A/N: Copious amounts of gratitude to MizJoely for agreeing to beta this story and allaying my fears that I had written a bunch of nonsense. Mille grazie!
It was not a sudden passionate embrace or the thought of another man or even a slow realization of a change that shook Sherlock Holmes to the core and toppled every belief about love and sentiment.
It was a phone call.
One single phone call from Detective Inspector Lestrade.
"Case?" Sherlock said immediately.
"No, not exactly." Lestrade's voice was hesitant.
"Then why are you calling?" he asked, annoyed at being bothered when he was about to set a mobile phone on fire.
"We need you to identify a body," Lestrade answered in a rush.
Sherlock's brow pulled tight, glancing over at John sitting on the couch, editing his blog. John was here, on loan from Mary for the day, safe. Mrs. Hudson had just delivered tea. His brain offered nothing but confusion.
There was a deep pause.
His skin crawled and he did not understand why. He swallowed hard as he found himself admitting a fault.
"I don't know her address," he said slowly, his tone drawing a curious look from John.
"Forty Seven-Forty Nine Charlotte Road. You'll… you'll find us."
The dial tone left him immobile. The phone seemed very heavy in his hand as he returned it to his trouser pocket, movement faltering. He glanced at the experimental phone sitting on his workstation, torch lying next to it waiting to be used. It seemed very unimportant at the moment, the excitement from just minutes ago snuffed out.
John's voice startled him, but only the flit of his eyes in his friend's direction showed it. It released him from his immobility, feet moving automatically towards the coat rack to grab his Belstaff and scarf.
"Where are you going?" John called as he scrambled to put his laptop on the coffee table and follow Sherlock.
His mind told him that anything could be waiting for him at the flat, but the arresting pull in his stomach betrayed the fact that he knew beyond a doubt what it would be. He honestly was not sure he would be able to handle John witnessing him in the situation that surely waited. There was nothing for it; John caught up and threw questions at him until Sherlock told him to shut up so he could think. Mostly he wanted to think about how he was suddenly not prepared for the prospect of this case.
His footing felt unsure as he climbed from the cab, the bite of winter still hanging in the early spring air, but he maintained an outward appearance of control in his approach to the building. None of the waiting officers looked at him. John was close on his heel as they made their way up the stairs to the second floor of flats.
"Sherlock, this is Molly's place. What is going on?" he asked insistently under his breath. Sherlock's chest pulled tightly at the untimely realization that John had been here and he had not.
"They found a body," Sherlock finally managed.
Anderson and Donovan flanked the door to the small flat. Their silence and downcast eyes left Sherlock's blood running cold. Lestrade waited for them just inside, face drawn.
"What are the details?" Sherlock asked mechanically.
"Sherlock, you might need to take a moment - "
"The details, Lestrade," he said curtly.
Lestrade looked at him with concern and a tightened jaw before nodding once and leading him past the small kitchenette and into the living room.
Sherlock bit down against the race of his heart as the white sheet came into few. It was a wholly unnerving sensation, exceeding that which he had felt when he saw explosives strapped to John, when he came home to find Mrs. Hudson held at gunpoint. No one in his circle had ever… he had never been too late before…
"Stamford contacted us when she didn't show up for her shift last night," Lestrade said with only a touch of the business as usual tone he used at other scenes. He glanced once more at Sherlock before reaching down and pulling at the sheet. Sherlock heard John's whispered swear behind him. His own eyes blinked a bit too rapidly. "Blunt force trauma to the face… single gunshot wound to the chest. Her wallet, jewelry, and electronics are gone. At the moment we are thinking home invasion gone wrong. With the damage to… we figured you would be the best one to call in to make the identification."
It was not nearly as bad as Irene Adler's supposed injuries. He did not know why that should be the thought in his mind, as though the lessened severity of what he saw in front of him somehow spared Molly, for he was almost certain it was her. A blood test would easily confirm. Somehow in the time he had worked with her at St. Bart's, the details had stuck: the calluses on her fingers from holding metal instruments all day, the freckle on her neck below her jaw, the small scar on the back of her right hand, the delicate curve of her chin, and why was he suddenly pulled to run his hand through the long brown hair that was spilled across the floor? It wouldn't comfort her. It certainly wouldn't comfort him – would it?
Damn the shake in his voice.
"They've finished up."
He blinked away the fog of half an hour of hard deduction. He'd moved without direction through the flat almost a dozen times and the response team had jumped out of his way at his very approach. It was the most accommodating the team had ever been at a scene. Too bad he had nothing to show for it. It was a textbook random robbery, right down to the jimmied bedroom window above the fire escape.
It was perfect.
Why was it perfect?
Why the violence?
"I need more time," he told John, vaguely aware that they were the last two remaining in the living room.
"Yeah. It's just, actually, Lestrade needs to secure the place…" John trailed off at the look in Sherlock's eyes as his gaze drifted over to the doctor. He blinked at the naked pleading in his look. "Right. Right, I'll tell him a bit more time, then."
With that, Sherlock was left alone in what was Molly Hooper's flat.
