AN: This work is mainly inspired by my realization that there was a small Molly/John fandom here, and wondering how such an implausible situation would come about. I'm a strong believer that Molly is a great deal more than she lets on, and I wrote from that perspective. I've also made her a couple years older than her blogs state. If you prefer otherwise, please feel free to consider this an AU. More importantly, this fic prominently features depression, suicide, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and quasi-consensual, highly problematic sex. If any of these things are triggers for you, please give this story a pass. This story is beta'ed, but not Brit-picked.

Dr. Katharine Molly Hooper is a study in contrasts. On one hand, she loves flowers, kittens and the colour pink, and she loves watching silly television dramas and reading fashion magazines. At the hallowed age of thirty-one, she still buys stuffed animals and over time they pile up on a special shelf in her bedroom. She likes cute things, silly things, and she doesn't see any problem with that. Quite frankly, given her career choice, it's nice to come home and think about silly things.

No one ever thinks about the person Molly must be in order for her work at Barts to make sense. She's not sure Jim or even Sherlock realized she was a doctor at all, a fully trained forensic pathologist and medical examiner. She's never liked the formality of being Doctor Hooper, and given her patients are dead she doesn't really care. People treat her differently once they learn she's a doctor, once they learn about four years specializing in pathology and her published papers in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, once they learn how Molly's raced up the ranks at Barts in four years and is considered a senior doctor. Molly doesn't like being treated differently, so mostly she just doesn't mention it. No, Molly likes her work, likes conducting forensic post-mortems and finding out how people died, and then she likes coming home to her pink flat to watch Glee with her cat.

Her colleagues think she's silly, but they don't understand what it's like when your area of brilliance comes in connection to dead bodies. Molly didn't really have friends before, not the way the others did. The Perfectionist, they often called her, half with intent to tease and half with intent to hurt. What do you do with all those cadavers? It is better, Molly has learned, to hide those things that unnerve people as much as possible. Just look at Sherlock; for all Molly adores him, worships him, for all he's amazing and brilliant, he's quite fundamentally alone and she doesn't want that for herself. In fact, part of the reason Molly admires Sherlock so much is that he doesn't care, and Molly wishes she had the courage to be herself, be all of herself, without regard to the consequences on her social life.

At the end of the day, there exists notoriety that comes from standing out, an alienation that comes from excellence, and Molly's learned the hard way that she doesn't want to be alienated. It is, therefore, important to have normal, silly interests because that is what people like to see, that is who people want to spend time with, and that is how you get friends you can call at three in the morning when your latest boyfriend has dumped you.

Moreover, a penchant for being silly has probably saved her life. Molly knows that refusing to stand out is probably what saved her from Jim. Molly doesn't count. She doesn't even like counting, most of the time, and for the entirety of their relationship she thought Jim liked her for her silly self, for the Molly that likes cute things and has a pink blog covered in kittens. Molly didn't want to scare him off by mentioning her work in forensic pathology, her papers (authored under Dr. Katharine M. Hooper because it sounds more professional and her co-authors insist), or her nine years at The London School of Medicine. In their short-lived relationship, it simply never came up.

It takes Jim's escape from justice for her to out herself. "You're a bit like my dad," she tells Sherlock, hesitation in every line of her body. Molly is too used to hiding her perceptiveness and intelligence over the years to reveal it without being nervous. "He's dead."

"Molly, please don't feel the need to make conversation," Sherlock replies, eyes steady at the sample under the microscope. He really is very handsome, with his dark curls and gray eyes and she can tell under his bespoke suit that he's quite fit. "It's not really your area."

Normally a comment like that would send her scurrying, but not today. There's something wrong with Sherlock. She doesn't really know how to go about explaining it properly, but she knows something is wrong and just this once she's not going to let it go. "When he was dying," she continues stubbornly, "he was always cheerful, he was lovely, except when he thought no one could see him. I saw him once, and he looked sad. You look sad, when you think he can't see you." Her eyes flick to John's back, and she knows Sherlock catches it. "Are you okay? And don't just say you are, because I know what that means, looking sad when you think no one can see you."

"You can see me," Sherlock blinks.

"I don't count." She swallows a painful lump in her throat. She knows herself, and despite knowing that most of the time she likes not-counting, likes just being the silly girl working in the morgue, with Sherlock, the realisation hurts. A part of her had always wanted to reveal her non-silly self to him, because if anyone in the world understood it was going to be him. The rest of her was always terrified of the what-if consequences. At least if she is the silly girl in the morgue, she knows Sherlock will come by and ask her to help in his experiments, and she never wanted to risk that. "Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that, if there's anything I can do, anything you need, anything at all, you can have me – no, sorry – I just mean, I mean if there's anything you need … it's fine."

She turns to flee from the lab, to flee back to the security of her morgue, but hears Sherlock's voice calling behind her. "What could I need from you?"

"Nothing," she says. "I don't know."

But a few hours later at the end of her shift, Molly comes out of her office, crosses the dark lab and jumps when she hears a voice behind her.

"You're wrong, you know," Sherlock whispers out of the darkness. "You do count. You've always counted and I've always trusted you." Molly makes out his body in the darkness, leaning against a lab bench, and she takes a step towards him as he lowers his voice to a soft rasp. While part of her thinks she should find this rather hot, she doesn't; he sounds too afraid. "But you were right. I am not okay."

She's surprised, unnerved. This is Sherlock talking, and even if he was not himself earlier, Molly has clearly underestimated the level of not himself he has reached. Without realizing it, she lowers her voice to match his. "Tell me what's wrong."

Sherlock straightens from the lab bench and slowly closes the distance between them. "Molly, I think I'm going to die."

"What do you need?"

"If I wasn't everything you think I am, everything that I think I am, would you still want to help me?" Sherlock stops a mere foot away from her and lowers his head so he's staring at her directly. She finds the question ironic; she's not everything he thinks she is either. No one is everything others think they are, and if she refused to help, she would feel like a hypocrite.

"What do you need?" Molly says. And so begins the biggest deception of her life.

Sherlock doesn't give her his full plan, and Molly is all right with that. Molly knows, of all people, what Jim Moriarty is capable of, knows the depth of deception to which he would descend. Jim terrifies her because she knows that with him alive and free, she will never be safe. This is a man who bombed an entire tower block just because the old woman he took hostage tried to describe the timbre of his voice, and Molly can describe a great deal more than that. Molly knows that she's only alive today because Jim misjudged her, which he does because Molly doesn't like standing out, because Molly didn't mention all those things that reveal her to be more than a silly girl. Molly knows her future safety depends on Sherlock, depends on Jim's death or imprisonment. That knowledge steels her resolve as she quizzes Sherlock on his medical history, forges the paperwork declaring his death and fakes his post-mortem so accurately Sherlock's own paediatrician would look at the records and recognize him.

"By the time I return," Sherlock says in her apartment that night, as Molly helps him dye his ink-black hair in her bathroom sink. "This won't be traced back to you. Mycroft will make sure your name is struck from the records." Normally, Molly would be overwhelmed by the chance to be this close to Sherlock, but not tonight. Her nerves are frayed from what she's doing, what she's done, and she's forgotten how to be nervous about him. There's just too much at stake, and her fingers move quickly, washing the red dye from his hair.

"Mycroft knows?" she asks, the slightest tremble in her fingers belying her surprise and anxiety. The deception relies on no one knowing Sherlock is still alive, on nothing short of the purest, most absolute secrecy, and Sherlock has already made clear that she is to tell no one. "Who else knows you're not dead?"

"Yes, Mycroft knows, I wouldn't have told him except I need funds for what I am to do now," Sherlock says impatiently, rubbing one of Molly's towels roughly against his now-red hair. "And a few others who were there for the fall, but its best you don't know."

Molly exhales a deep sigh of worry and fear. She doesn't ask any more questions – the less she knows, the better. "Is there anything else you need?"

Sherlock stares at her for one long moment, puts in dark brown contacts to cover his steely gray eyes, and pulls on a new set of clothes. The clothes he apparently jumped in are on the body Molly has appropriated for his plan. "Take care of them," he says finally, and Molly knows he means John Watson and Mrs. Hudson and Gregory Lestrade, "as best as you can. I will see you once it's over."

"I will," Molly says. It sounds like more than a promise to her ears, the solemnness of the occasion turning it almost into an oath. Sherlock is going to war with Jim, and it is the least she can do to make sure everyone is still alive and well when he returns.

The funeral is a misery, the first of its sort in Molly's life. Not the first funeral, of course, there was her father's, nor is it the first miserable funeral because funerals are usually quite miserable. But it is the first time Molly feels the weight of the secrets entrusted to her. No one sees the body, because Molly's been quite clear, emotionally so, that the body is not in a condition to be seen, and Mycroft handles all the details for the funeral. The service is over a closed casket, and Molly can see Mrs. Hudson sobbing in the front row. John sits beside her, stone-faced, looking entirely lost. Lestrade is there too, his jaw set. She's not sure if he believes it, believes the media flurry that's brought his team into the spotlight, believes he's been taken in by Sherlock all the time. She grits her teeth hard against the truth, reminds herself that this was necessary, and knows then that the next few months will be hard ones.

Mrs. Hudson sells the house. She receives a fair amount for it, too, more than her property is actually worth. The buyer is an American, she says, moving to London for business reasons. She confides in Molly that she would have taken a lower offer as well – the memories in 221 Baker Street are too much for her and she needs to get away, go somewhere in her old age. Maybe Spain, or Greece, or Portugal; somewhere with sun.

"What about John?" Molly asks when Mrs. Hudson calls her a few days after the funeral. John has shut himself in 221B and Molly hasn't seen him since. They've never been close, so Molly's never had an excuse to check up on him. "Where will he go?"

"Oh, I checked that with the buyer too," Mrs. Hudson says. "John can stay. I can't bear telling him I've sold the house, so it's a good thing the buyer is happy to just take John's share of the rent. Said something about war veterans deserving our respect, good fellow that he is."

"When will you be leaving?" Molly asks, her fingers tracing the shape of the whorls on her kitchen table. Her cat mews at her feet, demanding to be fed, and she pats him absently. Her mind keeps spinning her back to her promise to take care of them. How am I to do that, exactly? she demands tiredly. She's been running herself in circles on this very problem for days. They're your friends, Sherlock, not mine! John and I have never spoken before, Lestrade and I have always been strictly professional and I barely know Mrs. Hudson!

"Tomorrow," Mrs. Hudson sighs. "It'll be good for me to get away, you know, though of course I'll keep in touch. That's why I'm calling; I couldn't think of anyone else, poor Gregory Lestrade is under rather a lot of stress at work and someone needs to check on John. Can you come by and pick up a key today?"

"Yes," Molly says. "Yes, I'll come by."

When Molly lets herself into 221B Baker Street, it's immediately apparent why Mrs. Hudson wants someone checking on John. She would have had to do it eventually, one way or another, half-baked plans of getting Sarah Sawyer to help floating around her head, but Mrs. Hudson has given her an excuse to do so earlier than she could have hoped. The flat is stale, reeks of decomposition and alcohol and vomit, and she gags a little.

It's dark, with the curtains drawn, so Molly doesn't make out John at first. He's sitting in an armchair, an open bottle of whiskey dangling in his right hand, head slumped into his shoulder. There's a stain on his shirt and, she counts, four empty whiskey bottles on the floor. He doesn't make any sign that he's seen her.

"Oh shit, oh fuck, goddamn bloody fuck!" Molly drops the bags she's been carrying with half-hearted thoughts that John might be happy to see fresh bread and soup and cheese and rushes to his side, dread pounding into her chest and head. "Oh shit goddamn bloody fucking fuck please don't be dead please don't be dead please don't be dead."

She doesn't normally work on live patients, hasn't done any real live medical care since uni, but she vaguely remembers how it works. She leans over and finds that he's breathing, breathing regularly. That's a good thing, she scolds herself through a haze of shock and panic and action, desperately trying to remember material from over eight years ago, before her specialty in pathology. The knowledge keeps slipping through her fingers, and she forces herself to get it together. One, two, three, four, she counts John's breaths, eyes trained to her watch on her left wrist, "twenty-two breaths per minute, oh thank god." She slaps him lightly on the cheek, and when he doesn't respond, slaps him harder.

He stirs oh thank god thank god and blinks at her blearily. "Molly?" he stares at her, confused. "Wha' you doin' here?"

"Christ," Molly nearly shrieks, her fingers reaching for a pulse rate. "Christ, how much have you had to drink?"

John cocks his head and stares without seeing at the whiskey in his hand. "'M not sure. Wha' you doin' here? Where's Sherlock?"

Molly's heart seizes a bit at his name, but takes a deep, shaky, breath. Tell no one. She ignores his question. "What the fuck were you thinking?!" she demands, her voice a breathless squeak. "I thought you were dead, you were passed out drunk and you have vomit over your shirt!"

John isn't looking at her anymore though, his eyes trained to the yellow happy face spray-painted on the wall, decorated with bullet holes. "Mm. Righ'. Sherlock's dead."

Molly sighs and reaches for her phone and taps out a text, feeling tears collect in her eyes as the adrenaline seeps out of her system. It hasn't even been a week and she's already almost broken her promise to Sherlock, and she makes a mental note to be more careful in the future. "Bath," she chokes out, pulling the whiskey out of his hand. "Then bed. I'm cutting you off."

"Could jus' get more, you know tha', righ'?" he growls darkly, mutinously.

"I'm calling Sarah. Bath." She pulls John to his feet. He staggers, but doesn't fight as she pulls his arm over her shoulders. He's heavy for someone of his size, and she struggles to pull him to the toilet. Pushing him into the tub, she doesn't bother to undress him. Sarah's responded, B there asap, and she'll have to handle John while Molly disposes of Sherlock's experiments. A week without attention and most of them are reaching truly frightening levels of decomposition.

Sarah arrives as Molly's bagged the last of the human remains. She's alarmed but calm, and Molly lets her in. Believe it or not, Molly Hooper and Sarah Sawyer are old classmates, graduating medical school within a year of each other. They're not very close, never have been; Molly's always been that silly pathology ace and Sarah was headed straight for general practice. You can't heal people if they're already dead, she's always said, frowning. What kind of doctor is that?

Today there's none of that. "What do you need to me do?" she asks, pulling her brown hair up with quick, efficient motions. Sarah's always been that, too, efficient, the one you went to if things went wrong. While Molly's an ace in pathology, in medical school she had a reputation for being a bit scatter-brained about everything else. That's why no one trusts you with the live ones, Sarah once told her, frustrated, during a group project.

"I took the liquor away and put him in the bath," Molly says, swallowing away the memories. She's shaky from a mixture of relief and horror at what could have happened, and her voice trembles. "But I need help getting his clothes off and you'll need to get him into bed. Sherlock's experiments are a biohazard and I need to take them to Barts straightaway."

"Can do. I'll call you later with an update."

Molly takes away any alcohol she can find in the meantime, but she's certain that won't be the end of it.

The next week, the enquiry is announced. Molly is in her lab at Barts when it happens, over the corpse of a child. Meningitis, found too late for the doctors to do anything about it, tragic. A lab tech bursts into her morgue, gawks at her for a minute, and when Molly looks at him runs out again. It happens three more times, a nurse, a medical student and a secretary, and Molly's getting exasperated.

"What is it?" she asks the fifth person to barrel in, the barest hint of annoyance in her voice. "It's just, you're the fifth person today to come into my morgue and stare. That's more visitors than I usually get in a week."

"Have you seen the news?" the person asks breathlessly. She's not sure who he is, but he's young, not long out of uni. Might even be a med student. "There's going to be an enquiry, a big one, into that false detective's cases at Scotland Yard."

Molly nearly drops the scalpel she was holding into the child she's cutting open, but steadies herself and asks, "And?"

"And you've been called as the independent medical examiner, you know, because of your background and reputation in the field."

Molly's legs tremble under her and she fights the urge to faint. Or throw up. It's only the second week, but she already feels pushed to the limit. She's been dropping by John's as much as she can to keep an eye on his drinking, and she knows Sarah's been doing what she can, but they can't watch him all the time and she knows John is still drinking far more than he tells them, far more than he should be, far more than would be considered remotely healthy. Between work and home and John's, she hasn't managed to check up on Lestrade at all. Take care of them, she remembers her promise and remembers her note to be more careful after finding John last week, but clearly it's not good enough because she's forgotten about Lestrade. And to top it all off, she's starting to have nightmares from the stress, and in them Sherlock is alive and Sherlock is dead and she's running from Jim but she can't find anywhere to hide and she sees his pale pink tongue flick out towards her searching seeking finding. How is she going to fit in reviewing five years of cases from Scotland Yard for an enquiry?

