Take a ride with me
She should have known the moment she saw him – wide-eyed, wired, unshaven, practically bouncing with nervous energy. But of course, she didn't want to believe it, not after last time. He'd never made any promises back then, clearly feeling that he didn't owe anyone anything, not even her. So, he was using again. Better get on with it.
When Molly reached the ambulance, Sherlock was already lying down on the gurney, his hands pillowing his head as though he was relaxing on a sun lounger. He raised his head slightly when she climbed into the vehicle, flashing her a smile that verged on manic and that was totally inappropriate for the current situation. She bit back the tears – she was not going to cry, not this time. He didn't deserve it.
"Ah, Molly, there you are - chop, chop!"
"Sit up, Sherlock."
She didn't look at him, afraid of what she might do or say.
"I'm assuming the position," he replied, gesturing to his prone posture. Was he waggling his eyebrows at her? Jesus, this was hardly the time.
This time, while she was searching around for disposable gloves, he did what he was told. She handed him a plastic beaker.
"You need this," she told him. "I suggest you get it done before we start moving."
She gave him some privacy while he peed in the beaker, using the time to lay out the various things she would need in order to give Sherlock the most thorough examination possible without the luxury of a lab.
"How long do we have?" she asked.
"About twenty minutes," he replied, leaning around her and presenting her with the now-full beaker. "Traffic should be light."
At that moment, the ambulance driver started the engine and the vehicle started to edge slowly out of the cul-de-sac.
"And am I allowed to ask where we're going?"
"What do you think of Culverton Smith, Molly?"
She turned around and stared at him; she really was not in the mood for any of his whimsical games. God, he really looked high.
"I think he's an extremely creepy man who exploits the media and people's kindness to further his own ends," she told him with a sigh. "Shirt off."
Sherlock snorted and gave her a lopsided grin, but started to unbutton his shirt as instructed.
"That's because you, Doctor Molly Hooper, are far more perceptive than most," he said, pausing with his shirt hanging open. "But you're far too nice to see the real truth. It takes a dark heart to recognise another dark heart."
"You don't have a dark heart, Sherlock," Molly said, flatly, as he shucked the shirt from his shoulders. "I know your heart. You're just a thoughtless bastard sometimes."
He was looking up at her curiously, to the point where Molly felt the intensity of his gaze. Her attention, however, was on the torso in front of her – pale, skinnier than when she last saw him like this. She took in the scar from the bullet hole, recalling how she'd touched it before. She could remember the needle marks, too, once barely perceptible but now almost impossible to see thanks to the scattering of fresh ones up and down his forearms. Molly couldn't help it – she felt the tears spring up in the corners of her eyes.
This was stupid, cruel. Why did he want her to see him like this? What point did he want to prove?
"You hate me now, don't you?" Sherlock asked, as she lifted his wrist in order to get a better look at his scars.
She hadn't let the tears fall. This was a medical examination, and she couldn't allow it.
"Why do you say that?"
"You think I'm throwing myself away, wasting my life and my talents."
"I think I've made my feelings on that quite clear in the past," Molly replied, unwinding the stethoscope and placing the buds in her ears.
"You're wrong, Molly," he said, his tone suddenly more serious. "This isn't for me. Isn't about me."
"Everything is about you, Sherlock," she sighed, writing down some figures on the notepad beside her. "It always is and always has been, and none of us should expect anything different."
His eyes, when she dared to meet them, looked sad. She suddenly had a vision of how healthy, how good he looked not so long ago, one day in particular, when it had seemed to Molly that perhaps anything really was possible. This only made the anguish bubble up to the surface again.
"Why did you summon me here, Sherlock?" she demanded, sliding the blood-pressure sleeve over this arm. "I have a job to do, you know? A real-life full-time, actually-very-demanding day job. Any doctor, any ambulance crew could have done the same."
"You didn't question it at the time," he replied, wincing slightly as she pumped the gauge.
"Yes, I did. You clearly deleted that text."
"I never delete your texts, Molly."
She met his gaze again, but he was unreadable and, actually, she didn't care about any stupid subtext right now.
"I knew that if I explained, you wouldn't come," he said. "And I needed you to."
"To tell you in person what this is about," he continued. "How much do you know about Mary Watson?"
Molly sighed. The pain of her friend's death was still like a yawning wound, and to have that news followed up with information – from Mycroft – about Mary's background…it still didn't seem real. She had been so busy with work, with taking care of Rosie and looking in on Mrs Hudson that Molly knew she hadn't even begun to grieve properly.
"I know what your brother told me."
"Mary knew she might die," Sherlock said. "That her past might catch up with her. I think she hid the worst of it from John. But she left me a message, an instruction – a case."
