Title: Reconstructing Life
Disclaimer: Don't own anything.
Summary: Sherlock Holmes is alive again, and Molly Hooper can see that something has changed him profoundly. As she begins to realize that the change in his behavior is mostly evidenced in his interactions with her, she also starts to suspect that she has more to do with the cause of his transformation than she would ever have imagined - even if she doesn't know how or why.
Author's Note: This is the first chapter of what is basically the second part/conclusion of Deconstructing Death. It picks up RIGHT where that one left off. If you haven't yet, I would read that one first, it sets up this whole thing. The last chapter of that fic pretty much let us know exactly where Sherlock's head (and heart) are at - now we get to see what he does about it from Molly's POV. Thanks for reading!
She hadn't seen him in nearly two years.
Slowly, Molly turned around. There he was, same as ever. Dark curls, pale skin and impossibly blue eyes. He returned her stare, his blue eyes unreadable in the dim light, before finally speaking.
She had to fight the urge to launch herself at him and throw her arms around his neck. The relief at seeing him safe and sound, standing there in front of her, was almost overwhelming. At the same time, she wanted to slap him for how he'd left her...in the middle of the night, with nothing waiting for her in the morning except a note saying she might not see him for a while and thanks for all she had done for him up to that point.
She knew he didn't stand on ceremony most of the time, and social niceties were something he considered trite and a waste of time. Still, he could have at least woken her up to say goodbye if he knew he was going to be gone for two whole years.
Then again...maybe he hadn't known.
"It's done," he explained a bit awkwardly when she hadn't said anything for a few minutes, lost in her own thoughts.
She nodded slightly. "I figured."
Another moment passed of them simply looking at each other before Molly finally spoke again.
"Are you okay?"
He took a breath, then replied, "I don't know."
The tone of his voice, the deep weariness that was unmistakably colored with some sort of unnamed tension, made a little piece of her heart break. Sighing softly, she beckoned him over to the bench by the lockers and said gently,
"Come and sit down for a minute."
To her great surprise, he didn't argue with her or make a flippant comment. He simply did as she asked and sat down, somewhat stiffly, on the bench beside where she stood. She came around to stand in front of him and very hesitantly hooked her finger under his chin, unsure of her welcome.
"You have a cut on your face. A pretty big one."
One of his shoulders lifted in a slight shrug, his eyes now illuminated in the moonlight streaming through the window as he scanned her face.
"Nothing I'm not accustomed to at this point."
"Will you...can I clean it for you?"
"There's really no need."
He hesitated for a beat, then nodded his acquiescence. She walked over and nicked a first aid kit from the wall, coming back to stand in front of him once more.
"Turn your head."
He obliged, his eyes roaming her face as she steadfastly focused on nursing his cut. He didn't complain or flinch, but she felt a bit self-conscious and as usual, compensated by trying to fill the silence. She thought about asking him where he got the cut in the first place, but thought better of it. It might be something he didn't want to relive.
"Sorry if this stings. I'm not used to working on living people."
She caught a slight twitch at the corner of his mouth before he replied, "It's fine. Technically, I'm still dead, so this should be perfectly within your comfort zone."
She gave him a tiny smile at that, but went on, "I don't think there are any bandages small enough to...I suppose maybe there are some butterfly bandages..."
"Don't fuss, Molly," he said, the gentleness in his tone belying the somewhat curt response.
She shrugged and replied, "Sorry."
There was a slightly prolonged silence as she finished up with his lip and began packing the first aid kit back up.
"Thank you," he said suddenly, the timbre of his voice even lower than usual as he broke the stillness that had settled between them, the slight awkwardness that was ever present.
"Not a problem," she said, "Just needed some cleaning up, is all."
"No, I mean thank you, Molly," he clarified, "For everything."
She stilled, then looked at him and was confronted with the most guileless and sincere expression he'd ever given her. Swallowing, her heart lodged somewhere in her throat as she fought back a sudden rush of tears, she replied, "I was worried. You...were gone a long time."
"I know. We had to make sure there was enough evidence to convict before wrapping up. The case is now airtight, thanks to me, and the last two gunmen have been arrested by Mycroft's people. Contract killers. They'll go away for a long time."
