"There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception."― Aldous Huxley
ETA: Now with Brit-picking courtesy of the lovely allofmyheart!
Molly Hooper was tired. Her shift should have ended ages ago.
She and Howard had practically been out of the door. Then the call had come in to expedite the toxicology reports on D.I. Brewster's John Doe. She'd taken one look at Howard's expectant face and deflated, her plans for a relaxing evening in front of the telly fading like the last of the autumn sunlight. "No, that's alright. You go on then, yeah? I'll take this one." She'd forced a pleasant smile onto her lips and shrugged back out of her coat.
"Thanks, Moll," Howard said, reaching for the door. "I'll get the next one."
She hadn't even tried pretending to herself that next time would be any different. Howard had a wife and two boys waiting for him at home while Molly had...well, Molly had Toby. She hadn't even got her scarf hung back up before the door swung shut behind Howard's rapidly retreating back. With a deep sigh, she had picked up the files and headed back into the lab.
As with anything one is asked to do after five o'clock on a Friday afternoon, the reports took ages longer than she had anticipated and it was nearly eight before she finally shoved her completed findings into an evidentiary envelope and sent it on its way. Then she headed for the locker room, ready to shed her scrubs and the scent of death that clung to her whenever she worked in the morgue. She yawned and thought fondly of a nice cuppa with Toby curled up in her lap, if he was feeling tolerant.
She was absent-mindedly debating the relative merits of a curry versus the Chinese takeaway that only delivered if she ordered two main courses when she opened the door to her locker.
Molly flicked a glance at her reflection in the mirror on the inside of the door and saw a ghost.
She jerked backwards in surprise and promptly fell over the bench, landing hard on her backside with her legs spraddled.
A dark shape loomed over her, and Molly Hooper's first real look at Sherlock Holmes after more than two years was upside down and backwards, as viewed from her graceless position on the locker room floor. Which about summed up the entirety of their relationship right there.
He looked exactly the way she remembered him, if inverted. His skin was still as pale as porcelain and his eyes, dear God, his incredible eyes, were narrowed at her, but whether in concern or because he thought she was an idiot, she couldn't say and didn't especially want to find out. His dark hair still curled riotously across his forehead. It needed a cut, but she had always preferred it this way, tousled and untidy. It was the only thing about him that ever looked at all out of place.
She scrambled to her feet before he could offer to help her up, which he might have done given long enough to remember that he was supposed to, and then stood, more or less calmly, less than five feet from Sherlock bloody Holmes.
"So. You're back then." She flinched inwardly, feeling inane. She waited for the past two years to be stripped away, for him to raise a sardonic eyebrow and say in that bored voice of his, 'Obviously.' But he didn't. He regarded her with mild eyes, but quirked that small lopsided smile of his that he showed so rarely. The one she had not spent the past two years thinking about. Not at all.
"Yes, Molly. I'm back."
And there it was, the familiar baritone that had, for so long, been relegated to nothing but her memory and that one set of autopsy tapes she happened to be recording once while he was deducing, loudly, in the lab across the hall. She couldn't have repressed her shiver if her life depended on it.
"Oh, well, that's good then." She bobbed her head and wished she had refreshed her makeup after lunch, and then she wished that she hadn't wished it. "Um, welcome back."
A long silence settled between them. That was not unusual, or it hadn't been before, at any rate. They had spent several years working together in near silence; sharing space more than actually being 'together'. She had enjoyed those times when he came to Barts and worked alongside her in the lab even though, generally, he seemed to forget she was there altogether. This was different. This time, he clearly remembered she was there. His cat's eyes were unfathomable, boring into her as if she was some especially challenging piece of evidence that he was attempting to get to the bottom of by sheer force of his gaze.
This wasn't the grand reunion she had envisioned, when she had bothered to envision anything. But then, even when she was envisioning something profound, she had known it would be more like this. She was still plain, simple and unassuming little Molly, that no one thought much about. That she had been the one to help him fake his death in front of the entire world wouldn't much come into it as far as he was concerned. Oh, she knew he was grateful. He appreciated that she had stuck her neck out for him, but this was Sherlock, and his brain processed gratitude differently from – well, everyone. She hadn't even seriously considered that he would come and see her especially when he returned. In her more reasonable moments she had conceded that she would most likely hear about his homecoming through Lestrade. They did see each other on occasion, when their caseloads happened to intersect.