"What case?" Molly asked, removing the sleeve from his arm.
"This, everything I have been doing for the past four weeks, everything that I must do today and tomorrow and for however long this takes – it's to save John. That is the task that Mary left me."
Molly felt the anger building up again.
"You know how you could save John, Sherlock? By being there. By being there for your friend when he needs you the most – by offering comfort, sympathy, a shoulder to cry on."
He was looking down at the floor of the ambulance.
"That's your forte, Molly," he mumbled. "It's not really mine. And besides, it will only go so far – Mary knew that. I have to…go to the extremes of myself in order to save John; do the unthinkable so that he will save me."
Molly couldn't unpick his meaning, but it set off every warning bell there was. It crushed her heart that she couldn't protect Sherlock Holmes from himself.
"If this is about punishing yourself, Sherlock, you need to stop it," she said, almost choking on the words. "Killing yourself will help no-one, and make no mistake, that is what you're doing. You didn't kill Mary – she made a decision to save you -"
"A decision she would never have had to take if I hadn't been so desperate to prove how bloody clever I am," he retorted. "That's why I need to listen to her, to carry out her wishes."
Molly shook her head, closed her eyes for a moment.
"Mary loved you. Whatever message she left, this isn't what she meant for you to do."
She gave a short gasp as Sherlock's fingers curled around her wrist.
"Do you trust me, Molly?"
She blinked, looked down at his face, into his eyes. God, she wanted to. She really wanted to. But how could this be any more than yet another betrayal, another path of self-destruction?
"I need you to trust me," he said, when she didn't reply. "I came back before, and I will come back again. I know what I'm doing."
Molly allowed him to draw her closer to him, the medical exam now seemingly forgotten. The hand that held hers was warm, alive, despite what he'd done to himself.
"There was another reason I wanted you to come," he said, his voice lower now, barely audible above the rumble of the engine. "I wanted to see you."
She immediately cursed her disloyal heart, which leapt at his words. She also felt a pang of fear, wondering if she detected a horrible finality in his voice.
"I needed to see you," he murmured.
Drawing her even closer, Sherlock used the hand not holding hers to slip open the button of her cardigan. She gasped. She was standing between his legs now, and his fingers continued, now expertly unbuttoning her blouse from the top.
One button, two, three. He stopped. Then, he pulled her into an embrace, resting his face against her chest, his arms now banding around her waist. Without thinking, Molly's hand went to the mop of untidy curls tickling her skin, gently carding her fingers through it. Her heart beat beneath his cheek. She recognised what he was doing.
The night of Mary's death, a text arrived from Mycroft, telling her to expect a delivery that needed to be handled with care. Almost immediately, an unmarked car had arrived and Sherlock was suddenly at her door. He was nearly unrecognisable, swaying, incoherent, his face red and inflamed with tears. They had cried together, held each other on the sofa for what seemed like hours, and when sleep became an insistent force, they had clung to each other in her bed. He had done the same then; slipping down in the bed so that he could rest his face on her chest, lulled to sleep by the regular rhythm of her heart.
It wasn't sexual, and she knew that through experience, too. Nobody knew – not even John bloody Watson – that Molly Hooper and Sherlock Holmes had been intimate with each other. Just twice, but those two occasions obliterated all other sexual encounters in her past. The first time was after he had jumped from the roof of Bart's. The fall had, thanks to intricate planning on both of their parts, gone exactly to plan – so maybe that first time had been a celebration of sorts? There had definitely been euphoria, adrenaline that needed a channel for release, and Molly had been happy to go with it when she arrived back at her flat and found him waiting as planned. Frantic, urgent, lacking finesse, but it worked for them both. It had been tinged with sadness, too, though; Molly had no illusions that it signified promises of any sort, but she knew she was about to let him go into the world without knowing if or when he would return.
But he did come back.
And the second time was completely different, and not so long ago. It had happened after Rosie Watson's christening, when they had shared a cab home, the two of them deciding at some point that they would both get out at her place after all. It had been slightly tipsy, giggly sex, but god, it had been wonderful. Unlike the first time, there was no jeopardy, no recent drama to trigger it – just two people, slightly older, slightly wiser, enjoying each other and testing out a new dimension to their friendship. Molly remembered laughing at him as he cursed the zip on her new dress, whooping with laughter when he discovered how ticklish she was behind the knees, being surprised when Sherlock kissed her hard as they both came apart. And the next morning had been normal, too – instead of finding him gone as she expected, Molly had awoken to find Sherlock sprawled across the bed, tracing thoughtful circles on her abdomen with one of his long musician's fingers. They had gone out for breakfast - Sherlock still wearing his suit from the christening - eating a full English together, talking about recent post-mortems and occasionally smirking when they caught each other's eye.
