A/N: Sorry for the long delay on this, I had wicked writer's block. Also, I am realizing that I never set a disclaimer to this story, so here it is – I don't own any of this and I'm not making any money on it. If you want proof, come to my house and take a gander at my unfinished kitchen!
Sherlock sat in the dark Belgrade hotel room, not having bothered to turn on the lights, smoking his fourth cigarette in an hour. He gazed out the window at the cathedral in the distance, lit up in the night sky. He supposed it was beautiful, but he couldn't muster much enthusiasm for it. It looked just like the cathedrals in all of the other cities in which he'd been forced to make a temporary home over the past two years.
He didn't mind the solitude, not really. He'd been alone for most of his life, more or less. What he minded most was the endless monotony of waiting for something to happen to him. Waiting for his phone to ring, waiting for Mycroft to send him information, waiting for the whole thing to be over.
In the interim, he often found himself wandering whichever city he found himself in, thinking. About the life he'd left behind, about the people he missed...and yes, he had to admit to himself that he did have a few people he missed.
Wanted desperately to return to, in fact.
As usual, his mind wandered to Molly. It always did, one way or another.
It was a strange circumstance, spending a considerable number of his waking hours thinking about a person whom he'd barely paid attention to even when she was right in front of him only a year ago. At this point, it was a toss-up over which person commanded more of his thoughts on any given day – John or Molly. The fact that Molly was even in the same league as John was extraordinary in and of itself.
The fact that she might be winning the battle was nothing short of mind-boggling.
Taking a pull off of his cigarette, he blew the smoke at the window and watched as it fogged up the cold glass. His left hand rested on his knee, his fingers silently performing the fingering for his new favorite song against his jeans.
He often wished he had his violin with him, wanting badly to hear the lilting strains of that song. As it was, he had to be content to hear it in his head, over and over. He couldn't decide if his mind was satiating him or taunting him with it.
All he did know was that his chest ached – literally ached – every time he thought of it.
He reached up and unlatched the window, flicking the cigarette stub out into the street below and then running a hand over his face.
He felt the usual pang of regret as he remembered how he'd left, and why. He knew that what he was doing right now was important – that this was what he should focus all of his energy and attention on. Still, he couldn't shake the disjointed feeling he always got when there was unfinished business waiting for him to attend to, a case waiting to be closed.
He'd thoroughly investigated her, found out everything he possibly could from simply observing and cataloguing her possessions and mementos, from the things on display for anyone to see to the ones that were hidden away and private. He found that it wasn't enough, having knowledge about her that had come from information he'd basically stolen.
He found he wanted to know her properly. He wanted to have a relationship with her in which she would volunteer these things about herself to him, in which she felt comfortable confiding things to him and allowing him to see things that she'd never let anyone else see.
What that meant, he had no idea. This wasn't something he was accustomed to feeling.
In fact, he could safely say he'd never felt this way before. Even with John, who was the closest friend he'd ever had in his life, he'd been content to allow him his own life and his own secrets. There were things that he, frankly, didn't care to know about John. Aspects of his life and daily routine that he would just as soon not be privy to, things that weren't important.
He just knew, somehow, that it was different with Molly. There wasn't a single thing she could tell him that he would want to delete, and he wanted to know everything.
Every damn thing, no matter how monumental or inconsequential. From her favorite brand of cocoa to how she handled the continued estrangement with her mother.
And that was why he'd run. Because this train of thought threatened him, and he didn't know what to do with it.
There was a rap on the door, loud enough to be heard but still rather quiet.
He'd been expecting this visit but, a bit surprisingly, not looking forward to it. As he walked over and slid the lock back, opening the door, he felt a small twinge of anticipation as they took a moment to consider each other. Not unlike the way he felt when he knew he was about to get into a fight.
He stepped away from the door in a silent invitation for her to follow, which she did, shucking her coat and throwing it on a chair as she scanned the room.
"Not exactly five-star accommodation, is it?" she quipped lightly, and he turned to face her.
"Not exactly a holiday," he replied, his voice impassive.
She searched his features for a few seconds, her blue eyes bright in the shadows of the room, and murmured, "Good to see you again, Mr. Sherlock Holmes."
"Miss Adler," he said simply in reply.
Smiling fully now, she turned and strode over to turn on a light, then looked over her shoulder at him, her eyes twinkling.
"Unless there was a reason you wanted it dark? More romantic, perhaps?"
He gave her a half smile at this and replied, "You don't deal in romance, though, do you?"