"What about your reputation? The press and all that?"
"As soon as this story breaks, that'll be a moot point, obviously."
"Right, obviously," she repeated, shaking her head at herself, then followed it with, "And you're welcome, by the way. I was glad I could help you. In the end."
There was another small silence that passed between them, and then words couldn't have expressed her utter shock as she felt him take her hand, her fingers lacing with hers. In spite of all that had happened, all that had passed between them and the years it had been since the last time she'd been forced to confront this particular albatross that had hung around her neck from the moment he'd walked into her lab for the first time, she felt her breath catch.
He had never initiated any physical contact with her before. Well...almost never. She preferred to keep the one and only time it had ever happened before stashed at the back of her mind, along with the painful memories of a lovingly wrapped present and a silly rhinestone-studded dress.
His voice, low and gravelly, broke into her thoughts.
He sounded tired indeed, but she knew he wasn't speaking about sleepiness. There was a much deeper fatigue that plagued him – it was written all over his posture, his face and, most jarring of all considering the person that he was, the way his fingers held loosely to hers.
Molly could do little more than tighten her own fingers slightly, stare down at the top of his bowed head and ask him in a hushed voice, "What do you need?"
Her words caused him to look up at her, and he spent a moment studying her face before asking, "Haven't you done enough, Molly?"
"I don't know," she shrugged, a shaky laugh escaping her as his thumb began to absently brush her knuckles, "Define 'enough'."
His lips twisted in an imitation of a smile as he listed perfunctorily, "Forcing me into a confession of weakness through a previously unnoticed and singularly impressive if not astounding depth of perception, risking your career not to mention your life in helping me fake my own death, sheltering me in your home while I sorted out the mess that was Moriarty's guilt trail and otherwise aiding and abetting me in lying to everyone I know for three years?"
She smiled wanly. "When you put it that way, it sounds like a lot. I'll give you that. But I...I'd do it all again."
His smile vanished, as did hers. Holding her gaze, he asked quietly,
"You don't regret it?"
"Helping you?" she exclaimed softly, "Of course not."
He swallowed, and his gaze dropped to their joined hands. He took a breath and said,
"I'm not sure I should be here. Sometimes I think...maybe I should just stay dead. Perhaps it would be easier for everyone."
"Sherlock, don't," she cut him off, feeling a flash of panic at the thought that he could easily choose to disappear for good and she'd never see him again, "Don't talk like that."
There was a lull in the conversation, and Molly could actually see him struggling with his thoughts before he admitted, "There was a time when I might not have come back. Before I met John. Before you. Before I...realized how much I..."
It was more than a little disturbing to her, seeing the usually self-assured and verbose Sherlock Holmes struggling with his speech, at a loss for words. It was more than she could abide in that moment, there in the dark with him seeming so dejected. It was breaking what bits of her heart she had left.
"I know. I understand what you're trying to say."
His eyes snapped up to meet hers. "Do you?"
"Yes, and it's fine. It's okay to need people. To have friends you have to rely on sometimes."
He drew a deep breath, holding her gaze, and repeated flatly, "Friends..."
"Yeah," she said, giving his hand a little squeeze before pulling her fingers from his grasp and finishing, "We should get out of here before someone comes in."
He seemed a tad rattled for a second, frowning and taking another steadying breath before replying, "The only other person on duty is your relief, and he obviously has no reason to be coming into the ladies locker room at this hour. Being a man."
Molly quirked her brow. "You're a man and you're in here."
"Yes," he said softly, "And I had a good reason. I wanted to see you."
"You could have waited for me outside."
"I'm tired of waiting."
She swallowed, squirming a bit under the intensity of his gaze. "Well, you never were very patient."
"Not one of my virtues, no."
Smiling in spite of herself, she glanced up at him and asked, "Do you have somewhere to go? Tonight, I mean?"
"I don't know," he replied, his baritone even lower than usual, "Do I?"
"Well, I mean, are you coming home with me?"
"Are you inviting me to come home with you?"
She couldn't put her finger on it, but something about this conversation was different. He was different. Before she could stop herself, she was saying this out loud.
