He kisses her three times.

The first time, it's just on the cheek, just like the one he'd given her that evening of the Christmas party, a simultaneously mortifying yet satisfying event. He's just finished explaining his plan to her, the plan, in fact – one last deception in order to protect the people he... cares about.

"So you've got it?" he says for the third time. She smiles to herself, knowing the perfectionist in him isn't exactly thrilled at having to entrust his life into another's hands. (But he did say that he trusted her, and that he'd always trusted her, didn't he?)

"Yes, I've got it," she replies, finishing up with the supplies and putting everything away. "And then we'll rendezvous outside Victoria Station, yeah? Tonight?"

He nods once, but his eyes are already focusing somewhere else, a place outside of normal time and space, somewhere only he can be.

"So..." she starts, suddenly nervous again, suddenly anxious. "You... you okay with this?"

"With what?" he answers immediately, his eyes snapping back down to look at her.

"With... this," she replies, gesturing a hand out to indicate the things they've assembled, the plan they've established.

He looks at her quizzically. "Why wouldn't I be? It's my plan."

"What about John? Mrs. Hudson? Lestrade? Your brother?"

He just stares at her, those eerily blue eyes boring deep into her own. "Molly, what are you getting at?"

She breaks his gaze, unable to keep looking straight at him, unable to face her own feelings, especially in this moment. "They'll think you're dead. They'll all think you're dead."

"That's the point. Maybe we should go over the plan again...?"

She closes her eyes, knowing it's a lost cause, that he, being himself, would not understand. "No, I get the plan. Ne-never mind. I just- it's nothing." She turns to leave the room, prepared for moments ahead.

That's when he grabs her by the shoulder, keeping her from walking away. He turns her back around towards him, and she's surprised when he doesn't let go, when his hand stays exactly where it is.

"Thinking I am dead will make them as safe as they can possibly be," he says softly, not quite looking at her, his eyes focused on the row of microscopes on the counter behind them.

"I know," she whispers, nodding.

He takes a step closer, and she can feel her heartbeat pick up, the tempo increasing.

"They are as safe as they can possibly be because of you," he murmurs, his voice like a drug, pulling her in. And that's when he leans in and kisses her on the cheek, just a fleeting touch between his lips and her skin, but she can't help the way her eyes close at the contact, and she certainly can't help the way the most basic part of her cries out for more.

But when she opens her eyes again he is gone, the door swinging shut behind him, and she wonders if that's the last time she will see the real Sherlock Holmes.

The second time he kisses her, she doesn't see it coming.

He's been staying with her for six weeks now. Okay, well, forty-three days, six hours, and oh, give or take, 15 minutes. The old her – the Molly who lived alone – would have probably recorded that number as some sort measure of a fantasy realized, the dream of Sherlock living in flat come to life. But this Molly, the Molly that lives the reality of constant exposure the former world's only consulting detective, regards this number as a test of will power, an ever-increasing acknowledgement of her powers of endurance and self-inflicted pain.

Part of that pain is, of course, the pain of unrequited love, the pain of having to watch the object of your affections eat meals in front of you, drink tea with you, sleep on your sofa, living a life that is oh-so-close to the one you've only dreamt about. But, to be quite honest, living with Sherlock has incurred another type of pain that she had never foreseen.

The pain of annoyance. The pain of constant irritation. The pain of having someone nag at you, call for you, ignore you, demand things of you – it was like being a mother to a very large, very over-grown child.

To be fair, he doesn't get to leave the flat often. Only at night, and only in disguise, is he ever permitted to escape into the fresh air, into the open streets, free to roam and walk about, even if it's just for a few moments or so. She suspects that he might also leave during the day, but she hasn't managed to catch him yet, and if he does, he hasn't yet let on, hasn't given the game away (and like he would).

Tonight, in particular, he is proving to be particularly aggravating. She'd arrived home from the hospital to find a rat carcass on the coffee table and a pint of what appeared to be blood in the refrigerator. Sherlock, for his part, was prone on the sofa, legs stretched out, eyes closed, hands raised above him as his fingers moved to some silent rhythm, conducting an invisible and mute orchestra from his pulpit.

"For goddsakes, Sherlock," she mutters as she pushes the jar of blood to the side, making room for the fruit and veg she'd bought, replenishing their stores for what seemed like the third time this week. She had never seen him eat so much before; she'd always been around him when he was on a case, too busy and too preoccupied to eat. But now, when confined to a closed space and unable to work, he was a ravenous monster, an eternally famished fiend, gobbling up whatever he could find.

"Hmm?" he calls out from the sitting room, having apparently completed his conduction of some unidentified aria.

"Is that a dead rat?" she says, motioning to the furry object on the table, wrinkling her nose at its appearance in her home. Dead organisms she could deal with, she just preferred that they stayed in the morgue, where they belonged.

"Yes, yes," he answers distractedly, twirling a rolled up magazine around in his hands. He bounds up from his spot on the sofa and stares down at the rat, suddenly intrigued. "I wanted to test a particularly controversial chemical on live tissues; due to my inability to procure human subjects, I was forced to settle on a rodent of suitable size and health. It proved to be quite intriguing."

She doesn't say anything, just shakes her head in silent frustration. A dead rat today, a severed hand the week before – not to mention the violin she'd had to confiscate from him, didn't he know that she might still be being watched?

