The Lion and the Mouse: Texting Subtext
Sherlock found himself working his way backward as he returned to his life – a peculiar sort of breech-birth, moving in reverse, undoing his death a contact at a time. First came Mycroft, the last to see him before he'd disappeared into the anonymity of his death. Eventually he'd renew contact with John, and Mrs. Hudson, and Lestrade. He intended to do so in that order, from the most intimate friend to the least. Before he did, though, there was one other he had to contact first. If Mycroft was his Charon, Molly had been his midwife, birthing him into death…and making sure he'd survived to tell about it.
"You're doing it again, Sherlock."
"Doing what, dear brother?" Sherlock's face gave away nothing but cool hauteur. Of course, Mycroft wasn't handing out clues to his inner workings either: all his face showed was his usual supercilious disapproval.
"You're caring again. You know better. Why not just send them all a nice note, tell them that now that you know they're all safe you're not going to risk putting them in danger again, and have done with it? I'm told they sell perfectly serviceable cards at the chemist's, with rhymes, roses, ribbons and other good things starting with R. Buy a box, jot a few words, and end it. You can hardly say your friendships weren't liabilities – to you or to them. Being alone keeps you safe."
Hearing the echo of his own voice from months past, Sherlock shot his brother an evil glance. "Friends kept me safe. And now, brother, I'm going to renew my acquaintance with them." He flashed a slight non-smile, then, with an inflection tuned to set Mycroft's teeth on edge, said a chipper, "Ta-ta." He sloped away down the center of the vast warehouse in which the two brothers had rendezvoused. His coat skirts swept wide, like black sails.
He knew if he looked back that Mycroft would be grimacing, irked but resigned. Not that he'd give his brother the satisfaction of looking back…and not that Mycroft would expect it. Even after the help Mycroft had been to Sherlock over the past months, even after the help Sherlock had been to him, neither of the two Holmes brothers was going to give the other so much as a hint of sentimental attachment. No, Mycroft would be standing, as upright as ever, dapper in his suit, his umbrella serving as a sturdy cane, one leg crossed in deceptively casual style, the perfect image of an ice-cold, cocksure, upper-class British sphinx, his face the face of impassive mystery.
He was damned good at that. Sherlock had never been able to pull it off for more than a few hours at a time, and had settled for something slightly less highbrow, but not one whit less arrogant. He was a slightly ruffled black-maned British lion—not quite so imperturbable and mythic as Mycroft's sphinx imitation, but good enough to be going on with.
He had Mycroft's limo drop him at his hotel. He paused for a moment on entering his room, senses on alert, hyper-vigilant after months on the hunt with enemies on all sides. He took his mobile phone from his breast pocket, slipped off his coat, tossed it on the bed, then prowled the space, checking the restroom and closets, checking the line of sight from nearby buildings. He closed the curtains. Only then did he slip off his shoes and socks and let himself coil into the modest armchair that came with the room.
"Oh for God's sake," Mycroft had chuffed on seeing Sherlock's room reservations, "I assure you, you can afford a decent hotel suite!"
Sherlock had not wanted what Mycroft considered a decent hotel suite. The shabby, slightly worn single room he'd booked suited him, as the rooms at 221B Baker Street had suited him.
He looked at the mobile phone cradled in the palms of his hands, considering for the hundredth time what he wanted to say to begin this. I'm not dead. Let's go out for dinner. No, no. Maybe to John, who'd at least understand the reference—though probably not to John, either. John would think it was The Woman come back to annoy him. In any case, it wasn't the place to start with Molly, who knew he was alive, and who'd never gone out to dinner with him, or dared to hint at the possibility. Molly didn't have the brass of The Woman. Only recently had Sherlock even taken the time to consider that, instead, Molly was heart-of-gold.
In the end he settled for the same brief message he'd resolved on over and over during the months away, as he had imaged this return.
I'm back. You still count. SH
He hit send, and waited. He could so easily imagine her response – he could imagine a million responses. He had imagined them—not, he assured himself, for sentimental reasons. No. He was Sherlock, and he was just running through probabilities, evaluating various contingencies. In some she was happy, in others angry, in still others she was indifferent. He didn't have much time to review the variations, though. It was only a few seconds before the phone vibrated and her response came up.
Are you all right? Do you need anything?
Nothing. I'm fine. Just happy to… He hesitated, backspaced, then typed again, Just glad to be home with friends.
Have you told John yet?
No. He and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade are next. It's a different situation. They didn't know. You did.
It was a long wait till the next text arrived, as though she'd had to try several times before she had a version she was willing to send.
Yes. Be gentle with them, Sherlock. Please? They hurt. A lot.
I know. John's likely to punch me.
They all are. Greg and Mrs. Hudson, too. You're going to be black and blue all over.
There wasn't a better way, he typed, not sure why he wanted to know she understood. He knew he did, though.
I know, she typed back. I still don't know what was going on since you left. I don't even really know everything that was going on then. But I trust you.
You kept my secret.
Yes. Always. I mean, I don't think I'm special. But so long as it wasn't torture or drugs. Of course I kept it.
