Four evenings later, Molly made Sherlock go to the shops. Forced him. It was unfair of her, first catching a cold and then describing, in minute detail, the last time she went for nappies and her milk let down and soaked her shirt in the middle of the Tesco. He'd surrendered and gone, just to avoid having to hear the story again.
The sooner that child was housebroken, the better.
He caught sight of himself in the supermarket window and stopped short. No predatory animal, he. He'd been forced to try three shirts before he found one that he could wear comfortably that didn't have a stain on it somewhere. Even freshly showered and wearing clean clothes, he smelled entirely of baby and faintly of baby sick. Sarah had been right about him: he was going soft, had gone soft. By all appearances, Sherlock had been thoroughly domesticated.
He involuntarily ground his back teeth.
Pushing the trolley through the store, gathering things he wanted rather than needed - three kinds of biscuits, none of which Molly liked, blood oranges, napa cabbage, other things she hadn't asked for and probably had no idea how to use.
He was reluctant to enter the baby aisle, populated as it no doubt was by soft, toothless, needy men. Harmless men. Sherlock hadn't been harmless a day in his life.
He was seized by the sudden urge to go back to Baker Street and shake Molly awake, inform her in no uncertain terms that he was not harmless, he was not a pet, he couldn't be kept in the flat indefinitely, minding a baby, any baby, even if it was mostly his decision to do so.
He wasn't her damned boyfriend. He definitely wasn't her husband. If he had his way, he would go straight back there and tell her so while buried deep inside her, just to make the point perfectly clear.
But there was a six week moratorium on intercourse, with four more weeks to go. At this rate, he would go mad first.
It had never bothered him to go without sex before. It was nothing but an itch to be scratched, or not, as he chose. Now, he had grown sick of sleeping in his own bed, alone, and he couldn't share Molly's without wanting. He couldn't wait to let his hands roam over her body. He couldn't wait to touch her. He couldn't wait to be touched.
A month was too long.
He looked up to find himself in the condom aisle. Perhaps he should buy a box in preparation for the lifting of his exile? The ones in his flat were well over a year old.
Would he need condoms? They were unnecessary from a disease standpoint and he wouldn't enjoy going back to them. Perhaps Molly had planned for some sort of birth control. Or perhaps she'd like another baby to keep Edmund company. Sherlock weighed the advantages of postponing condom use for another year or so with the disadvantages of twice the nappies.
He grabbed a box and turned to hear someone who seemed to be addressing him.
Male. Blond. Muscular build. Roughly his own height.
Sherlock narrowed his eyes. He hadn't been 'Stewart' in close to two years, and certainly not around here.
"Fancy running into you here." The blond coloured a bit and laughed. Sherlock searched his mind for a name. Bill. At least he had called himself Bill. And -
Having condoms didn't require he use them with Molly.
Sherlock could easily see exactly how it would play out. All Bill would need was the right smile; that was all he needed the other time, if Sherlock recalled correctly. Stretch his lips far enough to produce the dimples - men and women alike responded to the dimples for some reason Sherlock had yet to fathom - and he could bugger Bill in the back of a cab, up against an alley wall, anywhere, if he wanted.
Not fellatio. He didn't think he could have it now without picturing Molly's large dark eyes reproaching him. A dark and furious assignation with little or no relation to what he did with - her; that would be the most discreet and convenient course of action. Prove to himself and everyone else he was not some mild, domestic pet, some bloody house cat.
Do up his trousers after, stuff the condom in his pocket, and have the cab drop him somewhere far from Baker Street. Drop the condom in a bin. Take another cab home.
Bill was giving him a remembering leer. Bill was large, solid. Sherlock could be as rough as he liked with Bill, and never think twice, never worry about hurting him.
Molly was little. Molly could be so easily hurt in so many ways.
And this would hurt Molly, he knew, if he followed through. Even if she never found out, and Sherlock knew she wouldn't unless her told her, somehow -
Somehow, it would hurt her.
And if she found out?
She would pack her things and go. Immediately. And Edmund, being one of her things, he'd go, too. This would send them away forever, he knew it viscerally. No Molly ever again. No Edmund. Much worse than John getting married. Much worse than -
Oh Christ, what was he thinking? How had he turned into his own father while he wasn't looking?
He felt like he was going to be sick.
He pulled a random accent out of his bag of tricks, one he never would have used while on the pull. "Sorry, mate, wrong bloke," he said. He pushed the trolley to the end of the aisle, abandoned it, and walked out without the nappies or the oranges or the condoms or any of the things she'd sent him for.
He took the first cab he could find, and he meant to go upstairs to his own flat. Meant to, but didn't.
Instead, he walked quietly into Molly's darkened flat, avoiding all the baby things, the unfolded laundry and assorted books and toys that seemed to multiply whenever one turned one's back, and slipped into her bedroom.
He could just make out the shape of her under the duvet. He removed his shoes, but otherwise remained dressed, and as quietly as he could, crept to the other side. With studied care, he climbed in and put his arm round her waist.
Not his girlfriend. Definitely not his wife.
"Sherlock?" She sounded even more congested than when he'd left. "I'm tired and everything hurts. Please let me sleep. Whatever you want, I'll do it tomorrow, I promise, okay? Please."
And there it was. That's what she thought of him. Was that what he was? The sort of male who destroyed everything round him, everything of value, just because he could?
"Shut up," he muttered.
"Shut up," he repeated, feeling, for the first time he could recall, that he wanted to cry.
"Sherlock?" She sounded concerned and tried to twist in his arms, but he held her firm.
"Spare me your sex-obsessed ramblings, Molly. Shut up and go to sleep."
For all her much-vaunted docility, Molly couldn't follow simple directions. Instead, she rolled awkwardly to face him, though the movement was clearly painful.
"Are you okay?" she said, putting her hand to his forehead, and then, apparently satisfied he wasn't feverish, raking her fingers through his hair.
"I'm fine. Of course I'm fine," he assured her.
"Are you sure?" she asked stroking his face. It was at once a form of tender torture and exactly what he hoped for.
"Go to sleep, Molly," he said, trying to sound as though he was not lying in her arms, hating himself.
"I'm awake now." She touched his lip with her finger, and then slowly traced his chin, his jaw, his throat.
It felt wonderful, like she was kissing him with her fingertips, and he wanted more. "Would you please stop poking at me?" he said.
Molly didn't take the bait. She was silent a long time. "I don't want you getting any ideas, Sherlock."
"Ideas about what?"
She ran her finger along the scar at his lip. "You're not my boyfriend."
Sherlock didn't look at her, but he felt her delicate fingertip. "I'm not." He swallowed thickly. "Not a bit."
"You've got a bed upstairs," she said, still touching his face, his neck, the skin below his ear.
"Yes," he agreed. He was afraid if she didn't just shut up he would burst into flame.
She cupped his cheek. "But, you're always welcome here."
He exhaled shakily. "Am I?"
"You are," she said. "To visit with Eddie. To visit with me. To sleep or - not sleep. Anytime."
"Perhaps when I haven't a case," he said. He hoped she had the grace not to point out he had been turning down every case that came his way for well over a month.
"Perhaps. You should take one soon, though. Lestrade must be going spare." Molly put her arms round him. "Ow! Are you fully dressed? Is that your belt? At least take that off."
"Go to sleep, Molly," he said feeling inexplicably better about his situation, if not himself.
D.I. Lestrade wished he could say he'd given Sherlock Holmes and Molly Hooper a second thought after that night at The Yard, but he hadn't. Too bad he didn't have the time or the energy to worry over Sherlock's domestic arrangements; too bad it never crossed his mind until he set foot in Sherlock's flat and found him -
- singing to a baby?
It was a new baby, very new, with a head of dark hair and full, red lips.