"Did you bring crisps?" he asks, suddenly beside her, and she jumps with surprise, knocking the last bag onto the ground. She groans with frustration as she watches the milk leak out of the carton, spilling out onto the floor, soaking the bread and coating the bananas in a white film.

"Sherlock!" she cries out, stunning both him and her. "Just – just leave me alone, okay?" she says, exasperated. She kneels down onto the tile, mopping up the fluid with a rag, and gathering the ruined food to toss in the bin.

He's still staring at her when she finally stands, and she just sighs as she looks at him. "What?" she asks, so incredibly tired.

And then he's kissing her. On the lips. Full on the lips. His lips on hers.

She can't think. She can't breathe. She's gone from literally crying over spilt milk to being kissed by the (possibly former) man of her dreams, a full-fledged kiss, his hands on either side of her face, holding her tight up against him. She can taste him on her lips, a taste that reminds her of earl grey tea and vanilla, a pleasant, surprisingly sweet taste. She leans in towards him, almost unconsciously, giving into the feel of him pressed against her, just like in her deepest, most guarded dreams.

And then he pulls away, and looks at her. "Better?" he asks.

She only stares at him, stunned. "Di-did you just kiss me to make me feel better?" she asks, incredulous.

He raises an eyebrow and just returns her stare. "Of course. Don't you feel better? You always seem to feel better when I touch you, I only assumed that this would-"

She cuts him off, her jaw clenched, her heart sinking painfully in her chest. "No. No," she says emphatically, the words tight between her clenched teeth. "That's not how you make that better, Sherlock."

With that, she turned on her heel and disappeared into her room, slamming the door behind her. She can feel the tears on her cheeks, a cool sensation on the burning red spots of embarrassment on her skin. So stupid, Molly, she thinks to herself, humiliated. He'd never kiss you for real.

She doesn't come out for the rest of the night. And when she comes out in the morning, she finds him gone (and the rat, too).

The third time he kisses her, it's different.

It's been two months since he'd disappeared from her apartment, a fugitive in the streets of London. At first, she'd thought he'd merely stepped out for a bit, wanting to be as far away from an emotional woman as he possibly could be (and, in retrospect, how could she blame him?). But then days passed, and then a week, and she slowly realized with a sinking feeling that he really was gone, that he really had gone away, for good.

She hadn't meant to chase him away. She'd just been so overwhelmed – having him around all the time, like a little nattering wasp in her ear, always buzzing, always demanding her attention. Not to mention the fact that she was still in love with him, in love with an impossible man, who was living in her home, a constant presence in her life that she still just couldn't claim as her own.

But then he was gone.

She wishes she could stop thinking about him. She wishes she could stop remembering the feel of his lips against hers, the way his hands cupped her face, how he sighed, so softly, when he kissed her mouth. She wishes she could stop picturing the way he slept on the sofa, all sprawling limbs splayed out, as if he'd suddenly just collapsed into sleep. She wishes she could forget the sound of his voice, that deep baritone that seemed to wind its way around her spine whenever he spoke, pulling her in towards him.

She nearly faints the next time she hears that voice again.

It's dark when she leaves the hospital. The tube ride is a silent affair, quiet this evening, with barely anyone aboard. Two stops after the hospital a man sits down beside her, pressed up tight, and she scowls at him from under her scarf, displeased that he had to sit so close on such an empty train.

The man leans in towards her, a older man in a tattered hat, his beard grizzled and gray. She tries to lean away from him, making to get up, when he suddenly speaks, and her knees go weak at the sound.

"Wait," he says softly, and she'd recognize that voice anywhere.

She sits (flops) back down, her knees collapsing beneath her. She looks at him, and meets his eyes, those dazzling, unforgettable eyes, and her heart betrays her yet again, beating fast and furiously inside her chest.

"It's you," she murmurs, still staring at him, caught somewhere between shock and complete relief.

"I'm sorry if I treated you poorly, Molly," he tells her, his voice barely above a whisper. "I - ... John used to say that I tended to misread social cues."

"It's okay," she replies, and it honestly is. She's just happy to see him, alive and healthy and whole.

"Moriarty is still alive," he tells her, and that feeling of happiness dissipates as quickly as it came.

"What?" she breathes, "B-but he shot himself, d-didn't he?"

His eyes turn cold, almost dangerous, somehow. "It would appear that he did not."

"W-what should I do?"

He takes on her hands in his, and squeezes it tight. "Be careful. He may be watching you. Stay safe."

The voice over the intercom announces the impending arrival of her stop, and she wishes she didn't have to go. "Th-thank you. For telling me. Just- thank you."

He nods once, and she can't help but smile at the way his beard sways as he moves his head, such a strange sight on his normally clean shaven face. A clever disguise, indeed.

"Goodbye, Molly," he says softly, leaning in to kiss her on the cheek.

And as he leans in, she shifts her face, meeting his mouth with her own. She can feel the shock in him as he registers this strange event, and he freezes for a moment, uncertain what to do. The train starts to slow down, and she makes to pull away, but then he's got his hand on the back of her head, and he's pressing her to him, hard and fast and it's nothing like the last kiss, nothing at all. There's emotion behind his touch, his emotion, and now it's her turn to freeze, uncertain what to do.

He lets her go as the doors open, and she stumbles out the door, still looking back at him, still feeling the phantom of his lips on hers, a ghostly sensation that she wishes she could keep forever.

But then the train rolls away and the feeling fades, and she is left alone standing on a platform, with a confused mind and heavy, heavy heart.