This story is a gift for Jay. Thanks to Lexie, StrawberryPatty and Sempaiko for their supports as always!
It seemed clear to Martha Hudson that something strange was afoot in 221B.
She ought to have known the cozy quiet that had settled over the house since Sherlock solved the case of the Cooper Beeches Society wouldn't last. What a nasty business that one had been, she reflected while she made her Sunday morning tea. Though the society's goals had appeared good initially, even going so far as to bring Sherlock back to London with their false images of the late James Moriarty, their true villainous intentions had been unveiled by her famous tenant. He had torn them apart with a ruthlessness that made her blood run cold when they kidnapped the pathologist who was handling his evidence on the case, Molly Hooper.
He brought the doctor back to 221A after they escaped the Society, to borrow Martha's bandages and ointment. Molly's face was scratched up before he found her but otherwise she was whole and oddly cheerful.
"Maybe they'll let me do their post-mortems," she joked, referring to the gunmen Sherlock had eliminated with the help of Mycroft's men. Her fingers shook despite the smile on her face, and Martha squeezed her shoulder.
Martha thought she knew everything there was to know about Sherlock Holmes but when he cradled the doctor's face in his hands, his thumb brushing lightly over the scrapes, his eyes locked onto Molly's, she wondered.
A few weeks after the case of the Copper Beeches Society, the peace was breaking. Sitting down on the sofa, Martha turned on the television, added sugar to her cup and sipped as she listened to the sporadic thumps coming from upstairs. Every few minutes a pot would clang to the floor as someone- Sherlock, undoubtedly- tossed items about in the kitchen above. It wasn't the first time he had fallen into a mood, wrecking the place with his foul experiments or shooting up the walls, but this was different. This wasn't wanton destruction in pursuit of relief; this was a focused search. It reminded her of when her husband would misplace baggies in their house in Florida, in the old days before things got out of hand.
Such a scatterbrain, she thought with a rueful shake of her head. When he wasn't running a cartel or in bed, he was rather useless.
This morning, she'd been woken even earlier than usual by the flurried activity that had been increasing in the last few days, in 221B. Finishing her tea, Martha set down her cup, dabbed at her mouth with her napkin, and got up to check herself in the mirror.
"Oh lord, I've got circles," she realized, spotting the darkness under her eyes. This has got to stop, she thought. Smoothing down her hair, she headed upstairs to check on her tenant.
Briefly knocking on the door before popping her head in, she called, "Hellooo? Sherlock? It's me. I'd have rung, but I didn't think you'd answer. Hope you don't mind, but I've got such a headache from all this noise. Sherlock?" Peering around the sitting room, she spied stacks of books piled on the floor, and a heap of magazines strewn about the carpet.
From beneath the table came a voice. "Mrs. Hudson! Perfect!"
Sherlock popped out from underneath the table, knocking over a chair in the process. "Where did you put the New England Journal of Medicine's most recent edition? I thought I left it in the kitchen, but it doesn't seem to be there." Crawling out, he hopped up, nearly tripping on his maroon dressing gown. Catching himself before fell, he righted himself and glared around the room. "I need it. Where is it?"
"I'm not your housekeeper, I don't know where it is." She glanced around at the mess. She had actually done some tidying when he was handling a brief case with John a few days before, but he didn't know about that, did he? It was just the dust mites, they're overwhelming if you don't clean a bit once in a while. She couldn't tolerate it, knowing they were in her house unchecked.
She stifled a surge of guilt. Sherlock's eyes narrowed, and she knew she was caught.
He ran up to her and squinted at her face. "You moved magazines, didn't you? Some journals, perhaps?"
She searched her brain. Had she? "Just a few aside, off the table. There was a puddle, Sherlock. It had hair. It's not sanitary!" She hurried into the kitchen and looked around. She remembered now wiping reeking glop on his table and barely noticing the journals she'd shoved aside in her haste to conquer the filth.
"Under the sink." She cringed, remembering. "It was the only place in the whole room that wasn't covered or full already. I'm sorry, dear, I forgot. Was it important?"