"Right," she hears herself saying distantly, surprised that her voice is steady when she feels like it should be a breathless squeak. "Right. I'll wait for the call, then, I guess."

Molly locks herself in at home that night, and quadruple checks the locks (three of them), the way she has since Jim turned out to be Jim. Another day and she's confiscated John's liquor for the fifth time that week and poured it down the drain and made him eat some cheese on toast at least, and she's stopped at the pharmacy for sleeping pills because she keeps having nightmares about Sherlock and John and Jim and waking up after only three or four hours, but today there's something new because there's an investigation, god, and DI Lestrade and Sgt. Donovan and Sgt. Anderson could be fired depending on what, if anything, they find. And technically, she's under investigation too, because she's been consulting with the Scotland Yard pathologists for the last four years, a fact which the enquiry apparently missed when they were thinking about independent medical examiners. She still hasn't managed to go to Scotland Yard or call Lestrade or anything and the guilt from that, the guilt from forgetting about him in the midst of John makes her hate herself a bit. At least, she thinks morosely, Mrs. Hudson is soaking up the sun in Greece. It's one less person to worry about, and while she shouldn't feel grateful about it, she does. It's week two, and she's already more exhausted than she's ever been in her entire life.

"Why, Sherlock?" she murmurs as she sets out a new dish of food and water for Toby. "Why did you have to go? Did you even think of the consequences, did you even think about John and Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson, did you even think at all?"

Her eyes are wet, and she swipes her tears away angrily. There won't be an answer from the cat food, and in her heart of hearts she knows the answer why. She, more than anyone except for Sherlock, knows Jim, knows that in order to win they need to play his game for all it's worth, to play it the way he does. She knows that she was the only one who could have helped Sherlock fake his death, and she knows that even she was a risk for him. Sherlock didn't really know her, not really, when they set his plan in action and Sherlock put his trust in her and Molly wants to deserve it.

She pulls a stuffed penguin named Penpen from the pile of stuffed toys in her room, puts Glee on her ancient, box-shaped television, tucks her face onto Penpen's head and cries, for John and Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson and most of all for herself.

That night, she takes a sleeping pill and sends a text to Lestrade. The enquiry officials had sent out a listing of everyone's phone numbers for them all to coordinate their review. A public enquiry? Guess we'll be seeing more of each other soon, Molly.

She sees Lestrade the next day, and the day after that and the day after that. In fact, she sees him almost every day for the next month, because the enquiry covers every case Sherlock's ever touched at Scotland Yard. Because Sherlock, the bastard, preferred interesting cases of murder, because Lestrade's the only detective inspector at Scotland Yard willing to work with him and because Molly's the assigned "independent medical examiner," they spend hours of overtime pouring over what seems like ninety percent of their cases over the last six years.

She, Greg Lestrade, Sally Donovan and Sean Anderson become very familiar with each other over the next month. While Molly does meet a few other detectives, none of them have the case record with Sherlock that Greg's team has and their cases are quickly gathered and summarized for review. Molly learns that the team likes pizza without cheese because it gives Sally indigestion (and she passes gas at a highly alarming rate), like their curry spicy because Greg can't take spice (but he can take a joke) and like ordering whatever Sean feels like because he grumbles incessantly when he doesn't get his way.

They use Sally's notes to form the backbone of each summary, because Sally's handwriting is the clearest and Sally's notes are ambivalent at best about Sherlock. Together, Greg and Molly and the team paint a picture of themselves as suspicious of Sherlock, meticulous about keeping arms-length from him and careful not to let him gain too much power. Sean's notes are short and incomprehensible, and Greg's notes are out of the question.

Molly has no notes to contribute but is solely responsible for five years' worth of post-mortem reports and recordings. Some of the recordings are better than others, and some she groans the minute she hears the examining pathologist's name. Some of the pathology notes are comprehensible; others Molly essentially has to reconstruct and theorize as to what was done. On four occasions, she seriously considers calling for exhumations but settles for redoing all the tests, stepping on the toes of all four of Scotland Yard's resident pathologists. Once, she actually has to exhume a body and redo the post-mortem. Overtime doesn't even cut it anymore – Molly's working flat out fourteen hours a day seven days a week just to get through the reports.

At least Barts supports her. It comes to light fairly quickly that Molly isn't actually an independent examiner, because she's consulted on two of the cases in question. However, this fact doesn't seem to bother the enquiry panel, and Barts' solicitors tell the enquiry that Molly barely knew Sherlock, saw him once in a blue moon and consulted on less than five percent of the cases. Molly's convinced that the panel is only keeping her on because the closest equivalently qualified forensic pathologist works out of Glasgow and they don't want to pay for the additional travel expenses. She's not going to be out of a job, however the enquiry goes, and while that should be a relief it isn't. Molly sleeps medicated now because the pills give her dreamless sleep, because it brings unconsciousness all that much faster, because she doesn't want to worry herself to tears that turn into exhausted sleep every night only to wake up four hours later to think more what-if thoughts. There's always something more, always something she forgot to do that day, always something she should have gotten done and didn't. For the first time in her life, Molly feels inadequate, unprepared, unable to handle the situation. Her entire pile of stuffed animals have made it into her bed at night and while the pills make her groggy in the mornings she needs them to get through her life now, needs them to get enough sleep for the overtime, needs them to keep checking on John, needs them to put on a cheerful face for Lestrade and his team. It's been four weeks, four weeks of getting up at six in the morning and working straight until eight or nine at night, four weeks of dropping by John's after work to check up on him and make sure he hasn't succumbed to alcohol poisoning, four weeks of getting home at ten or eleven at night, feeding the cat and self-medicating and falling into bed to do it all over again tomorrow. She hasn't cooked or done the laundry properly in weeks, hasn't had time to relax and catch up on her favourite telly, hasn't had time even to shower except when she deems it necessary to take the time from sleep.

Molly wishes she could forget that Sherlock was alive. It would make this whole affair easier, would make it easier for her to feel like her hectic life taking care of John and trying to save Lestrade his job means something. With Sherlock alive, it's almost as if half her work, half of her life right now is meaningless – if John knew he was alive, he probably wouldn't have his drinking problem, she wouldn't have to take an hour or two every day to make sure he's alive and bully him into eating and taking a shower and she could reclaim those hours for herself. She could tell them, she thinks bitterly, just to make her life a little easier, but she knows that she really can't. That would be rather despicable of her, wouldn't it, to blow this entire thing just to reclaim a few hours a day for herself, and she feels ashamed for even thinking of it. On the other, she also knows she can't tell anyone because she knows what Jim can do and knows that Sherlock's safety, their safety, rests on this ruse once it's been started. And regardless of how many hours it takes and the amount of sleep it costs her, Molly, both the silly Molly who loves her cat and her stuffed animals and Glee and the clever Molly who went to The London School of Medicine and publishes papers in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, is determined to see this through.

Greg, Sally and Sean have been placed on suspension pending the determinations of the enquiry and with the Chief Superintendent bearing down on them, the press jumping them every moment they get, their humour leans dark and yellow-brown bags form under their eyes.

"My wife's left me," Greg says at seven in the morning somewhere in the third week of overtime. It's his turn to bring the coffee – a round of three-shot espressos, black, and he's yawning, miserable. "She's left her wedding ring and says she's filing the separation papers."

"Think she means it this time?" Sally asks, her hands clawing viciously through the stack of papers before her. "Where're the records of that serial suicide case?"

"I hope not," Greg says, taking a pull from his coffee. "God, we've been married twelve years, that has to count for something, right?"

"Oh for Christ's sake," Sean snaps. He's crabby in the morning, they all are. "She's been cheating on you for years, I hope it's the last time, good riddance. We've all said so, you deserve better."

Greg blinks slowly, and Molly knows he doesn't believe it. He sets the coffee down and rubs his eyes tiredly. It makes her head hurt, her heart hurt to watch him hurting so, so she looks away and shifts a stack of paper. "Sally, found them, here they are," she says. "The poisonings, right?"

That day, she pulls Greg aside and silently writes him a scrip for sleeping pills, the good stuff that she's managed to get Stamford to write her a scrip for. "Doctor's orders," she says. "You look like you need them."

She doesn't use her prescription privileges often, her patients being far beyond the need of drugs, but just this once she figures it won't hurt. And if it eases her worries a little, no one needs to know.

She stops by 221B Baker Street that evening, confiscates a bottle of vodka from John and pours it down the drain. He's not as drunk that evening as he usually is; over four and a half weeks, Molly's gotten to know the various stages of drunk John reaches and today really isn't that bad. Actually, compared to the last few weeks, today's quite good. He's conscious, he's clearly eaten something, he has had a shower sometime in the last couple days and he doesn't fight her when she takes the vodka away.

"Feeling better, then?" she asks, a tremble in her voice as the long day six-thirty in the morning until eight at night and Greg's wife has left him and this is too much too much too much catches up to her. She leans down over him, checks his pupils, breathing, pulse. "Did Sarah stop by?"

"Not at all," John says, his words only slightly slurred. "Oh, Sarah, yeah, she came by after the surgery closed with a sandwich for me. Offered me a job at the surgery again."

"Are you going to take it?"

"Dunno." John stares at her as if seeing her for the first time. "God, you look wrecked.The enquiry?"

"It's, well, it's going." Molly tries hard for a smile, feeling the corners of her mouth quirk up unnaturally. "I'm not going to be fired or anything, which is more than some can say."

"Oh, god, Molly." John's eyes widen in sudden realization. "God, Molly, I'm so sorry. I've been sitting here, being drunk this entire time, I didn't even think—"

"It's fine, fine," Molly reassures him desperately. She's got an itch behind her eyes and it's been such a long day and there's always so much more to do, so much she didn't get done, and she's not keeping up with her responsibilities at all. She needs to get away, hide, now, before the feeling can swamp her, before she does something she'll regret. "I'll be right back, toilet, it's been a long day."

She shuts herself in the toilet, falls down against the cabinets and pulls her knees to her chest. The irony is, of course, that John's apologizing to her, who should have really been able to do something about his alcohol dependency by now, who really should be able to straighten everything out with the enquiry or at least pull her own weight there. Even if she can't stop everything, she feels like she should be doing better than she is, should be able to shoulder at least her share of the report writing rather than passing them messily scribbled notes they cobble together into the formal reports so Greg and the others can go home a little earlier. She should be able to watch John more closely, but instead her time is spent at the enquiry drowning in old recordings and redoing test results and she just can't seem to find more of it. She should be able to work more efficiently, should be able to get through more work faster, but she's failing and she knows it. Molly's never failed at anything before, not really. Scatter-brained she might be, but she's always gotten it done. Her chest hurts and her knees feel weak and she doesn't remember the last time she's had a solid meal. There's a sound, the low moan and cry of an animal in pain, and Molly recognizes distantly that the sound is coming from her. She hiccups, and tears she's held back for weeks with drugs and sleep and work come in a flood why now, why now and not later at home?

She fights to quiet herself, takes deep rasping breaths with her head on her arms, her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. Pull yourself together, she orders herself coldly, but it's not working, it's not enough, and the hiccups and sobs keep coming and her chest hurts with the knowledge that Sherlock's alive somewhere and she could stop this pain but really she can't because the consequences of Jim are too much, too risky and she could kill them all. Pull yourself together, Molly, for god's sake, she begs herself. She sits up, wraps her arms around herself and digs fingernails (heavily bitten, uneven, and just long enough to cause pain) into her shoulders. Her nails will leave marks, she knows, angry red crescents of pain but the pain feels good, the pain feels right, the pain helps her focus.

Tell no one. Sherlock's voice echoes in her head. And take care of them.

Molly's failing, and she knows it. Because for all that Silly Molly is Clever Molly, the Molly with the papers and medical degree is the Molly who likes cute things and pink and silly telly dramas, and Molly can't keep up with herself anymore. She can't do this, she's not Sherlock and at the end of the day for all her published papers and medical degrees she's just the silly girl that works in the morgue with a desperate crush on Sherlock Holmes. She can't protect Greg from the enquiry, can't protect him from his marital problems and she can't protect John from his genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Molly's bitten off more than she can chew, but what can she do? Tell them about Sherlock, her mind whispers treacherously to her. But that's not acceptable because for all Molly's the silly girl working in the morgue Silly Molly is still Clever Molly and Clever Molly understands why Sherlock needed to die and more than anything she knows Jim and she could kill them all. And even if she told them about Sherlock, that wouldn't save Greg's job, wouldn't save the team at all and wouldn't make Sherlock any less missing. No, the only option is to keep going, keep going, keep doing her best, whatever the personal cost.

It's a map of terrible choices and there's nothing she can do about it. Sherlock trusted me, she thinks, gritting her teeth and making a valiant effort to pull herself together. Sherlock trusted me to keep them safe, to make sure they're still here when he returns and goddamn I'm going to do it.

"Oh, god, Molly," she hears someone say distantly and feels strong arms wrap under her arms and pull her away from the toilet. He smells like alcohol, alcohol with undertones of soap and he picks her up as if she weighs nothing, as if she's a kitten and cradles her against his chest. He's not a big man, John, but he's solid and warm and underneath the alcoholic fumes he feels strong and steady. "Shh, shh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry and it'll be okay, I won't drink anymore, I'll cut myself off, I swear."

Molly cries harder because a touch of kindness right now is not what she needs to pull herself together. She has no right to receive this, no right to receive this from an alcoholic John who she hasn't managed to convince to sober up in four and a half weeks. And if only he knew the secret she was keeping tight against her chest, the secret that would have protected him from the events of the last few weeks and weighs on her conscience every minute she is awake he would hate her. He would have to.

"Why?" she whispers into his chest. Why are you doing this for me? Why did Sherlock trust me, of all people? Why do I have to do this, alone, alone, alone?

"I don't know, Molly," John sighs. "I don't know. But we can always grieve together. I'm sorry, Molly, I'm so sorry. I didn't even think, didn't think what this could do to you and you've got an enquiry to deal with. I'm sorry, Molly, I'll make it up to you, I swear."

Against her will, Molly finds herself feeling a bit better, and she hates herself for it. She doesn't deserve this, doesn't deserve this man's arms around her, doesn't deserve to feel better. She looks up into John's blue eyes, and he's weeping too, weeping in the dignified manner Molly's never managed. "I'm sorry," he whispers again, and his lips are on her head, on her face, until they find her mouth and his arms (a soldier's arms, Molly recognizes distantly, he's always had nice arms) are so safe and reassuring that she gives in.

John tastes of salt and alcohol and tears, and her hands begin tracing the muscles that stand out on John's back. This isn't going to end with just a snog, she knows, they both hurt too much and John is so reassuring and it's the first time in the month since Sherlock died that someone's looked at her, properly looked at her. John pulls her onto his lap and settles one arm under her legs and the other around her shoulders, and Molly keeps her arms wrapped around him and her head tumbles into the soft spot on John's shoulder and she leaves a kiss on his neck.

"Molly," John murmurs, standing up with her in his arms, his voice muffled in Molly's hair. He's taking her somewhere, Molly knows, but she keeps her eyes shut because it makes her feel sick to open them, to know what she's doing, to know what she's about to do. She sucks at John's neck to distract herself, his skin tasting of salt and alcohol, feels him kick open a door somewhere and dump her on a bed. His lips are on hers and his hands are on her and her hands are unbuttoning the plaid shirt that Sarah's no doubt coerced him into some hours earlier. He pulls her shirt off and she kicks her trousers off without thinking about, without opening her eyes to know what's happening to her. Her bra is off and so are her knickers, and she doesn't have time to be self-conscious when she feels John on top of her, as naked as she is. She feels his cock, hard, rubbing against her thigh and his head drops to her left nipple and Molly stops thinking.

Things get better, and they don't. John begins trying to pull his life back together, but it's hard fighting biology and he's predisposed to alcoholism. He anchors himself to her because of all things Dr. John H. Watson needs, it's a port to set into. John Watson needs a purpose, he always has, and Molly becomes that purpose. She knows he's pulling himself together for her, because he feels guilty about the last five weeks, because he's the first one to notice she's sort of falling apart. You wouldn't do this for me, she thinks, a heavy lump of hurt in her throat and in her heart, you wouldn't do this for me if you knew. Molly's only doing what she has to, only doing what Sherlock has asked her to do, only doing what she needs to do to make things better. She's taking care of them, just as promised. Sometimes she stays over, but more often she doesn't.