Now he was the one who was slow to respond, fighting for the right thing to say. Drugs and torture were actually among the possible threats she'd faced, and he'd made sure she'd known that. She'd risked her life, her job, her reputation, and lied to people she loved and respected, for no more reason than because he'd asked her to. She'd saved his life…and he was almost certain she'd hurt as much as those who hadn't known. Maybe more. Knowledge could be a heavy burden—heavier when it had to be kept secret. Heaviest when you could see the damage done by silence. In the end he typed words that never came easily to him.
Thank you, Molly Hooper.
It's all right. No big thing. I promised I'd do what I could.
He snorted in amusement, seeing her in the room he'd built for her in his mind palace, imagining her self-deprecating attempt to undervalue her own actions. You're supposed to say, "You're welcome, Sherlock."
You're welcome, Sherlock. XD
Oh, good Lord. Please do not contaminate my phone with emoticons.
XD :P :P :P XD XD XD
I shan't text with you if you behave like that.
It won't give you cooties, Sherlock.
In his mind he could hear her laugh. Then he realized how rarely he'd heard her laugh in person…or had an exchange in which she seemed so at ease. Or in which he himself had felt so at ease. His fingers flashed over the tiny keys, thumbs moving quickly.
It's common and trite, and debases the elegance of the form. He stopped, looked at what he'd typed, then added, But… He frowned, trying to work out what he wanted to say. But it's all right. You still count. Even with emoticons. You always will.
It was a very long wait before the text came flashing in. You, too. Then, I missed you.
This was deep water. Dangerous. Out of Sherlock's safe depth. Feeling like he was gambling his very soul, he keyed in, I missed you, too.
The room was silent and dim. He could hear his pulse—there wasn't much else to hear. It was slightly elevated. Not out of control. Just a touch quick. Each second that went by he was more aware that somewhere she was sitting, just like he was, with only their phones to tie her to him.
Thank you, Sherlock.
You're welcome. It was time to change the topic. Time, and past time. So. Have you seen any interesting bodies, lately? Intriguing patterns of rigor mortis? Unusual bruising? Anything worthy of a report on my website?
A few things. Then she sent, Sherlock, I am going to see you again, aren't I? More than just this text? I mean, you don't have to. And I know you've still got to talk to the others. I just wondered.
Oh bloody hell, Molly, do try not to be stupid. Of course you'll see me. Once this is over I'll be in and out of the lab all the time, just the same as always. Where else can I count on privacy and time alone with the corpses?
Of course. You're right. Of course it will be the same.
He could hear her voice in his mind palace, stressed and slightly hurt, and it made him want to run in circles and whine like a dog hearing a siren. He had to fight not to answer reflexively – and even then he could only type, I am what I am, Molly.
Don't ask me to be what I'm not. He could see his hands, fingers tightening on the mobile, the faintest tremor shaking the screen.
No. I won't even ask you to be all that you really are. A short pause, and then, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that.
Don't be sorry.
I am, though.
Don't be. It's true. You shouldn't have to be sorry for truth.
Why not? It's the one thing that hurts the most.
No. Lies hurt the most. I should know. He'd typed and sent the last messages so fast he'd hardly had time to censor them—and the time he'd had he hadn't used. He stared at the screen, looking at the short chain of messages.
Her response jogged the message scroll up another notch. I suppose you know about both of them…and, no, that's not supposed to be nasty. Just true.
Yes. I understand.
Don't ask me to be what I'm not, either. Okay? I mean, I can't stop being me. And I can't stop caring. I can't change that. I've tried.
I won't. Then, carefully, he typed, Some things are difficult. But you're worth it, Molly Hooper.
Thank you. You are, too. Sherlock, don't take this wrong. I mean, like you said, you are what you are. But just so you know? I really love you.
He stared at the screen for far too long…so long she typed, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that.
It's all right.
No. It's not. It's never all right.
Molly, it's all right. Look, I just wanted to let you know I'm back. It's a place to start. Maybe…maybe lunch sometime, too? And of course, the lab.
Yeah, I'd like that. Lunch and lab. And, yeah, it's difficult. But you're worth it.
You, too. Molly?
LV U 2
This was why people liked emoticons and abbreviations. You could take terrifying, monumental things that could be taken all wrong and snowball out of control and ruin your life, and make them seem light as dust motes in a sunbeam. And you could send them on their way without your self-control catching on in time to stop you. Now his pulse did thunder, as he waited for her response. It was a relief when it came.
LOL. Oh, Sherlock! That's…what did you call it? Oh, yeah. Common and trite. And debased, too. But…thanks.
You're welcome, Molly.
Goodbye, Molly…and good night.
You, too, Sherlock.
Yes, me, too.
He waited for several minutes, then, to be sure she wasn't going to toss in one more text. When she didn't, he uncoiled himself and prepared for bed, reviewing the days to come, and pondering the challenges he still had to face—and the challenge he'd somehow miraculously just met.
To hell with Mycroft and all his platitudes about caring. Caring…mattered. Caring about Molly mattered.
He didn't know where their friendship was going. But for the first time he was aware that it was both a friendship and that it was going somewhere.
…and he had to admit, he wasn't bored.