Molly tried not to squirm under his scrutiny. "So, how've you been?" Just once she wished that she could have a conversation with Sherlock without feeling like a complete and utter nit.
"Dead," he said. His face was impassive, but she had known him long enough to recognize the flicker of humour in his eyes.
She laughed, a nervous giggle that she hated the sound of in the close confines of the locker room. "Yes, well, it looks like you're much recovered."
He did smile then, a real one. And strangely, she was happy to see that he could smile. There was something else in his expression that bothered her, something that, on Sherlock; she couldn't find a word for. On anyone else, she would have called it sadness.
"Um, so when did you get back? I bet John and Mrs. Hudson were happy to see you – I mean, of course they were, I just – "
"I've only just arrived on the seven o'clock train," he said, interrupting her stammering. "As to John and Mrs. Hudson's relative level of enthusiasm regarding my return, well, that remains to be seen."
Molly furrowed her brow, certain she had misheard. "You – you mean you came here first?" That couldn't be right, could it?
"Barts is on the way to Baker Street," he said, unwinding his scarf. "It seemed reasonable to stop off on my way."
"Oh, of course. I see." Of course, she didn't actually.
She was a clever woman. She'd done her studies at University College and become one of the youngest pathologists in the country. She'd had several papers published in different medical journals and even had a little side column devoted to her in an issue of Pathology Quarterly. Her mum had the clipping up on the refrigerator. She still only understood what Sherlock Holmes was on about maybe half the time.
She pressed her lips together and flicked a glance up at him. He was looking at her oddly again. She wondered if she had something on her face, but resisted the urge to look in the mirror to check. "So was there something you – uh, did you need something?"
His eyes lit up as if she had asked a question to his liking. "Yes, actually."
She couldn't help her flush of disappointment. He hadn't been back ten minutes, had barely said hello even, and he was here because he needed something. Of course. Of course, how silly of her. How foolish of her to think that he was there to see her. He was still Sherlock. He was still – "
"I need to say thank you, Molly, and – I'm sorry."
Molly blinked. "Oh. Well that's – oh." Unexpected is what it was. It wasn't that he never said thank you or apologized. He did, occasionally, but it was rare, and it only happened when he determined that the sentiment was well-deserved. It wouldn't have surprised her at all to discover that this was the first time he had ever uttered those two things within an hour of each other, much less within the same sentence.
He'd taken off his scarf and coat and laid them aside. Now he came towards her until she had to tilt her head back to see his face. He leaned down and kissed her, softly, on her cheek, the opposite of the one he had kissed three Christmases ago. Not that she was keeping track of that sort of thing. "Thank you, Molly Hooper, for helping me die. I couldn't have done it without you."
He towered over her, his presence just a bit overwhelming, his body boxing her in against the wall of lockers at her back. She took a step back and smacked her head on the open locker door. "Oh, ouch, whoops. That was – ha ha, well, uh, I'm glad I could help." She fidgeted, rubbing the back of her head, pleased to see she hadn't added the ignominy of a bleeding scalp wound to the evening. That really would be the capper on her day.
"You saved lives, Molly," he said. "More than just mine." There was no humour in his eyes now. He was intent and focused on her face and it was, frankly, a little alarming.
"I'm glad I could help." She gave him a tight smile and then looked away. She'd been willing to do almost anything for him back then. She would have been willing to do a hell of a lot more if it meant saving his life. Making use of her ready access to a varied supply of cadavers and falsifying a few scribbles on a piece of paper were the least of it. "You don't have to apologize to me though, Sherlock. You've nothing to be sorry for."
"Oh no?" He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Are you certain?" He looked almost amused, which annoyed her no end. Usually, if Sherlock was amused, it was because someone, somewhere was being spectacularly foolish. Quite often, that someone was her.
She squinted up at him with a flash of irritation wondering what he was getting at. "Of course I'm certain. What could you have to apologize for? You did what you had to do to keep your friends safe. I understood why you did it. I still do."
"You're angry with me."
"No, I'm not. Why would I be angry? Really I'm –" And then she stopped and considered, and then, much like a long overdue volcanic eruption, all the frustration and irritation, and yes anger that she'd been harbouring for the past two years came bubbling up to the surface all at once.