Sherlock dove down to open the door and triumphantly drew a handful of medical journals out from beneath the pipes under the sink. He gleefully kissed Martha on the forehead. "Yes! Well done."
She waved him off, and laughed, her cheeks pink. "Oh go on with you. What's so vital about that anyway, which article?"
Sherlock flipped open the journal impatiently, his fingers flying. His frown melted away, the crease between his eyes smoothing out. When he reached his page, his face lit up, his eyes warming from glacial grey to summer blue.
"Just for an experiment. 'Study of social effects of oxytocin in relation to interpersonal matters in humans.'" Sherlock looked up. "I'm hoping it'll be very useful."
"Well, good luck with that, Sherlock dear." Martha patted him on the arm.
Oxytocin. As if that was supposed to explain all the strangeness? She really never would understand Sherlock Holmes. But she supposed that didn't matter much as long as he understood himself.
Sherlock Holmes had been availing himself of the St. Barts lab facilities for six years, and in all that times, Mike Stamford had never seen him look so tense around Molly Hooper.
Usually he, Molly and Sherlock puttered about the lab and the morgue in amiable silence as they worked. Some days if the detective was bored with his findings, Molly would read aloud reports of unsolved petty crime from the paper while Sherlock rattled off deductions without even raising his eyes from the microscope. It was an old game for them that filled the gaps between more stimulating cases. Mike knew it offered no real challenge for the man, who craved work as much as he did nicotine, but he nevertheless couldn't resist solving the mysteries Molly presented.
This week though, it seemed like the casual bit of fun had shifted in a fashion Mike couldn't define. When he entered the lab on Tuesday, he found Sherlock sitting back, legs stretched out and arms crossed with his sharp gaze honed in on Molly's face. He fairly vibrated with tension, his fingertips tapping on his upper arms where they rested.
"Repeat it. All of it, faster."
Perched on the stool opposite him, Molly's grin widened. She wasn't even pretending to work on a project; the tray of instruments she'd been sorting was pushed aside forgotten.
Mike didn't have it in him to bother her about the backlog of post-mortems downstairs; she'd had a hard time what with being kidnapped and all earlier in the month. It was good to see her so happy again, with her cheeks entirely healed of her injuries. He suspected she'd been afraid to smile when the skin of her face was so tight from the bruising and cuts.
She smiled freely as she rattled off, "Mrs. May Johnson of Quarterhouse Lane reports her prize begonias were noticed missing around 7:30P.M. She had watered them around 5P.M., and left them locked at that time on her porch. V. concerned as Tanner House Center Show for perennials is next week. Offering a reward of 50 quid for witnesses or info leading to recovery." Molly's eyes glowed. "That's a great one, isn't it? Poor old lady's lost her flowers."
"Must be bloody lovely flowers," Mike interjected. "50 quid, Jesus!"
Sherlock nodded, and unfolded his arms. "Drug deal gone bad."
"Shut up," said Molly, dropping the newspaper. "Sorry, I don't mean that. Drug deal?"
"Well, not that bad. No one's dead. Could be a lot worse. Anyway, it's a bit of a cheat if you know that Tanner House Center is a low-level group of marijuana dealers- they rather un-cleverly gave themselves a name that can be abbreviated to THC."
"But why the advert?" Molly rubbed her forehead and wrinkled her nose.
"Because someone's figured out that she was using the potted plants to hold and pass her bagged product openly, and they've run off with a lot of it, it sounds like. Rather ingenious system she's used for a while, but she grew sloppy. I wonder if Mrs. Hudson knows her. Anyway…."
He elaborated on the theory, and his fierce tension began to slide away. Sherlock studied Molly's face as he spoke, and in turn, Mike observed him. He found it interesting how the detective's focus had changed. He was used to Sherlock stripping people to the core with his eyes, but this was different, the way Sherlock stared at Molly; it was more like watching, without fixed intent. He gazed at her openly, with no ulterior motives or agendas, with no thought other than to simply breathe her in. His eyes drifted over her sparkling brown eyes, the curves of her healed cheeks, her parted lips.
"I can't believe you worked that out. That's incredible." Molly applauded lightly.