John shakes through the first two days, his short descent into chronic alcohol use enough to give him withdrawal. Molly knows he feels like shit, because he snaps at her when she drops by after another long day at Scotland Yard trawling through paperwork.

"Where did you go?" he demands, pacing in nervous circles in his flat. It's so unlike him that Molly cringes and sets down her bag. John's breathing faster than normal and when she approaches him she can see his pupils are dilated.

"The enquiry, remember?" she says softly, taking his wrist. She can feel his pulse, quick and heavy, and she knows John hears the fear in her voice. "We've got a week to finish preparing our submissions for review."

"Oh, that's right," he says, and collapses into a chair like a marionette with its strings cut. "I'm sorry for snapping, Molly. It's just … withdrawal and all."

"Mm," Molly says, and she lets him pull her onto his lap. He wraps his arms around her, buries his face in her shoulder. She's not sure why she's letting him do this, because he shouldn't. He shouldn't. This has bad idea stamped all over it in flashing neon orange signs and Molly doesn't know why she isn't pulling away. Maybe because it's nice to have someone who cares, someone who's looking directly at her for once; maybe it's just because John Watson isn't called John "Three Continents" Watson for nothing.

He stays up preposterous hours, nervously walking around the flat picking things up and setting them back down, those first few days dry. Insomnia, she knows, a regular symptom of moderate alcohol withdrawal. The second night Molly sees him pacing, she gets up and irritably shoves a scrip for sleeping pills at him. They don't seem to have done Greg any harm, so what does it matter? Besides, it's very hard to actually kill yourself using sleeping pills, and Molly's careful to prescribe far below the amount he would need to induce coma. John stares for a moment at the name on the slip of paper: "Dr. Katharine M. Hooper, St. Bartholomew's Hospital, London."

"God, Molly," he sighs, hanging his head and following her back to bed. "I barely know anything about you."

No, you don't, she thinks, and I hope you never do. But she says nothing and rolls over to face the wall. She's already taken her pills for the night, and she'd like to escape into dreamless sleep now. She's been spending as much time as possible sleeping these days, partly because the little she's able to catch is not enough as it is and partly because sleeping feels so much better than being awake and having to deal with the world. When she wakes up at six in the morning to go to Scotland Yard, she wipes away the tears that have collected in her eyes overnight as she looks at his sleeping face. This can't last, she reminds herself harshly. You're doing this because you owe it to him, because you promised Sherlock you'd take care of him and you didn't. He would hate you if he knew the secrets you were keeping, you know it, so don't you go getting yourself attached. That's Clever Molly telling her that, because Silly Molly is already a little attached. It's got to stop, as soon as he's stable.

John takes the job Sarah offers at the surgery. He's a good doctor and his patients like him. That, more than anything, keeps him sober.

The submission deadline for the enquiry comes all too quickly, and Molly pulls an all-nighter with Greg and his team to prep the last of the cases. They have a good case, she thinks, but she can't be sure. She's running on too much caffeine, too little sleep, and she feels awful. Sally, always suspicious, is the team's saviour because she's dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's. She's dug up the formal paperwork for consultants, and wonder of wonders has managed to find Sherlock's paperwork as a consultant countersigned by the Chief Superintendent to submit.

Greg wants to take everyone to the pub to celebrate, but Sally and Sean shoot him glares and march out of the office. He looks put out, for a moment.

"We've just pulled thirty-six hours without sleep," Molly reminds him gently, slapping him lightly on the shoulder and sliding the remaining scraps of paper into the bin. "They're tired. We all are."

"You up for a drink, then?" he asks, dispirited.

"No," she says, shaking her head. She pauses, looking at Greg, really looking at him. He looks older than he did last month, and his hair has more white in it than before. The stubble on his cheeks is dark and it's rare to see him so unkempt. "Did your wife file for separation?"

Greg grimaces, all the answer Molly needs, and she pats him shyly on the back, the only thing she can think to do, as her heart sinks for him. "It'll be all right," she murmurs. "One day."

He sighs. "One day," he agrees. "I'll see you at the hearings in three months. I'm suspended pending resolution of the enquiry."

Molly rubs her eyes when she gets home. She's not in uni anymore, pulling all-nighters takes it out of her like nothing else. I'm nearly thirty-two, she realizes. A few months ago, this would have made her depressed and she would have called her friends and gone clubbing, if only to prove she could. Today, she barely flinches. After Sherlock's death, John's struggle with the bottle and the enquiry, another year doesn't mean anything to her anymore. At the age of almost-thirty-two, Molly feels ancient.

She's contemplating skipping the pills tonight as she lays out fresh food and water for the cat. Toby's not very happy with her and mews his displeasure, swiping a paw at her trousers. "Oh, I know," she murmurs, crouching down to scratch his ears. It seems like she hasn't been able to do anything right these days. "I haven't been home enough recently. I'm sorry."

Toby hisses at her and throws himself at his food. He's a monster, an absolute bottomless pit. Molly sighs miserably.

Her phone beeps as she is tucking herself in amongst the stuffed toys. Feel like I barely know you. Dinner? –JW.

Just got off 36-hour shift. Molly types back. She's not sure she wants to go out with him, not really, not formally. Sex is one thing, because she knows he's seeking solace, comfort, a human body to lose himself in, and sex makes her feel a little less miserable and guilty about it all. A relationship, on the other hand, would be painful and difficult. Molly has secrets to keep and anything with John would inevitably be temporary.

Not today then. When are you free? –JW

She stares at his text for several long minutes. She can't very well say Never. For one thing, she needs to see him again to make sure he's doing all right, for another she wouldn't even mind having sex with him again. It changed him, and it seems to have gotten him off the alcohol and if in losing herself in him she's able to forgive herself some for failing to take care of him and for keeping Sherlock's secrets from him, then no one needs to know.

I'll stop by tomorrow night, she writes back in the end. Stopping by isn't agreeing to dinner, she reasons. She can make sure he's eating, make sure the job at the surgery is going well, and then she can make some excuse and leave.

She dreams that night of hate. Toby's turned huge, into a tiger, and he swipes at her the way he did earlier but it's much scarier and threatening when he's thrice her size with claws the size of daggers and she runs runs runs and feels the gasps tearing out of her throat but he's faster than her, he's almost got her and John's there and he's carrying his gun and she throws herself in his arms but he turns into Jim, laughing that high-pitched, manic laugh and presses the barrel of his gun against her ribs and Molly wakes up, breathing hard, tears on her face.

She reaches for the pills with trembling fingers and takes twice her usual dosage.

Her plans derail the minute she steps into 221B Baker Street. John's turned all the lights off, and he's lit candles at on the kitchen table, which for once in its long life doesn't have Sherlock's experiments all over it. She smells Indian food. She freezes, hoping against hope that John hasn't noticed her and she can sneak out without being seen.

"It's not much," she hears John murmur as he tugs the fresh bread from her loosening grip, setting it aside. "I just figured, you know, as a thank you for the last six weeks … and I barely know you, Molly, and …"

Molly doesn't need to see his face to hear the sheepish tone in his voice, or to hear what's not being said. John's a simple enough man, a soldier at heart. He believes in Queen and country, believes in honour and duty. If I'm sleeping with her, I should know something about her, he's thinking. This needs to be more than just sex.

"You didn't have to," she chokes out through lungs that have momentarily stopped working. "No, I mean, I can't possibly …"

"It's just takeaway," John explains quickly, returning to tuck his arms around her, his head resting on hers. Soldier's arms, she thinks absently. Silly Molly is being treacherous tonight, and she's always liked a man in uniform. "It's nothing fancy. And the candles were just lying around; I didn't go out of my way or anything."

"I don't know, John," Molly says, weighing each word, and there's a pause as she's fairly certain this is the first time she's said his name out loud and she feels him twitch. He's always been Dr. Watson to her, even if he's John in her head. "I should go, I have … I have to feed my cat."

It's the stupidest explanation she could have ever come up with, but for some reason Silly Molly is in control of her tongue right now, the way Silly Molly always was around Sherlock. She should have come up with a better explanation earlier, she realizes, and prepared herself for this, but now she just sounds like a crazy cat lady. And why do her knees feel weak, and why isn't she pulling herself away?

John snorts, and she knows he can see through her excuse like a window, and more than that she knows that if she really wanted to turn it down, she would have found an excuse earlier. She didn't, so what does that say about her? "Your cat can wait an extra couple hours, you've only been pulling fourteen hours a day for the last five weeks. Even an idiot like me can see you've lost weight. We can blow out the candles and just turn the lights on, if you'd prefer, if this makes you uncomfortable."

"Well…" Molly nearly whimpers, but stops herself. "Well, a couple hours. Just a couple hours, and I'll go. And, um, no candles."

"Great." John pushes her towards a chair, flicks on the lights and takes away the candles. Reluctantly Molly doles herself a share of rice and tops it with butter chicken. John sits across from her and helps himself. The whole scene is so much less unnerving with the lights on that Molly feels herself relaxing a little despite herself. "So, um, tell me about yourself, Doctor Hooper."

Molly looks away at some spot on the floor. There's a burn there. Sherlock, she thinks. Of course Sherlock would burn the floors. She shrugs at John, a sharp, birdlike movement. "Well, um, what do you, um, want to know?"

John's blue eyes are baring into her, and Molly's suddenly scared that he can see everything, that he can see both Silly Molly and Clever Molly, that he can see the secret she's carrying around like a two-stone weight around her neck. "Why don't we start with your position at Barts, then. I thought you were a morgue technician, but after you wrote me that scrip I looked you up. 'A statistical analysis of bullet trajectory in suicides'? 'A comparison of home suicide and gun ownership'? 'Operational determinants of a suicide'?"

Molly shrugs again. The floor burn is an oval, tapered on one end, like an egg. Not a chemical spill, then. Probably Sherlock dropped his Bunsen burner while it was on, or spilled a candle. "I'm a forensic pathologist."

"A well-published forensic pathologist," John repeats. He doesn't look shocked, or scared, or unnerved. That's another reason why Molly doesn't mention the papers much, another reason Molly doesn't talk about her work. While people can often get over the dead bodies part, Molly's research specialties in suicidal gunshot wounds is another matter entirely. But John, John doesn't look like he's about to start pulling away from her, and Molly feels her heart sinking.

"I wouldn't say well-published," she mutters softly through a mouthful of butter chicken, still avoiding eye contact. Please don't ask me anymore, please don't talk about any more papers. She's written more than a few, and Clever Molly is demanding she change the subject, play it down. Clever Molly is reminding her that the only reason she's alive is that Jim doesn't know she exists, and thinks she's just Silly Molly, and for all Molly knows John's flat has been papered in bugs transmitting their conversations live to Jim somewhere. "Um, just a few papers here and there, nothing unusual."

"For an M.D., or do you have a doctorate?"

"Um, no, I'm an M.D.," Molly stammers. "I just, I did a lot of research part-time during my time at uni, because, um, being a research assistant paid pretty well and um, the professors found some of my findings interesting. And at Barts, some of the cases I get sometimes are interesting." Too much, she thinks. I've said too much.

She hears John sigh across the table from her. "I don't mean to pressure you. It's just, even though I've known you as long as I've known Sherlock, it feels like I barely know you. We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"It's all right," Molly says awkwardly, glancing up at him at last. He's wearing an expression of concern, like he's treaded into some area he shouldn't have. She doesn't want to say anything more, but she also doesn't want to be rude. Take control of the conversation, Clever Molly whispers. That's how you hide, right? Deflect! "Um, I just don't, um, think about it that much. So, um, you were an Army doctor? Where, uh, did you train for that?"

"Oh, I trained right here at Barts and The London School." John's eyes light up in remembrance. Good memories, apparently. "But that was when Barts was doing the merger with the London Hospital, and we had a terrible rivalry back then. I was accepted as a first year medical student by Barts, so that was where I stood on the whole thing. And then I enlisted on graduation, and got the specialized training then. You?"

"Um, Barts." Molly says. No doubt any listeners have already worked out that she must have gone to medical school somewhere. She's younger than John, significantly so because the merger several years five years before she started. "I only graduated in 2004, though, then I did a specialty in pathology. Sarah graduated a year ahead of me."

John laughs, a light, full chuckle of surprise that Molly's never heard before. It's a nice laugh, she thinks suddenly, not at all like Jim's. "What a coincidence," he says. "We should all get together and reminisce about our days at Barts. You two can tell me all the dirty rumours about yourselves at medical school. We'll invite Stamford."

Molly smiles thinly, and hopes that never happens, and not only because most of the rumours flying around her in medical school involved inappropriate acts with cadavers.

Throughout the summer and autumn, Molly alternates between finding excuses to avoid John and finding excuses to see him. He's nice, and for once Molly's the one being looked at, really looked at. It's a novel experience, but one Molly quite likes, even if she can't find the words to say so. He reads half of her papers on his own and is impressed with her findings on contact wounds and suicide. When she works late, sometimes he stops by the morgue after finishing at the surgery with a coffee for her (a white chocolate mocha, extra shot of espresso topped with whipped cream and caramel, to be precise), and he actually watches while she conducts a post-mortem on a body for DI Hopkins.

"You see the contact wound, yeah?" she points out the flap of darkened skin around the wound. The cause of death in this one is obvious; bullet to the head. John, properly scrubbed in, is holding her voice recorder for her, and she motions him to turn it on. "Autopsy of Mr. Edward Kilworth, performed on October 1, 2012. Forensic pathologist attending, Dr. Katherine M. Hooper. Please be advised that Dr. John H. Watson, former army doctor from the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, is observing."

Molly waves a hand at John, but he stares at her in confusion. She points with bloodied gloves at the recorder. "Ah, ahem. Dr. John Watson, present."

"Victim is 188cm tall and weighs 91kg, and is approximately fifty years of age. He is well-nourished and well-developed, with black hair and …" Molly pries open the remaining eye on the victim's face. "Brown eyes. The conjunctivae are free of petechiae. The victim has never received orthodontic treatment. Rigor mortis is present; liver mortis is on the dorsal aspect of the body. Cause of death is one gunshot wound to the head. There is no evidence of recent trauma other than the gunshot wound to the head, and I will proceed to examine the head first." She motions for John to turn off the recorder.

"So, you see the contact wound, and I've just ruled cause of death is a gunshot wound to the head. That's obvious." John nods, following, and Molly gives him a tiny half-smile. She's in a decent mood today, which she has now defined as not miserable, though those are becoming fewer and far between. It's becoming harder and harder to drag herself out of bed in the mornings, even though her schedule has reverted to the usual and she doesn't need to be awake until seven-thirty. She's been worrying more, and when she isn't asleep or working she finds it hard to think about anything except the enquiry. Today's mood is exceptional, and she supposes it's the body on the slab; the case is right in line with her research interests. "So why am I being paid by Scotland Yard? Go ahead, get close to Mr. Kilworth here. He won't mind."

John leans over the body, frowning, his blue eyes examining the wound. Poor Mr. Kilworth is missing a good third of his head. It's a good case, and Molly is curious to see how much John gets from a look-over, if he sees as much as she does. "The contact wound means that whoever shot him was standing very close to him, the muzzle of the gun couldn't have been farther than a few centimetres away," he says slowly, reasoning it out as he stares. "Judging by how much of his head is gone, I don't think this is a standard handgun, or a gun I recognize at all. At this distance, most modern guns should result in a through-and-through, rather than taking off this much of his head. The effect looks a bit like what I saw in Afghanistan, if hollow-points were used."

Molly smiles, the first real smile she's given since Sherlock's death. "Good guess. But then answer me this: how does an insurance salesman from Guildford get a hollow-point in his head?"

John leans back, crossing his arms over his chest, pondering. "Hunting rifle? With a hollow-point?"

Molly nods, impressed. Dr. Watson's seen a lot, and it shows. He's still wrong, but he's not off by much. "Turn the recorder back on. I'll show you."