"Not usually," she purred, allowing her eyes to travel down his body and back up, "But I could make an exception. Or, at least, I could pretend to. For you."
This kind of interaction with her, the flirting and verbal sparring...he remembered how much it had excited him before. Aroused him, if he was honest with himself. Now, however, he simply found it pointless. Taking a breath, he cut to the point,
"I need information. Anything you might know about a man named Vassili Nuryev."
She seemed a bit taken aback at his abrupt change in the subject.
"Rather demanding for a dead man, aren't you?"
"Considering the circumstances, I can't afford to waste time," he clipped out, "I'm sure you understand, having been dead for the better part of two years."
She eyed him knowingly and walked over to the window, snatching up the pack of cigarettes and holding it up. "Do you mind?"
He shook his head, and she proceeded to take one out and light it with his lighter. After a moment, she regarded him with narrowed eyes through the smoke and observed,
"You're different, somehow. You've changed."
He smirked at her...if she only knew how utterly wrong she was.
"Vassili Nuryev. Do you know who he works with?"
She stared at him before deflecting, "What makes you think I know anything about it?"
"He's a local assassin."
"And you think I socialize with assassins?"
"I think you're clever," he said honestly, earning an appreciative look from her, "And I think you, a dead woman in hiding from powerful people who would not hesitate to make the illusion of your death a reality should they find out you're still alive, would be aware of potential threats around you."
She licked her teeth pensively and replied, "You always were good. In more ways than one."
He ignored the suggestive language and remained silent. He didn't feel like playing games. He just wanted the information.
"Do you ever think about that night? In Karachi?" she asked, seemingly out of the blue as she considered him.
He looked into her catlike blue eyes, and found his mind wandering to another pair of eyes. Large, brown ones brimming with integrity rather than cunning.
"I've deleted most of it," he answered bluntly. It wasn't completely true, but then again, it wasn't a memory he found much use for anymore.
"No, you haven't," she shot back, grinning, enjoying herself.
He sighed. "Believe what you want. The truth is that I have other concerns now. I can't..."
"The truth is that you've changed. I'm just not sure it's for the better."
He blinked. "I suppose we'll see, in the end. Now, names, please. Nuryev. Who he's working with, and how active he's been. Has he left the country within the past six months?"
"Why do you want to know about him?"
"He was working with Moriarty at one time," Sherlock explained, "We're not sure if their association had ended prior to his suicide, or if he's still under orders. It's what I'm attempting to find out, and why I'm here."
She smiled. "And here I thought you'd traveled across the world just for me. Again."
Sherlock looked at her, his gaze unwavering. "Sorry to disappoint."
After another few moments of banter, she finally relented and told him everything she knew about Nuryev, which wasn't much but it was enough to determine he wasn't a threat. She finished her cigarette, and he didn't invite her to stay for tea. She seemed a bit dissatisfied with his lack of interest, but she was a consummate professional and hid it well.
He showed her to the door, and before she left, she turned to him and asked, "Will you be in town long?"
"No," he replied, "I'll probably be gone within twenty-four hours. Why?"
She shrugged slightly, her mouth curved up again but with less boldness this time, "Just thought you might like to have dinner."
He softened just a bit, but not because he was considering the offer. As he looked at her, he felt sorry for her somehow. She was cut adrift, no doubt using her wiles to get by as usual, and yet...there was something lonely about her.
It wasn't a trait that would have made him feel melancholy, once. It was something he would have envied – being able to subsist on one's intellect, left to one's own devices and completely independent of responsibility or the need to answer to anyone.
She was right. He had changed.
"Take care of yourself," was the only response he gave her, and she nodded her acceptance before walking out the door.
He shoved his hands in his pockets, stared at the peephole for a moment, and then turned and grabbed up the dummy phone he'd been given to call his brother.
Mycroft picked up on the second ring.
"I trust you found Ms. Adler well."
"As ever. Nuryev isn't a threat, he hasn't run with Moriarty's circles in years. I'm a bit surprised your people couldn't figure that out on their own."
"We do have other things to attend to besides your little project, Sherlock."
"Yes, and going by the state of our foreign relations, they could use a bit of coaching there as well."
Mycroft ignored this with practiced stoicism and asked, "And you're sure she is telling you the truth?"
"Why would she lie?" Sherlock replied dismissively.
"Oh, you know what they say about a woman scorned."
"I don't think she falls into that category, Mycroft."
"Well, you didn't ask her to stay for tea, did you?"
Sherlock scowled as he was reminded that he really would like a cup of tea, and went to put the kettle on. "I'm sure she didn't expect an invitation."
