherlock, but I can't – deal with any – emotional stuff at the moment." She brushed back a wisp of hair from her face, holding out her hand towards Felix. "Come here, sweetie – c'mon."
"Why don't you want to talk to Uncle Sherlock, Mum?"
"I do want to talk to him," Molly said quickly, taking his hand and leading him down the hallway. "But just – not right now! Now, let's get you a drink, you must be so thirsty—"
"Molly." She finally ground to a halt, turning towards him. Sherlock squared his shoulders. Even if he did this right, she'd still be wearing an expression far cooler than the one she wore at that moment. "I – we – need to talk."
"So, what's going on here?" Sherlock inwardly groaned. Donald had to have some sort of homing device towards tense situations. It was the only way that could explain his innate ability to interrupt just about everything. Donald grinned, touching at Molly's waist. "Hope I didn't interrupt anything!"
"No," Sherlock said, with a false smile. "Clearly I was the… interrupter."
"Ah, no worries. The whole family's come down – maybe you'd like to meet them?"
So he'd staged a family gathering, and was obviously excited about the event, going by the use of body language and the dilation of pupils at least. Molly, by contrast, was more nervous—a near constant touching or series of touches against her ring finger showed that clearly she knew, or at least had an inkling, of what this whole union of family was for. Do something. John's voice echoed inside his head. He's definitely about to.
"Sorry Molly, but I do need to borrow you for just a moment." He couldn't wait for an answer or any sort of protest. Advancing forward, Sherlock took her by the hand and steered her away from Donald. He heard her babble an apology to the man, one that immediately stopped, replaced by a fierce glare when he shut the flat door behind them.
"I don't," he said quietly, and he swallowed thickly. "I don't expect to be forgiven for what I have to say."
"Sherlock, what are you on about?"
"I'm Felix's father." The confession came out as a sort of blurt, and the silence which followed it was almost numbing. He had to say something, had to just explain. "It happened during your insemination party. I was drunk, and I—"
Her slap to his cheek was quick, to the point and well overdue. Her mouth hung open in shock, as if he himself had just slapped her. In a way, he had. Not often that one learned that the person they had been in love with for years, the person they now believed to be their friend, was actually the father to their child. Her hands fluttered over her stomach and she held herself.
"Just repeat that. No explanation. Just – what you said."
Sherlock fixed his gaze onto hers. Her eyes were wet with tears.
"I'm Felix's father. I switched the donation made by Donald seven years ago." He shrugged helplessly. "Felix is my son."
"Mum?" Sherlock's heart plummeted, and his stomach did about sixty somersaults in a row. Focused so entirely on her and the consequences that his actions had brought upon her, he hadn't stopped to think what the consequences would be for the one his misdemeanour had had a hand in creating.
"Oh God, Felix!" Gasping, Molly ran towards him, but she was too slow. Turning on his heels, Felix sprinted down the hallway, only stopping when Donald, laughing, clearly thinking this all some kind of joke, grabbed at his shoulder.
"Hey, hey! What's wrong little dude?"
"Gerroff!" Felix snapped. "You're not my dad – he is!"
Donald's gaze fell on Sherlock. Wrenching himself from the now frozen Donald's grip, Felix continued to run, slamming his bedroom door behind him. Sherlock made to step forward, but Molly immediately whipped around. Her rage was palpable.
"You have caused enough damage today."
"He's my son, Molly."
"He's my son too," she hissed. Her voice shook, but the determination, the decision that had already been made, was easy to hear. "And I raised him for seven years. So forgive me for thinking I just might be able to handle this better than you."
The door swung closed once more. Part of him wanted to barge back into the flat and apologise, like he had done all those years ago during that stupid, stupid Christmas party, but this situation was so much more than a badly misjudged deduction. It ran, it cut, deeper. So he did what she wanted him to do: he left.
It was safe to say that her relationship with Donald was over. Much as she loathed admitting it, Sherlock had been right. He hadn't exactly put it in the most comforting way, but she was a rebound. An opportunity for him to replace his lost family. For a while, she had played with the thought that she didn't mind being such a thing. After all, it had allowed her a chance to know the man who'd played a part in creating a son she adored, and it allowed Felix a chance to bond with his biological father. Well, that had all gone to pot. She should've known—should've known that with Sherlock Holmes in her life, things would never be conventional, nor would they ever go to plan.
Why couldn't he have just told her? What had made him wait for so long? Seven years, she'd spent exchanging birthday cards and Christmas greetings and e-mails and he hadn't once thought to even give her a hint as to the truth of her son's conception. Maybe he hadn't remembered. He had said he was drunk; and if he'd remained as drunk as he had been when they'd spoken to one another in Meena's bedroom, then that was a definite possibility.
Sighing, she dumped the empty wine bottles and leftover party food into the bin and, after washing her hands, knocked quietly on Felix's bedroom door. It was unlocked, and there was no reply, so she figured it was safe to step inside. She found him curled up in the middle of his bed. His stuffed lion was clutched to his chest. It was astonishing, just how much he was like his father. It wasn't just the untameable curls, it was the demeanour. The physical isolation; the lack of true eye contact when scared or nervous or confused. That was all Sherlock.