"Entry is located on the left forehead fifteen centimetres from the top of the head and six centimetres left to the midline plane. Wound measures four centimetres across. Contact present, in concentric pattern, extensive blackening but no scalloping of the wound edge." She leans over Mr. Kilworth, getting far closer than John did, and she grabs a tweezer from the tray of instruments beside her. Carefully, she digs into his brain and pulls out a small piece of buckshot. "Buckshot extracted from victim's left temporal lobe. Wound path travels through left frontal and temporal lobes, bleeding along the wound track. Exit occurs at the left temple, exit wound is five centimetres in diameter. The wound path is front to back and slightly on tangent on the left side of the head."

Molly frowns suddenly, and uses her tweezers to nudge brain matter aside. "There's something else here," she mutters. "Abnormality in the brain noted. The substantia nigra appears very pale; recommendation for a histological examination. Turn the recorder off, John. I need to take this man's brain out."

In his favour, he flicks off the recorder and doesn't look disgusted when Molly gets the circular saw. He doesn't even look bothered, and she's impressed, though he does take several steps back when Molly starts sawing off the top of Mr. Kilworth's head. Sawing can get messy.

"What is it?" John interrupts Molly's thought process as she gently pulls out Mr. Kilworth's brain and puts it in a dish. He's not disgusted, not frightened, not any of the usual reactions Molly gets when she's removing someone's brain. He sounds genuinely curious, genuinely interested in what she's doing.

"I can't say for sure," Molly says absently, absorbed in cutting a sample of the substantia nigra. "But I read a case study once with abnormalities in this area, and the person had Parkinson's disease. DI Hopkins isn't going to like this."

"Why not?"

Molly shakes her head. "The main question DI Hopkins wants me to answer is whether or not this is a suicide. Contact wounds are usually indicators of a suicide, though suicides also usually aim the gun through their heads with a left-right or right-left wound path. The wound track in this case is atypical, and if I find Lewy bodies when I check this sample under a microscope, I will be inclined to call this an accident."

"Why does that matter?" John pulls a sheet over the body for her as she fixes a sample to a slide for herself to look at later. "I mean, suicide or accident, it's not murder so it's not really their work anymore."

"No, it's not," she agrees. "But if he has life insurance, his wife will be suing the insurance company next week, right after she talks to her solicitor. They'll argue that it's suicide and voids the contract, she'll argue that it's an accident. They'll call me and DI Hopkins to witness, and I'll have to go to court to testify. The insurance company will hire one of my colleagues who'll say the exact same thing but decide that it's suicide. Hopkins hates court, and he especially hates civil court."

John nods slowly, but he's not looking at her, he's not thinking about the legal mess experts can make. His eyes are unfocused, staring out the window to the upstairs hallway and his mind is somewhere else entirely. "Accident or suicide, Sherlock would have known."

Molly's heart sinks and she feels her good mood disappear, leaving her with an odd sort of sad emptiness. "Yeah," she murmurs softly. "He would."

John comes over to her flat that night, her pink flat with the stuffed toys on the couch and the three seasons of Glee piled on her coffee table. He scratches Toby, who swipes at him with his claws. "You're angry at me for taking her away for so long, aren't you?" he asks, and Molly knows he's thinking of his six weeks of drinking and subsequent withdrawal, when Molly was working long hours and still checking on him daily. "I'm sorry, boy."

"Don't worry about it," Molly says, because she knows John is speaking to her too. "It's really nothing." Her good mood from the morgue, from the body, is gone, and she remembers that John is, well, John. She shouldn't have let him into the morgue today, she really shouldn't, but the autopsy today was rather interesting and she let him in before she'd really thought about it. And John was so interested in her work, and that's so rare that she just … let him come in, let him scrub in, and told him about it. Taught him about it, even.

Contrary creature that he is, Toby rolls over and lets John scratch his belly.

"You aren't what I expected, you know." John stands up and he's staring at her with an intensity that terrifies her as much as it, strangely, warms her. Toby's slipping between her feet, head aiming towards his newly refreshed food bowl in the corner. Molly doesn't want to see John doing this, doesn't want to hear this out, but she's frozen in place by that blazing, ice-blue gaze.

"What did you expect?" It slips out, so quiet she wonders if he's missed it, but he's taking a step towards her, purpose in every line of his body. She knows what that step is, what that step means, and her gut is on fire in pain and desire. She stumbles backwards, hitting the counter dividing her small kitchen from her living space.

"Well, I didn't know you at first, and you were always so … you adored Sherlock so much, I just didn't know you. Like I said once, I thought you were a morgue tech or something."

Molly swallows and she lets her eyes drop to the floor. Her mouth has gone dry, and she can't seem to get enough saliva to moisten her vocal cords. "You thought I was silly," she rasps. He's still walking towards her, and Molly's face is burning at the admission.

"I did," John says agreeably. "And you know, your flat says a lot. You are silly, with your animal cushions and your Glee and your Vogue. But you're also Doctor Hooper, forensic pathologist, recognized expert in suicidal gunshot wounds, and today I watched you take a man's brain out of his skull and hypothesize about the possibility of Parkinson's disease based on a barely noticeable abnormality. And somewhere between being silly and being Dr. Hooper, you found the time and the kindness to look after us, look after Greg and I after Sherlock died. I don't have to understand you, Molly, and I'm not judging. Whoever you are today, whoever you want to be … it's fine. It's all fine."

Molly's face is on fire, and she knows that with her red hair she looks like a tomato. She hates blushing, especially like this, and a knife is twisting in her gut. Molly is just Molly, a conglomeration of silliness and professionalism, of cute things and dead bodies, and people normally only see one or the other, never both. She feels naked, naked in her jumper and blouse and trousers.

Not to mention John's wrong. Everything he said about her kindness is nothing more than hogwash, and there's nothing more she'd like to say now than to tell him so. Molly knows at her core that her reasons for helping Greg, for helping John are selfish. For Greg, she was under enquiry just as much as they were, so she barely pulled her fair share, if even that. For John … For John, she's only giving him what she owes, what she promised Sherlock she would give, she's only pulled him out of a spiral that she should have seen coming in the first place.

She is not supposed to fall in love with John, because John is a bad idea, even if he's just told her what she's waited her entire life to hear. It's fine to be clever and silly, all at once. It's fine to like kittens and corpses, fine to study suicidal gunshot wounds and come home to hot chocolate and stupid telly dramas. Molly is a study in contrasts, and John's the first person to accept it, and that knowledge twists in her soul. Becauseeven if John means what he's not saying directly, even if John cares for her in that way, he wouldn't if he knew the truth she was concealing from him. He couldn't.

His lips are on hers, but all Molly tastes is the weight of the secrets between them. She's suffocating under the weight of them.

"No," she bursts out. "No, I can't, I won't, I can't do this, not today." Not tomorrow and not the day after and not ever. And Molly's on the ground crying, crying deep hiccupping sobs because for all it's for the best, it hurts to try and let go of the only person who's even tried to understand. The only person who wasn't unnerved by Molly's person, by Molly's personality and the only person who knows, really knows that Molly's a great forensic pathologist who just happens to like silly things.

She feels John slide to the floor beside her, pull her onto his lap. His heart is beating a steady rhythm, a soothing sixty beats per minute, and Molly's turned herself into his shoulder and his palm, broad and warm, is rubbing circles on her back. "Shh, it's all right, I'm sorry."

Molly sobs herself into silence. It feels good, crying, even if it is incredibly self-indulgent and silly. John's shirt is damp, and she tries to twist herself away, tries to get up and find herself a proper tissue but he's holding her in place.

"Can you at least tell me why?" he says finally, a note of sadness in his voice that breaks her heart again.

Molly doesn't answer for a few minutes, and she sniffles. The sound of wet, thick breathing fills the air. John's hand on her back is still making those circles, those round, soothing circles, and Molly can barely think. He's not going to let her go without an answer, and Molly can't even be angry about it because these touches are so comforting and Molly's never deserved it less.

"Sherlock," she says.

John's grip becomes a little tighter, just for a moment, and Molly squeaks. John's breathing becomes deeper, controlled, and Molly feels the tears collect in her eyes again as she knows her answer is misunderstood, that she's meant her answer to be misunderstood, that she's given him the truth in the form of a painful omission. She's as much as told him You're not Sherlock, or maybe I want Sherlock I always have and I always will even if what she means is I'm a big lying liarface and Sherlock will come back and then you'll hate me. She tucks her face against the wet spot she's left on his shirt, where she can hear his heartbeat and where he won't be able to see her.

"I asked him to come back, you know." John's voice is a low rumble in his chest, and his voice is a little choked up too. "A little after the burial. I stood at his grave and I asked him to give me one last miracle: 'Don't be dead.' He didn't, because he can't. If he could have, he would have come back to us. He's dead, Molly, and we have to move on."

Molly pulls away, and John lets her go this time. He has tears in his eyes too, and Molly hates that. She hates causing him pain, because John is such a decent man, and he doesn't deserve any of this. He doesn't deserve to be a piece in the games played by Sherlock and Jim, any more than poor Lestrade, staying at home alone and trying not to spend too much money, does or any more than Mrs. Hudson, driven out of her own home from the memories, deserves this.

"You're right," she says, because it's the only thing she could possibly think to say now. Well, until Sherlock comes back. Just until then.

The enquiry hearings are scheduled in November. The week before the hearing, John stays at her apartment where Molly's stuffed toys have made it back in their shelf. Molly stomach hurts that entire week and she runs to the toilet frequently to throw up. It's not Molly first time in court, but Greg's job rests on the whole thing. That knowledge weighs heavy on her conscience. Moreover, if any of the barristers have any sense, they'll be cross-examining her on her personal affiliations with Sherlock, a reality that Molly not at all enjoys. Molly doubles the dosage of her sleeping pills because the single dosage just isn't doing it for her anymore. She's lying awake far longer than she wants to be, and she still wakes up, groggy, heart pounding, five hours later.

She keeps the pills in the bathroom now, tucked into a box of tampons, because John's getting suspicious and she can't hide everything. She can't hide all the running to the washroom, the way she shakes when she thinks about the hearing. Losing her job over this matter would be one thing; Molly knows she violated medical ethics very seriously in faking Sherlock's death, knows she could be asked to perjure herself at hearing if it comes up. She's prepared to face those consequences, because Molly's got it in her to become a non-practicing academic if she's stripped of her medical license. She'd hate it, she'd hate not being able to work on current cases, she'd hate having to wait for data from other pathologists to do her work, but she could do it. But Molly didn't consider Greg's job when she agreed to help Sherlock, didn't realize this ruse would push him so far into losing his career. He didn't ask for this, he didn't accept the risks she did, and Molly has to get him out of this as best she can.

The coffees that John brings to the lab become soothing teas instead, no whipped cream or caramel or sugar. Molly finds a bottle of calcium carbonate antacid tablets in her bathroom one day, and even if he doesn't say anything she thinks he suspects she's using a sleeping aid.

"It'll be all right," she hears him murmur through the grey haze the drugs put her into the night before the hearing. "It'll all be over this week."

When she arrives at court the next morning, Greg, Sally and Sean are already there, dressed in their best suits. They're looking terse and Sally wordlessly hands her a coffee.

"How's it going?" she ventures.

"Absolutely dandy, unemployment is wonderful," Sean growls. "I get to sleep in every day, and then when I wake up I get to watch children's programming and soaps on the telly. When I get bored, I get to clean the house. It's so clean now you can see your reflection in everything, which will be excellent if I'm fired because it'll sell well. The vacation fund is exhausted making up these last four months of mortgage payments. The wife is loving our newfound poverty."

"At least you have a wife," Greg grouses. "And a house. We're selling ours, it's our only asset after twelve years and neither of us have enough money to pay the equalization unless we sell it. I'm looking for a flat. Any suggestions?"

"Why don't you move in with the freak's old boyfriend?" Sally suggests, "You can smash up his old stuff, it'll make you feel better for him having got us all in this mess at all."

"I'm sure John wouldn't appreciate you smashing up his stuff," Molly points out, though in her opinion smashing up Sherlock's stuff would feel pretty wonderful. He abandoned them to this mess, after all, but John would hate it.

"Too bad. Dr. Watson's a decent man; he doesn't deserve the freak's old stuff. You'd be doing him a favour, smashing it up."

Molly is called late on the second day. Greg, Sally and Sean are already long finished – Molly thinks Sally put forward the best case. The extent to which she despised Sherlock is obvious, evident, and she doesn't mince words. Sherlock is a freak or worse, and she was on guard for his inevitable betrayal from day one. She openly refers to the consultancy paperwork signed by the Chief Superintendent for Sherlock to work on cases, argues that Greg's team shouldn't be penalized for doing what the Chief has asked them to do. She rips into Scotland Yard and the public for being hypocrites, happy to ask Greg's team to work with Sherlock when Sherlock is the nation's hero but all too quick to turn on them when it turns out he's not all that he seems to be.

Molly herself testifies that the medical evidence fully supports the team's conclusions in each case, making it appear that while Sherlock may have pointed them in the right direction, they followed because the evidence led them there, not because madman Sherlock did. A barrister from the Crown Prosecution Service cross-examines Molly on her own acquaintance with Sherlock, and her consultancy work in two cases, and Molly admits that while she knew Sherlock and he had access to her lab, many people had access to her lab. She works at a teaching hospital, she points out, and while she considers it her own many people have access to it. Yes, Sherlock had been in her lab and her morgue, but on the two cases she consulted on all physical evidence was kept at Scotland Yard and therefore she did not know if he ever had access to it. At any rate, from any of her observations of Sherlock in her own morgue, Sherlock didn't do much with the bodies anyway. He mostly looked at them, she says. She didn't think he liked touching dead bodies, usually people don't when they dress as well he does. That gets a laugh out of the barristers.

She learns that the forged paperwork she submitted for Sherlock's death has been confiscated by the British Home Office and is being held as a national security measure. The recordings were run through a scrambler and her name, the date, and time of autopsy have all been removed from the documents. She isn't asked about any of it – it's apparently enough that a pathologist, somewhere, sometime, declared Sherlock Holmes dead.

The enquiry report is released shortly before Christmas. They find no fault in the actions of Detector Inspector Gregory Lestrade, Detective Sergeant Sally Donovan, Detective Sergeant Sean Anderson and Dr. Katherine M. Hooper. The blame shifts upward in the chain of command, and since the Chief Superintendent doesn't remember signing the forms for a consultant, he's sacked.

John throws them a party at 221B Baker Street, in celebration of both the enquiry results and for Christmas. It's time for them to move on, to turn over a new leaf, he tells her. Molly isn't interested in party planning, a clear opposite to what she would have felt a mere seven months ago, but she can't find a reason to avoid helping him and can't think of anything else she would be interested in doing, so she finds herself roped into his party scheme. She wanders around half-heartedly after him, spending a Saturday helping him clear up Sherlock's experiment equipment, following him to pick up a tree another evening, haphazardly helping him to decorate it another evening. She does remind him that any party would inevitably have to be dry, a reality John isn't entirely pleased with but reluctantly agrees. On Christmas Eve, finding it too much effort to really think about buying gifts but feeling obligated, she forces herself to Tesco's and picks up four boxes of chocolates, in cartons that look presentable enough that she doesn't need to wrap them.

"Happy Christmas," she says, walking into John's flat on Christmas with four identical boxes of chocolates. Greg, Stamford and Sarah are already there, and it suddenly strikes Molly that without Sherlock, John doesn't have very many friends. Even her – her social life has all but dried up in the past six months, and while this would have once bothered her, she can't really bring herself to care very much about it. It's rather ironic, isn't it, that John's life revolved around Sherlock when Sherlock was alive but Molly's life revolves around Sherlock after his supposed death.

221B Baker Street looks different. Molly has been here before for Christmas, but without Sherlock, without Sherlock's things and without his personality stamped into every corner of 221B Baker St, the flat feels … different. It feels pragmatic, rather than quirky, tidy rather than chaotic. The kitchen table is cleared off again, as are the counters, and Molly knows she won't be surprised by body parts in the refrigerator. The flat feels more like John over time, and less like Sherlock. These thoughts make her sad, and she drops her boxes of chocolate on the kitchen table, alongside a big parcel that seems to have arrived in the mail and a handful of other colourfully, carefully wrapped presents.

"I wasn't sure what to get everyone," she mutters, blushing in shame at the poor quality of her own gifts in comparison. "It's been a bit … busy. I hope everyone likes chocolates."

That's not entirely true – Molly's had plenty of time to catch up on work and as a pathologist, her work rarely has actual deadlines. It's more that she couldn't find the energy to do more, couldn't find the energy to do her Christmas shopping properly and wrap things properly, though she'd be blasted to say what she had been doing instead.

