Many great thanks to my wonderful reviewers Nocturnias, conchepcion, CumberChelz, Petra Todd, PurpleYin, Araminta18 and Hellscrimsonangel! You all really moved me with your kind words. :)
This chapter contains some violence, implicit and explicit, swearing and angst. Ye be warned.
It will take me a while to write the next one, because I'm going home for spring holidays, and I have to prepare for exams as well, so be patient, me hearties.
As always, thank you for whatever feedback you leave! ;)
Molly arrived at 221B breathless, heart thumping wildly from both running and anxiety. The night bus – the only one she was able to catch - had deposited her several blocks away from the flat. She leaned against the dark wood of the front door for a moment, cooling her forehead.
She had some idea of what she would find inside, but still felt unprepared to confront it. Him. John.
They had never been close. They just happened to stumble around the edges of each other's lives, not going farther than some casual words about work, about their families. About Sherlock. He seemed the only constant they shared, albeit in different ways. To her knowledge, Sherlock had never had a companion, and Molly had secretly longed to fill that void. But then John came along and she knew, instinctively, that she could never have accomplished that. She envied him a little, but not for long. There seemed nothing to be jealous about after she had given up on Sherlock.
The loss must have hit John far worse than others, infinitely worse than her. From what she knew, he had an alcoholic sister and only a handful of close friends. Sherlock would have been the closest of all. She understood. Her father used to be hers. She remembered that loss all too well, and how she had to console her devastated mother despite being heartbroken herself.
And here she was, in the very same situation again, and yet with a greater challenge. She had to incarnate the epitome of neighbourly love and the cruellest of deceptions at the same time. It was incredible, even to herself, how she'd managed a transformation of this magnitude. She felt a little sick.
Being good at lying didn't necessarily mean you had to like it.
Why Mrs Hudson had called her of all people, she didn't fully understand. There was Lestrade and Scotland Yard, John's other friends, and even his sister. Why her?
Molly had her theories. Because Lestrade was at his wife's place again? Because Harriet was drunk and unreachable? And because she was the nice, sweet, reliable Molly, ready to come at the ungodliest hour? Yes, the hypothesis seemed sound enough.
Come to think of it, she would have given a lot to have that sweetness again, at least for that moment. The old Molly would try to help without doubts or second thoughts, without lying to everyone and – most importantly – herself. The old Molly loved to be needed. The new Molly didn't quite know what she loved. Some spark of her old self was still there, but it would take something extreme to drive her out.
Would this be extreme enough? Molly both hoped and feared that it would.
Gingerly, she knocked. A series of staccato steps approached the door, before Mrs Hudson swung it open and rushed Molly in. Her features had sunk even more since Molly had seen her last, casting severe shadows across her face.
She chose not to waste any time. "Where is he?"
Mrs Hudson nodded in the direction of the upstairs flat. Molly hurried, taking two steps at once.
The living room welcomed her with silence and darkness. It receded a little when her eyes adjusted. She saw vague outlines of the moving boxes on the chairs and the coffee table, still untouched, and manoeuvred her way around them. The smell of dust hung in the air, along with something chemical. Wrong. Something felt wrong about this.
She heard someone breathing, almost inaudibly, in the farthest corner by the window, behind Sherlock's old chair. Molly closed the distance in a few hesitant steps. On the last step her foot stumbled over something and the object broke with a crunching noise. The figure by the window jumped up, and pointed one of its hands at her. Molly recognized the silhouette. So John had kept his gun.
She shivered, but forced herself to be calm. "John, please put it down. It's me, Molly."
When a second hand joined the first on the handle of the gun, her lower lip began to tremble. She bit it. "John, I'm not going to harm you. I don't have any weapons. I can show you. Just… look, let me turn the lights on, alright?"
"Go on then."
Oh dear god. His voice was shaking with fury, words slightly slurred, vocals pitched much higher than usual. Molly desperately tried to remember her short-lived take on psychology. So according to the classic model, he seemed to have overcome denial, but not gotten beyond anger, which explained some things. Would he even be willing to talk at this point? She had no idea.
This would be far more difficult than she expected.
She backed away from him towards the switch, keeping her eyes fixed on his outline. When the light spilled across the room and she took in the state of it, she could not suppress a small sound of shock. The boxes were untouched, but their contents – Petri dishes, vials, various laboratory equipment, books and pieces of clothing – had been strewn and smashed all around the room. Some of the clothes had apparently muffled her steps as she entered. John stood amidst the chaos with a defiant look, gun still pointed at Molly. She noticed his crumpled shirt, stubbled face and a faint smell of alcohol. Not good.
She moved towards him, shedding her jacket and showing him her open palms. "See? No weapons. Now please, put it down."
"Why should I take orders from you?"
"Because I'm your friend. I want to help you." She hated how squeaky her voice sounded all of a sudden, but it was probably for the best.
He laughed bitterly. "Friend? Help me? Tell me, Molly, how many times have you actually bothered to call and offer help? Friend indeed."
"I needed time to cope, John. I couldn't… But I wanted to call, I swear…"
"Right. Coped really well, didn't you? You don't exactly look like you're grieving."
For a moment, she was almost at a loss for words. "Believe me, it's been hard. But he mattered to me too, you know. I lost him, too. I understand." And she didn't even have to lie. She had lost him… some of him.
"Really? Well, everyone knew you had a thing for him, but you make it sound like you were close. And I know for a fact you weren't." He spit the words out like poison. They even hurt like poison. "Have you come here to mock me then?"
"No, of course not! I just want to help." She ventured a few steps forward. "I know what it feels like. I have lost people before."
"You could be lying. You could be lying about everything. Why should I trust you?"