Sherlock shrugged carelessly, his eyes cool, but Mike saw the corner of his mouth tugging upward. "It was a simple deduction; anyone who was paying attention to the article and kept abreast of new trends could've done it. My homeless network is good for that sort of gossip. Gossip is more valuable than Scotland Yard, generally speaking."
Mike burst into laughter, and Molly and Sherlock's heads swiveled toward him.
Sherlock frowned and his left eyebrow rose. "Oh. Are you still here?"
It was nearly midnight on Friday when the phone rang. If Mary hadn't already been woken up by a craving, she'd have missed the call entirely. Lumbering toward the table where her mobile lay, she grabbed the phone and held the display up close to her eyes, having already taken out her contact lenses for the night. She thumbed the Answer button while balancing a tub of ice cream and a packet of crisps atop her swelling belly.
"John's not here; he's covering an overnight shift," she explained before Sherlock could speak. "Must be a good case if you're calling up this late."
"Ah…yes." His deep voice was distant through the earpiece. She heard the sounds of a motor running in the background, and a radio playing a song that sounded as though it wasn't in English. She paused and listened. Magyar? Something with a pop beat.
"That's not your music. Are you in a taxi?"
He laughed. "That's my girl. I needed to get out of the flat. Couldn't think. What else do you hear?"
"Oh we're not playing that game right now." She wiped the cold droplets off the ice cream container before they could drip onto her shirt. Dumping the armful of goodies onto the table, she plopped down onto the sofa and arranged herself before grabbing her spoon. "What's wrong, Sherlock? You don't dawdle if there's a case. Do you need me to call John? He's got it turned off right now but I can speak with someone at the desk if this is really an emergency."
"No, no, it's nothing like that." Sherlock cleared his throat. A stray horn sounded. "So. You're a woman."
"Yes, well-spotted." Where is this going, she wondered? Mary ripped open the packet of crisps and sniffed. Barbecue-flavored. What was John thinking? Ugh, it would have to do. She grabbed a handful. The baby flip-flopped in her belly, agreeing with her choice apparently. "Yes, I am a woman. And?"
"If theoretically, you had been hurt as a result of your interactions with someone, would you still want to continue- interacting with them? Why would you?"
"Are we talking about my marriage again? Because I don't think I can do that with potato grease on my fingers, Sherlock," she said wearily. And with ice cream on my bellybutton, she thought. How did that get there?
"No," he said, and she could hear the smile. "If you loved someone but they hurt your feelings, not on purpose- or if you were injured because of your connection with them, would you still want to love them?"
"You're still my friend, aren't you? Hole in your liver and all?"
"I think that's clear."
"I agree." What was this really about? Mary's mind raced as the fractured pieces of a puzzle floated around her mind. She licked a spoonful of chocolate ice cream as she thought. The noise of the night hummed, filling in the silence. The pieces sorted themselves out and took a recognizable shape, a memory and a reason.
"Sherlock," Mary said softly. "I was there when you carried her out of the warehouse. And when she kept insisting she could walk," she added with a smile. Molly's legs had been working perfectly fine when she kicked her kidnapper's groin during the rescue,that was for sure. The pathologist had terrific aim and steel under her softness.
"You were both there when I tested positive for heroin," he said bitterly.
"Yes," she agreed. "But I also know from Molly that she went to see you in the hospital. She forgives you. You've been clean. And you do make her happy. I see how she lights up for you. You underestimate her ability to understand you, I'm thinking."
"Your syntax, not quite English there." She heard a car door opening.
"Oh be quiet, Sherlock."
"If you say so. Goodnight, Mary."
The phone call ended.
John Watson was a romantic. If Sherlock Holmes, the most rotten, cynical, rude, pragmatic little shit known to mankind could recognize that fact and declare it to a reception full of people, it must be true. Despite everything John had seen and done in his checkered life, there was a core of romanticisim in him a mile deep, and he took some pride in that. He wasn't broken anymore; maybe never had been. When he spooned Mary at night, his arm tucked beneath her breasts and over the curve of their daughter, he was certain he believed in love, because how else could they have survived everything?
