Sherlock woke up with a start. He was in an unfamiliar flat. He was on the floor, on his back, staring up at the ceiling.
"Irene?" he called out.
Molly walked into the room, holding a tray with tea, toast, and an apple. "Sherlock, are you okay?" she asked him in concern.
"Where is Irene?"
"Irene? My… my wife? Where is Irene?" he asked erratically, getting up from the floor and starting to panic.
Molly set down the tray of food and grabbed Sherlock squarely on the arms. "Sherlock, calm down. You're at my flat."
This realization hit him as he saw Molly's confused expression. It was now thirty hours after he had faked his death, and Molly had taken him home from the morgue after doing her post-mortem examination. John was probably somewhere, curled up in a ball, still reeling from the shock.
"Oh…" he breathed.
It had all been a dream.
Irene Adler, now known as Miss Elizabeth Jenkins of Seattle, Washington, was no longer in danger. She had been able to escape from Karachi unscathed after Sherlock had saved her life. He hadn't spoken to her since the night after they ran for their lives. The only indication he had that she was alive and in Washington State was because that was where he told her to go. He told her that she would be safe in Seattle.
There were no babies. There had never been any sex. There had never been any sort of relationship. To Sherlock, Irene Adler was only The Woman. She had never been more than that.
He glanced down at his left hand. The ring that he had been so certain that had been there wasn't and as he looked back up at Molly, he caught sight of himself in a mirror behind her. He looked his age. He was still only thirty-five.
"I'm sorry," he sighed. "I'm just disoriented."
"I can tell," Molly laughed uncomfortably. "Here, eat something. Your system needs food."
He did not protest to Molly's offering of food, but ate slowly as he contemplated what he had assumed to be his reality, but had actually only been a dream.
If it was only just a dream—which it was, he couldn't deny that—why would he have dreamt of domesticity and a life that he would never ordinarily take? Why would he dream about Irene, having children with Irene and living with Irene and committing to Irene? Why would he dream about Adele and Adele's death and being paternal to her? Why would he dream of Aveline and watch Aveline grow up from the tiny little pink bundle to the twenty-eight year old woman in her wedding dress, holding the pink bundle of flowers? Why would he dream about Julian and how he grew up and went to Cambridge to follow the steps that Sherlock was supposed to take?
But most unsettling was the fact that Sherlock didn't mind the dream. No… this dream wasn't unpleasant to him, save for the trauma of Adele's death and his encounters with Moriarty. Why hadn't he figured out that it was a dream sooner than he had?
"Molly, where have you put my bag?" Sherlock asked her after finishing his meal.
"I'll go fetch it," she answered as she stood up from her chair and hurried off into the other room.
When she returned, she saw Sherlock standing at the window. "Here it is," she said as she placed the bag down next to him. "But Sherlock… why were you talking about a wife?"
He turned around to look at her. "I was disoriented."
"But you were asking about a wife… you were adamant about finding your wife."
"Those chemicals were very strong, weren't they?"
"You aren't married, are you?"
"Do I seem like the marrying type?"
"Well no… but then again, there's really no telling with you."
He eyed her warily. "Molly, I don't have a wife. I understand your confusion about why I would come out of being unconscious for a substantial length of time asking for my wife, but I am not married. And it's not likely that I will ever be married."
Molly's face fell slightly as she let out a little sigh. She didn't like the feeling she had about this, but she decided that she should just let the matter go to rest. "Well… I have to get to the morgue. I have to finish the paperwork for your body."
"Right. Thank you Molly. I can't express how much I appreciate your help with this."
She blushed and looked down at the floor. "I just hope everything works out the way it needs to," she murmured.
A few minutes later, she was back in the living room. Sherlock was sitting on the couch, making sure that he had everything in his bag. He had put on a hat. "Are you leaving?" she asked him?"
He stood up from the couch. "It's three in the morning. So… yes. I have to get out of London as soon as possible."
"Won't you draw attention to yourself?"
"Probably, but I'm taking the necessary precautions."
He pulled off the hat and showed her that he had buzzed his hair off. "This is for you," he added, handing her a bag full of his shorn hair. "It should help with the DNA processing."
Molly nodded silently. "Well, if this is goodbye…"
"No need to make it overly sentimental," Sherlock answered stiffly.
"I know… but you could die, for real this time."
"Yes, that is true."
"Are you scared?"
"Maybe a little, but when the benefits outweigh the costs, it's worth it."
She nodded slightly, blinking back what Sherlock assumed were tears. She was genuinely scared for him. And maybe, he was scared for himself too. "Watch after John for me?" he asked. "I'm concerned that he's going to go off and do something stupid."
"Of course," Molly assured him with a loud sniff.
"And Mrs. Hudson. She's has a bad hip. Take a look at it now and then. John keeps an eye on it sometimes, but another set of eyes wouldn't hurt."
"And Lestrade. I think he's interested in you."
Molly blushed. "No he's not," she protested hastily.
Sherlock smirked. "Thank you, Molly Hooper," he murmured. "One day, you'll be made a dame."
"Not at all."
He smiled broadly at her. What John had said about friends protecting people was true. He just hadn't realized it until this point. "I won't keep you," he murmured, ushering her toward the door. "The paperwork should be filed so it will be in the morning papers."
Molly nodded but remained where she was. "Be careful Sherlock."
"I'm serious. I want to see you back in London someday."
"I'll want to be back in London someday."
"Right then. Well… you go and take out an international crime web and I'll cover your tracks."
In a very uncharacteristic action, Sherlock hugged Molly awkwardly before he stepped away from her. "I suppose I should be off then," he answered. "Stay safe."
"I will try," she assured him.
Sherlock picked up his bag and let himself out of the flat. As he walked out of the main building, out onto the deserted street, he reached into his pocket and pulled out Irene's phone, his trophy. It was now technically his phone, but he would always consider it Irene's phone.
He laughed to himself as he stared at the phone in his hand. Irene Adler. The thought of that woman ever being his wife made him laugh. He acknowledged that if he ever found himself at the mercy of Irene Adler again, she could be so much more than his wife. After all, he may have had her phone but she had a reserved spot on his mental hard drive.
Maybe someday, once he had gotten his life in order and had effectively destroyed Moriarty, he would find Irene and have dinner with her. But, before that day could come, he had work to do.
He had only just begun.
A/N: Thank you so much for sticking with me through this. I appreciate your feedback and reviews so much, and this has been an excellent experiment in building self confidence towards my writing. It has been an absolute joy sharing this story with you.
Best wishes to you and yours,