The knock at the door was timid, but John still heard it and heaved himself up with a sigh. It wasn't often he was able to have a few minutes of peace all to himself; he didn't particularly want to deal with one of Sherlock's clients when the man himself was out doing God only knew what.
John was prepared for someone nervous, or crying, or both. As it turned out, it was both. What he hadn't expected was that the person in question was Molly Hooper.
"Sherlock's not here," he blurted out.
"I know," she snuffled. "I came to see you."
"Me?" Hastily John moved out of the doorway so she could come in. "Are you – you're not hurt, are you? Or sick?" She shook her head. "Good, ok, um, can I get you some tea?"
Molly sniffed again. "Sure."
A frantic look about told him there was flat out no place for her to sit. "Sorry there's really not a free chair. Or free space anywhere. Give me a tick and I'll clear something off." That was easier said than done. Finally he grabbed what Sherlock had permitted him to claim as his chair and dragged it across the room. "Here we are. I'll just get the kettle on -"
He froze, not even halfway to the stove. "Yeah?"
"I think we should date."
He blinked. "What?"
Mollie swallowed and her lip trembled slightly. "I think we should date."
"Each other?" John asked, and immediately berated himself for sounding idiotic.
"Yes?" It was not so much an answer as it was a preparation for rejection. Almost unconsciously she began fidgeting with a small hole in the finger of one glove. And suddenly, John knew this was a conversation they needed to have while sitting, even if they had to sit on the floor.
"Hang on." He dumped some tea into a small pan, poured water over it, and set the entire thing on a burner to steep as it heated. In-a-pinch tea, as his mother called it, was wretched on metal pans but it would, as the name implied, do in a pinch. Then he unearthed a small chair from Sherlock's mess, pulled it next to his chair already in the kitchen, and waited for her to sit. "OK. Let's start again." John took a deep breath, and found only one question came to mind. "Why, exactly, do you think we should date each other?"
"Well, we're both single now." Molly offered a smile that would have been wry if it hadn't been quite so forlorn. "And . . . you need a girlfriend who understands you and Sherlock. Who won't get mad when you go dashing off after him. Who won't storm out because something's come up again and you have to leave."
Surreptitiously John stabbed his palm with a fingernail. It hurt. That meant this wasn't just some bizarre dream, and he really had to come up with an appropriate response. None were forthcoming. "OK," he said slowly. "I appreciate that you didn't come right out and say I'm a bad boyfriend."
"Well, you kinda are," she admitted, "but that's not your fault. It's only because Sherlock's in the equation. And, as your girlfriend, I'd know that."
"Right." John wasn't sure if he should take offense or not. Her words weren't tactful but he couldn't say they weren't truthful. "But why date me, then, if I'm so terrible?" If she said out of pity, he would show her out and bang his head against the wall for a solid hour.
Molly shook her head, a little more confident now that he hadn't laughed in her face or something. "You're not terrible. You're friendly and smart, and kind, and you're sorta cute."
"OK," he said again, deciding to take "sorta cute" as a compliment. "But I've also got at least ten years over you."
"Older men are sexy?"
Things suddenly clicked. "No. You like skinny, nerdy blokes."
"Yeah, and look how well that's worked for me." It was the first time since she walked through the door that she didn't look and sound like a whipped puppy.
John leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "If we were to date, what you would get out of it?"
"Besides a boyfriend?"
Was she deflecting or was she in denial? "If all you wanted was a boyfriend, there are plenty of men out there without resorting to me. There's a specific reason you think we should date, besides it being good for me. C'mon, Molly. Be honest."
In response, she stood up and headed for the pan of tea that was just beginning to simmer. Without turning around, she said, "I finally get to tell my mum I bagged a doctor, after years of her hinting that I'd never meet anyone worth anything if all I did was hang about dead people. I get a decent man for once who won't act like he's doing me a favor by just looking at me." Molly half-turned then, cradling her cup in both hands. "I get a reason to come over here."
"If you date me you get a reason to be where Sherlock is," John said. Somebody had to say it and Molly wasn't going to. "You've still got a crush on him."
"He doesn't want me." Molly stared into the depths of her cup as though the answer to all of life's mysteries was buried at the bottom of it. "He'll never want me. I need to accept that and move on."
"Dating his flatmate is a unique way of moving on," commented John.
"We each need a certain kind of person in our lives," Molly continued as though she hadn't heard him. "Someone who understands our . . . situations. I-I think we can be that person to each other."
John started to speak but in the end only puffed out his cheeks and let his breath out in a gust. She had a point, a bloody good point. It was a simple, straightforward, cold-blooded solution to their mutual problems. Sherlock himself might even approve. "What about affection?"
"I do like you."
"But not in that way."
Molly half-shrugged. "I never thought about you that way before. But I can try."
It would not be polite to scoff, John reminded himself, and somehow found a way not to. "I don't think attraction can be forced like that."
"I already said you were a nice bloke. And last week, on Christmas Eve, you thought I was pretty," she replied, somewhat defiantly. "You didn't say it because Jeanette or whoever was right there but I saw you. You thought it. Sherlock thought it. So don't tell me we'd have to force ourselves."
John got up and joined her at the tea pan. "You're really serious about this."
Molly finally looked up from her cup. "Yeah."
"Wouldn't you be jealous when I go running off after Sherlock and you get left behind?"
"Maybe." She turned back to the steaming tea. "But you'd tell me about it afterwards so it'd almost be like being there. You know, vicariously."
John poured himself a cup, glancing at his guest out of the corner of his eye. "Maybe I've enough of Sherlock in my life already that I don't want a girlfriend who's mad over him too."
"Maybe that's the only kind of girlfriend you can keep for longer than a month," Molly shot back in a surprising show of spirit. Then a hand flew over her mouth. "Oh God, I didn't mean that. I'm so sorry, John. I didn't mean it, I swear."
"You meant it," he said quietly. "And it's ok. It's . . . true."
Silently they nursed their cups of tea, neither looking at the other.
"How about this," John said as the last wisp of steam gave up the ghost. "We do things as friends for now – watch crap telly, go out for a walk, maybe dinner, maybe a movie, but no pressure for anything romantic. Not at first. And later, if anything comes it, brilliant. And if not, then we can still just be mates without it getting awkward."
Molly nodded, contemplating. "All right." She smiled shyly and John returned it. "So now what?"
"Well . . . " Oh, why not? "You're already here, we've both got tea, and there's crap on the telly. Want to stay and make fun of it with me?"
"Is Sherlock coming back soon?"
"I don't know," replied John, striving for an even tone. "Does it matter?"
Molly blushed. "No, I-I guess not. It's just, I mean, he's going to notice I'm around more."
"No point in trying to hide it. He's going to figure it out anyway," John pointed out. With his free hand he dragged his chair back into place but settled himself on the couch. Molly joined him, her knees not quite touching his.
The telly was ridiculous enough that they shared a few laughs. They made two more pans of in-a-pinch tea. And if John gave his laptop's unfinished blog entry a longing glance or two, Molly appeared not to notice, and if Molly occasionally snuggled deeper into the portion of the couch that Sherlock frequented, John made no comment.