"You've changed, you know? Since you left."
He seemed to stiffen a bit at this, then replied, "You're not the first person to say that to me recently."
"No," he said, then took a step closer to her, "Go on, then. What's different?"
She shrugged, thought for a second, then replied a bit awkwardly, "You seem...warmer, somehow. I don't know, I guess that doesn't make much sense."
Something in his features softened and his eyes suddenly seemed like they were shining at her. It reminded her of that night, in the lab. The night he'd come to her for help. He looked down, hesitated and then very tentatively reached out both hands and hooked her fingers with his for the second time that night, making Molly flush again from the contact. She hoped he couldn't tell, in the darkness. Finally, he spoke.
"I have changed. More than I realized, until recently."
She didn't know why, but having him standing so close to her, holding her hands in his, made her feel extremely uncomfortable. It was as though she didn't know how to handle a grateful Sherlock Holmes. She gave his fingers a friendly squeeze.
"Come on, let's go. I'm so nervous, standing in here like this."
Pulling her hands from his, she turned and grabbed up her bag and the files she was taking home with her. She turned around to find him holding the door open for her, and they left the hospital in companionable if slightly heavy silence.
They took the Tube back to her flat, with Molly leading the way out of sheer habit. Once they were on the train and seated, it suddenly struck her that Sherlock hadn't objected and insisted they take a cab. Glancing sideways at him, she tried hard to read his mood, as she used to be able to do. She didn't know why, but something about the way he was acting was disquieting her. She couldn't pinpoint what was rubbing her the wrong way – all she knew was that he was giving off a strange vibe. As though he was slightly defeated, discouraged, out of his element – she just wasn't sure how to classify it.
That, plus the fact that he was being nicer to her than he'd ever been before. It was almost as though he had some kind of PTSD, and his personality had changed as a result.
When they got to her place, she fumbled with the keys a bit out of some vague nervousness. To cover it, she did what she usually did and rambled slightly.
"It's sort of a mess," she explained as she pushed the door open and walked in ahead of him, "I obviously didn't expect you today, but...I suppose the state of my flat isn't really high on your list of concerns right now."
"I'd say not," he muttered as he followed her inside and shut the door behind him.
She walked straight into the kitchen and set her things down haphazardly on one of the stools before calling over her shoulder,
"Did you want some tea? Or maybe something to eat?"
He didn't respond, and so she simply kept talking as she flipped the switch on the kettle.
"I have some wine, if you want something stronger. I ran out of whiskey a few months ago and didn't bother getting more...I guess I should have. Don't have much in either, but I can make you some eggs on toast if you're hungry? There are crisps, too, but I think they're probably past their date...I think they're leftover from a party that I went to ages ago..."
She turned around and found him standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with his arms crossed as he silently watched her bustling around her cupboards. She stilled as she took stock of him – it was still odd to see him wearing jeans. These weren't ill-fitting like the ones she'd gotten for him just before he left, and they were nicer, but jeans all the same. He was wearing a blue button-down shirt that was much more casual than the shirts he normally wore, and his hair was just a tad too long. It flopped messily across his forehead, the dark curls even more untamed than usual.
But it was the look on his face that stopped her. There was a tranquility to his expression, a softness around his eyes as he regarded her, the corner of his mouth turned up just slightly. It made him look younger, somehow, even after everything he'd been through and everything he still had to face.
It also looked alien on him. Swallowing her worry as best she could, she asked candidly,
"Sherlock...are you alright?"
His brows raised slightly as he replied, "Yes. All things considered. Why?"
She shook her head and fiddled with the tea tin in her hands. "I don't know. You just seem not yourself. Not that...I mean, I'm sure everything that's happened has changed you a bit, like I said, I just..."
She broke off, feeling insipid and silly all of a sudden and sure he was wishing he'd just gotten a hotel instead of subjecting himself to this henpecking. Sighing, she turned and opened a cupboard as she finished,
"Never mind. I don't mean to be overbearing."
She stood on her tiptoes and tried in vain to get a grip on the honey, wondering for the umpteenth time why she even bothered with the top shelves when she couldn't reach anything on them. She was startled out of her thoughts as he stepped up behind her, putting his hand on her back as he reached over her with his other arm and easily grabbed the bottle.