He was right. He was always right, dammit. She was not only angry, she was furious.
She could see him steel himself for the tirade she hadn't even realized she was about to unleash on him until she opened her mouth and it all poured out.
"But it's been more than two years! Two years, Sherlock! You never said it would be so long! Do you have any idea how hard that's been? And don't say you do, because you don't. It must've been hard for you – being away from your friends – and I'm sorry, but d'you know what's harder than being away? Being here and having to watch your friends mourn unnecessarily! They were my friends, too, and I've had to lie straight to their faces for two years – well less than that because we don't really talk any more, do we? You were what brought us all together – me and Mrs. Hudson and John and Lestrade. We were friends because you were our friend. And then you were dead, but you weren't and I just couldn't stand it. I couldn't stand to commiserate with them and laugh over old stories the way you do when someone who's special to you dies. I couldn't do it anymore because I knew! I could just open my mouth and say 'Guess what, ducks? Clever Sherlock's gone and done it again!', but I couldn't!"
Tears like she'd not shed after his 'death' rolled down her cheeks now in fat drops. She knew they were making her look blotchy and awful, but she didn't care. She knew that Sherlock hated dealing with tears because he didn't know how to deal with tears, and she didn't care about that either. Sod him, altogether. He deserved to be uncomfortable. The secret she had been honoured to share with him, honoured because he trusted her enough to share it with her, had been both a blessing and a curse. Knowing he was alive but being unable to tell anyone else had worn her down. The pain of two full years of wondering, of hiding the truth and having such a knot in her chest that she just couldn't bear to be around them anymore, of missing him, and missing them and feeling so much lonelier than she ever had before in her life because, for a while, she had been a part of something more and now that was gone.
"You never said it would be two years," she finished without looking at him. She sniffled and started fishing in the pocket of her scrubs for a tissue.
Sherlock held out a white handkerchief. "Here. Pax. And blow your nose."
She scowled and snatched the white square away from him. "Thanks."
He waited patiently while she blotted her eyes and wiped viciously at her nose. "Feel better now?"
And then, unexpectedly, she was wrapped in his arms. She nearly shrieked.
"I am sorry, Molly," he said. His voice was muffled against her hair.
She stood, stunned, for a moment and then finally put herself together enough to reciprocate his embrace. Tentatively, she put her arms around his waist and let herself hug him back, her cheek resting against his chest, letting herself relax into the warmth of his embrace. She was a little startled to hear the heavy thud of his heart, then felt foolish. Some pathologist she was.
"I am glad you're back, Sherlock. I've missed you." She hadn't meant to say it, but there it was. She had missed him even more than she had expected to, and that was saying rather a lot.
She could feel the rumble of his chuckle beneath her cheek more than actually hear it. "Clearly."
Molly let her arms slide free and took a step back so that she could look up at him again. "Is that why you came here first? So you could get the yelling part over with?"
"Partly that, and partly because Barts is, in fact, on the way to Baker Street. I rather think the 'yelling part', as you call it, has barely begun, however." He sighed. "Eventually I am going to have to tell John, and he's likely to dispense with the formalities and just shoot me." He looked aggrieved.
Molly blinked at him.
"I don't mean that literally, Molly," he said at her nonplussed expression and then narrowed his eyes in thought. "At least, most probably not. It may depend largely on whether he still makes it a habit to carry his gun with him." He retrieved his coat and scarf, still looking pensive. "How is he?"
It struck Molly suddenly that for all that she had watched John suffer terribly through the loss of his friend, and Mrs. Hudson and Lestrade too, Sherlock had had to do much the same thing, but alone, facing unknown dangers based on uncertain information and with no knowledge of when he might be able to return to his old life, if ever. Right then and there, as the realisation tugged painfully at her heart, she forgave him everything.
There hadn't been much to forgive anyway, not really.
"He's alright," she said, nodding. "I mean, he wasn't at first, of course, but then – well, it's been a while, hasn't it? He got – it got better. He's okay now." She chewed at her corner of her lip. "He's met someone. Her name's Mary. I met her once. I think – I think she's been good for him. I think she's helped."
It was hard to tell how Sherlock processed this information. He wasn't looking at her, but at some point off in the distance.