Lestrade had figured it out that night Molly was in his office, of course, but there'd be no point in anyone denying it any longer. Anyone who knew Sherlock would see the resemblance.
"I texted," Lestrade said. "You didn't answer. I was worried you were dead."
"My hands are full," Sherlock said, as though Lestrade couldn't be trusted to see he was holding a baby.
"Yeah, I see that," he said, trying not to look too surprised. "So, what's this, then?"
"An infant." Sherlock still hadn't looked away from the baby.
"Even I got that." Lestrade said. "Boy or girl?"
"Edmund, as the name would suggest, is male."
"You babysitting for someone?" Lestrade asked. "A neighbour, maybe."
Sherlock looked away from the baby long enough to glare.
"I'm taking the piss, mate. Congratulations."
Sherlock was always so composed, but his reaction this time was confused and guarded. He took the baby, who had been stretched out along his forearm with his head in the palm of Sherlock's hand, and held him close to his chest. Sherlock's head was down, he looked worried, but the corner of his mouth quirked. It was the first time he had ever seen Sherlock seem shy. "Thank you."
"Relax, I'm not going to tell anyone." Lestrade wasn't stupid; he was perfectly aware of the kind of shit the poor kid was in for simply by virtue of his paternity. No need to make it worse than it had to be by adding grist to the mill. "Give him here."
Slowly, deliberately, Sherlock handed over the baby. "Thank you, Detective Inspector," he said in a soft uneasy voice.
"Geoff, yeah, at least when we're off the clock? I've been bloody calling you Sherlock forever." Lestrade could see Sherlock nod out of the corner of his eye, but he didn't seem to have anything to say.
There was a silence that stretched as Lestrade held the warm baby, who squinted at him as though he were evidence. He remembered when his own kids were this small. It was funny how you could see their little personalities, even at this age. It was plain this kid had a lot of Sherlock in him, but he was already calmer, less of a raw nerve.
"I'm here about a case," Lestrade said at last.
"I know," Sherlock said. "The dead racehorse, and the two unrelated murders. If you look, you may find they are less unrelated than previously imagined."
"Marvelous," Lestrade said. He'd had a feeling about that, but he'd kept telling himself it was ridiculous. "So, you want in?"
Sherlock seemed to consider it for a moment, then nodded.
"You could ride along if you like," Lestrade said, watching the baby watch him. He'd seen police sergeants with less focus.
"No, thank you. I'll meet you at the veterinarian's office," Sherlock replied. "Very shortly."
Which was no surprise. Lestrade knew he'd never ride in a police car if he had a choice.
"Oi! What's keepin' the Freak? I thought he'd be -" Sally called up the stairs. She stopped mid-sentence the minute she set foot in the sitting room.
At the same time, with one bath towel wrapped round her barely keeping Lestrade from getting an eyeful, and drying her hair with another, came Molly Hooper saying, "I thought I'd give Eddie his breakfast before I got dressed, so I don't end up getting my clothes all milky. I know it's postponing the inev -" her eyes went round when she saw the police in Sherlock's sitting room. "Oh. Hello."
Lestrade's first thought was that Molly Hooper looked surprisingly good for having just had a baby. His second thought was that Sherlock Holmes was once again luckier than he deserved. His third was that, if he'd left two minutes earlier, a grand row could have been avoided.
Maybe he could still avoid it. "Wouldn't be my first choice of babysitter, either," Lestrade said, catching Molly's eye. "Or showers, come to that. Last time I looked, he was culturing bacteria in there."
"It was fungus," Sherlock corrected, looking and sounding just like himself. "And beggars can't be choosers, can they? When is that plumber coming, Doctor Hooper?"
"Ummm, M- monday," Molly stuttered.
Sally looked skeptical, then brightened. "Mind if I hold him?"
Lestrade looked at Molly and then at Sally.
Molly went stiff, but if nothing else she was polite. "Sure. Um, you've held a baby before?"
Sherlock, on the other hand, looked like he was going to be ill.
"Sure, loads. Oldest of five didn't get much choice." Sally took the baby out of Lestrade's arms. She looked at the baby intently, then at Molly, then glanced up at Sherlock, while trying to pretend she wasn't. Sally was a lot of things, including a damn fine police woman, but she was bollocks at subtlety. In her favor she kept her thoughts to herself. "Oh, isn't he lovely? How old?"
Molly said, "He's three weeks old."
"And one day," Sherlock added with a scowl.
"He's a big boy, isn't he? What's his name?"
"Edmund," Molly said.
"You look good for three weeks," Sally said. "Getting a lot of help, are you?"
"Yes. Um, yeah, thanks," Molly said with a forced smile.
Sherlock looked up from his phone. "My cab should be here soon. If you intend to dress at some point today, perhaps you would like to go to your own flat while there is someone here to carry the baby downstairs for you."
"Yes, um, thanks, Sherlock," Molly said.
Sherlock took the baby from Sally without a word.
Next time Lestrade saw Sherlock, the case was the only thing on either of their minds.
For six days, Sherlock didn't eat, barely slept, played the violin at odd hours, and kept to his own flat.
To Molly, it felt oddly normal. The violin didn't seem to faze Eddie, and he slept right through. She supposed he'd heard enough of it in utero to be used to it.
Then, on the seventh day, at 2 a.m., she woke up to Sherlock sitting on the edge of her bed with Eddie in his arms.
"How's the case?" Molly asked, rubbing her eyes.
"Solved," Sherlock said.
"Good." She pulled back the duvet. "Want in?"
"No. I'd prefer something to eat, if it's all the same," Sherlock said.
"Sherlock, It's 2 a.m."
"So?" Sherlock asked.
"I don't want to get up and cook," she explained.
"Because of the time?"
"Yes, because of the time."
Sherlock sniffed, making the face she knew, even if it had taken months to learn, was his hurt face. "Well, then -"
"Right, you haven't eaten in days, have you? Fine. I'll make you a sandwich." Molly rubbed her face, trying to wake herself up a bit. "Nothing elaborate, though."
"Thank you, Molly." Sherlock nodded and cradled Eddie close to his chest. "I - thank you."
The day started with a tiger. Or, at least, that was how Molly thought of it.
She was awakened by a strong, strange smell and the sensation of sinking at the foot of her bed. Her eyes opened like they were spring-loaded and she sat up like a shot. Sherlock was sitting on the foot of her bed, filthy, his hair full of grass. No, hay. And smelling like a farm. No, a zoo.
"Where've you been?" she asked, rubbing her eyes. "You smell awful."
"The circus," he said. "I believe I may require a stitch or two."
"In your coat?" she asked, seeing that it was torn and wondering if she had the proper colour of thread. On closer inspection, she realized it was actually sawdust in Sherlock's hair.
"No, in my leg," he said. In short order, he stood and, with precise movements, removed his coat, the lower right side of which looked as though it had been attacked by wild animals. He then removed his trousers, which were slightly less ruined, but ruined just the same. There were three equally spaced scratches deep in the front of his thigh.
Molly inhaled. "That looks nasty. What were you doing at the circus?"
Sherlock squinted at her. "A case, of course. You do recall that I have those?"
He had laid out all his necessary supplies - antiseptic, several flannels, needle, sutures, and scissors, on her bed while she was sleeping.
"No, tiger," he said. "It's not nearly as bad as it might have been."
Molly wondered how bad that was. Having to tell her son his father had been eaten by a tiger? Exactly whose life was she living, again? Who got eaten by tigers in London in the 21st century? Sherlock Holmes, that's who.
Well, not eaten, thank heavens. Scratched up a bit, though, quite a bit, actually.
It looked, not surprisingly, exactly like a giant cat scratch.
"Are your jabs up to date?" Who knew what sort of bacteria lurked in the stool of exotic cats.