"Absolutely," Greg is quick to reassure her. "God knows we kept you on that enquiry far too long, you're probably still catching up, it isn't as if people stop dying for things like enquiries …"

"It's fine," Sarah chimes in, frowning, her brown eyes alight with concern. Sarah and Molly have never been close, but there are some things you go through, like medical school, that you can't really help sort of liking each other afterwards. If asked, Molly would have said Sarah was one of the best GPs in all of London, partly because she's very perceptive. Even if Sarah doesn't really know Molly all that well, even if they've never been friends or actually done anything together non-professionally, Sarah can tell that Molly is, well, not her usual self these days. "Are you all right, Molly? You look tired, overworked."

"I'm fine." Molly tries hard to bring a smile onto her face and succeeds, feeling her blush extend to her ears the way it does when she's under pressure. She doesn't want anyone to worry, it would be bad if people worried about her. And maybe this is just who she is – Molly's spent so much time convincing herself, convincing others that she's happy and silly and fun, and maybe this is just Molly growing up and accepting herself as she is, like Sherlock did. Maybe deep down, Molly really is a rather morbid, depressing person with no real interests outside of gunshot wounds to the head. She doesn't know, isn't really sure about much anymore. One way or another, however, she doesn't want anyone to worry, which really only leaves one option open: keep going. "You know how it is, really, accidents don't stop because we're busy. Just a lot of tests I need to catch up on."

"Hmm, well," Sarah replies, and Molly knows her response hasn't reassured her. "Remember what they always told us in med school – self-care is very important and you need to take care of yourself first. You look like you need a vacation."

"Speaking of medical school," John adds with a sly smile, slinging an arm around Molly's shoulders. "Molly mentioned you two went to Barts together. What was she like? Molly, for some reason, won't talk about it."

Sarah grins, moving her attention over to John. She doesn't seem remotely upset that he has his arm slung casually around Molly, regardless of whatever passed between them in the past. "Well, it was interesting. We all thought she was a bit of an idiot in the classroom, but once we started working on cadavers … she got pathology, volunteered as a research assistant with the pathology unit, began publishing her own papers as first author by fourth year. We used to trade tutoring hours with her and tutor her in everything else so she could teach us pathology."

"Christ," Greg says, glancing around at them all. "Please tell me this evening is not going to turn into doctor shop-talk, I don't want to feel like I need a degree to be here. And if it is, you're going to have to provide me with a real drink, not this flimsy non-alcohol apple cider stuff."

They laugh, or at least the others do and Molly just forces an uncertain smile to stay on her face. The problem is, without doctor shop-talk or the ability to reminisce about their days at medical school, the only thing all four of them really have in common is Sherlock, and that's where the conversation inevitably goes. Lestrade tells them about the first case Sherlock consulted on, a mind-boggling locked room murder, about how he burst into the Met and called them all idiots. Stamford tells them about the student Sherlock once was at Barts, about how Sherlock would interrupt his lectures on organic chemistry approximately every ten minutes with some correction or tangent and how the other students conspired to have him thrown out of the class. Sarah regales them all with the tale of her first and only date with John, about being kidnapped by a major Chinese gang and about to be murdered by some ancient Chinese contraption, when Sherlock shows up and rescues them. And Molly, Molly sits there and listens and smiles and nods at the appropriate places, and wishes she could go home and sleep.

"To Sherlock," John eventually says, raising a glass. "It's our first Christmas without you, mate, and we all miss you."

"To Sherlock," they all murmur, and Greg adds, "And to being employed."

That's a sentiment everyone can wholeheartedly get behind, and Molly's feels glad for him without actually feeling anything of the sort at all. While Molly thinks she should feel relieved because they've gotten out of this better than she feared, she doesn't. Even if none of them were fired, it'll never be the same again. The new Chief Superintendent reorganizes the teams in January, and DI Gregory Lestrade is moved to drug crimes where his work alternates between long stakeouts waiting for low-level drug dealers to make a sale and dangerous shootouts with various gangs when one of the low-level dealers coughs up a raid location. It's a good thing he does move in with John, because he gets shot once in February and again in April. Over time, Molly's mental image of him grows to include blood spatter, a ragged bulletproof vest and a scraggly beard. Molly's doubled dosage of sleeping pills becomes the norm.

Over time, Molly's life settles down to a steady, predictable pattern. Maybe Sherlock doesn't raid her morgue any more for body parts, and maybe John lacks a little for excitement, and maybe Greg's life takes on a little more excitement than he's used to, but things settle down. In one way, Molly becomes less anxious, less stressful, but in another she doesn't. Instead of worrying for the immediate future, she simply doesn't feel like there's anything except the immediate future. Molly feels like she's living on a strict timeline – just until Sherlock comes back.

John kicks into action the few times Greg comes home not entirely intact, and an extended medical kit builds itself in 221B Baker Street. "No point going to the A&E for a little cut," Greg says, gritting his teeth as John sews up a bullet graze on his leg. John's managed to get a hold of the good thread, the kind that dissolves after a time so Greg won't have to have it removed later. "Good thing I get to come home to two doctors."

"I sincerely hope the guy's got it worse," John replies, tying off the thread. Molly passes him the isopropyl alcohol and he swabs it down. Greg hisses, making a face.

"Not even. They got away, all of them. Back door our guy hadn't told us about, though in his defense he might not have known. We did confiscate a fair amount of crack cocaine."

Aside from these minor interludes, Molly's life returns to normal, or as close to normal as possible. She goes to work at Barts, and comes home to Toby and her flat. She publishes two more papers, A comparison of gunshot wounds from hunting rifles and handguns, and Key features of buckshot as compared to hollow-point bullets in head wounds, and spends serious time at the lab grilling John on the handling of hunting rifles. Mr. Kilworth's histology sample is positive for Lewy bodies and with some hesitation she writes in her pathology report that his death is "more probably the result of accident although suicide cannot be ruled out." She has a brief but intense love affair with Silk, a new BBC One drama, and John suffers through the first two episodes with her before deciding that enough is enough and he is going home. Nevertheless, he presents her with the second season and large plush white blood cell on her thirty-second birthday. A year after Sherlock's disappearance, the press has long found a new scandal to be up in arms about. With the enquiry complete and John and Greg moving on, it's becoming easier and easier for Molly to forget Sherlock is alive at all.

She never forgets when she's going to sleep, and her dreams don't let her forget either. She experiments with taking herself off the sleeping aids sometime in March, but fails utterly. Without them, she lies awake for hours dwelling on John and Sherlock and her secrets, and wakes up the next day shaky and irritable. Moreover, she's found that she likes sleep, prefers being asleep to being awake because sleep is rather peaceful. It's a blameless state of non-existence, a time she feels like she needs to get through the next day, and she doesn't take well to having less of it. After two days, the nightmares return and in them John is telling her that she's not the person he thought she was, that she's disappointed him and he would like never to see her again. John's walking away, his back ramrod straight, his anger kept in check only by military discipline, and Sherlock's laughing at her. And then Sherlock's laugh turns high-pitched and manic, and she wakes up covered in sweat and tears. She can't shake the feeling that the dream is prophetic, and thus ends her brief attempt at cutting back on the medication.

She stops by 221B Baker Street frequently. Her relationship with John is, well, it is and it isn't. They don't talk about it, but they don't stop sleeping together either. She lets John proofread the papers she plans on publishing and occasionally bounces theories about the effect of certain kinds of bullets compared to others on the human body. He listens thoughtfully, and gives her the perspective she's always lacked: the actual experience of using and firing a gun. He takes apart his old service revolver to show her, breaking it down to all of its component parts and putting it back together again for her. Some of her theories are absolutely ridiculous. Molly proposed once that you could kill yourself using a hunting rifle by putting a pencil on the trigger and kicking it with your feet, and he laughed so hard he cried. That made Molly smile, because while she doesn't laugh anymore, she does like making him laugh. It turns out draw weight on triggers can be significant and therefore using a pencil to fire a gun is preposterous, and even if it succeeded the recoil of the weapon would make aiming difficult, to say the least. On the other hand, some of her theories are perfectly valid; for example, it is possible to murder someone with a handgun at a distance of two kilometres, though it would be very difficult to aim.

She's not sure what John sees in her, but he keeps coming by her morgue with coffee, keeps engaging her on her work, even picks up cute knick knacks for her. She finds an adorable skeleton keychain on her desk one day in an envelope with "Thought you might like this – JW" scrawled on it, and the day after she texts a rant about irresponsible parents and backyard pools to him mid-June, he comes by with the plush red blood cell to match the white one. Feeling obligated and sensing that John is bored with the work at Sarah's surgery, she has a word with a colleague in A&E at Guy's Hospital in Southwark and swings him an interview. When he pops by her flat looking curiously pleased, she gives him a new travel mug to commemorate the occasion.

Molly lets herself forget. She lets herself forget about Sherlock, lets herself love John, lets the weight of her secrets fade around her neck. Though maybe its weight never fades, precisely, so much that Molly learns to walk with it, learns to cope with it, learns to lie to everyone and herself. Molly feels like she is living a lie; Sherlock is dead, everyone is moving on, and Molly is completely normal, completely happy and normal and okay. It's easier to lie, though, it's easier to let herself forget and let herself feign normalcy, so she does.

The only time Molly thinks about how miserable she really is and remembers is when she wakes up beside John in the morning. She's an early riser, always was, and the sleeping pills don't change that. When Molly wakes up, she recognizes what she's doing hurts, that she's miserable and realizes that each and every day is an exhausting farce. The weight of her secrets lie heavy on her chest, a physical weight that holds her down, that pulls at her heart and even with John's arm tossed casually around her she feels alone. John is the only thing Molly really enjoys in her life anymore, and it's in the mornings that she feels the distance between them and knows, truly knows with every fibre of her being that this would never work out. John is Sherlock's as much as Sherlock was always John's, and Molly could never compete. It's in the mornings like these, with tears forming in her eyes and pains of loss in her chest that Molly lets herself be miserable, lets herself feel the unhappiness that she really feels. She loves him so damn much, so goddamn much, and she's never wanted anything more, and in the early moments in the morning when John is still asleep, Molly lets herself cry with John's warm arm around her, lets herself feel miserable and lets herself put together the face she needs to show to the world that day.

John doesn't wake up (he never does), and by the time he does Molly's tears are long gone and she's normal again.

It all had to end, someday, and it chooses to end in the worst way possible.

It is Saturday, September 21 at 11:10 in the morning in John's flat, and Molly is setting down plates of sausages and eggs and toast on the kitchen table. John is setting the dirty pan into the sink to soak and picking out cutlery. Greg is at the office; they had a raid yesterday and he's behind on his paperwork, again. The telly is blaring commentary on last night's footie between Chelsea and Man U. She's had a little cry at 6:30 that morning, which John as usual slept through, and she's put her face back together and is ready to face another day of pretending.

At 11:15 in the morning, Sherlock Holmes walks through the front door of 221B Baker Street and Molly's life as she knows it ends.

"Good morning, John," he says. "Molly."

John gapes at him, staring like a fish out of water. Molly's stomach drops through the floor and she forgets to breathe.

"Domestic bliss is suiting you, John, you've put on five pounds since I last saw you. You're looking well – the new job seems to be working out. Southwark, is it? A&E suits you much better than general practice. And where's Lestrade this morning?"

Molly's eyes dart from Sherlock, who looks every bit the same as he did when he left, to John who is still staring.

"Um," she coughs, her throat and mouth dry and her heart palpitating. "Um, Greg is at the Met. Um, paperwork. Drugs bust."

"Hmm." Sherlock frowns at her. "As well-spoken as usual, Molly. Regrettably, I see your ability to communicate has failed to improve significantly over the last fifteen months. And take it from a former addict – the pills, prescription or not, are killing more brain cells than you can really afford to lose." And just like that, Molly knows she's been dismissed from the conversation, from the flat.

"Wait." John's risen from his stupor, and he's looking between her and Sherlock. Molly can see his brain connecting the dots – the rooftop of Barts, post-mortems, Molly's work – and he's making the connections. "Wait, you're alive? You've been in contact with each other?"

"John, it is patently obvious that I am alive, and Molly and I have been in contact in only the loosest of senses, which is that after I fell from the rooftop, Molly faked the necessary paperwork to declare me dead and took care of the administrative matters relevant to my disappearance. In return, I ensured her name was struck from the records, as she learned at the public enquiry last November." Sherlock tilts his head to one side, looking for a moment lost and Molly knows she's intruding on a personal moment. She edges towards the front door, her shaking hand reaching for her bag she set down by the front door last night, her fingers shaking.

"Molly, stop." It's an order, and for once Molly thinks of John not as John, not as Dr. Watson, but as Captain John Watson from the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. She freezes, unconsciously turning her head to see him.

"You knew this, this entire time?" John's hands are behind his back, his legs spaced squarely apart. John's been military for so long the habits are in his bones, and although four years of civilian life has blunted those habits they're obvious when he's angry. And John is angry now, angrier than Molly's ever seen him. John Watson doesn't normally do angry. He ignores Sherlock's muttered "Obviously" and is staring at her, right at her and only at her. Molly swallows painfully, and in a second that lasts an eternity, nods.

"You knew, and you didn't think to say something, to say anything to us? You watched me drink a truly frightening amount, you watched that ridiculous enquiry cost Greg his job in homicide and watched him get transferred to his current job as stake-out eyes and meat shield, you watched us all go through that and you didn't say anything?"

"I couldn't," Molly whispers, and she runs for it.

She's home by the time she feels the tears streaming down her face. Distantly she realizes that she must have been crying on the Tube and the entire way home, and while she should feel humiliated she doesn't. What do those people know anyway? They don't know the morning she's had, the morning that's lost her John, they haven't lived the last miserable year with her.

All those mornings Molly wept in pain and heartbreak and misery in John's bed while he slept don't prepare her for the real thing. She's crumpled over on the floor of her flat, the flat she so lovingly painted pink when she moved in and she's taking huge, gasping sobs that hurt her lungs, but she doesn't feel that under the crushing pain of losing the first and only person who truly understood, who understood Molly both as a top tier forensic pathologist and as a person who likes silly things, as Molly in her complete and total self as a top tier forensic pathologist who loves silly things. John was the only thing Molly really had going for her, this past year, the only thing that gave her a semblance of happiness and now she doesn't even have that. As much as John anchored himself to Molly to pull himself out of alcoholism, Molly had anchored herself to him to keep herself from becoming too miserable, too depressed about her failures. Without him, Molly remembers she's miserable, remembers that when she's alone she feels empty and miserable and dislikes everything, and remembers hasn't felt true happiness in a very long time.

Toby comes to sniff at her, disinterested in her as herself but wanting to see if she has treats, and she picks him up and cradles him in her arms. He's upset at being bawled on and scratches her, so Molly lets him go on the floor where he stalks off to sulk elsewhere. Even my cat hates me, she thinks unwittingly, and she stumbles to her bathroom cabinet, takes three sleeping pills, curls up in bed and waits for it all to go away.

Molly calls in sick that week and spends most of it sleeping. She wonders if she can just spend the rest of her life sleeping, wonders if she can just die peacefully in her sleep like the older bodies in her morgue. When she's awake, she hurts and it's all she can do to choke down a couple slices of toast and feed the cat. On Monday, she tries to distract herself by rewatching the first season of Glee (which, she remembers, she once loved) but sobs throughout it clinging to her giant plush white blood cell. She tries reading next, but most of Molly's literature consists of Regency romance novels and she can't bear to read those either. The idea of going out, god forbid, is absolutely out of the question. She briefly considers working on her paper set for publication in a month, or going in to Barts, but when she sits down in front of her laptop with the blinking cursor she can't think of anything to write and the memories of coffee over dead bodies and gunshot wounds make her shudder. Suddenly Molly's entire life, both her silly life of telly dramas and her serious life of pathology are designed to make her remember, to make her suffer for being so thoroughly, abhorrently stupid.

Because that's what this is, really, when you get down to it. Molly was stupid, and now she's paying the price for it. Molly knew what she was getting into when she began loving John, she knew it would never last from the beginning and she knew throughout the grey dawns she let herself think about it. Molly let herself forget, and she let herself fall in love with John. Feelings of love, Molly's learned, are incredibly hard to fight, and she thinks that it is probably better "never to have loved at all."

