Disclaimers:

1. I don't own these characters and I am not making any money (believe me).

2. No copyright infringement is intended.

3. The song lyrics to "The Lonely" belong to Christina Perri.

I heard "The Lonely" for the first time last week, and it inspired me to write this story. If you have never heard this song, go download it now. Right now! This is my first Sherlock story. All suggestions and comments are welcome!

~s~s~s~s~s~

In the span of only two days, every aspect of my life changed because of Sherlock Holmes. Of course, two days really is a long period of time. I've seen entire families ravaged in the blink of an eye after learning a loved one has passed. And I experienced that myself to a degree when my dad died after a brave battle with cancer, even though I had months to prepare for it.

But those two days were as remarkable as they were devastating.

"I think I am going to die."

"What do you need?"

When Sherlock said he thought he was going to die, something surged within me—a combination of fear, horror, and a fierce protectiveness over this man. Without question, I would do whatever it took to keep him safe. He went on to explain how I would play a key role in faking his suicide and thus saving his and three other people's lives. And so I helped him arrange his "death."

His plan was brilliant, of course. I carried out my part without a hitch. Thank God. Two nights later we met outside an agreed-upon pub that was popular with the uni crowd. I didn't even recognize him even though I was intently looking at every man on the street.

It was strange to see him in the blue jacket that every third guy I passed on the way to work seemed to have on. There was nothing smart about it, nothing to betray his impeccable style. He looked like any ordinary bloke, especially since he had also donned faded blue jeans and pulled a black knit cap over his distinctive dark curls. Nothing about his appearance said Sherlock Homes. He even was slouched over and rounding his shoulders to take an inch or two off his height.

"Isn't being out in the open too risky?" I asked, furtively looking over my shoulder.

"People, I have found, don't observe what is right in front of them," he said with a sardonic smile.

"Do you need anything before you go?" I asked, knowing he would head out across the continent in the morning.

He shook his head and pulled up his hood. "Mycroft has given me money. And, of course, a new passport."

I knew Sherlock had planned to confide in his older brother, but I didn't know when or how he had actually managed that, and I knew better than to ask.

"You must go to the funeral and act appropriately," he instructed me.

"Right."

"No one must suspect that your grief isn't real," he emphasized.

"And… after that?" I asked hesitantly. "What do I do after that?"

The question seemed to perplex him. "Go about your normal life," he said simply with a shrug.

Normal life? I wanted to shout at him or at least give him a good smack. Didn't he realize I had violated several laws and put my career and reputation in jeopardy to help him? Didn't he know how shaken up I was having had to lie to his best friend, John Watson, and witness the poor man's unspeakable grief? Couldn't he observe that my heart was breaking at the thought of his leaving, perhaps forever?

But Sherlock Holmes doesn't do feelings, so I kept silent.

Even I could deduce that he was anxious to be on his way, but the incredible tightness in my chest kept me dragging out the conversation. "Will you…stay in touch? Send a text now and then to say how you are getting on?"

"That would be inadvisable," he said abruptly.

"So…this is good-bye," I stated but it came out sounding more like a question.

"Yes. I cannot return until Moriarty's gang is arrested and Watson, Lestrade, and Mrs. Hudson are safe." He paused to pull a cigarette out of his pocket casually and light it. The glow illuminated his icy blue eyes for just a moment. He took a long drag then spoke again in his crisp public voice. "I know I can trust you to never say a word to anyone."

"Your secret is safe with me." The threat of tears made my voice strange and thick.

"Thank you, Molly Hooper. You saved all of us."

A warm flush blossomed across my cheeks. "You came up with the plan."

"But there would have been no plan if it weren't for you." His voice was warm, almost tender. But maybe that was hopeful thinking on my part.

I continued to stare at this man whom I had hopelessly admired from afar these past few years. I wanted to burn this final image of him into my memory. His patrician nose was in profile to me, his angular cheekbones sharp, his alabaster skin unusually smooth and white.

He was leaving; it was now or never. Taking a deep breath, I stared down at my hands. "Sherlock, listen, I've wanted to tell you…"

But when I looked up, he was gone, blending into the nameless crowd milling outside the pubs that littered this block of London.