"Not for tea, no. Either way, she was bound to be disappointed, wasn't she?"
He paused as he reached for the awful little tea bags that came with the room. "What are you getting at?"
"Nothing," Mycroft said silkily, "Just that you've...moved on. Thankfully. Now, was there anything else?"
"No," Sherlock snapped, and Mycroft replied,
"Fine. I'll be in touch tomorrow with next steps."
Sherlock hung up and stared distastefully at the phone for a moment before dropping it on the table and picking up the kettle. As he poured the hot water into the dirty mug, he thought back to the ridiculous collection of colorful mugs that Molly kept in her cupboards and smiled.
He'd told Mycroft months ago to send him regular copies of the most widely circulated pathology and medical journals. He'd wanted to keep up, felt that his brain was stagnating a bit in that field. He went online to read the articles, but the journals themselves were usually more thorough. The first time he'd received the package, he'd devoured them in a matter of hours, and then decided that the next time, he'd stretch it out.
It helped stave off the boredom.
One evening in Volgograd, just as the sun was going down and casting the city in the darkness that was so prevalent there, he was flipping through a copy of the Journal of Clinical Pathology and was stopped cold by a photograph of Molly Hooper.
Apparently she'd written an article, and they'd published her photo along with it. It was small, black and white and not particularly eye-catching in any standard sense – but it was a few moments before he had collected himself enough to exhale the breath that had caught when he'd seen it.
He sat there staring at it for a long time, long enough for the twilight to fade into night. It was only when he realized that he was struggling to focus in the dim light of the streetlights that he finally snapped out of his reverie and reached over to turn on a lamp. He cleared his throat and went on reading the journal, but he kept the place with his thumb. After every few paragraphs he read, he flipped back to glance at it again.
By the time he'd finished reading, he'd already made his decision, irrational as it was. Turning back to the page with her article on it, he tore it out and threw the remainder away. Carefully folding it, he took out his wallet and placed it inside, refusing to allow himself to stop and examine his actions.
Three months later, he threw the photograph away in a public trash bin somewhere in Vienna.
He'd found himself obsessing over it to the point of distraction, and couldn't support the idea of keeping it anymore if he couldn't go a measly half hour without pulling it out to stare at it. It was dangerous. He needed to be focused.
He only lasted two weeks before he went online to see if the article was still posted in the archives. The article was, but the photograph wasn't.
Another week went by before he asked Mycroft to find him another copy and send it to him. Mycroft asked why, and Sherlock told him he was looking for a specific article. Mycroft told him to look it up online.
Sherlock couldn't tell him the truth, so he dropped it.
It sent him into a bitter strop that lasted for weeks.
"Have you finished?" Mycroft asked, and Sherlock sat gingerly down on the bed as he replied in a strained voice,
Mycroft was silent for a beat, then asked, "Are you hurt?"
"A couple of bruised ribs. Nothing I can't handle myself."
"Good. You only have a few weeks left of this, assuming we stay on track."
"I know," he said brusquely, and then winced as he peeled his shirt off and asked, "To Brussels, I assume?"
"Have you given any thought to how you're going to reintegrate yourself into your old life, Sherlock?"
"Why would I?" Sherlock asked, feigning indifference, "It's three weeks away at least. I'll worry about it when it's appropriate to do so."
Mycroft brushed off his attitude and said, "Doctor Watson is on the verge of being engaged, you know. To a financial consultant."
Sherlock paused, taking this in, and then muttered, "I thought I made it clear that I didn't want updates, Mycroft. It's nothing but a distraction."
"I believe it is the appropriate time to begin assessing your situation. In any case, he's no longer living at 221B Baker Street, but I've kept up with the rent in your absence. For the past three years, 221B has supposedly been the home of an investor from Chile who is so frequently out of town that Mrs. Hudson rarely sees him."
"And when she does see him?"
"He keeps to himself. One of mine, of course."
Mycroft took a breath, and Sherlock could tell he was reading something as he spoke.
"Mrs. Hudson spends half her time with her sister in the country. Her doctor recommended it on account of her health."
"What's the matter with her health?" Sherlock asked sharply, and Mycroft drawled,
"She's nearly eighty, that's what's wrong with her health."
"Very funny, Mycroft."
"A bit insensitive of you to think so."
Silence, and Sherlock took the opportunity to stand and inspect his bruises in the full length mirror on the back of the hotel room door. They weren't as bad as he'd thought. Finally, there was a rustling of paper and Mycroft finished,
"And, of course, Detective Inspector Lestrade...well, Sergeant Lestrade, for now. He got sent down after the word came out that you were a fraud, although he always did have vehement supporters on the police force."
