Thank you a hundred times over to everyone who has stuck with this story. I appreciate you and wish we could get together in person and talk about our love of Sherlock. But until then, we'll just have to keep writing and reading.
"And then I returned to London. There, you have it all." Sherlock leaned back and sighed.
"That...is incredible," John said, shaking his head in wonder. "And your 'suicide'? How were you able to remember that St. Bart's was undergoing a refit when you were under so much pressure?"
"I went to my mind palace," Sherlock replied. "I had read about the hospital months earlier."
"Incredible," John repeated, his eyes misty. "You went through a lot on my account."
Forty-five minutes earlier Molly's doctor had ordered the pair from her patient's bedside, at one point even threatening to ban a particularly recalcitrant Sherlock from ever being allowed back. Only when John stood two inches from his face and promised him serious physical harm did Sherlock storm out to wait down the hall. Sitting next to one another on uncomfortable chairs, John thought he had distracted Sherlock by getting him to recount the events of the past three years. Except Sherlock could never really be distracted. He was like a computer with many programs running simultaneously. He simply let the Molly program run in the background for a little while.
"You would have done the same," Sherlock declared abruptly.
"If our positions had been reversed, you would have done the same."
"Yes, of course. But the fact is I owe you my life."
Allowing the first outward sign of fatigue to show in front of John, Sherlock squeezed his eyes tightly shut, but just for a few seconds. "These florescent lights are too bright."
"Would you like some tea?"
Sherlock regarded John as if his friend had just grown a second head. "I find it sad that you would think the tepid swill in this place is acceptable."
"A simple 'No thank you' would suffice," John chided him.
With a swish of her white lab coat, Dr. Morris walked up to them.
"How is Molly?" John asked as both he and Sherlock jumped to their feet.
"Her O2 sat rate is lower than what I'd like, but I have high hopes for a full recovery," the physician said.
"Is she awake?" Sherlock demanded.
"She's in and out."
John was starting to thank the doctor when Sherlock rushed by them. "Sherlock, wait!"
Ignoring his friend, the detective walked purposefully down the hall and into Molly's room. In one sweeping movement he picked up her chart and tossed it to John, who was following at his heels. As Sherlock approached Molly, he noted how small and delicate her arms were lying outside the covers. It struck him as odd that he had never noticed that fact before.
"I owe her," he muttered under his breath.
"What did you say?" John asked, absorbed in the notations on the chart. He flipped through the most recent lab results. "Some numbers are better than yesterday's. Others aren't what they should be."
"She will get better." The forceful statement held the ring of a question.
Seeing the concern written on his friend's face, John replied reassuringly, "Yes."
Sherlock studied Molly's serene features. "When I needed her help, she did not hesitate. I found her willingness puzzling," he mused.
"You're kidding, right?" John asked incredulously, folding his arms across his chest. He was sure that even William, Sherlock's "official" cabbie, knew by now how keen Molly was on Sherlock. "Did you ever figure it out?"
"I asked if you ever figured out why she was willing to help you." When Sherlock still didn't answer, John added, "She did it for the same reason you saved me. She cares."
"Leave it alone," Sherlock said warningly, shoving his hands into the pockets of his long, dark coat.
"Wait a minute!" John gasped as realization dawned on him. "You did figure it out!"
"Stop," Sherlock growled.
John let out a bark of laughter. "I can't believe it. You finally noticed her feelings."
"Will you shut up?" Sherlock exclaimed, causing Molly to stir. Concerned, both men peered forward. Molly frowned and moved her legs slightly, then became peaceful again.
Sherlock lowered his voice and gestured toward her. "Look at what you did."
John wasn't a consulting detective, but that didn't mean he wasn't an observant man, especially when it came to the subtleties of fragile human emotions. The mask Sherlock wore today couldn't conceal from his best friend the strained note in his voice or the apprehensive look in his eyes. But what gripped John's attention was the way Sherlock clutched Molly's soiled handkerchief.
John's mouth fell open. "Oh my God . . . you care for her, don't you?"
Sherlock's expression became a study in consternation and vulnerability. Realizing how uncomfortable this new "area" had to be for him, John quickly looked back at the chart. He scanned the pages until a date in Molly's admittance information caught his eye. He was glad to have a reason to change the subject. "Did you know her birthday is in two days?"
"Why would I know that?" Sherlock resumed his normal stance.
"It would be nice if you got her a card."
John didn't have to see Sherlock's face to know he was rolling his eyes. "I hardly see why an overpriced piece of paper with a useless sentiment on it is necessary to commemorate Molly's birth."
"Flowers then? Or a gift? You should get her a gift," John persisted, putting the chart back in its proper place.
Sherlock gave the suggestion some thought as he absently fingered the folds in her blanket. "She does need a new charging cord for her laptop."
"That has to be the worst idea ever," John said. "No woman in her right mind would want that for her birthday."
Sherlock looked at him with an arched eyebrow. "Why?"
As brilliant as Sherlock was, his lack of awareness when it came to social interactions and feelings still could stop the doctor in his tracks. John thought for a second about how he should explain it.
"It's more important that the present be meaningful. To her. Give it some thought. Give her some thought," John emphasized. "Birthdays are a nice time to let someone know what she means to you, yeah?"
Sherlock scowled but didn't argue.
Molly's eyes slowly opened. They revealed neither fear nor relief—just a grim acceptance that she had no control over her surroundings. She appreciated the light flooding the room and noticed the softness of the bed, but she could make no sense of it. She had been in that dark closet just a minute ago.
Molly turned her head to see Sherlock standing nearby, watching her. She frowned, a small crease forming between her eyebrows. Like someone in a dream, she slowly reached out for him.