Was it worth it? she wonders, and she doesn't know. She's not even sure what she's asking herself. Were the lies worth it? Was Jim worth that much loss and pain? Was being loved, truly loved for all of herself for one sole year worth all of it? With Sherlock around, John would never have taken a second look at her; with Sherlock around, she was just the silly girl working in the morgue. Was Sherlock's war with Jim really that crucial? Wouldn't it maybe have been better for her to have died in this game, where it could have meant something?

That's what this is about, really, isn't it – a game? Sherlock and Jim are just two sides of the same coin, two brilliant geniuses who need to bend the world to their own liking, who need to star in their own drama. They're the hero and the villain of their own story, and where does that leave her? Where does that leave Greg and John and Mrs. Hudson?

With Sherlock back, John returns to what he always was: the hero's quirky sidekick. Mrs. Hudson was always the hero's family, the mother-figure who cares and makes sure the hero eats and does his homework. Mrs. Hudson is to Sherlock as Mrs. Weasley is to Harry Potter. And Greg? Greg is the poor sod who gets in trouble and needs to be saved by the hero. Gregory Lestrade is the public, the damsel in distress in Sherlock's life story, the princess who needs and deserves to be saved.

Where does Sherlock's return leave Molly? Molly doesn't count. She's never counted. She's not the hero's love interest, as much as she wanted that one day, and she's not the captivating Juliet to Sherlock that Irene Adler represented. At best, Molly is to Sherlock what Eowyn is to Aragorn, the interesting character that helps him out because she loves him but is never actually worthy of his regard, important only because of what she can do for the hero but otherwise serving no purpose. At worst, Molly is nothing more than the sad, empty character designed to make Sherlock desirable, important only in her function of adoration.

With Sherlock gone, with Jim gone, Molly mattered. Molly was interesting. People listened to Molly, listened to what Molly had to say about gunshot wounds and suicide and Silk. For a short time, Molly got to be the hero in her own story, the heroine with her own life and her own troubles and her own love. Molly counted, and Molly's never counted before and she's never minded not counting before. For one year and almost three months, Molly got to count and Molly learned to like counting, to like being heard and most of all, to like being loved.

Heroes never think about us, she realizes. When they do what they do, we're never a consequence of their thoughts, we're never a consideration. We just don't matter. I didn't matter to Jim when he seduced me, not really – I was just a means to an end. And when Sherlock asked me for help that day, when he asked me to help him fake his death and take care of his friends and hold his secrets when he went to fight his battles, I didn't matter. What his actions did to John, to Mrs. Hudson, to Greg mattered, they were consequences he was willing to face, that he thought about and did it anyway. What his actions would do to me weren't even a consideration. I just don't matter.

And if I don't matter, why is this supposed to be worth it?

The next week, Molly goes to work. She catches up on her paperwork and tidies up her desk, does two post-mortems, an accidental drowning and a suicide. Greg comes in with the second of those bodies, looking haggard and grim; it's the Crown Prosecutor working with him against one of the major gangs in the city on the slab, and while the Dr. Pernissa at Scotland Yard thinks it's a clear suicide, he's not so sure. Molly takes the opportunity to ask if he would mind cat-sitting Toby for a week or so while she went home to visit her mother in Cardiff.

"I don't know if that's a good idea," he says, cocking an eyebrow at her. "I live with the madman, in case you've forgotten; still haven't found a new flat. Can't you take him home with you?"

Molly shakes her head and says her mother is allergic to cats. Greg sighs but agrees with an odd, perplexed look in his eyes, and he picks Toby up on Thursday evening.

Sherlock comes by the morgue on Friday, but John is nowhere in sight. He hasn't called, hasn't texted, hasn't bothered trying to contact her at all, so Molly isn't particularly surprised that he's not trailing behind Sherlock as usual.

"Coffee?" Sherlock asks, lifting up a distinctive paper cup. "White chocolate mocha with an extra shot of espresso, whipped cream and caramel, it's absolutely disgusting."

"Why are you here?" Molly asks flatly, monotonously, typing up the formal report for the first of this week's autopsies. Just these two reports and she'll be done. She's left the cleanest possible slate for the new forensic pathologist, whoever he or she will be. She hopes they appreciate it. "I haven't any body parts for you. They've been processed out already."

Sherlock looks at her, his steely gray eyes seeing much more than Molly wants to think about. So she doesn't think about it. Whatever he sees, she can't find it in herself to care. Molly's path is set and there's no changing it now. Her entire life was on a timeline, she realizes, a timeline ending with Sherlock's return, and now that he's returned Molly doesn't see another future. "I, ahem, I didn't yet thank you for the risks you took over the last year," he says.

"Mmm," she replies, continuing with her typing. Her scalpel is already in her bag, wrapped carefully in a towel. There's no point in ripping up the lining of her bag when she takes it home. "It's no problem, none at all. I'm all too happy to help, it's Jim Moriarty, after all."

"I see." Sherlock says, though his tone says the exact opposite. He rises, one long, fluid motion across the desk from her. "Then …"

"I'll call you if there's a body you can experiment on." It's the usual story, the usual fact of life with Sherlock Holmes. She's the girl with the bodies, the girl that he can call a million and one favours from and she won't mind. In fact, she loves doing him favours, because that's her sole purpose in his story. She feels him pause by the door of her office, watching her, but ignores him.

That night, Molly opens a bottle of wine and treats herself to two glasses. She's not a big drinker, but feels that it's an occasion, the last time she'll be able to taste something. She's splurged on the wine, because you can't spend money once you're dead, and it's a good wine. She doesn't finish the bottle – if she does, she won't have the precision she needs to complete her final task, and whoever discovers her body might want some. She pauses and, on second thought, pours herself another half glass. There's still a good amount in there, and she can take the glass with her to the bathroom. She fishes her scalpel out of her bag and pours herself a warm bath. She briefly considers adding bubble bath and rejects it because red-pink foam reminds her of bad reactions to anaesthesia. Anyway, it would sting and she doesn't particularly want to feel more pain than strictly necessary. She's hurt too much over the last year to want to feel any more.

Slitting her wrists is easy work. Molly's a doctor, she knows bodies as well as John and Sarah do. She probably knows them better, because she only works with dead patients and you can do a lot more with dead patients than live ones. She does it properly, down the lane, not crossing the path, because Molly knows what she's doing and she's going to do it properly. Sinking herself into the warm water, she sips at her wine and lets the world fade away. It's a lot like falling asleep, really, and Molly does like sleep.

At that moment, Sherlock Holmes is calling John Watson and hailing a cab. He's broken into Molly's morgue, and one glance at her neatly organized tray of instruments, missing one scalpel, tells him everything he needs to know. He expected as much once Lestrade brought home that blasted cat; Molly loves that cat, and she would never ordinarily have trusted him with it. No, Molly is the sort of cat-owner who brings her cat to a high-end cat-sitter that can provide her Toby with a jungle gym and gourmet food. Molly's been different since he returned, and today's conversation only proved it. There was no stuttering and Molly had barely looked at him.

"The scalpel is missing," he says without explanation. They've been involved, he knows – he knew from the moment he walked into 221B Baker Street a little under two weeks ago. "The scalpel is missing and we need to go to Molly's flat now."

There's a pause on the other end of the line. "Sherlock, you need to start from the beginning, because I'm not following. I'm nearly home, just wait a minute."

"Suicide, John!" Sherlock snaps into the phone. "Molly's suicide. Hurry up and get to her flat. Given that her scalpel isn't at the morgue, she's probably cutting her wrists in the bathtub right now, if she hasn't done so already. This isn't surprising, John, follow the evidence. You have keys to her flat, don't you?"

Another pause. "I'll be there as soon as I can with the kit. If you get there first, staunch the bleeding and hold on."

Molly's breathing is shallow by the time John arrives and clamps the veins. He works quickly, professionally, his face a mask without emotion.

The fluorescent lights are too bright, and Molly hates them. They make her wake up sooner than she would normally have done, and they make it hard for her to fall asleep, drugs or not. Something feels wrong, though, because this bed doesn't feel like her own; there aren't enough blankets, for one thing, and the pillows aren't as soft as hers. In fact, there are no blankets or pillows. Or sheets, for that matter. And the ceiling is far too high to be hers.

Then she remembers. She's not supposed to be alive anymore. She did everything perfectly, she knows it – cut lengthwise, sever the vein. Hot water to keep the blood flowing. Alcohol. Why is she still alive?

She opens her eyes to a blindingly white room.

It takes about ten painstaking minutes for Molly to realize she's in a hospital, on a bare mattress on the floor. An orderly pokes his head into her room, and when Molly stares uncomprehendingly at him he jumps.

"You're awake," he says, recovering quickly when she glares at him. "I'll, ah, I'll notify the doctor."

Molly struggles to bring herself upright, and realizes once she's up that her mattress not only lacks sheets and blankets and pillows – her room is bare an empty of most things. There are no windows to the outside, nothing she can use to try to work out where she is. The toilet has no mirror, only the bare essentials. She pushes at the door, which is a blank surface of cold steel, but it is firmly locked against her.

Lockdown. She gets chills at the thought and sits back down on her mattress, her eyes roaming throughout the room. Lockdown, and the orderly was probably here for a suicide check.

The door opens, and a petite woman with giant spectacles looks down at her. "So," she begins. "You're at Barts. How are you? Are you happy to be alive?"

Molly glares at her and turns away to stare at the empty, white, wall, trying to work out how to get out of here and do the job properly. Or, really, if she could find a way to finish her work in here, she would.

She hears a sigh and the sound of a door closing.

Molly becomes very familiar with her cell in over the next few days. She's not sure how many. Eight steps in one direction, turn. Nine steps in the other, turn. Eight steps again, turn. And her pitiful excuse for a bed. No sheets, probably because she could try to hang herself with them. No blankets, same reason. No pillows, because she could try to choke herself with it, given enough motivation. No windows she can jump from or break for the glass to cut her wrists. No mirror. She spots a likely-looking electrical socket and briefly tries to pull the metal socket panel off the wall, but no luck. She tries for an entire session between suicide checks before giving it up as impossible. She stares up at the bright fluorescent light and tries to think of a way to get at it, smash it into sharp little glass bits, but she's too short, standing on her mattress or not. Even jumping, she's not tall enough to touch it, let alone smash it. An orderly pokes his head in her room every so often, maybe every fifteen or twenty; Molly isn't sure how long her checks are, because they've taken away anything she can use to tell the time with. All she knows is that they're far too frequent for her liking. How do they expect her to do anything in that amount of time? A nurse comes by every so often and hands her pills and refuses to leave until Molly takes them. After Molly takes them, she makes her stick her tongue out to show that she isn't hiding them underneath. Molly hates it.

The doctor, Spectacles, asks Molly how she's doing every now and then, if she's glad she's not dead yet. Molly always refuses to say anything. She hates her, hates the sameness, hates pacing in endless circles trying to think of something.

Molly eventually comes to the conclusion that it's impossible. Escaping her locked cell is impossible. Prying that electrical socket off the wall is impossible. Completing her suicide here is impossible, and it's ridiculous that she failed the first time. That's what Molly is, really, isn't it? A failure.

She curls up on her bare mattress and tries to go back to sleep. She doesn't succeed, most of the time – without her pills, she can't seem to get to sleep as quickly or as well. The lights are distracting, too bright, and it's just too noisy. She keeps hearing the sound of the orderlies feet pattering by her door to check on her and the other patients, occasionally hears the sound of someone screaming. One time, she's awoken by a parade of rushing nurses and doctors in the hallway, rushing down to another room. There's nothing to block the noise with, and she shuts her eyes tightly against it all and tries to will herself to sleep, over and over and over again.

She catches naps, though she's never sure how much time has passed. She's never sure what time it is, how long her naps are between checks. They feel short. She has nightmares, nightmares about John and Sherlock and Jim, and sometimes she has nightmares about nothing in particular but wakes up terrified. At first she tries to keep track of how many times she naps, but after three she loses interest, figures time doesn't really matter anymore. The nurse comes and goes, and Molly obediently takes her medication and tries to go back to sleep. She doesn't keep track of how many times that happens, either.

The first break in the routine is when they open the door and it stays open. She blinks wearily, unsure.

"Come on," a nurse says, beckoning. "It's time to move you someone a little more comfortable. You'll be able to sleep a little better." Molly nods blearily and follows. A better sleep would be nice.

The next time she wakes up, she's in the general psych ward in a regular bed with sheets and a flimsy blanket, and a different nurse is insistently tapping her shoulder.

"It's time to get up," she says, and hands her two tablets. Knowing the procedure, Molly swallows them, sticks out her tongue, and rolls over to go back to sleep. This bed is much nicer than her bare mattress, and she likes the blanket. If she's going to spend the rest of her life sleeping, this wouldn't be a terrible place to do it.

"No, no," the nurse says, shaking Molly's shoulder. "Don't you want to see your guests?"

"No," Molly says simply, keeping her eyes shut. She took her pills, why isn't this nurse leaving?

"Well," the nurse says, not sounding the least bit discouraged. "You may as well whether you want to or not; you're scheduled to begin counselling today and you'll be expected. Ellen, you have to get up too, you've been here long enough to know the rules."

Molly sits bolt upright, whirling around as she hears a strange sigh. There's another bed in the room, and a tall woman, mid-twenties maybe, skinny, is dragging herself out of bed. Her brown hair is short, scraggly, cut unprofessionally close to her head. "Take the visitor," she recommends dryly. "It'll be better than whatever bull we'll be fed in counselling."

Molly frowns, doesn't particularly feel like leaving her bed but it's obvious the nurse isn't going to let her stay, either. She doesn't like the sound of counselling – she wouldn't have even if the other woman hadn't said it was bull. She didn't expect it would be anything except bull, really, and she doesn't like the sound of being expected to go there, either. Not seeing what else she can do instead, she gets up.

"That's a good girl," the nurse says approvingly, and leads her to a small visiting room that Molly certainly wouldn't have been permitted to enter alone. There are two chairs and a small table, all of them bolted down to the floor, and there are actual cushions on the chairs. They're terrible cushions, yes, they look flimsy and not at all comfortable, but nevertheless they are there. Clearly Barts wants to impress any visitors to the psych ward, or maybe they trust anyone visiting to be able to prevent Molly from choking herself to death with the cushions.

"Molly," John says, standing up and reaching out to her as if to hug her. He's sitting in the chair closer to the door and Molly has to edge by him to reach the second chair. She ignores his outstretched arms and stares blankly at him.

"Well," he recovers, nonplussed. "Are you feeling better?"

Molly doesn't answer, just keeps staring at him. Why is he here, anyway?

He clears his throat, awkwardly, and continues on as if Molly had replied. "Sherlock and I got to you just in time and I clamped your vein until the paramedics arrived," he explained. Molly wants to tell him she didn't ask, but speaking would take too much effort. He doesn't sound particularly upset or angry, just tired. "Can you tell me why you did it?"

Molly doesn't respond. If that's the only reason John came, then she wants him to leave now and she'll take the bull Ellen said waited for her at group counselling. She doesn't have an answer for him anyway. What would she say? Words are too empty, too meaningless to express how she felt, how she doesn't feel now. Anything she could say, no doubt someone's said before, somewhere, and it doesn't express the depth of why. Minutes pass, though she's not sure how many, and she studies him carefully.

He looks tired. There are bags under his eyes that weren't there before, though she's not sure if she would have noticed. Probably Sherlock had him running all night after some case, some case another pathologist got to handle, if there was even a body. He's wearing a plaid shirt, with the shirt-sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and cream-coloured khakis. John never did have much of a fashion sense, not like Sherlock, though Molly never minded. He's staring at her, too, taking in the details of her appearance. She knows she doesn't look her best, doesn't look anywhere near normal; she's dishevelled, barefoot, in a flimsy hospital gown. Even if some part is nagging at her about why she should care, she doesn't. Molly's a failure, and a failure at appearance is just one thing on top of everything else.

John sighs. "Well, it doesn't have to be today. I'll try to bring you some clothes, too, next time."

Clinical depression, she overhears the doctors say, the next time John visits. He's brought her clothes – sweatpants and t-shirts and a jumper – and despite some minor debate the doctors allow her to have them. Sherlock is with him this time, and she doesn't mind the visit, particularly because Ellen is right; the group therapy sessions are bull. Whatever antidepressants Molly's been put on, they're not working for her. She sleeps even less, which is a problem because she's not allowed to nap anymore (they've forbidden her from returning to her room during the day and she's not allowed to nap in the psych ward common room, as she learned the hard way), so she's tired, restless, and anxious. She refuses to participate in group therapy, refuses to play their game of pretending to be happy together when really they're not. After the last year, Molly feels like she's had enough pretending, and group therapy is just absolute bull. After the first session, Molly imitates Ellen and crosses her arms over her chest, taps her foot and looks defensive for two hours.