He handed it to her and asked, a note of humor in his voice now, "How exactly do you manage when I'm not here?"
Reddening, she replied, "I jump up on the counter."
She turned, but he didn't back up. He was smiling slightly at her.
"That's not very safe. It is resourceful, though."
"Well...those shelves weren't made for short people and it seems a shame to waste the space," she replied, pushing gently past him to get the mugs out. He finally retreated, leaning back on the little island, still observing her movements with unnervingly keen eyes.
"Well, do let me know if you'll be needing more assistance. Wouldn't want you to pull a muscle."
"I'm used to it by now."
"Why not just move the things you use often down to the lower shelves? That seems like it would make the most sense."
"I've done that already."
"Your honey was on the top shelf."
"Yes, but I don't really take honey in my tea. I know you do, though. In the evenings."
He didn't respond, and she went about fixing their tea.
"Are you hungry?"
"Not really," he replied, "Are you?"
She smiled as she turned around and handed him his mug. "Starving, actually. Might make those eggs after all."
He stared at the mug for a moment, then cleared his throat and said, "I could run and get something for you."
Molly blinked. "What? No, really, that's..."
"Or I could take you somewhere. For something better than eggs."
She didn't say anything right away, and he looked up and caught her eyes with his. Finally, she managed, "I like eggs."
At his, he shot her a full smile and replied, "You like the fish curry from the place up the road more. Made spicy. And a pint of cider, which doesn't accompany the dish well at all, but to each his own."
She laughed lightly and pointed out, "You can't put alcohol on a take away order, Sherlock."
"Get your coat," he commanded gently, straightening and setting his untouched tea on the island.
"But you just said you weren't hungry!" she protested as he reached past her and snatched her coat from the stool without waiting for her to act.
Holding her coat up for her to put her arms through, he retorted, "You just said you were. Besides, I think I owe you more than a little dinner in a cheap corner restaurant."
She shoved her arms into her coat mechanically and grumbled teasingly, "You should have suggested this before I made tea."
"I was busy."
"Right, of course," she replied wryly, then stopped and asked, "Hold on...is this safe? I mean, what if someone sees you?"
He shrugged and said unconcernedly, "Doesn't really matter. It's all about to come out anyway."
At this, Molly felt a cold dread seize her, and she didn't speak again as they left the flat. In her joy at seeing Sherlock again and her subsequent concern for his well-being, she'd completely forgotten the implications behind his coming back like this. What would happen when everyone found out...Mrs. Hudson and Greg. John.
She felt more and more nauseated at the thought as they walked up the road to the restaurant until, finally, she stopped dead and then backed up a couple of steps, clutching her coat collar closed against a relatively non-existent breeze. Sherlock turned to look at her, his brows furrowed in confusion.
"I...I've changed my mind, I think," she explained, her voice slightly shrill, "I don't think I'm that hungry after all."
He closed the distance between them, scanning her face, "What's wrong?"
She closed her eyes and sighed, and when she opened them again he was standing a foot away from her. She could smell the lingering scent of his aftershave.
"Actually," she said resignedly, "I sort of just want a drink now."
He looked like he wanted to question her further, then thought better of it. Glancing over his shoulder briefly, he reached down and caught her hand in his, pulling her behind him as he crossed the street and turned the corner to the right.
"Come on," he said quietly, "There's a pub this way. It's only three blocks."
"You hate pubs," she protested weakly, and he shot her a look over his shoulder.
"Molly, will you stop arguing with me about everything? You said you needed a drink. They serve those in pubs. And to be honest, I wouldn't mind one myself."
Neither of them spoke until they were settled into a corner of the slightly dingy pub. The place smelled like frying fish and stale smoke, and Molly clutched her glass as she fought her roiling stomach. Sherlock waited for only a moment before asking again,
"What's wrong? Have I done something...?"
"No, I'm fine, really," she waved her hand, unable to bear the note of guilt in his voice. He'd gone through so much already, and now the last thing she wanted to do was make him feel bad. "I've...I've just been dreading this."
