A/N: Apologies to anyone who is waiting for me to finish my other stories. I WILL get them done! I promise! Meanwhile, enjoy this humble offereing in the meantime! Heaps of thanks to both WickedWanton for reading it over, and to Nocturnias for helping me figure out how to keep Professor Holmes from coming across as a creepy stalker taking advantage of a student. Thanks, ladies!
She was late. Damn, she was late and it was threatening rain and today was the day she was supposed to meet Professor Dunn's replacement. She'd heard conflicting things about Professor Sherlock Holmes and it wasn't helping her nerves any. He was brilliant, everyone seemed to agree on that much, but not everyone she corresponded with or spoke to agreed on more than that. She'd heard him described as both a 'deductive wonder' and an 'arrogant prick' and several other choice descriptions, very few of them flattering.
And she was going to be his teaching assistant for the remainder of the semester. Lucky her.
Why did Dunn have to decide to retire right at the beginning of the fall semester, anyway? He wasn't in ill health – that man would outlive them all, lucky sod – or being nudged out by the University board or the dean of the Chemistry college. No, he'd just decided out of the blue that he needed a change of scenery and buggered off to Tahiti with his fourth – or was it his fifth? – wife, giving only a week's notice and considerably increasing Molly's workload while the university scrambled for a last-minute replacement.
At least Professor Holmes had been available to take Dunn's place after only two weeks had passed. Apparently he'd spent six months on some kind of academic sabbatical from his previous posting – to which he'd then opted not to return. Again, there were mixed messages when Molly inquired as to why he'd done so; some said he left voluntarily, others whispered of some sort of disagreement with the University head.
But again, no one questioned his brilliance. The man had published more papers and garnered more accolades than any other professor in their mutual field. She knew that much from her own research even before all this; she'd read some of his papers and her opinion of his brilliance had already been well established. Too bad the man was so camera shy; even the university he'd left had no photos of him, no personal data at all – apparently their computers had been hacked at some point and every bit of information from his birth date to the color of his eyes had been deleted. Good to know he was a genius in more than one field, she supposed.
Getting to work with him was either the greatest opportunity she would ever have before finishing her doctorate...or the biggest mistake she could possibly make. That much she'd gleaned from speaking to the one former teaching assistant who was willing to talk about the man. "Oh, he's brilliant (that word again!) no doubt about it. A brilliant prick, but if you can put up with him, it's worth it. The things you'll learn – he pushed me in a direction I never would have gone, but the thesis I got out of it was worth every single critical word he ever said to me."
She had the feeling Greg Lestrade was giving her the first completely honest assessment of the man she'd heard. It was only after she'd hung up that she realized she'd forgotten to ask what Professor Holmes looked like!
Oh, well. No point fussing over lost opportunities; Lestrade was busy and although he'd been friendly enough she doubted he'd appreciate her calling him back for such trivial information.
She hauled the strap of her messenger bag tighter to her body, looking down as she rummaged in it for this morning's lecture, not wanting to have to dig for it in front of fifty bored undergraduate students in Intro to Chem. Unfortunately, she chose to do so just as the smooth pavement gave over to the cobblestones some idiot architect thought would give the university 'character'; the heel of her shoe caught, she cried out as she started to fall...
...and found herself suddenly crushed against the chest of a perfect stranger.
A perfectly perfect stranger, she thought dazedly as she gazed up at the face of her rescuer. Perfect, dark curly hair falling over his forehead; perfect blue-green, catlike eyes gazing quizzically down at her, perfect Cupid's Bow lips quirking in a slight smile; perfect pronounced cheekbones that just cried out to be stroked...
"Oh, um, sorry!" she belatedly stammered out as she realized she'd been gaping up at him like an idiot, making no move to disentangle herself from his grasp – his lovely, strong grasp, the tweed jacket he was wearing only the thinnest disguise over arms that felt quite muscular..."Thanks, sorry, stupid shoes, I should have looked where I was going, thanks for not letting me fall on my face!" she babbled as she finally pushed herself upright, if not quite out of his arms.
Shut up, Molly, she counseled herself silently as the stranger – not much older than she was, she thought hopefully, another grad student? – eased her back onto her feet, keeping a steadying hand on her arm as she bent down and awkwardly freed her shoe from where it had caught.