"Yes, Dr. Hooper." Sherlock sounded bored, but too bad.
She picked up a flannel, liberally doused it with antiseptic, and applied it to the wounds. Only one of them was deep enough to need stitches. Good thing his poor coat was so sturdy.
"If you want me to do a doctor's work you can expect me to behave like a doctor," she said. "Which ones have you had?"
"All of them," he said, grimacing as she scrubbed. "Hep a through z, diphtheria, pertussis, small pox, yellow fever - "
"How old is your tetanus?" she asked before he could say any more.
"Updated a year ago."
"Where was John when this happened?" She applied a bit of lidocaine to numb the wound.
"Not in the tiger cage," he said, through gritted teeth.
"Oh." She carefully drew the two sides of the wound together with the thread.
"So, have you solved it or are you rushing back out?"
She noticed that despite his wince, he was giving her a look. A look that either meant he didn't approve of her sleeping in a t-shirt and knickers, or that he really, really, very much did approve. It was definitely o ne of those.
"Finished," he hissed. "It was a conspiracy of clowns."
"Literally?" She put in a fourth stitch. He'd need at least four more.
"Yes," he said, watching closely as she sewed. "The tyranny of Bobo was ended rather effectively by his fellows."
"I see." She worked in silence for a few minutes more, knotted the end of the thread and clipped it short. "There you go. I'll speak to John about getting you antibiotics to be on the safe side. Good as new, or you will be soon enough. Wish I could say the same for your poor coat."
Sherlock arched his left brow. "My coat?"
"It's a nice coat. I'll miss it," she said, wanting to tease him a little. "If I still went to church, I'd go light a candle."
Sherlock looked puzzled, then amused. "I'm not sure this fetish is quite wholesome, but I suppose I could easily get another one."
Molly gathered up her Sherlock-repair supplies and tried not to laugh. "It suits you, that coat, suits you very well. Suited now, I guess."
"It was off-the-rack. I would think they made more than the one." Sherlock stood. "These trousers are a loss, as well."
And at that moment, Molly wondered how long Eddie was going to sleep. Sherlock was giving her a sideways glance, one that suggested he might be wondering the same thing. Either that, or he wanted something fried. Perhaps he was weighing that question himself.
He wasn't in a rush to get to his own flat, that much was certain. He ran his hands through his hair, filling the air with sawdust. Removing his shirt, he sniffed it, frowned slightly. "It smells of camel," he said. "That was the murder weapon; a camel. It was rather ingenious."
"You smell of camel, you mean."
"I most certainly do not." He held the shirt out at arm's length and then gestured to himself. "See for yourself."
How exactly was Molly going to turn down an invitation like that?
She sniffed the shirt. Clearly camel. Well, how she imagined camel would smell. Stronger than sheep or cows, different to horses. She'd have to take Sherlock's word for it. She'd never been near a camel.
She set the shirt down on the bed and stepped up to Sherlock burying her nose in his chest. Inhaled slowly. No cologne, but he had that 'been working' smell about him - a little sweat, a little soap, and a lot of Sherlock. Molly couldn't help humming with appreciation.
"So?" he asked.
"I can't say. I've no idea what a camel smells like. I've never been to the circus."
"Really?" Sherlock turned his head at a funny angle to look into her face. "Thirty-four years old and you've never been to the circus?"
"No," she said, her head still on his chest. "My dad couldn't really leave the shop and there was no one else to take me. We never really went anywhere. After that, I was at uni or here, in London. The circus never came into it."
Sherlock nodded to himself, and whatever he was thinking, he kept that to himself, too. Well, not entirely to himself. He held very still as certain parts of him pressed against her hip.
She pressed back, trying to avoid his leg. He looked a bit embarrassed. Molly wasn't sure if he was embarrassed by his erection or the fact that she'd never been to the circus, or something else entirely.
"So, you like playing doctor, then?" She felt stupid the minute she said it. How could he resist her? she wondered.
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "It's hardly playing when one of you has actually been to medical school. But, yes. Something like that."
He had to be full of adrenaline. But embarrassed by it. Well, that was a new one. The embarrassment, at least.
She put one hand on his cheek, and the other on the bulge at the front of his trousers. He sucked his lower lip into his mouth and remained perfectly still. Licked his lips again.
Molly thought perhaps that was a hint.
"Would you like me to -?" She put her finger to her mouth.
"I -" Sherlock shrugged and looked round the room furtively. "Yes. I - yes. Please."
"I think I'd like that, too," she said, and realized she meant it. It had been forever.
He reached out and stroked her hair, still looking embarrassed. She slid her hand into the waist of his boxers and it was so nice - Sherlock on one side, silk on the other. She wrapped her hand round him and he moaned. Her mouth watered in anticipation. She hoped Eddie didn't wake up -
She needn't have worried; her stupid phone went off instead.
"It's probably just Mycroft. Again," she said. She didn't like Sherlock's brother, but she tried to be polite. "He's been calling since yesterday. When I answer, he just asks why you aren't taking his calls. Told him I am not your P.A. "
"I was busy being mauled," he said with a muffled grunt. Then he opened his eyes. "Oh. What day is it?"
"Saturday." She began sliding those lovely silk boxers down, down, do-
He grasped her hand, stopping her. "Which Saturday?"
"Twenty-somethingth of March," she said. "Why?"
"Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday?"
Molly nodded. "I think so."
On that note, Sherlock stepped back, pulling his penis out of her hand. He tugged up his pants and made a grab for her phone at the same time.
"Excuse me?" she said. 'What -"
"Mycroft. Yes. Yes, I was working. Working, Mycroft, try it some time. Nine o'clock? Right, I've a few matters to see to before we leave London. Well, obviously. Of course I am, you are bringing the clones, are you not? There you are."
"Sherlock?" Molly asked.
"Change of plans." Sherlock stood there and smiled his dangerously charming smile at her. "Let's get cleaned up and do a bit of shopping, shall we?"
Sherlock couldn't believe it was impossible to hire a personal shopper the Saturday before Mothering Sunday. Well, amend that: he couldn't believe it was impossible for him to hire a personal shopper the Saturday before Mothering Sunday. Apparently, they were all booked and there was nothing he could do about it.
And Molly was indecisive and extra timid and it was tiresome, particularly since he had a schedule to keep to.
A cashmere twin-set and pencil skirt later, with some overnight things and an outfit for Sunday in hand, he was able to drag her to a nearby hairdresser, where he used all of Mycroft's pull to secure Molly an appointment.
Growing up, Molly's father had cut her hair in the kitchen. She'd given a hair dresser a try twice when she was a teenager and twice again at uni, but it was always the same; she had uncooperative, stick-straight hair that the stylists tried and failed to wrestle into submission. She always ended up feeling awkward and inadequate as a client, which she knew was stupid. But going to the salon made her feel as though there was a set of rules no one had bothered telling her about. It was a place she didn't belong and they always did things she didn't want but didn't have the nerve to say 'no' to.
But Sherlock, like a whirlwind, had taken her from Harrods', God help her, to a hair salon where, in his horrible, but also a bit wonderful Sherlock way, he'd given all the orders. For which, it turned out, she was grateful, as she could never bring herself to tell these people what to do. Lord, she could hardly bring herself to string two words together in a situation like this.
And Sherlock was clear with them - no hair coloring, no curling, and absolutely no trimming more than one and one-half centimeters, and don't think he wouldn't know the difference.
There was a moment, the sort of moment that kept her away from hairdressers in general, where the man laid his hand on her shoulder and grinned at her reflection in the mirror.
"And what were you thinking, luv?"
Sherlock's eyes had narrowed. "She wasn't," he said. "And you've been given your directions."
Molly had never before been so grateful that Sherlock was a complete git.