She could only imagine what must be going through his mind now that it was all said and done, now that he was back in London for good, and ready to step back into his old life.
On the night of the fall, after the chaos at the hospital had died down and the emergency responders had all gone on their way, she had snuck him out of the ambulance bay and into her mother's borrowed car and driven him to Cambridge station. Then she had sat and watched him board his train with her heart in her throat. He had walked away from his old life, had left everyone and everything that meant anything to him behind and ridden off into the dark night without a backwards glance. Reversing that process was going to be the most difficult thing he had ever attempted. She wondered if he realised that yet.
"Where did you go?"
"What?" He looked up at her again, seeming startled to find her still standing there. Well, that seemed right, at least. "Oh, yes. I went to Cairo initially and then from there to Yemen. Had to kick around in Prague for a month or so and then spent quite a lot of time in Azerbaijan, of all places –".
"No, no – I meant just now," she interrupted softly, and he looked startled. "You looked like you were somewhere else altogether. You're worried – not about getting shot, of course, but you are worried how he's going to react when he sees you."
Sherlock didn't reply for a time. He had gone still, and Molly thought how very strange that state looked on him. Nervous energy always seemed to keep him bouncing on the balls of his feet, always moving or fidgeting. If he was at all bored, Sherlock was restless. He wasn't restless now.
"I have never bothered to concern myself with the opinions of others," he said at last. "But John was my friend, and he matters."
For a split second, Sherlock's face was open and unguarded, and Molly saw that her first inclination had been the right one. He was sad, and more than that, he really was worried.
"He's going to forgive you, you know." She wasn't sure how she knew that it was absolution that Sherlock craved, but somehow she was certain of it. "I mean, he's probably going to hit you first, but you deserve that, and he'll forgive you, in the end."
His eyes widened almost imperceptibly, but aside from arching one dark eyebrow, he let it pass without remark.
"So what are you going to do now?" she asked. She started collecting her things from her locker, as much because she needed to look somewhere other than at him as because she actually needed to get her bag. "I mean, not right now, but when you're uh - resurrected, so to speak."
"Presuming that I do not, in fact, get shot and catch up with my obituary retroactively, I will start taking cases again immediately. The website only needs a bit of brushing up. I imagine the theatre of my return will be enough to chase a few worthwhile cases out of the woodwork on the basis of my notoriety if nothing else." He grimaced at the prospect.
"I suppose you know that your name was cleared," she said as the thought occurred to her. "With the police, I mean, well, and the press too for that matter. Someone issued an inquiry into that awful Riley woman's story, and it fell apart pretty fast when they really started digging into Jim – I mean Richard Brook."
Sherlock made an amused sound. "'Someone' indeed. It's refreshing to see my brother do something useful for a change. Perhaps he does still possess some tiny sliver of familial obligation."
Confused, Molly gave him a noncommittal smile. "Well, that's nice, isn't it? Family?"
Sherlock cut a sideways glance at her. "Yes, certainly – when they're not the ones putting your life in danger in the first place."
She wrinkled her brow at him, no less confused. "Oh –"
He shook his head. "Never mind, Molly." He slid back into his coat and tossed his scarf around his neck. "Come on. I'll walk you to the train." His back ramrod straight, he stood aside and gestured for her to precede him into the corridor.
Feeling terribly off kilter, she clutched her bag to her chest and let him walk her out of the hospital.
A/N: This entire fic came about from the .005 seconds in which we see Sherlock reflected in the mirror on Molly's locker during the teaser trailer for series 3. What can I say? I have a very vivid imagination and am also Captain of the Good Ship Sherlolly. All aboard, y'all!
Much of this story is already written, so the plan is to update with a new chapter at least once a week. Constructive criticism is always welcome, especially if you feel compelled to Brit-pick, as I am, sadly, only an American with Anglo pretensions. If you merely want to lavish the reviews section with praise and/or offers of hot and cold running Cumberbatches, please feel free to do that as well!
Many, varied and heartfelt thanks to the inimitable Katie F for beta-reading the pants off of this sucker; correcting an embarrassing number of run-on sentences and punctuation errors; keeping too many 'Colonialisms' from creeping into the Baker Street vernacular; and, perhaps most importantly of all, for squeeing in all the right spots. I O U, Astro!
Thanks for reading!