Sherlock felt a twinge of guilt for Lestrade – he didn't deserve that. He was a good policeman.
"I do hope you'll be rectifying the damage done to his career once I come back."
"Of course," Mycroft murmured as though it was a given, "He'll be reinstated and his record expunged."
Another silence, which Mycroft broke after a few seconds.
"Well, I suggest you get some rest. You'll be travelling tomorrow..."
"And Molly?" Sherlock interrupted before he could check himself.
A pause. "Excuse me?"
"Molly Hooper," Sherlock repeated, his voice gravelly, "Is she...well?"
"Ah, yes," Mycroft hummed, "Miss Hooper. How could I forget?"
Sherlock gritted his teeth. Somehow he got the impression that Mycroft had deliberately left her off of his list to provoke Sherlock into actively inquiring about her.
"She is...much the same as she was when you left. Promoted once, in spite of the slight taint she endured from the scandal."
"Of course she was promoted. She's...good."
"Yes," Mycroft agreed blandly, "Anyway, she still lives in the same flat. Same cat. A bit dull..."
"She isn't dull, Mycroft," Sherlock snapped, "Not everyone has an urgent need to become involved in criminal investigations and government coups."
"Perhaps not," Mycroft replied, his voice mellifluous in that patronizing way that Sherlock had always hated, "Apologies."
"Are you finished?"
"Yes, unless there is anyone else you have a pressing need to ask about..."
Sherlock hung up on him.
He strolled over to the bed and eased himself down before folding his hands under his chin and closing his eyes. He knew he wouldn't be falling asleep anytime soon, but he could at least pass the time in thought instead of with insipid foreign telly.
He wasn't surprised that John had moved on, and he couldn't say he was unhappy about it. Wistful, perhaps...he felt a bit like their time together had been cut short. Sherlock hadn't made many good friends over the course of his life – hadn't made any, to be exact – and he'd been enjoying the easy camaraderie that he'd shared with John, whom he considered to be more of a brother to him than Mycroft was at times. Actually, most of the time.
It was just another thing that Moriarty had stolen from him, something that he could never get back.
When he went home, it would be to an empty flat and solitude once more.
His thoughts turned naturally to Molly, then, and her cozy flat that he'd hated so much while he'd been there but had missed so badly since. It wasn't so much the flat that he'd missed, but the company.
He missed her.
He hadn't minded living with her, which was saying something. Moreover, she hadn't minded living with him, which was also saying something.
He allowed his mind to wander, to conjure up random thoughts that didn't make much sense if he were to dwell on them. He wondered if she liked her flat - Mycroft was right, she'd been there for quite a while. Sherlock wondered if perhaps she'd want a change. If she'd consider Baker Street, with him.
He could see them in his mind's eye, together on a cold night. In their dressing gowns, conducting random research in the kitchen over tea. He could play her songs on his violin, afterwards. Obviously she liked the violin, her father and grandmother had seen to that. He imagined she would enjoy sitting in his chair, fresh from a shower, listening to him play as her hair dried in the warmth of the fire. She would appreciate the sound of someone playing again, for her.
He imagined waking up in the morning to find her on the sofa, watching the morning news, having made coffee for the both of them. Imagined coming home in the afternoon and telling her all about his current case...perhaps he'd even bring her along on one or two of the less dangerous ones. He imagined coming home to an empty, dark flat and immediately walking back out the door, realizing she was on a night shift and heading to the Chinese at the end of the street so that he could bring her dinner. Not that he wouldn't have her schedule memorized by then...not that he hadn't always had it memorized.
He imagined curling up beside her in bed at night, his arm around her waist, his lips gently kissing the soft skin at the juncture of her neck and shoulder. They would both be slightly out of breath, but sated, and she would turn over and look up at him with her dancing brown eyes and ask,
"What do you need?"
Sherlock started awake so violently that the bed shook and his injured ribs sent a searing pain through his torso, causing him to slam his eyes closed again and struggle with his breathing until it receded.
He hadn't even realized he'd fallen asleep. Carefully, he pushed himself up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Glancing at his watch, he realized he'd been sleeping for about three hours and lowered his face into his hands.
Scrubbing at his eyes, he tried to purge the emotion that lingered as the dream faded, feeling slightly sick to his stomach and completely disoriented.
He wanted a drink, a smoke and...something else.
He wanted to hear her voice.