Hopping slightly, she managed to wedge her foot back into the black high heel – she should have just worn her flats, but she was tired of being the shortest woman in the room all the time – then gave her rescuer another awkward smile as she tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Great, now she would have to brush and rebraid it before she entered the classroom; nothing screamed 'respect me' to a class full of undergrads like a windblown head of hair on their instructor's head.
He still hadn't said anything, but he wasn't turning and running, so perhaps this wasn't as horrid a first meeting as she thought it was. "So, um, are you new? Here, I mean?" Oh, brilliant, show him your marvelous communications skills, Molly.
He nodded, his lips still curled in a slight grin. "Yes," he said, finally speaking, and oh! His voice! Chocolate covered velvet, a baritone purr that curled her toes in her shoes. "My first day, actually. I've recently...transferred, I suppose is the correct term."
She smiled, hoping desperately that it wasn't as sappy a simper as she suspected it was, fiddling with her messenger bag as she said brightly: "Well, I hope you enjoy it here! I'm Molly Hooper," she added, hoping to be gifted with his name in return.
Oddly enough, he seemed to react to her name as if he'd heard it before; her heart beat a little faster as she wondered if he was in the Chemistry program? That would be lovely; perhaps they could study together sometime, or help each other with office hours and grading papers...
That little fantasy was interrupted by his voice (oh, that voice...she could listen to it for hours...) saying: "Aren't you going to be late for your first lecture? Your students must be getting impatient by now."
She blinked at him, mouth falling open again. "How did you...oh, God, never mind! You're right! Sorry! I do have to...damn!" Then she hurried off, messy hair and the slight ache in her left ankle forgotten as she dashed off to her first lecture of the day.
Fortunately for Molly's peace of mind, she had a free period between that first lecture and the next. She used it to rebraid her hair and switch out her heels for the flats she kept stashed in her office for emergencies. They were scuffed and faded but were much more comfortable for her aching ankle than the three-inch heels had been.
She gulped down a cup of coffee and a bag of crisps, resolving once again to start keeping healthier snacks in her desk, then gave herself a critical once-over in the mirror. Much better, Miss Hooper, she thought to herself; makeup was all right – well, perhaps a dab of lipstick wouldn't hurt – hair was neat and tidy, blouse straightened and a-line skirt set properly on her hips. She gave herself a nod, then headed to her second lecture of the day. Only one more after that, then lunch, then her meeting with Professor Holmes.
Thinking about that meeting set her nerves clattering, so she focused instead on the gorgeous stranger who'd saved her from falling on her face earlier that morning. Too bad she hadn't got his name before racing off, but he'd been correct to remind her of the time.
How, she wondered as she headed down the hall to the lecture hall – ten minutes ahead of schedule, no point in being late twice in one day! – had he known that she was giving a lecture, as opposed to taking a class herself? Then she glanced at her messenger bag, and a grin crept over her face. Oh, clever! He must have seen her notes, the top page of which had been sticking out of the bag when she tripped. Or perhaps he'd noticed her ID badge clipped to the outside pocket? Or maybe it was the way she was dressed..She shook her head. It didn't matter; he'd figured it out and kept her from being any later than she already was, just another reason to be thankful to him.
Oh, her lecture notes...had she grabbed the right ones? She paused in the doorway to the lecture hall, rummaging through her bag to make sure...yes, there they were, whew, for a moment she was worried she'd have to dash back to her office...
"Do you make a habit of throwing yourself at people, Miss Hooper, or is it only me?"
Oh, that voice! That lovely, lovely, voice, coming from...directly in front of her. From the person she'd just bumped into while she was fumbling in her bag. "Sorry," she said, the word coming out automatically while her brain tried to process the fact that she'd stumbled into the very same man from earlier.
He looked utterly cool and unflappable as she groped after the right words, dismissing her apology with another slight curl of the lips. She wondered how he'd look if he actually allowed his mouth to form a proper smile, then chastised herself. Honestly, she didn't usually let a pretty face distract her like this! Of course, it wasn't just his face that was so pretty and distracting; his voice could turn her knees to butter, and his slender form was one she didn't mind towering over hers...