The silence mocked him and a swell of guilt rushed his body. He had never set foot in the building, not even to say thank you for her part in helping him fake his suicide. Standing in the flat, he realized his simple evaluations of her over the years had only served to tell him what he felt he needed to know about her. Thirty minutes in her flat had flooded every empty space in his deductions. She was a bit messy, but organized. She held onto memories and keepsakes. Well read. Penchant for the romantic in all forms of entertainment. And she really did like cats.
She was lonely.
Had been lonely.
Her smiling face swam in his vision and for a moment he honestly thought he was going to be sick. Gulping in a breath of air, he backed out of the flat that offered him no clues and no promises of being able to make any sort of sense out of her death.
Lestrade's barely veiled emotional chatter followed him as John and he walked down the stairs to street level.
"Hopefully something comes from ballistics, and we've got at least a partial print from the window… next of kin is an great-aunt in Surrey… both parents dead, only child - Christ, I had no idea…"
Sherlock drew to a sudden stop in the doorway.
"Her possessions, were they valuable?" he asked abruptly.
"Sorry?" Lestrade gave him a confused look.
"Were her possessions valuable?" Sherlock asked again, looking to John. His friend gave an unsure shrug.
"I was only here once, with Mary," he said, glancing up in the direction of the flat as though it would help his memory. "She had a fairly decent television. Stereo system, newish looking laptop - "
"Who would bother to rob someone with mediocre electronics, let alone murder them," Sherlock posited. He felt his irritation rise at the look exchanged between the DI and John.
"People desperate for money will do desperate things, Sherlock," Lestrade placated. "Maybe they singled her out as an easy target…"
"An easy… are you going to resort to the laziest explanation possible?" Sherlock asked in frustration.
"We are going to look at every shred of evidence and do everything we can to bring this bastard to justice," Lestrade told him, clipboard poised to emphasize his point. "If you have anything you'd like to add to aid that investigation, tell me now."
"Robbery does not make sense," he said slowly, patronizing. Lestrade's face fell slightly.
"I need more to go on than that and you know it."
He turned and crossed the sidewalk to the waiting police car.
"I didn't realize you had placed your head back in your ass when it came to listening to what I have to say," Sherlock called after him, turning the heads of several nearby officers.
"Sherlock," John warned, placing a hand on his friend's arm.
Lestrade turned swiftly and walked back towards the two men, leveling his hard gaze at Sherlock as he leaned in.
"We are all upset here," he said roughly. "And believe me when I say that punishment will land heavy on whoever did this. You behaving like a pompous wanker is not going to help anything. Do right by her, Sherlock… go home and cool your head off."
Sherlock stormed up the stairs at Baker Street and swept into the room, depositing his coat and scarf on his chair before picking up his violin. The Swan, Saint-Saens – interesting his hands should choose that piece. He gripped the bow a little more tightly than usual, blaming the shaking of his hand on being so ridiculously dismissed from the investigation. He needed the music to pull his mind back into focus, to go over every detail that he had seen in her flat and to shut out the memory of her small form on the floor of the living room.
Caring wouldn't help.
Caring would not help.
"So that's it, then?" John asked from the middle of the room. He gestured to the violin. "You're just going to…"
"Thinking, John," Sherlock replied, facing resolutely towards the window but not really seeing the world outside.
"Yes, I understand that, but my God, Sherlock, can you take a moment to be a human being and react to this. Our colleague, our friend," John lectured, his voice growing heavy with emotion. "She's dead."
"I do comprehend that fact," Sherlock assured him, his bow pausing briefly as he spoke. "The only thing I can do for her now is to find out what really happened. If no one thinks that's enough to serve her memory, then I am truly sorry."
The look from John was one he interpreted as empathetic and quite sad. He knew he had made his point, though. John would not press him further on the subject. He did not have to fake the remorse in the look he gave in return.
"You should be on your way home to Mary," he told him. "Best if she hears the news from you, I should think."
He took up the bow again and continued what was quickly becoming a requiem in his mind. John's soft footsteps echoed as he made his way into the hall and down the stairs.
Sherlock played for as long as he could stand it. There was truth in what he told John – he wanted to think. The fact that he spent half the time thinking about her laughter, the mad attempts at fashionable hairstyles, her nervous conversation, her ability to read him like it was nothing… that was inconsequential.
It was past sunset by the time he finally put down his instrument, fingertips numb from the effort. There was a strange emptiness inside him as he walked through 221B and into his bedroom, a vexation he could not name. He toed off his shoes and lay down in his bed, ankles crossed and hands folded across his stomach. The technicalities of the day were starting to settle in and he found himself pondering life without Molly.
Who was he going to work with at Bart's? Every other pathologist hated him. She had made life so easy, now it would be all muddled.
John would surely say he was being selfish.
But why shouldn't he be worried about those details? Why shouldn't he try to determine exactly how he was going to get on without Molly Hooper in his life?
Why were his cheeks wet?
He appeared to be crying.
He swiped a hand over his face quickly and looked at the moisture clinging to his fingertips, picking up the light from the security lamps outside the building.
Apparently he was going to miss her.