Glancing sideways at the disposable phone that lay on his bedside table, he weighed in his head how much his disorientation was affecting his judgment before finally deciding it was safe enough. How much harm could it do?
Grabbing the phone up, he dialed Molly's number and hit send before he could second-guess himself. He hadn't really considered the fact that it was about three in the morning in London, and that she wouldn't pick up.
She didn't, but her voicemail did. It picked up right away, which meant her phone was off. Not working, and not on call.
"Hi! You've reached Molly Hooper – or, you almost have! Leave a message and I'll ring you back!"
He terminated the call before the tone sounded and sat there staring into space, considering both how good it was to hear her voice in any capacity and how much of an idiot he was for calling her in the middle of the night when he never had any intention of actually speaking to her.
It didn't stop him from calling back two more times.
We all do silly things.
As her voice invaded his thoughts, he let out a sound that resembled a snarl and tossed the phone across the room. Disgusted with himself, he lay back down, even knowing that there was very little chance of him falling asleep again anytime soon.
A month later, he was standing in a darkened locker room in St. Bart's, leaning against a wall and waiting. His stillness and calm expression belied a jittery apprehension that was bubbling just under the surface, as well as an almost unbearable feeling of anticipation.
The reunion he was most nervous about was, of course, the one with John. He hadn't allowed himself to dwell too much on that one, simply because he had no idea how it would pan out. He was prepared for every possible scenario, from overwhelming joy to white-hot fury to cold rejection. Obviously there were best and worst case scenarios in there somewhere, but the sheer magnitude of what it would mean to appear before the best friend he'd ever had and admit he'd knowingly put him through heart-wrenching grief for three long years was something his brain couldn't quite wrap itself around.
Sherlock wasn't good with emotional situations…it was why John had become so very important to him in the first place. John was his social and emotional barometer. So, he'd simply locked the possibilities on that reunion away, deciding that it would happen how it was going to happen and he would just have to handle the aftermath appropriately, depending.
He was planning on doing that tomorrow. Tonight, he'd gotten off of the plane and had shunned the car that his brother had waiting for him in favor of a cab. He hadn't hesitated when he'd asked the cabbie to take him to the hospital.
Because aside from John, the woman who was about to walk through the doors to his right was the person he was most eager to see.
Funny, that. He was practically jumping out of his skin at the thought of coming face to face with Molly Hooper again, and his survival wasn't even a secret to her. Not only that, he found it ironic that the person on his list who was second only to John in his thoughts these days was a person that Moriarty hadn't even included on his list.
Any further musing was interrupted by footsteps coming down the corridor. He tensed, but only for the few seconds it took him to discern the gait and know that it was her.
His heart sped up slightly and he swallowed as the doors were pushed open, and there she was.
He could immediately see that she looked exhausted – her eyes were puffy and she trudged to her locker without even noticing him standing there – but beyond that, she was the most welcome sight he'd ever seen in his life.
She pulled open the door of her locker, and he could see her face in the mirror that was dangling on the inside of the door. It took a few moments, but she finally looked up and caught sight of his reflection, her entire body freezing as her brown eyes locked onto his in the mirror.
Even though part of him rebelled against it, he felt his chest tighten and his mouth go dry. She didn't seem frightened, or angry…or anything, for that matter. She simply stood there, staring.
He forced himself to look neutral as she slowly turned around and pinned him with her direct gaze for the first time in nearly two years. It wasn't easy, and he found himself wishing she would lose control and run to him, throw her arms around his neck, embrace him. His own arms itched to hold her, even though he'd never done it before.
And that was the moment that he knew, beyond any doubt and past any point of argument.
He wanted Molly Hooper in his life in a different, very specific, capacity.
Somewhere between "I don't count" and this moment, he'd come to love her.
He hadn't thought himself capable of feeling such a thing, much less admitting it to himself, and for Molly Hooper of all people. But, standing there in the dim room with her, watching her emotions play across her face and trying hard to keep from reaching for her, he had no choice but to admit it to himself.
His life was about finding the truth. And this was, whether he was prepared or not, a truth he had to face.
When the moment had been drawn out longer than he could stand, he finally broke the silence with the only word he could manage, the only one that was in his mind at the moment.
A/N – Thanks for reading! This is the last chapter for Deconstructing Death, which was always meant to be the first of a two part story.
I'll be continuing from here on out in Molly's POV – the story will be called Reconstructing Life, and the first chapter will be posted soon. It'll resolve a lot of the buildup from this first half and should be fun because she has absolutely no clue he's been going through all this emotional soul-searching. Hope you all continue to follow, I really appreciate all the lovely feedback.