Get a hold of yourself, Molly! she scolded herself silently. He's just another student, like you. No better, no worse – well, she allowed herself the ego to reflect, possibly worse, since she was one of the best in her group. But judging by the sharp intelligence in his eyes (blue? green? blue-green? Coke bottle blue?), he was unlikely to be an idiot... "Are you lost?" she asked, as much to hear him speak again as to distract herself from her increasingly flustered thoughts. "Is there anything I can help you with, I mean? Anything you need? You can have me if...no, sorry!" she said, flushing bright red at her slip of the tongue. "I meant, what I meant was..."
Well, she'd wanted to know how he would look if he smiled fully, and now she had her answer: absolutely stunning. Even knowing that he was trying not to laugh at her didn't keep her from noticing how much younger he looked, how much more relaxed he seemed with his lips stretched wide in a smile that lit up his entire face. "No, Miss Hooper, I'm where I need to be," he said after he managed to bring himself back under control, although his eyes were still brimming with amusement. "I'm sitting in on this lecture, if you don't mind. I just wanted to get an idea of your presentation style."
Her presentation style...what on Earth? Molly gave him a hesitant smile and nod, then entered the room as he stepped aside, politely allowing her to go first.
To her disappointment he immediately took a seat at the back of the hall. Damn, she was really hoping to continue to chat him up, maybe show him she wasn't always a clumsy twit who couldn't string two coherent sentences together. But when she glanced up at him, he had his head down and was texting away on his mobile, so she gave a mental sigh and busied herself with organizing her notes and making sure the audio-visual equipment was working properly.
Forty minutes later she found she'd actually managed to forget his presence. There had been a bit of a Q&A session in the middle of her lecture that she hadn't allotted time for, but it seemed ridiculous to stick to a strict syllabus when students were showing some real enthusiasm for the subject matter.
By the time she did remember, her 'guest' had already vanished, along with the bulk of the other students. Biting back another disappointed sigh, she continued to answer questions posed by the four students who'd remained behind to quiz her a bit.
Glowing with the feeling of having actually inspired some students, she headed back to her office. With a frown, she saw that the door was half-open; had she forgotten to lock it again? Damn, she really needed to stop doing that; what if someone sneaked in and jimmied the lock to her desk and stole test questions? She'd lose her position for sure!
A slight sound from inside froze her in the act of reaching for the handle. Someone was in there! What should she do? Her mobile was probably at the bottom of her messenger bag, there was no one in the hall...damn, should she confront the intruder or go find help? If she left, what if they left as well? Her office was fairly well organized, but there would be no way of proving any wrongdoing if she didn't catch the perpetrator in the act...
"Do come in, Miss Hooper, it's your office, after all."
That voice...no, it couldn't be...what the HELL was he doing in her office? With a flash of anger, Molly pushed the door open the rest of the way and marched inside, glaring at the sight of her mystery man seated behind her desk as if he belonged there. "You're damn right it's my office," she snapped as she crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Waiting for you," he replied, sounding not the least bit intimidated by her. Sounding bored, even. He leaned against the back of her chair and studied her. "You really do need to remember to lock up after yourself. I presume you were too busy with your hair and makeup to remember something so mundane?" He gestured toward the mirror on the back of the door, and then toward Molly herself, as if that was some kind of explanation for how he'd deduced her so accurately.
Deduced her...a growing feeling of dread in her stomach, Molly slowly straightened and finally took in the details of her mystery man, the ones she should have observed from the start. The way he dressed, so formal – not the typical jeans and t-shirt that made up what was essentially the student uniform, but an expensive-looking tweed jacket over a crisp white shirt, pressed black dress slacks and his shoes...not trainers or scuffed loafers, but leather dress shoes. And he'd said he wanted to get an idea of her presentation style...
Slowly she raised her eyes to meet his. He was smiling, the small, secret smile he'd worn when she first met him, and he nodded. "Very good, Miss Hooper. I wondered if you would come to the correct conclusion on your own."
"Nice, nice to meet you," she said, slowly extending her hand, willing it not to shake as she continued to process the truth of his identity – and how wildly inappropriate her lascivious thoughts about him had been. "I, I look forward to working with you, Professor Holmes."
He took her hand in his own as he rose smoothly to his feet, his eyes sparking as the smile on his lips finally expanded in seeming appreciation of her own deductive skills. "I look forward to working with you as well. I believe we'll make an acceptable fit."