"Sherlock brought this for you, didn't he?" She couldn't refer to him as his father, not yet. Not until Felix was ready could she ever do that. Felix nodded and she moved forward. Silently, she knelt by the bed. Giving a soft sigh, she reached forward and traced her finger over the soft fur of the toy. Playfully, she pinched at its ear. She earned only a brief giggle from Felix for her troubles. That was to be expected.
"What name did you give it?" she asked, folding her hands together, tucking them underneath her chin. "I never asked."
Felix shrugged. "He doesn't have one yet."
"Oh. Okay." She managed a smile. "I suppose it makes him rather unique, not having a name."
Chewing at his top lip, Felix's eyes flicked up to meet hers.
"I'm glad Sherlock's my dad."
"I can't believe you interfered."
"John, you said we shouldn't."
"I know." John groaned, drawing his hands over his hair. Almost in disbelief, he shook his head. "God, this is a mess."
Mary sighed and parked herself opposite her husband. "How's Sherlock?"
"No idea." John sank further into the kitchen chair, dropping his phone onto the table. "I've texted him, but he hasn't responded."
The doorbell rang, the sound harsh and protracted. Mary raised an eyebrow and set down her tea.
"I think that might be him responding." Where John gave a second groan and dropped his head onto the wooden kitchen table, she rose to her feet and headed towards the door. Leaned heavily against the doorway, Sherlock stared at her, eyes glazed over and reddened. She didn't fail to miss the whisky bottle in his coat pocket.
"You told her."
Sherlock heaved himself up to standing. "Of course I did. No thanks to your husband," he muttered and he stumbled through the door. She only just about caught him when he tripped ungracefully over the doorstop (a hedgehog, it had been Ruby's idea and quite a charming one at the time). Mumbling his thanks, Sherlock propped himself up against a handy wall. Mary set about locking the door.
"You know," he grumbled, "in being honest, I lost her. I lost Molly. And Felix."
Mary gave the smallest of smiles.
"I know how that feels." Her statement was simple, a standard consolation people often tripped out when they could think of nothing to say, but it still carried an all-too familiar weight. She tapped at his shoulder and he reluctantly peeled himself away from the wall. "You can sleep here tonight. I'll make up a bed for you on the sofa."
31 days trawled by. For all that time, for all those days, Sherlock Holmes' relationship with Molly Hooper remained one of silence. Contact devolved to become small mutterings of questions about how the other was doing before being immediately taken back, covered up by claims they didn't really care anyway. The staff at St. Bart's eventually grew used to the peace brought about by Sherlock's suddenly stoic attitude, quickly learning to direct any queries or questions towards John Watson or Greg Lestrade.
Molly meanwhile, tried to answer Felix's curiosity about his biological father with enough grace as she could manage. While cheered by knowledge about his father, Felix obviously sensed the discomfort felt by his mother, for he soon downsized the frequency of his questions from six a day to one—or two, if his curiosity proved too strenuous to squeeze into simply one question. It was both a heartening and disheartening thing to witness.
Sherlock Holmes was his father, and it was Felix's right, as his biological child, to be able to know about the man with her own… feelings getting in the way. For that was what she had. Of course she had feelings for Sherlock. However much she might've not thought about him when she was living and raising Felix in Suffolk, her feelings had kicked straight back into gear the instant he'd walked into that bloody coffee shop, looking like a lost but extremely well-dressed lamb.
Lazily, she kicked at the fallen leaves by the school fence, her hands sunk deep inside her coat. The weather had cooled rapidly over the last few days, after the searing sun of the last summer heat wave. Consequently, it hadn't taken long for the weather reporters to switch from near constant warnings about the use of sunscreen to sombre reports of heavy rain and potential flooding.
"Hey sweetie!" Molly waved eagerly as the school bell rang loud and clear and pupils flooded out from the doors. Felix, as ever, walked at his own pace, only accelerating when he saw her waving. Exchanging the usual conversation about school, the two of them soon began their stroll home.
"Mum, I've got a question." Aha. Molly shoved her hands into her coat pockets. The daily One Question, always asked on their way home from school without fail. So far, he had asked about how long she had known him, what Sherlock had been like when they'd first met and what traits he shared with his father (that particular answer had taken a good twenty minutes). This time, it would probably be about Sherlock's career and how he got into it, or how they initially met.
"Why haven't you talked to Dad yet?"
That was certainly unexpected. She shrugged. "There are a lot of reasons. Oh, wait – you've dropped your gloves."
It was a pitiful attempt to dodge the question, she knew that and Felix knew that. Scooping up the gloves, she moved back towards him and bent down, pulling the gloves over his frozen fingers.
"There. All better now," she said with a smile, and she touched at his nose. Felix smiled briefly, tilting his head expectantly.
"Mum – are you scared?"
"I am." (She wasn't about to lie to her son, not now.) "Not of your dad, but… something else entirely. Now, my turn for a question – you said you were happy that Sher–your dad was your dad. Why?"
"He makes things better," Felix answered, his tone matter-of-fact. Molly sighed and absentmindedly clasped her fingers over his hands, stroking at his palm with her thumb.