She smiled at him and he answered with a tight smile and a nod. "Tell your mother good-bye, Edmund," he said, lifting the baby carrier for her to plant a kiss on his forehead.
She felt far more frightened than she had reason to be. "Bye, sweetie."
Molly didn't much like being touched by strangers, which was odd, considering she spent her work day touching dead strangers in a fairly intimate way. She supposed they could fuss with her hair all they liked when she was dead and she wouldn't be bothered.
She didn't much like Sherlock taking off to find a new coat with Edmund and leaving her alone, either.
After two hours of being washed, dried, teased, and straightened, she looked in the mirror and - holy Mary! - she looked pretty! She couldn't wait for Sherlock to see.
And she didn't have to wait for long, because less than five minutes later, Sherlock strode in wearing his new-old coat, with Edmund in his arms, and no sign of the carrier. He looked exactly like Sherlock Holmes. With a baby.
Molly felt hopeful as he stared her up and down. But his expression was less than bright.
He didn't even address her. Instead he turned to the stylist. "What have you done?" he said, his voice flat.
"I like it," Molly said honestly. "What's wrong?
"Not much," Sherlock said, "If the look you were aiming at was a twelve year old girl dressed up as a fairy in a Christmas panto. All you need is a pair of bent wire wings."
"I beg your pardon?" the hairdresser said.
Molly looked into the sea of mirrors. Oh God, it was true. Now that Sherlock had said it, it was all she could see. She didn't look lovely and ethereal; she looked silly. Why was it that one sentence from him was all it took to ruin anything? Why did he have to be right?
"Something that won't give my mother the impression I'm a hebephiliac fairy fetishist, if you please, something decidedly less neotenic." He waved his hand at the hairdresser. "I'd prefer if it doesn't look as if I lured her into a car with a bag of sweets."
That was the first sentence that made the pit of Molly's stomach drop. This wasn't about her at all; this was about her not embarrassing him in front of 'Mummy'.
"Your mother?" Molly asked.
"Yes, my mother," Sherlock said. "Where else would we be going?"
"You might have told me," Molly said.
He sniffed. "I didn't realize it was necessary."
She squinted at him. "Yes you did, which is exactly why you didn't do it. All you had to say was 'Molly, would you like to meet my mother?' It's not difficult," she said, exasperated. "Did you think I'd say no?"
Sherlock pursed his lips. "Molly, as soon as you look as though you've completed puberty, would you care to spend the weekend at my mother's house in the country, with Edmund, myself, Mycroft, his horrid twins, who appear to have been squeezed from a tube, his equally horrid wife, who is the tube from which they were squeezed, and yes, my mother?" he asked. "She was expecting us an hour ago."
"It's a very busy day, Mr. Holmes. Perhaps if you'd been clear from the beginning, we -" the stylist began.
"Something simple, away from the jaw, should suffice," Sherlock said. "And stronger lipstick, something more vibrant. Please." Molly knew that particular use of the word 'please' meant 'now, before I make you regret it.'
In half an hour, Sherlock directing every step of the way, and Eddie clearly starting to get hungry, she was finally brought up to Sherlock's standard. She didn't know whether to be flattered that she rated meeting his mother, frightened to death at the idea, or insulted that he cared so much more about his mother's opinion than Molly's. She was sure to say something stupid. In the mirror, though, she did look more adult and solid, but she wasn't sure when she'd ever felt worse in her life. She was nothing but a prop.
Sherlock was on his phone the whole trip. The car rolled toward Mummy Holmes as if it were heading towards Molly's execution. She nearly dislocated her shoulder trying to nurse Eddie in his carseat.
How had it come to this? She distinctly remembered Sherlock saying 'no strings attached.' Yes, they were sleeping together. Yes, he had moved her in downstairs from him. And yes, Sherlock was doing somewhere close to half Eddie's daily care when he wasn't on a case. But by what definition was meeting his mother 'no strings attached?'
Molly hadn't really agreed to any of it, not really. But somehow, Sherlock had taken her, the way he constantly took D.I. Lestrade's warrant card, and put her in his pocket.
The question was whether or not she wanted to be there.
Molly had known the first time she met him that Sherlock was posh. The way he spoke, the way he dressed, the way he effortlessly assumed his own superiority; it would have been hard to miss.
But there was more than one kind of posh. Molly had known people who dressed and spoke and carried themselves the way Sherlock did, but had the same sort of life she had, really, with the only difference being an inherited 'country house' in desperate need of repairs they couldn't begin to afford.
As the car sped up the private road she had mistaken for a country lane, she realized, with a feeling of pure horror, that this was Sherlock's "Mummy's" house. It was huge. It was obscene. It was like something from a BBC serial. She expected Miss Marple and Cousin Bertie to come strolling out at any moment.
This house was not tumbledown, not a bit. Molly understood implicitly this level of upkeep meant staff. And money, of course, boatloads of money. For a girl raised above a chip shop, it was a bit overwhelming. Molly wanted to demand she be taken back to London immediately.
Except, while she was composing her speech, the car stopped and Sherlock practically leapt out, taking Eddie with him, moving so quickly it left her blinking.
"Come along," Sherlock ordered, popping his head back into the car.
Home. Sherlock was home. And a big sign flashing NOT MEANT TO BE was going off in her head.
While she sat there, goggling, his face suddenly appeared six inches from hers. "Come. Along."
Not knowing what else to do, she followed.
But apparently, she wasn't following fast enough for Sherlock's taste, because he grabbed her by the hand and fairly flung her along. It was, probably, the least romantic hand holding she had ever been party to in her life. And after they had barreled up the imposing steps, through the enormous carved doors, across a marble-tiled entrance hall, and then through a maze of oversized rooms, they came to a slightly less grand room that was actually occupied.
Sherlock dropped her hand like it was made of lava.
Well, it was nice to know where she stood.
An absolutely lovely older woman, tall and regal, with eyes as blue as Wedgewood and hair streaked black and white, held court. The corner of her mouth quirked in that same way Sherlock's did when he was surprised. She could only be 'Mummy.'
Sherlock practically tripped over his feet running to her.
The first thing 'Mummy' did was kiss Sherlock's free hand and he beamed at her, positively bloody beamed. Molly couldn't get that sort of reaction from him unless she took off her knickers. And handed him something deep fried. If then.
"Mummy," he said breathlessly, "may I introduce Edmund Vernet Hooper?" he said, holding Eddie out like a puppy or a prize pig or something he'd won at the funfair. "My son," he added.
Mummy looked pointedly at Molly and raised her eyebrow. Sherlock took the hint.
"And this is Dr. Mary Hooper. She's Edmund's mother. Mary," he said enunciating a bit too clearly, "this is my mother, Lady Violet Vernet Holmes."
"Pleased to meet you, Lady Holmes," Molly said, suppressing the stupid urge to curtsey like she was in a film.
"Please, call me Violet, Mary. May I call you Mary, Dr. Hooper?" Mummy said, taking Molly's hand. Mummy's accent was decidedly not English. Mummy's accent was decidedly French. That's what she got for taking Sherlock's words at face value - a bit French, her arse.
"Please, call me - " she was about tell Mummy to call her Molly, when Sherlock interrupted.
"Molly, no wine for Mary. Could she have a glass of milk, please?" he said, pointedly to, oh God, the maid? Oh God, yes, she had the same name as the housekeeper, or maid, or whatever she was. No wonder he was suddenly so stuck on calling her Mary.
Lady Violet gave Sherlock a look and then focused on Eddie.
"Is that where you got those cheeks?" Violet said, taking Eddie in her arms. She looked past Sherlock and spoke, looking so directly at Molly that she almost felt relieved when she looked away. "I breastfed Sherlock for three months before I went back to the symphony -"
Mycroft snorted. The woman beside him tittered. Sherlock groaned. Molly considered the fact that she now knew there was at least one thing she and Sherlock's mother had in common.