That said, John was certain that if he had to watch another romantic comedy that night, he was going to fetch his gun. And not to use on himself.
"Why doesn't the doctor just tell his fiancee he's having doubts?" Folded up on the sofa in his pyjamas under a dressing gown, Sherlock rested his chin on his knees. He maintained scholarly focus through the first two movies, his brow furrowed intently as if they were watching Citizen Kane or a documentary on tsetse flies. The first two were the standard fare of boy-meets-girl cute, usually involving some accident like knocking their heads together, with obstacles and misunderstandings that could've been avoided with a small amount of common sense. Only the charm of the lead actors saved John from losing his mind completely.
Currently the third movie of their rom-com marathon played on the laptop lying on the coffee table.
"Obviously he's not going to admit to fancying the brunette more- what's her name?"
"I don't know. It's Jennnifer Lopez." John picked up his beer. "I guess he doesn't want to hurt his fiancee's feelings. He will anyway."
"Clearly. He's throwing away perfectly good chocolate because of the candy shell color. And he's lying. How is this romantic?" Sherlock closed the laptop in disgust. "This one is a waste of time."
"Oh thank God." John took another swig from his bottle and checked his phone. Mary was due back soon from her girls' night out with Molly. "Why are we watching these movies? It took me ages to get you to watch a 007 film and they've got guns and crime."
Sherlock unfolded his legs, hopped off the sofa and headed for the window. "They're back. Don't worry, you've got time to finish your beer. They'll let themselves in. Takes Mary a good...oh, three minutes to manage the stairs, doesn't it. "
"Sometimes." John smiled and joined Sherlock at the window. He watched as Molly helped Mary from the taxi, their arms loaded with purchases from baby shops. Instead of lingering by the window, Sherlock raced for the front door of 221B but didn't open it, instead hovering by the jamb of the closed door, holding the knob. At John's questioning glance, Sherlock waved him away in annoyance.
What the hell? John thought. Is he getting weirder or am I getting more normal?
A moment later, the women came trudging up the stairs, chatting about their night. The walls of 221 Baker Street were thin enough to discern even through wood and plaster that they were talking about the Labour election and the near-brawl that had broken out at the tavern they'd been at.
"I'll get it for you, of course!" Molly's voice was soft through the door. Sherlock shot John a knowing glance. John's brow wrinkled.
The knob turned and the door opened forcefully, Molly pushing her way in with a bump of her hip. She stumbled as the door slammed into Sherlock on the other side, pulling her up short and causing her to drop her handbag and shop purchases.
"Oh my God!" She cried, as the door crashed into him. Sherlock staggered back, wincing and gritting his teeth from the pain.
"My god, Sherlock, are you okay? What were you doing there?" Molly rushed to his side.
"Heard the outer door," Sherlock gestured dramatically toward the windows and massaged his shoulder. "Was going to open it."
Amused by the spectacle, Mary trailed into the flat after her, toting the rest of their purchases. "Oh, were you now."
John greeted his wife with a kiss, and then whispered in her ear, "I've no idea what's going on, but I think I've just fallen into a Jennifer Lopez movie. Or maybe Julia Roberts."
"Not sure I can." John kissed her again while Molly fussed over Sherlock for a minute, inspecting his arm.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Molly asked again, her face creased with worry. She toyed with the ends of her braid.
Sherlock flexed his arm. "Fine. Just a bump." He flashed a grin at everyone. "No harm done."
Molly sighed with relief. "If you're certain then. Alright, I should get going. I've got an early day tomorrow. Excellent evening, Mary." She hugged her friend, and squeezed John's hand before waving goodbye to Sherlock. "I'll see you all soon, I hope." Picking up her bags, Molly headed out the door and disappeared into the night.
In his chair, Sherlock frowned at the closed door, and then glared at the laptop on the table.
"What is it, Sherlock? What's happened?" Mary asked.
"Nothing. Nothing's happened." Sherlock jumped out of his chair and stormed off to his bedroom. "Let yourselves out when you feel so inclined."
"What was that about?" Mary glanced at the sulking detective's back as he walked off.
