Chapter 1

Birthday Blues

"Evening, Molly," mumbled Sherlock, as the young pathologist entered the lab. Long experience meant she didn't bother to enquire how he had known it was her without looking up from the microscope, but she was surprised when he asked "Why so down?" - as he raised his eyes to look at her.

"All right," she muttered, rather crossly, "tell me how you knew without me saying a word, before you even looked up. I expect you want to". He grinned slightly at her. He enjoyed it when she was pert.

"Obvious, I'm afraid. Shuffling gait, and I beat you to a greeting. You were about twenty percent slower turning the door handle too, but you drink gallons of coffee when you're just tired, and there was no smell of it. Besides, you've still got a slight scent of washing powder about you, so physically, you're fairly fresh. See? Painfully simple."

"Yes", answered Molly, deliberately laying on the disinterested tone, then feeling a slight smirk threatening to tweak her lips at his slightly disgruntled expression.

"You avoided the question, by the way", he stated, going back to the microscope.

She sighed, plonking herself down on a stool, chin in hand, elbow upon the bench, then heard him sit up again, and turned to him with a rueful smile.

"It's my 32nd birthday."

"Congratulations", he deadpanned, and she found herself smiling again despite herself. "That's better. You suit smiling a lot better than moping around the place like a wet dishcloth."

"Oh, do shut up, Sherlock. Point A, from what I hear, you have absolutely no idea what a dishcloth would look like, B, it's all your fault, and C, you don't look like a little ray of sunshine yourself today either."

The previously diminutive girl had become a lot braver around Sherlock since the Jim incident, and he rather liked the change. It was nice to have somebody other than John, Lestrade and (marginally, just about) Sally that he could tolerate, and he approved of her frankness. He responded in kind.

"'My fault' because I didn't acknowledge that you used to moon around the place in what I presume was a wet dishcloth fashion after me, then shucked up with a psychopath who used you to get to me, thereby severely limiting your ability to attain a stable relationship? And this accounts for your current wet rag status because you're reflecting on how you anticipated your life would pan out, and you'd hoped for a significant other who wasn't a cat by this time?"

"Ouch!" But she was laughing by now, acknowledging a hit, despite the rather tragic truth of it. "A little too correct".

He scooted back on his stool a little, long legs stretched out in front of him, hands in pockets. "Ludicrous, really. You are one of the few genuinely intelligent people I know, now that you've stopped stuttering uselessly whenever you see me. Your academic output is exemplary, and you're on course to be one of the youngest pathology consultants in Britain. A relationship would certainly curtail that side of things. Plus, you're attractive enough that you should be able to easily procure sex for yourself to meet your needs if you're suffering from that kind of lack.'' The slightly eerie silver eyes were twinkling slightly as he spoke, and he took Molly's returning sally with grace.

"Kettle, meet pot. You've been doing the wet dishcloth thing over John for months."

He sighed, and looked mildly surprised. "Is it that obvious?"

"Apparently to everyone but John. Why don't you just tell him? Worse he could do would be discover his homophobic streak, punch you on the nose, and never speak to you again."

"Actually, the worse he could do would be to be kind and pitying and try to carry on as normal... good grief, woman, how do you do it? You realise you've actually engaged a sociopath in a mundane discussion about feelings? No-one else can do that."

"Sociopath, what rubbish... Wait a minute, Sherlock - procure sex? I don't procure thank you very much!"

"Whyever not?" Honestly, the man was hopeless. He sounded genuinely puzzled.

"Because it's degrading. I wouldn't expect an esoteric virgin like yourself to understand..." she stopped, as Sherlock had erupted into his sharp bark of a laugh. "What?"

"You know I don't eat on a case?"

"Yes."

"I still enjoy food when I have an appetite. Sometimes, I like take-away, sometimes a three course dinner, I have a discerning enough palate to give any food critic a run for their money, but I don't get emotionally attached to any of it."

She studied him with interest. This was a new development.

"Are you telling me you're a tart, Sherlock?"

"Oh, really, that's such a prurient way of looking at it, Molls. It's just a very enjoyable bodily function."

Molly was suddenly aware of a slight tension in the room. Or was tension the right word? Frisson might be more like it. More peculiarly, it wasn't bothering her. I'm discussing sex with Sherlock Holmes, and I'm feeling calm and in control.

She grinned at him.

"I should have guessed Sherlock Holmes would just take what he wanted, when he wanted it. After all, you've never let inconvenient things like convention, or morality, to cramp your style before."

To her surprise, she saw a so-fleeting-as-to-be-almost-invisible look of hurt flash across his face. She doubted he was aware it was visible, but it stirred a slight guilty, protective feeling in her.

"Actually, I should say convention or good manners. I know you don't like to let on, but I think your morality's actually pretty sound." He looked quite ridiculously pleased, and Molly felt a moment's aching empathy; however detached he may chose to portray himself, the constant barbs of "freak" and "psychopath" must have worn him down over time. She knew that this had improved recently, that even Sergeant Donovan had a certain exasperated fondness for their impossible consultant, but some wounds took a long time to heal. Her retrospective was interrupted by the long, lanky form leaping to its feet suddenly, causing her to jump in a way quite reminiscent of her earlier interaction with him.

"So, no plans to do anything up until now?"

"No. Feeling far to sulky and Bridget Jones-ish to celebrate being another year closer to death."

"Rubbish. Come on, I'm bored. I'll take you to dinner at that new Indonesian place off Chancery Lane - the owner owes me a favour, and you can tell me about your gamma delta T-cell results."

"Pardon?"

"Don't do the gauche thing, or I'm withdrawing the offer. You know I would know about your research; I won't break confidentiality, you're clearly bored and fed up, I'm clearly bored and fed up, and we sort of get on. Has to be better than waiting for your cell lines to mature."

"I was rather looking forward to watching my cell lines mature. It's almost as exciting as watching paint dry. Anyway, aren't you busy?" She nodded at the microscope.

"Dull, and done."

"Don't you want to do something with John?"

She watched with interest as his face became marginally more expressionless.

"He's ill. Well, actually, he was. Rotaviral gastroenteritis. Revolting condition. He wanted a bit of peace and quiet."

"Ugh, poor thing. I had that in my GP block, it was awful. So, you're at a loose end?"

"Apparently."

"I'm not really dressed for a night out."

"Actually, you look rather nice. Just take the belt from the trousers and cinch it through the belt hooks on your top. And put some lipstick on. Your mouth looks small."

He tempered this with a wink, and Molly burst out laughing, rising to her feet, feeling much more cheerful.

"How could I resist such a chivalrous invitation?"

"Quite. Madam, may I escort you to dinner?"

He approached her, proffering his arm with a flourish, and she took it with a Jane Austen style curtsey.

"Sir is too kind."

He snorted. "Hardly. You can pay for the taxi."

-oOo-

Well, the original Sherlock Holmes could be kind and charming when he chose to be, and women's roles have changed a bit since his day… or perhaps Sherlock wants to experiment on Molly…

If I say this fic might go up a rating for later chapters, would anyone be interested? Especially if they're already written?

Anyway, please read and review! Thanks.