"Mummy, please," Sherlock grimaced.
"It was the 70's, darling, everyone was doing it." She was gazing now at Eddie. "You wouldn't think to look at him now, but Sherlock was the fattest baby."
Molly had never seen Sherlock look sheepish before.
"Mary, I should introduce you to my second cousin, Phillipa," Sherlock said determinedly. "She's married to Mycroft, whom you've had the distinct pleasure of meeting."
Phillipa was pretty, too, but like Sherlock her face was a bit narrow. You could see the family resemblance.
"Charmed," Phillipa said, looking anything but. "Do you mind my asking exactly what sort of doctor you are? For curiosity's sake?"
"I'm, I'm a pathologist," Molly said. "At Barts."
"St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London," Sherlock said.
Phillipa glared at Sherlock. "I know what Barts is, Sherlock."
"You do? Gold star for you, Phillipa," Sherlock said. "Do you know what a pathologist is as well? If you can tell me, cook's got an extra pudding you can throw up later."
"Sherlock!" Molly said. Really, that was too far, even for Sherlock.
"Pathology – from pathos, meaning suffering, and logia, meaning the study of, hence the study of suffering. Ideal, considering her choice of - friends."
"You must have been very motivated by the pud -" Sherlock was saying, when Violet looked away from Eddie for the first time.
"Children! Behave yourselves. Forgive them, Mary; they do this sort of thing whenever they're together, have done since Sherlock was old enough to be deliberately rude and Phillipa was old enough to know better." She scowled at Phillipa then Sherlock, who both turned away. Mycroft, having avoided the matter, looked mildly pleased with himself.
At that moment, a pair of little girls raced in. They could only be Mycroft's twins, the ones Sherlock had mentioned briefly and with decided distaste, but they didn't seem like 'horrid, spoilt, hideous little monsters' at all. They had the general family 'look': tall, dark hair, light eyes, all arms and legs, like a pair of colts. Thoroughbreds, of course.
"Grandmere! Grandmere! Molly said there was a baby. Is he really our cousin? Oh, look at him, isn't he clever? How sweet. What a darling! May we hold him?" They spoke in turn, but without seams in the conversation.
"It seems everyone in this family has misplaced their manners today," Violet said archly. "Come be introduced to your Aunt Mary."
"Gemma," Violet said as one girl took Molly's hand, "this is your new aunt, Dr. Mary Hooper, mother of your cousin, Edmund."
"Pleased to meet you, Gemma," Molly said, trying not to sound nervous, they were just children, after all. Though the 'aunt' part -
"Genevieve," Violet said next, "your aunt, Dr. Mary Hooper. She's a pathologist at a very nice hospital in London."
"Pleased to meet you, Genevieve," Molly said, a bit more confident this time.
They curtseyed. They honest-to-God curtseyed. No one had ever curtseyed to Molly before. It was unlikely anyone ever would again.
Mycroft kept glancing at Sherlock, then at Eddie, then back at Sherlock. Finally Mycroft came up with a pronouncement: "He favors you, Sherlock."
"Thank you," Sherlock practically sneered.
Haughty. That's what it was; he was haughty. Molly had been looking for a word to describe Sherlock for the better part of a year.
"I'm not certain he will in a few years, though," Mycroft said vaguely. "You do realize that you left your Stradivarius in the car?"
Sherlock took off like a shot.
Stradivarius? That instrument he abused was an actual Stradivarius? Molly felt like she was going to be ill.
Wealth dripped off of these people like sweat. That was why Sherlock had never had a proper job - there was no need of one. Absurdly nice flat, absurdly nice clothes; absurdly high-quality lab equipment. The violin he tortured and wooed her with when he couldn't sleep belonged in a museum, not on his mantle.
No wonder he hadn't seemed to understand just how much damned money a quarter of a million pounds was.
She had to be insane to be in love with him. Insane to even entertain the notion that he would love her back, even that he could ever love her back.
"Aunt Mary, are you feeling unwell?" either Gemma or Genevieve said. "Please, have my chair."
They really were very nice girls.
There was nothing for it but to drink her milk, and do her best to keep it down.
At dinner, there were capons, bundles of asparagus, and salad with rocket. For dessert, pots de creme and abject humiliation.
It would be wrong to say Phillipa loathed her brother-in-law; it would be investing entirely too much importance in Sherlock to put that strong an emotion on it. It would, however, be accurate to say she disliked him a great deal.
He was spoilt. He was rude. He had irritated her since he had been born. Literally.
At six, he'd set fire to her hair. His excuse was one of his 'experiments.' She'd liked to have experimented on him, the little twerp.
But that wasn't why she disliked him. She didn't, as a rule, have the energy for grudges, and certainly not a thirty year grudge. But Sherlock had come by her dislike honestly. He'd earned it, in fact. He was self-destructive; he was careless; he was a nasty, self-absorbed junkie, who worried his mother and his elder brother until they were both driven spare. Violet and Mycroft didn't deserve the anguish he put them through. She couldn't even begin to count the number of nights Mycroft sat up, worrying.
And Sherlock was so selfish that he never even noticed. Oh yes, he was off the drugs now, and everyone praised him like he'd done some extraordinary thing, saving his own neck, doing what everyone had been begging him to do for years. She wondered how long it would take until he found his way back to them. For now, Mycroft was free to give his attention to his own family, but as soon as that brother of his stuck a needle in his arm, they would be pushed to the back of his mind again.
And oh, how Violet and Mycroft doted on the little scab. It was sickening.
Christ, it was tiresome. Sherlock was tiresome.
And now look at him, playing the triumphal daddy. Please. And Violet, always so eager to be taken in by Sherlock, was practically beside herself. God.
Maybe she did loathe him a bit, after all.
To be fair, he was a rather nice baby. And the mother seemed perfectly inoffensive. Although, well, obviously a bit dodgy; you'd have to be to bear that maniac's child, wouldn't you?
What Phillipa wanted to know was whether Mycroft knew, and if so when?
If Sherlock had got it all past him, she'd like to know how. And if Mycroft did know and hadn't told her, she was going to make him pay. Dearly.
Well, if nothing else, she could make her toad of a brother-in-law squirm.
"You know, Sherlock," she said over her pot de crème, "your brother is getting quite predictable in his gift giving."
"Oh?" Sherlock said, absently poking at his food.
"He's dreadfully dull," she laughed. "Jewellery last year, a car this year, a jewellery year before last and so on, ad infinitum. The last really thoughtful gift he gave me was when the twins were born."
Mary laughed along uncomfortably.
"What did you get, dear?" she asked, as sweetly as she knew how.
"Excuse me?" Dr. Hooper said, blinking.
"To mark the birth of little Edmund?" Phillipa said brightly, completely certain the only thing Sherlock was likely to give anyone was a virus. "What did you get?"
It was perfect. Sherlock went deadly still, and Mary blushed.
"Umm, staples," she said, laughing that horribly uncomfortable laugh. "I got staples when Eddie was born."
Sherlock was suddenly much more interested in his pot de creme than he had been before.
Violet, however, was giving him a hard glare. "Mary, I would apologize for Sherlock, but if I started, I might never stop."
"Oh, no need," Mary said, clearly uncomfortable.
"I'd like to mark the occasion, though," Violet said, "just as I marked the birth of my granddaughters. I had a bit more notice then, though. Please, take this as a gift from me." Violet worked a ring off her finger. "It's a favorite of mine."
"Um, no, really, I couldn't," Mary said. She looked to Sherlock as if for guidance, but ha! What was she thinking? He was trying to reduce his spoon to its atomic components using only the power of his unblinking stare, the useless fool.