~s~s~s~s~s~

I went to the funeral, which was a dismal affair on a drizzly day. He needn't have worried about me expressing appropriate grief, because as I stood at the graveside, the stress and emotions of the week caught up with me at last and I sobbed the entire time. I gripped John's hand tightly and he tried to murmur some words of comfort in the midst of his own personal hell. I only cried harder, my guilt over knowing I had the power to ease his pain nearly drowning me.

At the end of the service, I saw Mycroft Holmes standing in the distance, his trademark umbrella actually open to the elements. He was the only other person in the entire world who knew this was all an act. I wanted to catch his eye, not to share a conspiratorial wink but just to not feel so alone. But as he surveyed the few people who had shown up, his glance drifted over me as if he didn't even know who I was.

And that was it. Sherlock was gone, and wreckage was left in his wake.

~s~s~s~s~s~

Three Years Later

I pulled out my cell phone to check the time. It was 2 a.m. At this hour, most people are home in bed, lights out, safe and sound. They aren't walking the streets like a crazy woman who doesn't want to go home. They live their lives, raise their kids, and love their families. They aren't purposefully staying late at work or picking up extra shifts so they don't have to face their empty flats.

Tonight is worse than the many other times before. Hours earlier as I was finishing up some paperwork in the lab, I indulged in daydream in which Sherlock burst into the lab just like he used to, his long coat floating behind him like a dark cape. I didn't usually sit around all moony, though Sherlock was always on my mind. But something felt different about today. At that very moment a soft, very masculine voice had said my name. "Molly?"

John Watson stood behind me. I hadn't seen him in more than a year and never in the lab without Sherlock. He looked essentially the same, perhaps a tad gray at the temples.

"John!" I cried and gave him an awkward hug. "What are you doing here?"

"Greg Lestrade asked me to meet him. Thought I'd pop by to say hello."

"DI Lestrade?" I felt fingers of apprehension walk up my spine. "What for?"

"A murder, actually. Ronald Adair."

Relieved, I got up and thumbed quickly through my paperwork until I located the correct file. "Here it is. I'm waiting on a tox screen still, but the ballistics report shows it was a soft-nosed bullet. Those are horrible things. But why you…?"

John nodded. "It's odd, I know, but I'm interested in crime. I've been studying unusual weapons over the last couple of years. Greg thought I might have some thoughts on this murder."

"Crime and unusual weapons? Really?" I smiled at him.

He shrugged. "I guess certain aspects of Sherlock rubbed off on me."

I froze. How easily the name had rolled off his tongue. There was no hesitation, no overwhelming pain that had devastated him the first year after his best friend's "death." What I now saw in John's face was the acceptance that comes when someone has moved on with his life. I felt happy for him and jealous of him at the same time.

"So, how have you been?" he asked, shoving his hands into his coat pockets.

"You know, same as always." I awkwardly turned the topic to him. "And you? How have you been?"

"I have my practice at the clinic with Sarah still. It's going well." He smiled. "We moved in together after… Anyway, it's all pretty good."

"That's great. Really great," I said, my fingers drumming a nervous pattern on the countertop. "And Mrs. Hudson? Do you keep in touch?"

"She's well. She's been traveling quite a bit."

"I've been meaning to call her…" My voice trailed off.

"Well, don't let me keep you," he said kindly.

"Make yourself at home." I tried to laugh nonchalantly but it came out high pitched and shrill. I gestured for him to have a seat on a stool, then I realized it was the same stool Sherlock had perched on many times. "Pardon me, I need to...to go check on something."

Shutting the door behind me, I leaned against it and shut my eyes.

~s~s~s~s~s~

That was this afternoon. Now as I walked heavy-footed to my flat in the wee hours of the night, I realize I am too afraid to go inside. Oh, I don't fear there will be an intruder waiting. All hints of danger and adventure in my life disappeared with the world's only consulting detective. No, my fear is something much more pedestrian: I'm afraid of the loneliness that has come to define my life.

All of Sherlock's friends have gone on with their lives.

Everyone but me. Because I know the truth.

Sherlock Holmes isn't dead.

It's my wonderful secret to know he is out there somewhere, alive. It's also my burden to bear and keep hidden from the world.

With a sigh, I unlocked the door and stepped inside. I flicked on the lights, unceremoniously dropped my bag on the floor, and then jumped backwards with a shriek.

"Hello Molly Hooper."