His eyes narrowed in confusion as he asked, "You've...been dreading my return?"
"No!" she almost laughed at his uncharacteristic thickness, "Not like that, anyway. I just...I'm afraid they'll all hate me."
"Everyone, I...Greg and Mrs. Hudson. And especially John. I...I just..."
Molly hated that she was stammering, but she hated the fact that her eyes were welling with tears in spite of her attempts to blink them back even more. She scrubbed her face with her hands, letting out a breath...she didn't have to worry about smudging her makeup because she never wore any to work anymore.
There hadn't been anyone there to impress in a very long time, she thought as she swallowed past the lump in her throat.
"Don't be an idiot, Molly," he retorted, suddenly brusque and clearly uncomfortable with her emotional meltdown, "If you're worried about consequences, don't. You lied to them because I asked you to, because it was imperative that they believe..."
"I know, I know all that," she interrupted, waving her hands tiredly, "It doesn't matter."
He didn't respond, and she figured this was because he didn't know what to say to her. Sherlock Holmes wasn't one for disingenuous words of comfort, and he knew as well as she did that there would be backlash. It would have been cloying and dishonest to try and pretend that the people he'd left behind wouldn't be dumping some of their anger, hurt and resentment on Molly's shoulders as well as Sherlock's. Finally, when she'd managed to work through the impulse to burst into tears, she sighed and assured him,
"I'm fine. Really."
Holding her gaze, he sighed and said in a low voice,
"I'll try and shield you from as much backlash as I can. As far as your career, Mycroft has assured me that there will be no consequences for the role you played."
Surprisingly, she hadn't given much thought to her career since the night she'd made the decision to help him in the first place, and hearing him remind her only served to worsen her mood. There would probably be an inquiry, and even if she was cleared of any involvement or recriminations, she knew it would affect the way people looked at her. Worked with her.
"You weren't thinking about your job," he said, regarding her through narrowed eyes, deducing her mental state, "You're more frightened of the personal consequences. The friendships that have strengthened since I left...you're afraid this will ruin them."
She shook her head, taking a gulp of her drink before she coughed a bit and responded,
"I'm sure they'll forgive me eventually...at least, I hope they will. It's just that if I were them, I'd wonder why you felt you could trust someone else and not me. Especially John. He's your best friend."
"Don't use primary school terms, Molly," Sherlock snapped, taking her aback a bit. Something about this conversation was obviously frustrating him. "It's not a matter of who's a better friend, or even who is the most trustworthy. You do post-mortems for a living and I needed to be dead."
She didn't look at him, but something inside her was hurting at this last statement...stupidly, she told herself. Of course that's why he'd come to her, she knew that. She just hoped desperately that it didn't mean that the pretty little things he'd said to her that night in the lab, the night they planned the whole thing out, hadn't just been empty words.
"Well. Like I said...I was happy to do what I could. I mean that."
His eyes had changed by the time she did look at him, and he leaned forward a bit.
"There will be a cost to you, though. There has been already, and I'm at a loss, Molly. I don't know how to repay you. To be honest, it's something I've thought about to distraction while I've been away. Especially lately. You, and how the hell I'm supposed to show you how much I...how I go about expressing the depth of my..."
"I never expected any payback," she interrupted, wanting to save him from having to make this speech when it was clear he was so very uncomfortable, "Really, I didn't. You don't have to worry about it anymore. Just a simple 'thank you' was good enough for me, and you've already given me that. Several times."
Smiling, she reached out to pat his hand, and he turned his palm up and laced his fingers through hers. He stared at her hand for a moment before he murmured,
"Well, then, let me just say it once more...thank you, Molly. I am grateful. More than grateful."
As he finished, he gave her hand a squeeze. She took this as an indication that she should pull her hand back and did so, but then was left feeling like she'd yanked it away from him as he hadn't seemed ready to let go.
The new Sherlock was certainly a revelation, she thought as she took another sip of her drink. Of all the things she thought would change about his personality as a result of all this, she would never have imagined he'd become so physically demonstrative. That was the fourth time that evening that he'd voluntarily touched her.
Not that she was counting. She was past that.