Dumbfounded, she had no reply. She desperately wanted to say "because he did", but John wouldn't believe her. He would ask for proof, and she could give him nothing.
John must have noticed her insecurity, because he grabbed the gun tighter and moved towards her.
"There's a funny thing I remember, Molly. Moriarty, with all his connections… he could have chosen anyone to get to Sherlock. Any of the Scotland Yard officers, maybe even Mrs Hudson or me. But he went for you instead. Am I'm wondering, why did he do that?"
She shrank back, further and further, until she almost stumbled over the coffee table.
"See, Molly, you could still be spying for him." His voice grew rough and angry. "You could have forced Sherlock to jump, for all I know. So why should I trust you?"
Molly felt hollow and helpless. She had not expected this. Her thoughts raced, looking for some sort of escape, a solution, proof of her innocence. There was nothing. He would not believe her, no matter what she said. She was at his mercy, and he would have none for her.
But some sort of defence mechanism must have kicked in, because her eyes felt sore and tears obscured her view for a moment. As if something as simple as tears was going to stop his rage.
Still, it seemed to work. He was no longer cornering her, but kept his hand firmly in the air. The gun hung inches away from her head.
Tell him what you feel, her gut feeling told her. Go for the truth. "What do you want me to say? That I feel guilty? I admit it, I do. Everyone does."
John almost snorted at that, but she kept going. "Believe me, you're not alone in this. You're not the only one who…" – No, there was no other word for it. She had to say it. -"… loved him. I would have given anything to save him, and I know that you would too."
John's mouth twitched a little and Molly thought she saw the gun sinking lower, just a fraction. But he looked resolute still. "What about Moriarty then? You two seemed nicely paired up."
A memory suddenly came to her mind, Jim pulling at her hair, on their second night. "For fun", he'd said, and pulled tighter, bringing tears to her eyes. "Good girl", he whispered. "Nice girl".
Disgust welled up in her chest. She couldn't stop herself from bursting out. Her voice broke.
"Nice? You think it was nice? Jim only ever wanted to get to Sherlock. He fucked me, and then he threw me away like a piece of trash! I was just… collateral damage." Suddenly, her legs gave out, and she sank gracelessly onto the coffee table. "He messed up my life! You think that made me feel nice? If you honestly think I would work for that monster... then you don't know me at all."
Then, there was a warm hand grabbing her elbow, pulling her up, and Molly found herself on the sofa, now freed from the boxes. The gun was gone. He kneeled in front of her, eyes lowered, features somewhat softened by remorse. He was an easy man to read. She shrank away all the same.
John sighed. "Look… I'm sorry, Molly. I am. I didn't know. It's no excuse, of course, but… ever since he's… "
He swallowed, hard. His hands hid his face for a moment. "I've been going through everything in my head, every moment, every detail, looking for clues, hints, anything… and you came up, among other things. So I thought…"
She nodded absentmindedly. Of course. Moriarty had been clever enough to tarnish everyone. Even the insignificant little mortuary girl. No one was safe from suspicion. The spider was dead, but his web still caught flies, entangling them, suffocating them with lies.
Realizing that he was expecting some sort of answer, Molly looked up at him, trying to sound comforting. "It's… alright. Well, not really, but… I understand. It must be difficult."
John shook his head. "Of course it's not alright. Look at the state of you… god, I don't know what's gotten into me."
She couldn't let him feel guilty. That would only make it worse. "Please don't blame yourself. It's only natural. You needed release, and, well… I'm used to being shouted at and threatened."
His brows knitted in confusion. "No, it's not right. You're the last person who deserves that kind of treatment."
It was like a punch to the gut, because she felt that she did deserve it. For deceiving him.
Molly looked about desperately, to find something to change the topic. Her eyes lingered on the boxes. "Why did you do this?"
His gaze followed hers. "Well, there was something Sherlock said. That there was a code hidden somewhere in the flat, a code Moriarty used to break into the Tower, and the Bank of England. So I thought… maybe I could find it and then…" – there was a violent spark in his eyes – "… then I would find Moriarty."
Revenge. This wasn't good at all. She needed to distract him. "So you broke Sherlock's stuff and threw his clothes around?"
Luckily, John didn't seem to mind the sarcasm. "I was angry! You see, I was going through the boxes and then I realized that Mrs Hudson had moved everything. So wherever the code was, I probably wouldn't find it anymore. And I was so worked up by then, I just.. lashed out."
"You gave her quite a fright. She was the one who called me."
He grimaced. "It's all such a mess. I'm a mess."
Molly took his hand. "That's what I'm here for. Let me help. No one should be going through this on their own."
He looked tired all of a sudden, and much older. "Suppose you're right. My therapist said the same."
"Well then, be a responsible patient and let me take care of you."
"No. I can't, I… I find it difficult to be around people. It's just frustrating. No one gives a damn. They all believe that Kitty Reilly person, that lying…" He clenched his fists.
"You're just saying that to make me feel better."
"No." She looked him in the eye. "I believe in him. I always have."
The corners of his mouth jerked up, just a little. "Well, alright then."
"Are we good?"
"Yes, we're good."
John squeezed her hand, maybe in gratitude, maybe just in sympathy.
Molly followed him with her eyes as he made his way downstairs, to Mrs Hudson's flat, before slipping out quietly herself. She glanced at her watch. Damn. There would be no time for sleep anymore. But she had to get home all the same.
She felt like she was getting into something serious here, with long-term consequences. But she felt responsible. John was broken, and so was she, and maybe being broken together wasn't such a bad thing. She couldn't fix Sherlock, she was almost certain of that. Why not try to help John?
And then maybe, just maybe, she could fix two things at once.