"Please." Violet pressed the ring into Mary's hand. "I insist."
It was Christmas in March. Violet had given away her gorgeous art deco platinum diamond and emerald ring. And Sherlock looked as though he'd been stabbed in the leg with a fork.
The weekend was shaping up, after all.
Violet Holmes nee Vernet had been holding out hope, not for a grandchild from Sherlock - because she was a realist - but that her younger son might simply find some contentment.
She had imagined, despite the diminishing likelihood, that someday he would bring someone home to meet her. From the time he was a boy, Mycroft had brought a parade of friends and girlfriends for her inspection. Sherlock never brought a single soul: no school chums, no heartbreakingly lovely young women with stars in their eyes, no male lovers, either bashful or boisterous. No one.
Now this. And truly, the mother was more of a shock than the child. It seemed, in hindsight, imaginable that Sherlock would decide the time had come to, as unromantically as possible, produce an heir. But she never could have predicted the mother he chose.
Violet had not wasted the years she was married to her sons' father; she, too, could observe what was in plain view.
Despite having had a child recently, Dr. Hooper's figure was trim. She kept her head bowed and her shoulders hunched, but Violet could see Dr. Hooper had large, dark eyes and the sort of gamine good looks that were easily parlayed into beauty with a little effort. It was clear though, that Dr. Hooper herself was completely unaware of this. Sherlock, who noticed everything, didn't seem to have picked up on it, either. Or perhaps he had noticed some time ago, but wasn't about to let Dr. Hooper in on the secret.
Around her neck, Dr. Hooper wore a dainty gold cross, the sort of jewellery a girl from a lower class family might receive for confirmation in the Catholic Church. The fact that she wore it still meant it had a strong sentimental attachment. Further, she had no holes in her ears, which probably meant she had grown up without a mother, for Violet could not conceive of a daughter with a mother reaching adolescence and not having her ears pierced. So, logically, the necklace had probably come from her father.
So, she had been raised by a working-class, single, likely widowed, Catholic father. She was plain and she was awkward, having never had a mother to teach her that beauty is more a matter of presentation than any actual arrangement of features. She had worked hard - very hard - to achieve the position she now had at St. Bartholomew's. Perhaps because her own mother had died so young, Dr. Hooper felt a certain affinity for the dead, which was why she became a pathologist.
It didn't seem like an ideal match for Violet's son. It seemed less so when she thought of all the times throughout the day when Sherlock had casually disregarded her. Her son reminded her of his father when he behaved that way. She had always thought Sherlock had the worst of both of them: Tarquin's wounding tongue, her own tendency to melancholy; Tarquin's manic thrill-seeking nature, her over-sensitivity; Tarquin's love of attention, and her own diffidence. But today he seemed to be purely his father's son.
There had been a moment, a terrible moment, after dinner. They were having their little trio; she with her cello, Mycroft at the piano, Sherlock on his violin. Gemma and Genevieve were at the far end of the room setting out their riding equipment for the next morning. Phillipa was on the sofa with a magazine, trying to look as if she weren't bored. But Dr. Hooper - Mary, she really ought to try to think of her as Mary - with baby Edmund asleep in her arms, was paying rapt attention. Her arms and throat were gone to gooseflesh and her eyes were like saucers. If it were possible to consume with the eyes, she would have swallowed Sherlock whole.
Violet knew what it was to be enthralled like that; she had, after all, been married to Tarquin Holmes. What troubled her was her son. Violin in hand, he gave the mother of his child a glance of such calculated sexual manipulation that he could have been his father.
It was clear Mary adored Sherlock. It was equally clear he had no problem taking her for granted, using that adoration against her. It didn't come as a surprise, but that didn't make it any less awful. And it was painfully like having her own failed marriage replayed before her eyes. She was not losing her grandson just as she got him, not if she had any say in the matter.
Why was Sherlock being such a fool?
She had to wait until everyone else had gone to bed to educate him.
"Be a dear and fix me a cocktail," she said, and he fairly hurled himself at the bar, eager for the opportunity. He'd been that way since he could walk; he needed a task to be comfortable.
"Name your intoxicant," he grinned, that sweet boyish grin. Oh, he was trying her temper.
Violet smiled back. "Surprise me. Something sweet."
"Kir Royale it is," he said, happily pouring one part creme de cassis into a glass.
"Edmund is a lovely baby," she said earnestly.
Sherlock bit his lip and nodded. "Clicquot?"
Violet nodded. "Fine."
He popped the cork on the champagne. "Why did you give away Great Grandmere's ring?" He sounded casual, but she knew the question was anything but.
"I didn't," she replied. "I gave it to Mary."
"Yes, of course." Sherlock handed her the drink. "Why did you do it?"
"Was that a mistake on my part?" she asked.
The wallpaper in this room had always seemed to hold a special interest for Sherlock. It didn't appear to have lessened over the years; he was looking at it rather too intently. "I didn't say that."
Violet swirled the liquid in her glass. "What would you have given her?"
"I gave her a baby," Sherlock said. "That's not enough?"
It took all her will not to slap him. "Yes, about that. I understand that these things happen, even to very bright people. Was it - intentional, Sherlock? On your part?"
He didn't answer.
"Yes. Quite intentional." Sherlock's brow furrowed. "I calculated her ovulation for two months prior to conception."
Violet couldn't help but laugh a little. How like him; how very unlike Tarquin. Sherlock himself had been the result of a drunken accident with a diaphragm and a bout of deep sentimentality. "Oh. I see." Not that she did, entirely.
Sherlock relaxed visibly. "I met her through my work approximately five years ago. She's been of help to me on numerous occasions, a sort of, well, friend. She wanted a baby; I volunteered to assist her."
"Oh." She took a tiny sip. "I shouldn't have had Molly put the two of you in the same room, should I? You might have said something, darling."
Sherlock's reply was hesitation, followed by a shrug. He seemed to want to say something, but bit his lip instead.
"Or was I correct?"
Sherlock's attention went back to the wallpaper. She could see now; he was
counting the fleur-de-lis. Oh dear.
"She seems a wonderful mother," Violet said gently. The last thing she wanted to do was spoil this for him. "Edmund seems a healthy, happy baby and it's obvious that she adores him."
After a moment, he nodded. "She's very maternal."
"She seems rather fond of you, as well," Violet offered, curious to see what he made of it.
"I've no idea what you mean," Sherlock said, his eyes still tracing the pattern on the wall.
"Don't you? Well, it's perfectly clear to me." Violet finished her drink. "She thinks very highly, of you despite your abominable behaviour today."
Sherlock slumped on the divan beside her. "I wasn't that bad."
"You were," Violet informed him. "And as your punishment, you should make me another cocktail."
Sherlock rose to his feet again, and started with a clean glass.
"Do you find you're fond of her, at all?" Violet asked, trying not to pin any hope on it.
"I find that an inappropriate question, Mother." Sherlock poured the champagne.
Violet accepted her drink from him. "It's inappropriate to ask if you are fond of the mother of your son?"
Sherlock said nothing.
"It's inappropriate to ask if you need one room or two? And it may or may not be inappropriate to give her your great grandmother's engagement ring, but you're not telling, are you? Why is that, Sherlock? You brought her here, after all. It's not as if you expected to bring her to an empty house."
He was silent for a long moment. "We have an arrangement," he finally said, seating himself again.
Ah. There it was. "I take it, then, that money is involved?"
Sherlock exhaled loudly. "Only in as much as a father should support his child, and I practically have to force it on her," he said peevishly.
"I should have given you the ring; it should have come from you," Violet said, the drinks starting to hit her.
Sherlock looked her dead in the eye and shook his head slowly. "Not really my thing, Mummy. You know that."