"Hello," he said, taking her hand and settling it back onto the bed.
"Where am I?" Restless, Molly reached up to pull off her oxygen mask.
It took a few seconds for her to recognize the name. "Hospital?"
"Yes. You were kidnapped. Do you remember?"
Eventually she nodded.
"Moran is in jail," Sherlock continued. "Parker, his accomplice, is dead. You were involved in a car accident, but you are safe now."
Molly began to cry, causing a stabbing pain to shoot through her chest. Another jolt felt like an electric current setting fire to her ribs. She moaned involuntarily.
"You are upset and in pain," Sherlock observed. "I will ring the nurse."
"Thanks," she rasped, biting her lower lip. "Feel pretty rough."
Within a minute, a fresh-faced young nurse (just out of school Sherlock observed) came in and injected medication into Molly's central line.
"This will help," the girl said brightly. She placed the oxygen mask back over Molly's mouth and nose and checked the IV bags before leaving.
"Tomorrow is your birthday," Sherlock said.
Molly mumbled as a burst of coolness flowed through her.
"You will be much better tomorrow," Sherlock was saying as sleep began to take hold of her again. She whimpered in response, a sad, lonely sound.
Something twisted inside Sherlock as he considered how being trapped in the dark for all those hours must have terrified Molly.
Give her some thought.
Sherlock let John's words echo in his mind. Then he left the room.
As usual, Sherlock was correct. Molly woke up more often after that point feeling a little better and staying awake a little longer. Each time she would quickly scan the room for Sherlock, but he was never there. Disappointed, she reproached herself for being foolish. Why would Sherlock spend his time hanging around her hospital room?
Dr. Lewis told Molly she was pleased with her progress and described her injuries in detail. Molly shuddered as she learned more about the accident from Lestrade, who came by to check on her and get her statement. Later on John and Sarah peeked in but didn't stay long. But still no Sherlock.
The next day Molly was more clearheaded and able to keep food down, which helped her feel stronger and tolerate the pain better. She was surprised by how much rest her body still needed because after her breakfast tray was removed, she fell back asleep.
The next time she awoke, Sherlock was sitting by her bed. He wore a well-tailored dark suit and a light blue button-up. "Do you need pain killers?" he immediately asked.
"No," she replied, bleary eyed.
"What do you need?" he asked. The pair grinned at one another, both remembering how three years ago she had asked him that exact question.
"A sip of water?" Molly shifted painfully to find a more comfortable position.
Sherlock poured a glass and held the straw to her mouth so she could take a few swallows.
"I have so many questions," she began.
"You were held at Andrew Parker's former nightclub, The Hot Spot," he informed her. "Parker owed gambling debts to Moran, who forced him into his service. Parker's girlfriend has been arrested for being an accomplice in your kidnapping."
"What was that strange room I was in?"
"A vocal recording booth. Parker had converted his offices into a studio for his girlfriend."
"How ... how did you find me?"
Sherlock shot Molly a withering look. "I investigated and deduced."
Molly laughed nervously. "Well, I am forever grateful to you that I'm around to see another birthday."
"Ah, yes, birthday." Sherlock reached into his coat pocket and unceremoniously handed her a small, unadorned white box. Molly was at a loss for words as she opened it and lifted out a delicate silver charm bracelet.
"It's beautiful," she whispered, her doe eyes wide in surprise.
He watched as she carefully examined each charm.
"A book!" she squealed in delight. "You know how much I love books. And look! A kitten!"
"They are on your blog," he said matter-of-factly.
Molly pushed a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear as warmth filled her very core. Sherlock Holmes had remembered her birthday. She turned the bracelet to look at the charms on the other side.
"Is this a microscope?" she asked in amazement. "Where on earth did you find it?"
"The Internet. Quite simple, actually."
"But what's this one for?" Molly fingered a tiny silver star.
"Polaris, the brightest star in Ursa Minor."
"Oh?" She looked perplexed.
"It also is known as the Pole Star. Sailors believed it was a fixed point in the sky they could base their navigation on."
"Like in Sonnet 116? 'It is an ever fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken; it is the star to every wandering bark whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.'" She smiled self-consciously. "It's my favorite."
Sherlock nodded. "When a sailor went to sea, he looked at Polaris and knew it would always lead him home. It anchored him. He felt ... less lonely." He watched her closely. "Do you understand?"
"The star was an anchor," she repeated as the silver charm spun lazily. She grimaced apologetically. "Sorry, I must still be a bit fuzzy. I'm not getting it."
Scrubbing his hand over his face, Sherlock leaned forward and for a moment looked unsure of what to say next.
"No matter what dangers the sailor faced or how many years he was gone, he knew he could count on his star. It was his true north. That is why this star needs to be on your bracelet." His glacial blue eyes softened as they locked with hers. " It is part of who you are. To me."
As the meaning behind his words dawned on her, Molly's pale cheeks took on a rosy hue. With tears threatening to brim over, she tentatively extended her arm. Sherlock took the bracelet from her and opened the clasp. As he deftly placed it on her, his tapered fingertips brushed against the soft skin on the inside of her wrist.
Molly ached to tell Sherlock what she felt for him, what he meant to her, what this gift meant to her. Instead, she held her hand to her heart. What he had given her was more than she had ever expected to receive. And she would accept it the same way she accepted him—just the way he was.
"Thank you," she whispered.
"I would not recommend wearing it while performing autopsies," he cautioned her.
Molly shook her head. "I don't wear jewelry when ... oh! You're teasing, aren't you?"
He only smiled. "Happy Birthday, Molly Hooper."
"Are ... are you back then?" she asked hopefully. "Is everything safe for you to return?"
Sherlock stood to his full height and nodded curtly. "I have finally come home."