The private counselling sessions they're forced to attend are equally bull. Molly hates her assigned psychiatrist, she doesn't want to be there and she really wishes she could go back to her room and sleep. In fact, she wouldn't even mind being sent back to that ridiculous common room where she and all the other psych patients are expected to socialize and bond over their mutually shared experiences, though all she does is sit in a chair (bolted down with no cushions) and stare at the opposite wall (painted daffodil-yellow, nice and sunny for them all). She's convinced that recreation hours with the other patients is nothing more than a scheme to get them all in lockdown, because on her fourth day she hears a whispered agreements for a suicide pact, and three people disappear from group therapy.

Her therapist natters on and on at her about feelings and how it's all right to feel sad. Molly hates that too. She's not sure why the therapist keeps going on and on about it, because Molly doesn't feel particularly sad. She doesn't feel particularly much of anything anymore, really. She gets tired after the first half hour and walks out to wander, but she is stopped by her nurse, ever present and shepherding her and Ellen around. She asks why Molly left therapy and when she doesn't receive an answer, sighs and puts Molly back in the common room. Molly is terrified that night of being sent back to lockdown, back to that blank, white, cell with an old, spring-less mattress and no sheets or blankets and pillows, and stays at private counselling the full time expected even if she hates it and does her best to tune the doctor out.

Having visits, on the other hand, keeps her from having to attend therapy at all, with no risks of being sent back to lockdown. Molly is all too happy to find reasons to skip therapy, because she hates it and hates lying and hates having people natter at her about being positive. This visit, in Molly's very limited experience, is excellent because Sherlock doesn't talk and Sherlock's managed to convince John not to talk. They sit in silence, studying each other, for a little over an hour, and when they get up to leave, she reaches for John's hand.

"Come back," she says, plaintive even to her own ears. "And thank you for the clothing." John's face softens and he grips her fingers tightly.

"I will," he replies.

John comes back most days, after that, and Molly tries to make an effort for him. She's positive that if she doesn't try, he won't come back and she won't have an excuse to miss therapy. Sometimes Sherlock comes too, but more often he doesn't.

"How are you?" he asks, reaching across the tiny table for her hand. She lets him take it, lets him hold it. Her hand feels small and cold in his, and she shrugs as an answer. The room falls silent, and Molly tries to think of something she can say. She doesn't know how she is, really. She feels like she's living underwater, and everything happening in the real world is so far away, and it's hard to remember why she should care, why she should try. Even her intense dislike of therapy and all that encompasses is more about wanting to curl up somewhere alone with warm blankets and pillows and just sleeping life away than it is about anything else.

"Sherlock got Lestrade transferred back into homicide this week," John breaks in awkwardly. Molly nods, trying hard to care about what he's saying, trying hard to think of a response. Between sitting in a circle surrounded by people being positive and sitting in a room with John trying to make small talk, she would infinitely prefer the latter. There's less bull about it, less lying. "And we called Mrs. Hudson. She's coming back from Greece next week. Sherlock's trying to sell the house back to her, but she's refused. She says she's had enough of being a landlady and if Sherlock is going to pretend to be an American investor purchasing property, he should take the consequences of owning property. There. Now you say something." He smiles encouragingly at her.

"Like … what?" Molly asks.

"Something interesting. Maybe something that happened recently."

"Um," Molly says, wracking her brain. Something interesting that happened recently? Molly doesn't know how long she's been in the hospital, though she thinks it's been a couple weeks since she's been in the psych ward. They switched around her medications recently, and these ones don't make her anxious. She's been sleeping a little better too, but that's not really interesting. They don't seem to do much else, yet. "Um. My roommate, Ellen, got put in lockdown yesterday." It's not the most interesting thing, really; it's not uncommon for psych ward patients to be recommitted to lockdown. Sometimes drugs work, and sometimes they don't.

"What for?"

Molly shrugs and quirks a corner of her mouth up without amusement. The expression feels strange on her face, unnatural. "Trying to kill herself." The other bed in her room is empty today, though she's sure someone will be coming to take Ellen's place shortly. She hopes they, whoever they are, don't like or want to talk – Ellen mostly ignored her existence, and Molly liked that. Aside from that comment on her first day in the psych ward, Ellen never said anything to her.

"That's too bad. Did you like her?"

Molly is quiet for a few minutes, trying to think through an answer with a brain that won't focus. She barely knew Ellen, and a strong part of her deeply admires Ellen for having the balls to break their little window for the glass with which to cut her wrists. She did it wrong, Molly remembers thinking, cutting across the vein rather than along it, but she got further with it than Molly would have expected. She had shattered the glass quietly enough, covering it under another patient's late-night psychotic episode, and had bled for a good twenty minutes before the nurses noticed anything was wrong. Molly had to give her credit for trying and planning; her roommate had the motivation, the drive, the focus to do what Molly still wants to do but can't seem to put together anymore. On the other hand, it's mid-autumn, and Molly doesn't particularly like the chill that's coming through the now-broken window; it makes it harder for her to sleep, and she still wants to sleep most of the time. "I didn't try to stop her," she says eventually, and falls silent for the rest of the visit.

The new medication begins kicking in the week after that, and suddenly planning and focusing and thinking become that much easier. She still refuses to participate in group therapy on principle – she's lied too much over the past year, both to herself and to others, to want to engage in more of it. She lied to herself and to everyone else over the past year about Sherlock, about being happy and about being normal and moving on. In fact, she reflects, maybe she's spent most of her past few years lying to people – that's what accepting being called Ms. Hooper and avoiding all references to her work and not bringing up areas of her interest are, essentially. Lying by omission. It's not that she doesn't like cute, silly things, it's more that Molly knows, now, that she's been hiding a part of herself and she doesn't like that anymore. Maybe it saved her life from Jim, maybe it saved all their lives, but she knows the price of all those lies and it was too high. It would have been better for Jim to have murdered her, she thinks.

All therapy is, for her, more lying. Dr. Molly Hooper is not happy and doesn't like pretending to be positive and happy and playing by the rules. No, Dr. Hooper is annoyed by it. Angry, even. She calls her private therapist out on it that week.

"Cut the crap," she says. "I know it's okay to be sad. You've been finding creative ways to say that for about three weeks now – is that really what they spend years teaching you in your psych program? Aren't you supposed to try to build rapport with your patient and maybe understand why they feel the way they do? When I was on my psych rotation nine years ago, we were taught that good therapists listen and try to understand."

Her therapist opens and closes her mouth in surprise. She looks like a fish, Molly thinks uncharitably, and her opinion of this therapist is dropping by the second. "Well," she begins, but Molly cuts her off.

"I don't think I like you," she says. "And when I was on my psych rotation, we were taught that a good therapeutic relationship was like finding a good boyfriend. You've failed to build any sort of rapport with me over the last three weeks, and all my memories of sitting in this office involve being lectured at. Not once did you ask me if I wanted to talk or try to deal with me on my terms. How about we break up?"

Her therapist, whose name Molly can't seem to remember, falls silent and pulls out a sheaf of forms. "I'll speak to the other staff and see if something can be arranged. I'm glad to see the medication is working for you."

Molly is transferred to a new therapist, a Ms. Roberts, who lets Molly know the score as soon as she walks in. She looks vaguely familiar, but Molly can't quite put her finger on it. Perhaps they had once seen each other in the canteen? On the other hand, Molly's morgue is on one of the basement levels, and the psych ward is on the third floor, and they likely wouldn't frequent the same canteens.

"Dr. Hooper," Ms. Roberts says, standing and holding her hand out. "It's been some time since medical school. I certainly didn't expect to see you here."

Molly hesitates, but takes the offered hand and resists the impulse to apologize for something she's not actually sorry for. "I don't remember you," she replies bluntly.

"No, of course not," her new therapist says, and casually points to her name tag. Ms. Alicia Roberts. "I switched programs after first year, medical school was not for me. I was always more interested in counselling, so I switched to psychology. Would you be offended if I just called you Molly? Doctor Hooper can become a bit of a mouthful. You can call me Alice, if you like."

"I see," Molly says, and likes her more for the admission. Her last therapist had never said anything about herself, never asked permission for anything. "No, I don't mind. Alice, then."

"So, Molly, I'm going to tell you how things will work. Ms. Collins, your last therapist, says in her notes that you didn't talk at all to her until last week, when she suspects your medication began to kick in and you expressed that you weren't very happy about her sessions. Your group therapist says you don't contribute anything in your mandatory group therapy sessions, either. Does that sound about right?"

Molly nods, and feeling the need to explain herself, adds, "I didn't feel like talking, so she just talked at me instead. I wasn't there by choice, and I didn't like that. And group therapy is a crock of bull."

"I understand you're not here by choice either, but if this is going to work out, then you'll need to talk to me. We can't assess where you are or how you're feeling unless you talk to us, and if we can't be sure you're not a danger to yourself and others, we can't let you go home. So how about this: you don't have to talk to me about anything you don't want to talk to me about, but you do have to talk to me about something. We can talk about your favourite telly, for all I care, but you do have to talk to me. Does that sound all right?"

Molly thinks on it a few minutes. It seems all right, and it certainly sounds a lot better than being lectured at, so she agrees. She doesn't want to talk about Jim, or Sherlock, or John, but talking about telly or her job or other things sounds tolerable.

"So why do you think group therapy is bullshit?" Alice prods, setting her notepad on her lap and pulling a pen from the holder on her desk.

Molly considers whether she wants to answer that question, and Alice lets the room be silent for several minutes. Her old therapist would never have allowed that, and Molly finds herself liking Alice more for each minute that passes. "Because it's about lying," she replies. "They tell us to lie to each other, to lie to ourselves about being happy and being normal. I won't lie, so I won't participate."

Alice twiddles her pen in her hand as if processing Molly's response, or as if finding a way to phrase her response kindly. "Sometimes," she says, "lying can be helpful. Have you heard of the 'self-fulfilling prophecy?' Sometimes if you convince yourself of a state of affairs, that will become true. Thinking positively can result in feeling better."

"If lying is the process by which I'm expected to feel better, then I'd rather be unhappy," Molly replies flatly. "I've lied too much to everyone around me to want to do more of it, and lies are partly what got me here. There is a price to lying, and I paid it, and I don't want to pay more."

"I see," Alice says, scribbling on her notepad. "Will you tell me more about what you mean by that?"

"No." Molly pauses for a moment to gauge Alice's reaction, but she doesn't appear to be upset. Molly hesitates, feeling a little guilty for sounding rude, before adding, "At least, not right now."

"All right," Alice replies agreeably, making a note. "Do you have anyone else you can be honest with?"

Molly has to think about that. John has been coming by most days, giving her an excuse to miss at least some of group therapy, and he tries. She's not sure entirely why he does, but he does. She doesn't know if she wants to trust him, wants to tell him about her last year honestly and truthfully. His reaction on Sherlock's return sticks heavily in her memory, his anger and questions and silence. She didn't hear anything from him for two weeks, two long and dreadful weeks. No phone calls, text messages, visits. She was sure he hated her, but for some reason he saved her life (about which Molly has entirely mixed feelings about) and he's been visiting her nearly every day. She makes an effort to talk to him, though they still spend a very long time sitting in silence, letting him hold her hand, and instinctively Molly feels like she can trust him. On the other hand, based on sheer past actions, Molly isn't so sure; certainly John never asked her for a real explanation of the last year, of what keeping Sherlock's secrets and watching events unfold and being unable to explain anything at all for fear of Jim was actually like. Things weren't so simple, then. John's two weeks of silence before her suicide attempt tell her that he doesn't want to know and wouldn't understand, but his actions since then tell her that when she's ready to talk about it, he'll listen.

She doesn't know what to make of all that, and not knowing is upsetting.

"I don't know," she says. "Can we talk about something else?"

Molly is discharged from the hospital the week after that. She had expressed an interest in going back to work, and Alice had looked at her thoughtfully and informed her that Barts had put her on medical leave. Her job was there as soon as she wanted it, or rather as soon as she was discharged. Alice told her then that as long as she met a list of conditions, she would write up the papers for Molly to go home.

First, Molly needs to check in with Alice twice a week, but would not be required to attend outpatient group therapy. Second, Molly is to work only part-time hours and should never take call duties. Third, Molly is restricted to the lab and will not be allowed to perform post-mortems until full clearance is given. Finally, Molly is to find someone to act as a monitor to ensure she stays on her medication; if she doesn't have anyone, Alice continues, she will have to wait until a spot opens in a halfway house.

Molly frowns. She is perfectly fine with the first three conditions – or least, she is willing to put up with them. Not being able to work on post-mortems isn't wonderful, but being back in the lab would be nice. She would get access to her office, again, and there's another paper waiting to be published in the recesses of her brain. She had long thought that the profession needed a review paper summarizing the key traumatic features of different kinds of bullets, and she wants to start writing it. The final requirement, however, poses a problem. Over the last year or so, she's lost contact with most of her friends, and she's not sure any of them would appreciate being asked babysit. On second thought, she's not sure she wants to reconnect with any of them – Molly is tired of hiding in plain sight, tired of hiding half of her personality, and they wouldn't understand. "How long of a wait is it for a halfway house?"

"Usually, it takes a week or so for us to find somewhere, but I should warn you, where we place you could be a fair commute from Barts. And frankly, it might not be the most comfortable, either."

Molly doesn't like the sound of that. She wants to go home, home to her flat a neat thirty-minute walk from Barts on a good day with her cat and her stuffed toys and soft couch in front of the telly. She's missed nearly six weeks of telly and very much wants to lounge around in front of her telly catching up. She's still pondering the problem when her nurse (who Molly's figured out is named Edith) comes to fetch her from the common room.

"How are you?" John asks, standing up to let her pass him, letting her sit in the chair farther from the door. She had never noticed how careful he was to put himself between her and the door, but now that thinking doesn't feel like swimming in molasses, she finds it rather amusing. He takes his medical training seriously, she thinks, that's what they taught us to do in A&E with patients with psych issues.

"I'm not about to attack you and take you hostage," Molly comments. "And even if I did, weren't you a soldier?"

John smiles, a broad grin completely disproportionate to her statement. "Well, you might overpower me," he says. "I wouldn't want to hurt you."

"No, I can take care of that part by myself," Molly replies agreeably, letting John take her hand across the narrow table as usual. "How is Sherlock? Does he have a case?"

"He's fine, he's been hired by a woman to search for her sister. I was surprised that he took it; the woman sent a video message to the husband saying she was running away, it seems straightforward enough. But you know Sherlock, he sees things that we don't. Enough about him – I'm glad to see you're obviously feeling better," he says. "When do you think you'll be allowed to go home?"

Molly sighs, her amusement disappearing as fast as it came. "As soon as they find a place in a halfway house for me. My new therapist says I'll be able to go back to work, as long as I see her twice a week and only take part-time hours in the lab with no post-mortems, but the halfway house could be a long commute to work. I don't like it."

"Surely that would be better than staying here, though?"

"No," Molly says firmly, "I want to go home to my flat with my cat. But I can't unless I find a monitor who will make sure I take my medication and don't kill myself. I suppose if someone is willing to put me up, then Alice might let me go there instead. Do you think maybe Mrs. Hudson would put me up for a while?"

John lets go of her hand and leans back in his chair, looking at her thoughtfully. "I can stay with you, if you'd like," he offers. "I know it would be comforting for you to be home, and Sherlock's turned our bathtub into a toxic swamp. I'll be happy to have a proper shower, and I'm sure your therapist will find me acceptable."

Molly stares at him for several long minutes. She doesn't understand John, not at all. Certainly she can't look to their last year to show her anything about him – they were not speaking then, they were not dealing then in an honest way. If she wasn't honest with him, then how could she expect him to be honest with her? And last year was caught up with Sherlock and Jim and the fallout from Sherlock's deception … Molly doesn't know how to interpret anything from the last year in light of Sherlock's return. Sherlock's return changes everything, and John was so angry with her when he returned, didn't contact her at all until she tried to kill herself. On the other hand, he's visited her often since she was put in the general ward, every few days.

"Why?" she asks. "Why would you do that for me?"