Oh, Sherlock. In some ways, she feared he would forever be eight years old: a beginning meant an end; a marriage meant a divorce. For so long, she had prayed to a God she had long since stopped believing in - Help him. Aidez-le. Protegez-le.
But perhaps she had been all wrong. She shouldn't have prayed for him to be protected; she should have prayed for him to be good.
What kind of mother was she to doubt him? How could she help but doubt him, when he gave her nothing but a bread crumb trail to his emotions to follow?
"And Edmund?" Violet asked, a light dawning in the back of her mind. "Is it inappropriate to ask how you feel about him?"
Sherlock tilted his head as if listening to music far in the distance. His expression was completely blank. "I didn't know I could love anyone so deeply."
In thirty-six years, Sherlock never claimed to love anyone but Violet. If he could bring himself to admit it to her, it could only be because he loved his little son. Oh Sherlock. He was so ill-equipped for this, so brilliant and so horribly stupid. He had the need for what Dr. Hoop - Mary had to offer, but so little to give her in return.
And if it went bad? Would he go back to the drugs? Or would he find some new way to hurt himself?
"For Edmund's sake, dear, you need to understand something I am sure you already know," Violet said. She gently, very gently, took hold of his hand. "If you hurt the mother, you inevitably hurt the child."
"Mummy, I never - no." He shook his head.
"You know, I used to wish your father would strike me." She set her now empty glass down. "That would have made it all so much simpler."
Sherlock stood perfectly still, his eyes wide with horror. "I will never be unfaithful, I swear to you," he said.
The declaration shocked her. Violet wondered how Sherlock could assert he had no relationship with a woman in one breath and swear fidelity the next.
"Sherlock," Violet said, but her son didn't answer. "Sherlock," she repeated. She rose and stood directly in front of him, still holding his hand, as she had done when he was a child and she needed his full attention. "You're either involved with her or you aren't, darling. Which is it?"
Sherlock went very, very still. He closed his eyes tightly. Very, very quietly, he whispered, "Am."
She gently placed her hand on his cheek and waited for him to make eye contact. "You need to listen to me, then; there is more than one way for a woman to lose her faith in a man. You can't treat a woman however you please, run hot and cold by the hour, and think it can all be set right again with a bit of charm. Trust me on this; it wears thin over time."
Sherlock remained silent and unmoving on the sofa for some minutes.
Finally, because Sherlock was himself, he bent and kissed her hand. "Yes. Of course. Of course. Merci, Maman." He rose. "I should - I should be getting to bed."
"Goodnight, Darling," Violet said. She reached up and ruffled his hair. "And don't bother thanking me if you aren't going to take my advice."
Molly woke up alone in the dark of night. She'd thought Sherlock had bedded down somewhere else, but no. As her eyes adjusted, she saw him, still dressed, head tipped back, mouth open, sleeping in a chair beside the enormous, mostly empty bed.
Molly hugged a pillow tight to her chest and tried to fall back asleep.
There, in the car Mycroft had sent, Sherlock looked hard at Molly, trying to deduce whether his mother had been correct. Emotional hurt was so much messier in some ways, so much more difficult to discern. He'd rather have a good, clean gunshot wound to inspect any day.
Finally, there was nothing else for it.
"My mother believes I've hurt you," he said.
She didn't answer.
"Molly, have I hurt you?"
She turned to look at him then. "Yes," she answered immediately.
He looked at her chin, at her little hands with their prominent knuckles, then at Edmund in his seat, looking about the way he did. Sherlock was grateful that the boy most likely had no idea what they were saying.
It took him some time to come up with the next logical question.
Keeping his voice soft to avoid upsetting the baby - Edmund might not understand content, but he had a clear grasp of tone, he asked, "Am I hurting you still?"
He waited. Just when he had almost given up any hope of a reply, Molly answered him.
"Yes," she said quietly.
He had no earthly idea how he was expected to respond to that. He sat and thought.
Then, in a moment of desperation, he reached out and took her hand in his.
Molly began to tremble. When he looked up at her, he realized she was weeping.
He gripped her hand tighter, reflexively. In an instant, her face was buried in his lapel, and Edmund had begun to wail.
He was at a loss. Sherlock Holmes, the great detective, had no idea what he had done or how to set things right.
The first thing Molly did upon reaching Baker Street was to take Edmund and lock the two of them in her flat. Sherlock stood on the pavement, Strad in hand, watching them disappear.
He wasn't going to make a scene. He wasn't going to demand that everything be put to rights. He saw nothing for it but to think, and therefore, to play the violin.
The Shostakovich Concerto Number One for violin seemed fitting. He played most of the night.
In the morning, from his seat in by the window, he watched as she took the rubbish to the bin, wearing her horrid dressing gown like a suit of armor. He picked up where he had left off practicing the night before.
He practiced and he watched her and he considered what his next move would be.
Molly was miserable. She was grateful she had the baby to look after or she might not have left her bed at all.
Worse still, she had no one to blame for her misery but herself. She'd known Sherlock for years. She knew what a git he was before she ever went to bed with him, but she had gone ahead and fallen stupidly in love with him anyway. If anything, it seemed as if she loved him more every time she looked at her baby.
She was an idiot. She had gone to that ridiculous country home and sat there with all those witty, pretty people, and there was Sherlock, stunning, as usual, leaving her absolutely stunned. And what was she to him? That's what all those pretty, witty people wanted to know but were too polite to ask.
She could have told them. She should have told them.
She was nothing to him. She was nothing compared to him. She was just barely good enough to give birth to his beautiful, perfect, sweet little baby, just barely noticeable enough to have been allowed to serve that purpose. Beside his child, she was less than nothing, a smear.
It was all clear to her now. She was going to have to get out from under his thumb. She was going to have to get far enough away from him that being nothing wouldn't hurt so much.
She shifted Edmund on her hip. He was hungry again.
The two of them had just settled on the sofa to nurse when a knock at the door came like a stab to her heart. She went cold in the pit of her stomach.
"It's Sherlock," he called out. Other people called your name when they came to the door; Sherlock called his own. Here he comes, ready or not. Well, she was not ready. She could not stand to look at him while she worked out how to leave him.
Could she even leave him, if they weren't together?
"I can't get up; your son is eating," she called out, hoping against hope he would go away. Instead, he let himself in. She didn't recall giving him one, but he had a key. Of course he had a key.
He stood there in the doorway for a moment, pulled at the hem of his shirt in that way he had, and squinted at her. He looked like he was on a runway, modeling this year's 'Too-Cool-And-Clever-For-Someone-Like-You-Molly-Hooper' collection.
"We have reached the point where renegotiation of our initial arrangement is in order," he said, standing tall. "The current situation is unsatisfactory, therefore a change in the agreement is necessitated and I believe I have come up with an equitable solution."
She sighed. Trust Sherlock to come up with an agreement about their lack of a relationship without actually bothering to consult her.
He thought it was unsatisfactory so he was going to break it off. Fine. She didn't know whether she was devastated or relieved.
What would it be? Was he going to tell her that her services were no longer required? Give her a big, fat cheque and banish her to Wales? The Orkneys? It was no less than she deserved. Stupid Molly. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
"Oh Sherlock, please. What's the use?"
He didn't answer, so set was he on his script. His standing tall turned to pacing. "I am prepared to offer you sexual fidelity, financial support, and complete access to my laboratory equipment, should you want it," he said, walking back and forth the length of her sitting room, not looking at her once. "In exchange, you must only agree not to leave."
Well, that wasn't what she had been expecting, not at all. It made her head hurt.
She moved Eddie to her other breast, using the time it took to think of a response. "Why, Sherlock? I know you love Edmund. You'll still be his father wherever we are. I just - I don't like being the invisible woman." She felt foolish, but she wanted him to understand, wished to God he could understand. "I can't stand being right here, this close, and not mattering to you."