Again, there had been no promises, no emotions laid bare, but there had been enough to make Molly wonder. It seemed like it would be easy to do it again, to continue doing it, to make it a habit that could happily become part of both of their lives.
But then of course Mary died, and their world changed again.
The last time Molly had seen Sherlock was when she turned him away from John's flat. It had killed her to do it, knowing how much pain he was in, too, but she was exhausted and only just holding it together herself, and if she wanted to do the best for Rosie, that meant carrying out John's wishes.
So this, apparently, was Sherlock's solution. This was why she was riding in the back of an ambulance to god knows where, with Sherlock's face against her heart, his stubble rasping against her skin, his thumbs moving in arcs across her lower back.
"You think you know something about this man that nobody else does," Molly said finally, her voice emerging almost as a whisper.
She felt him nod against her chest before moving away from her – but not far. His eyes closed, Sherlock placed a soft kiss on her skin, in the V where the last button of her blouse was fastened. As he sat back, his arms remained around her waist.
"Everything they've reported is exactly as I've said it," he replied.
Molly gave a small sigh.
"When you show up to confront him, everyone will know," she said. "They'll know you're high, and they'll think you're paranoid and that you're the one who's dangerous."
"I'm not paranoid, Molly," he said. "And I know how I need to play this. If I pull it off, one of the nation's most depraved serial killers will have been brought to justice, and I will have done the one thing that Mary entrusted me with."
"If," Molly replied, her voice hitching. "You said 'if'. You don't know, do you? You can't be certain."
He didn't reply. She hated that he didn't come back with an immediate counter. She felt the ambulance slow significantly to make a turn; they had to be reaching their destination.
"Don't do this," she whispered, unable to meet his eye. "You're no good to John if you're dead. You're no good to Rosie, or your brother, or your parents, or Greg."
Oh, to hell with it.
"And I need you to be alive, Sherlock."
The ambulance stopped, the engine cut off. Looking up at her, Sherlock gave her a lopsided smile, one that reminded her of the day he returned from exile and she had caught his reflection in the locker room at Bart's. Maintaining eye contact, he stood up and took Molly's hand from down by her side, placing it against his chest; his heartbeat was surprisingly strong and vigorous. His other hand came up to cradle her cheek.
"I've got…" she said, blinking back tears. "I need to check the samples."
She turned from him, quickly refastening her blouse before moving to assess the vials on the rack behind her, each one testing for a different substance. What she saw horrified her.
"Oh god," she said, although she didn't recall deciding to speak. "Sherlock, what is this? What have you done to yourself?"
"I'm a chemist, Molly, remember? Each dose has been meticulously calculated, taking into account my food consumption, my hydration levels and my decreasing body mass. As far as experimental drug use can ever be said to be safe, this was safe."
"I can't…" she began, removing the litmus papers from the vials. "I think it's best if we end this conversation."
Once Sherlock had his shirt back on, Molly swung open the ambulance doors, relieved at the sensation of cold air on her skin. She was about to step down when he caught her arm, forcing her to turn and face him once again.
"John is going to be angry," he said. "Let him be angry – it's what he needs. Tell him the truth, Molly; he'll believe what you say."
"And which truth would that be?" she fired back.
"The drug tests. The state of my health."
She nodded, eyes closed, resigning herself to whatever it was Sherlock needed. She felt his grip on her arm soften.
"Thank you, Molly," he said. "For coming when I asked, for caring enough - for everything you do and everything you are."
She wished to god he would stop, afraid of that mortifying moment when she would crumble.
"There's just one more thing I need," he added, waiting until she returned her gaze to his face. "Believe in me. Trust me. Because if you don't, I have nobody left."
His eyes, though bloodshot and dilated, fixed her with an intensity that almost broke her. She couldn't help it – a small part of herself just wanted to reach up and softly kiss him, remind him of what they had briefly been to each other and what she still believed they could still share if the world allowed them.
Instead, Molly broke contact with him, climbed down from the ambulance and went to sit on the fold-down steps, gathering her arms around her as though it might offer her some small protection. Little more than a minute passed before the black limousine pulled up alongside the ambulance, and any second now John would be standing in front of her, demanding a verdict on the man behind her.
She knew she would tell John exactly what Sherlock needed him to hear – that was why she was there, wasn't it?
What she couldn't tell him, though, was how terrified she was - how mortally afraid - that she would never see the man she loved alive again.
I know this is a bit angsty, but I was keen to bridge that gap between the ambulance leaving the housing estate and arriving at the TV studio, because – like loads of other people – I think there was more there.
I've actually got an idea for a sequel (set post-The Lying Detective), which should be more upbeat and hopeful, and might include a visit to a 'cake place' – what do you think?