John raises an eyebrow. "Because I like you, Molly. I would have thought that was obvious, considering we've been together for close to a year."

Molly chews on his words for a few minutes. Some of it makes sense, but other parts of it don't. If they were together for the past year, how does he explain the two weeks of radio silence before her suicide attempt? If they were together, why couldn't he have called her, of only to say he wasn't angry? And what about Sherlock?

Molly doesn't like questions. She likes answers; she always has. This, of all things, is why she became a pathologist – to solve the mysteries of why people died.

"What about Sherlock?"

"What about him?"

"I mean, what about Sherlock? I thought," Molly hesitates, "I thought you would prefer to be spending the time with him?"

"As I said earlier, Sherlock is a complete madman who turned out bathtub into a toxic swamp?" John suggests. His eyebrows quirk up perceptively and he adds, "Unless you mean, why am I not with Sherlock as in, why am I not with Sherlock? That would be because I am quite exclusively heterosexual and I'm fairly certain Sherlock is asexual, actually. And as far as I was aware, I'm with you."

"Oh," Molly says, mulling it over in her head. She's not sure she finds the answer entirely satisfactory, but she will accept that answer for the time being. She wants to be home, and if John is willing to stay with her until Alice signs off her permission to live alone, then that would work out nicely. "But you were so angry when Sherlock came back. You didn't try to talk to me at all after, at least until …"

"I was angry," he replies, leaning forward again. He's not looking at her, but he's taken her hand again and is rubbing slow circles the back of her hand with his thumb. He's trying to be reassuring, Molly can tell, trying not to hurt her and phrasing his words carefully. Molly's heart is in her throat; this is what people, what men, do when they're about to dump her. But that makes no sense either, given that John has just offered to temporarily move in with her so she can go home and go back to work and begin getting her life (or at least a life) back together. "I was very angry, and I still believe you should have told us about him, if only so that we knew personally and didn't have to go through that kind of grief. I needed some time to think it through, so I didn't contact you. Obviously, I regret that now. Sherlock says he'd sworn you to secrecy and that all our lives hung in the balance – while I'm certainly not happy about it, I can accept that you felt like you needed to keep those secrets."

Molly doesn't agree. She understands why he thinks the way he does; at core, John is a soldier. He would have tried to take on Jim's whole network if he could have, if he had known. John doesn't play the game the way Sherlock and Jim did, the way even she might to some limited extent – he plays it like a soldier, wearing insignia and carrying arms openly. Jim and Sherlock played a game of subterfuge, one in which John could never be successful. She also knows that she will never convince him of this, however, so she leaves it alone.

"So, why me?" she asks. "Why would you do this for me?"

John laughs, surprised. "Because I like you, and you're interesting. You're smart, as a senior doctor after only, what, four years of practice? You publish papers all the time on gunshot wounds, and then you come home and obsess over dramas on the telly. It would be a shame if you offed yourself, and I fully intend to get in your way if you try."

"Well," Molly says, feeling a small smile creep onto her face, "I suppose I can't say no." She hesitates, and adds, "I like you too, John."

It's the first truly honest conversation they've had, and Molly knows that for her, this is the beginning of their relationship.

They're baby steps, at first. Alice clears Dr. Watson to be Molly's monitor, and Molly goes home, home to her neat pink flat with regency romances and Glee and Silk tossed casually on the coffee table. She frowns a little at that, not because she doesn't like it, per se, but because she's beginning to wonder if leaving it out was a statement rather than her own carelessness. Molly's flat says she's a simple, silly girl who just happens to work in the morgue, and Molly doesn't care for that statement anymore. Molly's lied too much over the past year and a half, and even lying by omission bothers her. She puts the DVDs and books away on a shelf, but decides she still likes the pink.

Greg brings Toby home to her that day, and she picks him up and spins him around. It's shocking how much she missed him, and though Toby swipes at her in displeasure at being so treated, she doesn't mind and brings him close for a little cuddle.

"It's good to see you," she tells him, putting him down, and he stalks off to explore his new-old territory.

Even if she hates to admit it, John (temporarily, she always tells herself), moves in. She goes home on a Friday, and the first weekend is … awkward, to say the least. He doesn't try to hold her, nor do anything more serious than hold her hand, which is good because as much as Molly likes him (which is a considerably) she's not sure she's up for anything serious right now.

"So, where do you want me to sleep?" John asks, that first night. He feels the awkwardness too, and Molly hasn't made any moves to touch him at all. They're different people, now – or maybe even if they're not different people, Molly's a different person, and she doesn't feel like she knows him at all. A year of sex and faux-relationship feels negligible.

"Um, the couch folds out into a bed," Molly replies, her eyes fixed on the floor, wringing her hands slightly from nerves. "I, uh, I hope that's all right with you."

There's a pause, and Molly stares in concentration at the floor. "It's fine," she hears John say. "That's fine, Molly. But I warn you, I'll be checking in you in your room to make sure you don't kill yourself."

Molly looks up, and John is giving her a wry smile. She feels herself smiling in response, pleased that her morbid sense of humour is catching.

She's happy to return to work the next week. Her colleagues don't mention her mysterious two-month absence, though she's happy to see that they've covered her post-mortems in her absence. She still has a serious pile of lab tests to run, neither of them having had time to conduct any of the more extensive tests required, which she is perfectly happy with. Her morgue and lab and office are just as tidy as she left them, with the exception of the stacks of files that she needs to run tests on.

She is getting set to work a full day when Dr. Cooper pokes his head in her lab, waves a sheet of paper at her and informs her that Alice has sent the Pathology Unit a letter telling them, in no uncertain terms, that Molly is not to work a full day and is not permitted be in her morgue or conduct post-mortems. Molly sighs and retreats to her office to gather a collection of papers. Alice might be able to stop her from working full hours at Barts and might keep her from her morgue, but Alice can't stop her from writing that summary paper she's been thinking of doing, on key traumatic effects of various kinds of bullets.

When John comes home from his shift at A&E in Southwark, he finds Molly sitting on the sofa with papers spread around her, and marginal notes in a neat blue hand cover about half of them. Her laptop is open on the coffee table, its cursor flashing on a half-typed document. An array of pictures of gunshot wounds to the head are tacked to the wall across from her. She has a case study in her hands about a hunting accident using hollow-point bullets, and John pulls off his coat.

"Didn't Alice's conditions include not working on cases?" he asks, moving a pile of papers to the coffee table to sit next to her. "What are you working on?"

"A review paper," Molly says, her eyes still moving across the case study. "To summarize the key traumatic effects of different kinds of ammunition. Please don't mix up those piles, they're sorted by bullet calibre. And no, Alice didn't say anything about my academic work, and I did mention it to her. I believe you're supposed to note any alarming behavioural changes and check me back into the psych ward if I try anything?"

"That I am," John says agreeably, pulling her laptop to him and reading her notes. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Have you any case studies on the use of explosive bullets or depleted-uranium tipped bullets?" she asks absently, making a note on the case study. Those are highly illegal types of bullets, she's not sure they're even manufactured anymore, but as a soldier John would have heard of them before.

"Those are illegal," John replies, thoughtfully. "I'll reach out to some of my contacts."

Molly's review paper is accepted for publication almost immediately after she submits it, and while she knows the next few months will be full of scathing peer reviews from anonymous colleagues, she'll soon have another paper to her name and that, that is a pleasing thought. She includes a thank you to Dr. John H Watson, formerly of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers in a footnote, and suggests they collaborate on a paper sometime. Molly passes a quiet Christmas and New Year's at home, refusing to attend any parties, even the one at 221B Baker Street. She's remembering a Christmas two years ago, when Sherlock humiliated her in front of everyone, when she turns down the invitation.

"It's too soon, John," she says when he asks. "And I just don't feel like it." She spends the holiday in her pyjamas, drinking warm eggnog and rewatching the entire Glee series instead. When John returns, looking harried, he tells her she didn't miss anything except for a truly spectacular Sherlock tantrum over a game of Cluedo.

In mid-January, Alice gives her the go-ahead to begin working full-time hours, allows her back in her morgue and to live alone. Molly is somewhat relieved, though also somewhat saddened, and she says so when John asks if she's all right with him moving back into Sherlock's.

"The last couple months have been weird, John," she says apologetically. John has been endlessly patient over the last two months, though also strict. Sometimes she feels like she's back in the hospital, even, because he observes her taking her antidepressants and makes her stick her tongue out after to prevent her from hiding them from him. He's true to his word about making sure she hasn't killed herself in her bedroom, which she knows because when she wakes up in the morning, her door is almost always propped slightly open, and she always closes her bedroom door at night. Once, when she was still half-awake, she saw him poke his head in her room and leave the door ajar. She never invites him in, not once during those two months. It would be too weird – he's not just her boyfriend (if he is even that; over those two months, she grows to let him put his arm around her shoulders when she watches telly, but that's about it), he's also her monitor. One phone call from him and she's back in the hospital, deprived of all the things she's starting to enjoy again and attending awful group therapy sessions. The power dynamic between them favours John, and Molly is finally well enough to understand that whatever relationship they had over the last year was dysfunctional, dishonest at best. "I mean, I like you a lot, but the last couple months have been weird. I can never forget that a phone call from you to the right person and I could be back in the hospital, even in lockdown … Obviously I'm thankful that you offered to stay with me, and it's been great having you around. But I think things will be better when you come by because you want to, not because you need to, and certainly not because I need you to be here."

John half-smiles at her, and comments, "I'm sorry to be leaving your perpetually clean bath. And kitchen. Pathology job or not, at least you don't take home body parts." He does actually come by quite regularly afterwards, and their relationship starts looking considerably less dysfunctional.

After Molly's paper is published, she receives an adjunct teaching offer from Imperial College London, to teach a senior seminar course on forensic pathology. She takes it, and is pleasantly surprised to find she enjoys teaching thirty-odd senior medical students and doctors about the intricacies of her work. It's just a couple hours a week, and Molly's life is returning to normal.

Somehow, normal isn't enough for her anymore. It's pleasant, but that's all it is. There's still something missing, and Molly's not sure what it is because her life is almost exactly what it was before Sherlock jumped off the roof of Barts, before all of this happened. In fact, her life now is better than what it was then, because she has John, of all people, and that is a minor miracle in itself. There's still something missing, something vaguely unsatisfying about her life, and Molly finally works it out one day: it's boring.

Her review paper is published some ten weeks later, at the end of March, and Molly is working on another, a case study for the autopsy John observed last year. The findings were interesting, particularly the pale substantia nigra as a signal of Parkinson's disease. She's tapping away at her keyboard, a stack of notes on the couch beside her and photos from the post-mortem laid out on the coffee table in front of her. John is beside her, so Molly has put the telly on; she doesn't want to bore him. He stays over, some nights, and Molly comes by 221B Baker Street again, every now and then. Sherlock lets her fire John's revolver at the wall, an experience she is thoroughly thrilled by and John thoroughly unhappy about.

"What do you think?" she asks eventually, passing her laptop to him. "You were there – is that an accurate description?"

John skims the paper on her pink laptop, a picture Molly is thoroughly tickled by, when his phone rings. "Hold on," he says, and he pulls it out while passing her back the laptop. "I think you'll definitely need a comparative visual when you talk about the substantia nigra being very pale – I didn't notice anything unusual about it at the time. Sherlock, what do you want? I told you I'd be at Molly's tonight." He pauses, and an interested look crosses his face. "Yeah," he says, "Yeah, that sounds interesting. I'll check."

"Murder?" Molly asks, her attention back to her computer. "You can go, you don't need to ask permission from me."

"No," John replies. "I know that, Sherlock wants to know if you can come to the scene too. Says there's something interesting about the body, and he won't work with the medical examiner on the scene."

Molly looks up from her computer, dumbfounded. It wasn't a complete surprise to her that Sherlock had known something about her standing in the field; any idiot could see it if they just bothered to look. Molly hasn't raced through medical school and pathology training and up the ranks at Barts to be a senior doctor without good reason. It's more that no one thinks about it. No one thought much about Molly, about who she must have been, and the new Molly is amused at how many people weren't able to look past her love of silly things. What does that say about people, that they can't look beyond stereotypes? The old Molly was just relieved that no one could see it, but the new Molly, the new Molly thinks it's amusing. At the same time, whether it was because Sherlock didn't think it was important, or because Sherlock respected her unspoken wishes about her status remaining unknown, or because Sherlock didn't want to break her heart, he'd never said anything and never invited her on any of her cases. Sherlock's treated her differently, too, since his return. "Really?"

"Yes," John says, grabbing his jacket. "Are you coming?"

Molly closes her laptop on the open document, and pulls on her coat.

Sherlock is waiting for them outside the gymnasium at University College London. "In the pool," he says without preamble, walking them to the crime scene. She sees Greg standing by, looking somewhat harried as he tries to reason with someone Molly vaguely recognizes as Dr. Pernissa, one of the Scotland Yard pathologists. They're not very familiar with each other, though Molly recognizes his name as the one she would groan over every time she heard it during the enquiry. He's an older pathologist, trained long before the current regulations came into place and grandfathered in. "The examiner here is an idiot, keeps treating it like a drowning when it obviously isn't."

"If he's allowed to bring a green pathologist here from god knows where, I can see why the Yard is going to the dogs," she overhears Dr. Pernissa hiss at Greg. Greg shrugs at her and gives some diplomatic answer about how "a second opinion is always worth hearing."

It's a woman, late teens or early twenties, dressed in a one piece swimsuit. She's wet all over, clearly having just been pulled from the pool. Rigour mortis hasn't set in yet, so recently dead, but there is something odd about the body. Molly pries open her mouth, and doesn't find anything she expects to find. In fact, she finds nothing at all unusual about the victim's mouth, which is unusual because she would have expected to find something, a certain something.

"Had some sort of fit in the pool, I would guess," Molly hears the other doctor crouch down beside her. "Drowned. Poor thing."

"No," Molly replies. "No frothing or foam in the mouth, which is a nearly constant effect of drowning. Cause of death isn't drowning, but you'll know more once you go back to the morgue." She pauses a moment, considering, and goes off pure instinct. "I'd guess you would find some post-mortem bruising, which should appear tomorrow or the day after – no neck bruising, but I think she might have been smothered instead. I don't see any fibres from a preliminary look, so perhaps a hand? That would create similar effects as drowning, without the foam. There won't be any liquid in her lungs."

"Much faster," she hears Sherlock comment quietly to Greg. "Same results, but she's much faster than anyone you've got right now. Pernissa would have had to get her back to the morgue first to get that far."

On the first of June, almost a full two years after Sherlock faked his death and only a few weeks before Molly's thirty-third birthday, Molly hands in her resignation at Barts. Barts has been wonderful, she's told them, but her research interests have moved on and she will find more scope for them elsewhere. Barts is great about it – that's part of the beauty of working at a teaching hospital. They respect research interests, understand the drive to learn and be at the cutting edge of science, and Molly receives warm congratulations all around.

"I knew we wouldn't keep you forever," Dr. Wilcox, head of the department, says, shaking his head at her farewell party. "When your primary research area is gunshot wounds, there's only so much we can give you in terms of accidents and suicides. A full-time position at the Yard certainly gives you more scope."

"Well, Dr. Smythe says they mostly see stabbings, actually," Molly replies, with a crooked grin. "But I'm looking forward to it, pay cut and all. And there won't be quite as much time to write papers, but I should be able to work in a seminar course for your senior pathology students once a year."

He sighs. "To be young and brilliant again," he says, and toasts her.

Scotland Yard has promised Molly excitement: stabbings, shootings, and strangulations. She'll be one of the first on the scene on deaths, and it's her call whether they go to Scotland Yard as potential homicides or to Barts as suicides and accidents. Greg's happy because he trusts her work after the enquiry; Sherlock's happy because she'll give him better access to the bodies. John is happy because Molly is happy.

She's looking forward to it.


Thank you, thank you, thank you to my beta-readers who have reviewed it for me. Thank you to the A&E doctor beta-reader who kindly let me ask her at random hours about minutiae of institutionalization, drug interactions, and dead bodies. Thank you even more goes out to those who shared their stories of mental health institutionalization with me and their experiences of clinical depression. While I have, personally, experienced depression, your experience was invaluable and your courage in telling me about it for nothing more important than a fanfiction were such that I really cannot thank you enough.

Finally, thank you, dear reader, for reading my work until its end. I welcome comments and constructive criticism.