He blinked at her. She could see him growing angrier by the second.
"You don't matter?" he snarled. "You don't - how - how stupid can you be?"
Molly wrapped her arms around Edmund, pulled him close. She was angry and afraid, and sad, so sad. "Sherlock, stop it. I don't matter. Not to you."
"Why do you think I volunteered to father your child?" he asked, exasperated, furious.
"You told me - " she began.
"For mortuary access?" he said. "Really? You think so little of me? Are you so stupid that you don't know a lie when you hear one? I fathered your child because I would rather do that than have you move to Petersfield or Bexhill or bloody Hove!"
Molly blinked. All the towns she'd researched. "How did you -?"
"Why do you think Moriarty seduced you?" he demanded.
Molly frowned in confusion. "I don't -"
"No, you don't," he snapped. "He hurt you for the same reason he strapped a vest full of Semtex to John. He wanted to destroy me, he wanted to take away the things that mattered to me, Molly, and he knew you were one of them!"
"But you - we weren't - what?" She shook her head; it was too ridiculous to even contemplate.
"I wasn't 'with' anyone, and neither were you. We shared many horrid meals in Barts cafeteria, spoke frequently. You were never rude or condescending or dismissive," he said staring at the ceiling. "You could have denied me access, but instead, you assisted me. I was an arrogant arse to you on too many occasions to count, and still you were kind to me. You were kind to me when I least deserved it."
She ran her fingers through Edmund's hair over and over until it stood on end. "You deserve more than you think, Sherlock." He was getting to her, twisting her round to loving him too much to leave, twisting her round to hoping for the future and she wasn't sure how angry she felt about it. Livid? Fighting mad? Or just resigned?
"Your agreement -" she said.
"Our agreement," he corrected.
"No." She was tired of having his words shoved into her mouth. She placed Edmund in his carry cot and stood. "I said your agreement and I meant your agreement. It doesn't have a thing to do with me. I'm thinking over all the things that you've said and none of it means anything. I matter to you? On what bloody planet? I'm more like a pet. 'Good Molly, sit, stay, roll over, stitch this up, make me a sandwich! Take off your knickers, Molly!'"
Sherlock flattened his lips to a thin line and swallowed hard. "That's - that is not fair."
"Not fair?" she repeated, suddenly feeling absurdly calm. No tears. No squeaking. Not even a bit shrill. "What's not fair, Sherlock, is being in love with someone who has no feelings for you."
Sherlock took a deep breath, and then another. He couldn't do this if he were looking at her, so he looked at the ceiling. "Of course I have feelings for you," he said as evenly, as calmly, as he had ever said anything. "I feel them and I wish I didn't. I wish you could go to Bexhill and that I wouldn't care. I wish it didn't matter to me what you did or where you went." He glanced at Edmund then at her and his voice began to rise. "But I care. I care entirely too much."
He hadn't intended it, but once he opened his mouth, the words started coming out, totally unplanned words, filled with rage. He was his father, snarling at his mother, like he was watching it all from outside his own body. "Would you like me to lie? I can lie. 'Oh Molly, I love you. I love you soooo bloody much, it's like there are rainbows shooting out of all my bodily orifices. Soon I shall be sicking up kittens!' How's that?"
Because she was a good mother, Molly ignored his tirade and went to pick up her now crying baby. His baby. The one he made cry.
Edmund hardly ever cried. His eyes were slits and his mouth was wide. Screaming. Edmund was screaming. And Sherlock had done it.
Molly rocked the baby in her arms. "There, there," she said almost, as though she were reading the lines of a comforting mother between her own sniffles.
Unsure of what else he could do, he laid his hand on Edmund. Molly gave him a hard look but didn't snatch the child away.
"I have no wish to become my father," he said, without premeditation.
He didn't suppose she had any reason to know, but the question tripped him up. "He - he told my mother he loved her. He told her all the time, regularly, like clockwork, day in, day out, over and over and over. In the end, it meant nothing. He broke her heart. He destroyed my home." His voice sounded strange in his ears. "And I doubt it gave him a moment's pause."
Molly sighed. She didn't look angry. She seemed tired. She seemed defeated. Oh, well done, Sherlock, he thought, hating himself.
"I want you to like me, Molly," he said. "And I - I want you to stay. Permanently. That's all." He was looking back at the ceiling, where the swirls in the plaster made irregular arcs. He wondered if it were possible to get someone in to even them up.
"What have I done wrong? Tell me so I can correct it. Because I will. I will."
Molly shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, Sherlock. You want me to like you, but the truth is that I love you and I want you to love me back, and that's - that's just unreasonable. I can't expect you to feel something you don't, and I'd rather, I'd much rather, you didn't lie about it."
Sherlock had no idea what he was supposed to say or do. First of all, love did not exist, not the sort Molly meant. Secondly, if it did, he would love Molly. Thirdly, how could she possibly want him to love her? He could only be guaranteed to get it wrong.
She was good at that, loving people. Even with the corpses at Barts, everyone commented on how gentle and respectful she was with them. He, on the other hand, couldn't even manage that with the living. He failed even at liking people, most of the time. He was the very definition of 'not good;' she could ask John.
Sherlock opened his mouth to speak but no words came out. He felt Edmund's soft hair and, for an instant, his hand touched Molly's. It felt like electricity; it stunned the words right out of him.
"Some things," he began, but stopped to clear his throat. "Some things defy the descriptive power of words. People say they love a suit or a car or some inane thing they see on the telly. They say all you need is love, and a few years later it all ends in murder or worse, much worse, in an ugly divorce."
"It's a useless term. The way I feel is - I feel as though my chest is a gun ready to fire when I see you coming up the stairs. I feel as though I could quite easily kill anyone who brought you harm. I feel as though I could behave like a fool on your account. I'm sure I often do, despite my best efforts."
"That's the one, Sherlock." Molly said, with a sad smile. "That's the feeling, that's it exactly. Welcome to the club."
Sherlock was certain he had never in his life felt as clumsy and strange as he did at that moment, wrapping his arms round Molly and the now-settled Edmund. He tucked the crown of her head under his chin. Her plait hung to the side, revealing the curve of her neck. On the bare skin there he traced a lemniscate: forever. "Oh," he said, truly surprised. "I - oh."
They stood, the three of them, silent, unmoving.
"I love you, Sherlock," she told his chest.
"And, I, um, yes," he told the air above her head, once his heart started to beat again.
"Okay," she said after a time. She pulled away, and wiped her nose on the back of her hand. "Yes. Alright."
"I agree to your terms, Sherlock," she said. "I've no need of your lab equipment, but providing your keep up your side, I'll stay. We'll stay."
"You will? Really?"
She nodded. "We will."
"Good. Yes, that's - that's good, yes." It was awkward with Edmund between them, but he kissed her once, very gently, sealing the pact. "Yes. Good."
"Good," she agreed.
It was ridiculous, he told himself, as his heart rose to his throat. This was it? This was really what other people called 'love'? Somehow he doubted it, but if so, more fools they. There were no hearts or flowers here, no kittens or rainbows. The was only fire, only hunger, only the desire to consume, and in turn, be consumed. The sweet smell of her, of breast milk, of their child, filling his nostrils; the feel of them, close and warm - he would never, could never, get his fill. This unnamable need would never be satiated.
She looked up at him, wide-eyed, expectant. "Yes?"
He pressed his lips to her forehead. "I'm starving."
Special thanks again to gozadreams for Brit-picking! Thanks (but no less special) to everyone who commented, favourited, reviewed, recced, etc. We truly appreciate your interest and support.
OneMillionAndNine and MaybeAmanda