"I've no idea. We were watching movies, rom-coms, like they were bloody homework, and then he got hit by the door- on purpose, I think." John shook his head. "I've had a few beers. I needed it to get through Notting Hill, I'm sorry."
"Romantic comedies." Mary rubbed her belly in thought. "You know, I had an interesting conversation with Sherlock the other day."
Standing over a slab in the morgue at St. Barts, Sally Donovan's stomach was churning. Her lip curled in disgust, and she shook her head, trying to clear from her brain the nauseating sight before her.
She blinked hard, willing the vision to vanish, but no, it hadn't changed. She cocked her head to the side and took another look, her natural curiosity getting the better of her.
Yep, it was still happening. Across the body of the murder victim on the table, as they leaned over examining it, Sherlock Holmes was trying to flirt with Molly Hooper. And it was getting worse with every awkward turn of phrase, every stiff attempt at banter.
Stepping back from the corpse (a barrister with two wives and twice as many enemies), Sally cursed Lestrade for forcing her to babysit the consulting arsehole for the afternoon, since Greg had a court date he couldn't miss. She had to admit Sherlock'd been more tolerable since his return from the dead, but she'd still rather deal with him by texts alone. She appreciated his gifts in the same way she appreciated wild animals- from a safe distance. She wasn't fucking stupid enough to stick her hand in the cage, even if he did seem tame. She knew better. But Greg never learned.
And neither did Molly. She reminded Sally of one of her ex-girlfriends- Dasha, with her big brown eyes, shiny ponytail, and the way she would just quietly grin while Sally got worked up over something silly. Molly had a similar strength and calm center, with a tough layer of optimism. She had to, Sally thought, in order to face the human wreckage wheeled into her workplace every day.
Sherlock reached out, his fingertip brushing the shell of Molly's ear. "You've changed your shampoo."
"Oh yeah, ah, it was on sale," Molly explained, her voice low. Her eyes meeting his, she smiled tentatively. The detective cleared his throat, and a muscle in his jaw flexed.
Oh Jesus, Sally thought. Another arousing exchange. "Yeah real nice, smells like cherry pie. Can we get on with it?" She pointed at the body. "Have you got anything or not, Holmes?"
"Of course. Do you, Donovan?" he said smugly, narrowing his eyes at Sally.
"Sherlock," a voice rebuked him softly.
Turning toward her voice, he searched Molly's face, and whatever he saw warned him off. To Sally's surprise, he let it drop with a last look in her direction. Stepping back from the slab, his shoulders relaxed as he spun back toward the pathologist.
"Who wants coffee? I want coffee. Molly?"
"Oh thanks, but I'm busy. I'm behind actually. Badly." She gestured toward the stack of clipboards, and picked up the topmost one. "I'd love to, another day. " She smiled hopefully. "Just say when."
"Right." Sherlock looked back at Donovan, waiting. "Ready to move, Sergeant?"
"Ask her out."
"What?" "Sorry?" Sherlock and Molly's shocked responses overlapped.
"Or you ask him out. I don't care. I can't take it anymore. One of you has to do something, because it's ridiculously obvious to anyone with eyes. Anyone who has to sit through your bizarre mating rituals can see that you're mad for each other, so cut the shit. Ask her for coffee another time. Or you ask him. Whatever. You're adults. Get it sorted."
Throwing up her hands in frustration, Sally strode out. Thinking back on the moment later, she knew Dasha would have been very amused.
As a rule, Molly found the cold neutrality of medical charts soothing in their simplicity, but right then, nothing was going to help. She stared at the lines of text, the raw numbers that boiled the dead man's life down to a set of weights, chemicals, and figures. She wondered if she waited long enough, would Sherlock forget Sally's blunt orders and mention of her feelings and wander off to play in the morgue?
No such luck.
"Well." Sherlock laced his fingers together.
"Not leaving to grab a coffee then?" Molly said lightly, unable to look up from her clipboard.
"Maybe later." He took a step toward Molly, tilting his head to catch a glimpse of her face as she hid in the chart. "She's wrong, isn't she. It's too late, isn't it?"
"Too late?" Molly cautiously lifted her head. Her heart beat faster.