"Yeah." She smiled. "Like Batman."
"No – like a dad."
Her head snapped up. Such a quiet, simple observation but one that couldn't help but be incredibly perceptive. Still, she couldn't expect anything less from her son. He was half a Holmes, after all; and, as she'd learnt over the years, through both her own experiences and the infuriatingly intelligent consulting detective who swallowed up half of her time, sometimes the smallest observations were the most correct.
"Sherlock, it's been a week since you solved something. You need a case. At least admit that."
"One of your minions could do the job blindfold, Mycroft. And if you're thinking of using 'nickpicker', don't. It isn't an allowable word."
Mycroft glared down at the Scrabble board between them and promptly swore under his breath. Sherlock smirked.
"Check the dictionary if you don't believe me."
Mycroft glowered, raising an eyebrow at his impertinent little brother. "Don't try my patience. Are you going to take this case or not, Sherlock?"
Mycroft turned in his seat and Sherlock shot to his feet on hearing the visitor to their game. Molly stood in the middle of the doorway, her hair undone and tangled from the harsh autumn weather, a bag wedged under her arm and her coat folded over her arms.
"Fine," Sherlock said, glancing to his brother. "I'll consider the case."
Smiling a somewhat knowledgeable smile, Mycroft clutched tighter at his umbrella and gracefully rose out of the chair, nodding once to Molly. He managed to look annoyingly triumphant when he quietly departed.
"I'm not stopping."
Two sentences, two speakers, spoken at one time and both causing the speakers in question to stop and fidget, their nerves preventing them from even daring to move from the safety net that silence provided. Anything but small talk, John urged and Sherlock gave a minute shake of the head. Now was not the time for panicked internal monologues.
"I've – uh – been thinking." She entered the flat as if she were a stranger, and, truth be told, she was. For all the time he had spent camped out at her flat, there had only ever been two occasions in which she had been inside 221b. On the first, he had criticised her appearance, and on the second, it was to thank her for keeping the secret of his existence. There had never been a time where 221b acted as neutral ground.
She settled on the sofa, but he continued to stand. John, buried away in his mind palace, screamed at him to sit down, that he was intimidating her by standing up, but he was soon shut up when she, rubbing her palms nervously at her knees (a habit she'd always had), spoke up.
"I'm Felix's mother, yes. But you're – you're his father. He needs both of us. I just – I look at him every day now and think—"
"How the hell did I not see it?!" She laughed, and he cracked a smile at the sound. "You and him – you're basically twins!"
"He's got your eyes."
Pink spotted her cheeks. "Thank you. But that isn't the point! He's basically you! I should've seen it – surely I should've seen it…"
"To be fair, you didn't know I had replaced the donation," Sherlock pointed out. "It is, after all, a fairly implausible notion. It's only because you know now that—"
"That I'm starting to see the similarities." Molly nodded. "I know – guess I'm focusing on stupid stuff. Stops me getting to the main point."
"Felix misses you. And… I do too," she added, her voice growing quieter. He didn't bite back his following smile. It wasn't exactly 'champagne and fireworks', more a crumb. A crumb of hope for something.
"Anyway," she said, standing. "I have to go. I left Felix with Mrs Hudson – and there's only so long she can entertain him with the telly and biscuits."
"Right. Do you want me to—" He cleared his throat, hesitating. Hesitating. Hadn't he got out of the habit of starting sentences he had no idea how to finish. In the presence of Molly Hooper, apparently not. He sighed. "Escort you, maybe?"
Her dimples deepened as she considered the thought, but she gave a small shake of the head. "No, I think I can manage the route to Mrs Hudson's – but you can escort me to the door, if you like."
A second crumb, perhaps a little bigger than the last. With a nod from him, they walked together the short distance to the doorway.
"Well, that was nice." She was teasing him, and he found that he didn't really care a jot. He leaned against the doorway, watching as she pivoted slightly on her heels, hitching her bag onto her shoulder. Waiting for something, she was waiting for something.
"You wouldn't be interested in some coffee at all?" he asked. "Perhaps next week?"
She considered him, hugging her coat tighter to her chest. Her eyes danced, her smile widened and she stepped forward. Reaching up on tiptoes, her eyelids fluttering closed, she tilted her head and pressed her lips to his in a light, sweet kiss that made him feel really rather special indeed. In his mind, he could hear the distant, muffled sound of John's cheering.
Molly drew away and wore a smile that could plausibly act as a visual definition of the phrase 'cat that got the cream'.
"Coffee," she said, "would be a wonderful start."
From below them, the panicked babble of Mrs Hudson sounded, mingled with the cheerful denials of Felix who duly bounded up the steps two at a time and on seeing Sherlock, gasped.
"Dad!" A far better experience on the ears than Uncle Sherlock. The sound of Felix's footsteps thundered up the stairs and father and son duly engulfed one another in the tightest hug they could manage. As he gently held Felix, Sherlock caught Molly's eye. Scrunching up her nose, still with that wide smile on her lips, lighting up her features, she stuck out her tongue. Yep. Definitely more than a crumb.