The rueful expression across Sherlock's lips could barely be called a smile. His hands curled into fists, flexing as he thought aloud. "I didn't see, I didn't observe, for too long. And then I- there were errors. Things I've done. And there were wounds." His eyes caressed her face. "I was careless. Perhaps too much damage to be forgiven."
"No. I'm not angry any longer at you for anything." Molly set down the clipboard. "What happened before- that day when I- I felt so awful, I never slap people. I mean, you were horrible, and I was so angry, but it wasn't right. All of it, it was so so wrong."
"I know, we discussed it when I was hospitalized. You were right. I needed a good smack. I keep it up here." He tapped his temple, and this time his smile was real.
Molly felt herself returning it. "Up there, like in your palace? What for?"
"Mmmm, hard to explain. Anyway, I didn't mean that. What happened with the Copper Beeches Society, it won't happen again. I promise."
"I believe you," Molly said. "Mostly because you gave them a good walloping. And I got a few licks in."
She tried not to think often about the few hours she'd spent in the care of the Copper Beeches gang. Sherlock had found her quickly and she'd remembered her self-defense classes well enough to strike her guard in the knee and groin when the time came to run. Her face did hurt for a couple weeks afterward, but she was healed now.
She'd never forget the look on his face when he'd found her running down the hallway of that warehouse, scratched with bruises forming and tears and blood running down her cheeks. How he'd cupped her neck and touched her chin gently, assessing her lightning-fast for vital injuries before setting her down to dispatch the kidnapper chasing after her. Those last few minutes were hazy, but she remembered the fire in his eyes and how she shivered, knowing that the kidnappers would never see a courthouse, with Mycroft's people handling it. She should be bothered by that, she supposed, but death, darkness and necessity was something she understood.
When Sherlock carried her out, she protested with her last shred of pride, but in her heart of hearts, she never wanted him to set her down.
"What Sally said." Sherlock stood up straighter. "I don't know how to do this."
Molly's throat tightened. Which way was this going? "Do what?"
"I tried to research it; there's a science to everything, but studying the pop culture aspects of socialization wasn't much help either. Observing John and Mary certainly was no help as their romance defies tradition, and you and I are...friends," Sherlock rambled, his eyes fixed on hers. "I understand there are different expectations for transitioning our status and-"
"Sherlock, say it." Her stomach did cartwheels inside her.
Sherlock stepped closer and took Molly's hands in his, wrapping her fingers in his large palms. "Molly. Would you like to go for coffee sometime? With me." He added rapidly, "For the express purpose of dating not in a casual manner -perhaps I shouldn't have taken Donovan's advice after all that rarely is a sound propos-"
Molly squeaked, and jumped up, wrapping her arms around his neck. "No, it's brilliant advice." She smiled up at Sherlock, who slid an arm around to pull her tight to him. "Yes, of course. So you'll be serving me coffee for a change? Shall I tell you how I take it?"
He traced the curve of her cheek and tipped her chin up. "No, I want you to show me."
And then his lips were on hers, telling her with complete sincerity everything he couldn't put into words.
"I'll give him another minute and then I'm leaving. He can take the tube home." Peering impatiently through the window into the morgue, Sally shook her head. "And if he doesn't keep her happy, I'll kick his arse."
Mike smiled. "He's not so bad once you get used to him nicking body parts. Do you know, I think he might actually adore her."
"What's going on? Sherlock texted me about the case. Haven't you got the key, Mike?" John jogged down the hall to join them.
"Just giving them some privacy. Sort of." The other man grinned and pointed. At his invitation, John leaned around Mike and peeked through the window, and his eyes popped open.
Sherlock had pressed Molly against the wall; only the back of his curly-haired head was visible as he kissed her throat. He must've been doing a good job of it as Molly's eyes were squeezed shut, her mouth shaped into a wordless, breathy O, and her nails dug into his shoulders. The detective's hands were lost somewhere beneath her lab coat.
"Remind me to never doubt my wife's insight again," John said, beaming.
"She predicted this?" Sally asked, brows raised.
"Yeah," John nodded. "She's got an eye for it. Strange love."