The few strands that had escaped Molly's braid whipped her face as she hurried towards Marks and Spencer. With only one week to go before Christmas, the street was packed and she had to perform several dodging manoeuvresto prevent collisions with shoppers and their heavy loads of boxes and bags. She didn't really mind, though; she loved everything about Christmas, and she enjoyed the special kind of buzzing energy that always filled the London streets that time of year.

This year, however, she had one more reason to be particularly jolly. A week earlier, she had received an invitation from Sherlock and John who were having a few people over on Christmas Eve for drinks and nibbles. The whole thing was obviously John's idea; he had signed his and Sherlock's name, but Sherlock had furiously crossed out his own several times with a pen. It hadn't stopped John from signing Sherlock's name again, which Sherlock had crossed out, and that had gone on a couple more times until John had obviously abandoned that particular battle. It had made Molly chuckle, but she continued thinking about the upcoming evening as 'Sherlock and John's party'.

Although the invitation clearly stated that she didn't have to bring anything, her mother had taught her that it was rude to attend an event empty-handed. That's why she was braving the stores so close to Christmas. She wanted to get a little something for John; she didn't know him that well, but he was always terribly nice to her and he never failed to stand up for her when Sherlock was rude. She also wanted to find a gift for Mrs Hudson whom she had grown very fond of throughout the previous months. Every time John called Molly over to pick up a body part he didn't want Sherlock to keep in the flat, Sherlock and John always got into a huge row, and Mrs Hudson always invited her in for tea and biscuits while her tenants shouted at each other.

And, obviously, she wanted to get something for Sherlock. Even though Molly had enough experience to know when a man wasn't interested in her, there was still a small, naive part of her that couldn't stop hoping that a small part of Sherlock kept coming to the morgue to see her. Or that he enjoyed her company. Or that one day he would wake up and realise that she wasn't the stupid, clumsy girl he never failed to bring out in her. Every time she had to leave the morgue in a hurry because she didn't want him to see her cry, she told herself that she was done, that he didn't deserve her, and that from now on she would only treat him coldly. It usually worked for a few days, but then Sherlock would walk into the morgue, his ridiculous coat billowing behind him. He would look at her with that pitiful expression that never failed to remind her of Toby when he wanted to be petted, he would tell her that he needed her, and all her resolutions would get thrown out the window.

Shaking those thoughts out of her mind, Molly entered Marks and Spencer. The store was filled with the same holiday energy that she had enjoyed on the streets, with the added bonus of Christmas music and warmth. Taking off her gloves and woollen hat, she made her way over to the home and furniture department. The last time she had gone to Mrs Hudson's for tea, she had complained about breaking her Christmas teapot, and Molly wanted to get her a replacement. She found something festive and colourful with Father Christmas and reindeer on it, and she picked it up with a pleased smile on her face.

John's gift was next on her list. She had originally thought about getting him a bottle of scotch because he had told her he enjoyed a glass in the evening once in a while, but she didn't know what he liked and she was far from a whisky expert. When she realised she was about to make a decision based on how pretty she found the bottle, she decided to go with a safer choice: tea. She rarely saw John without a mug full of tea when he was home, so she thought he would appreciate the assortment for tea lovers that she found. Mentally crossing another item off her list, she made her way over to the men's department.

She was a bit ashamed of how much thought she had put into Sherlock's gift. A lot of things had crossed her mind, but she wanted to get him something he would like, something he would use regularly. Maybe even something that would remind him of her. She had thought about giving him a book, perhaps something about criminology or forensics, or even a nice murder mystery, but Sherlock and John's place was already packed with books, and she didn't want to get him something he already had. She had tried discreetly asking John, but that had only prompted a rant about how Sherlock left his bloody books scattered across their flat where any good man could bloody trip over them. Not a book, then.

Sherlock seemed to have a sweet tooth, so she had thought about getting him some nice chocolates, but she wanted to give him something that would last. Cigarettes were out for the same reason, although she believed he would have appreciated that. One day, while looking at Sherlock as he had deftly tied his scarf, she had been struck with an idea. Despite John's complaints that Sherlock never took care of himself, Sherlock seemed very intent on staying warm. In winter, he never went out without his coat, scarf, and gloves. She would never dream of replacing his coat, but perhaps he would like a new pair of gloves or a new scarf.

In the end, the choice was practically made for her. Marks and Spencer had a very small selection of gloves, but they had plenty of scarves. She immediately eliminated the bright, colourful ones; Sherlock would never be caught wearing something like that in public. Instead, she settled for a woollen striped one in shades of black and grey. It wasn't too flashy, and it would look dashing with his coat. She couldn't stop herself from imagining Sherlock's reaction. Perhaps he would inspect the material, finger the wool and make that humming sound he sometimes made when he was pleased. Maybe his gratitude would earn her a small peck on the cheek; she had seen him do the same for Mrs Hudson, so why not her?

Feeling very pleased with her purchases, Molly started heading for the register to pay. On her way, while crossing the women's department, an item caught her eye. She had already decided on something to wear at the party; a nice silk blouse that she had been told brought out her eyes and that she never wore to work. It was perfect for a casual party. That dress, however, was too flashy, too fancy, and unlike anything she had ever owned. Yet, she was drawn to it. It was black, form fitting, and had a pretty rhinestone trim and fitting straps. Before she knew what she was doing, she was trying the dress on.

It hugged her in all the right places. In fact, she couldn't remember ever wearing something this flattering. She looked nothing like the small, timid, lab coat-wearing girl people were used to seeing. In that dress, she felt like a woman. Turning to look at her figure from all angles, she got on her tiptoes and imagined what that dress would look like with her red high heels. It would undoubtedly add a dash of colour to the outfit, something Connie Prince always used to praise. The rhinestone straps were uncomfortable and itchy, but she could probably get away with wearing her black bra underneath. Yes, she truly looked stunning. Irresistible, even. Dressed like this, she was bound to make an impression at the Christmas party. Even someone as cold-blooded as Sherlock would notice. She also had the perfect rhinestone accessories to complete the outfit at home. Really, the more she looked at herself in the mirror, the less reasons she could think of not to buy the dress.

Later, at home, with Toby chasing bits of ribbons around, Molly wrapped up her presents. She took extra care with the box containing Sherlock's new scarf, making sure the wrapping paper was evenly cut and matched the lipstick she planned on wearing. The rational, annoying part of her mind told her that she was doing it in vain, that a sexy dress and red shoes would never be enough to turn Sherlock's head, but she ignored it. Right now, in her living room decorated with a small Christmas tree, with a glass of red wine, Christmas music, and her affectionate cat, she felt wonderfully happy and confident. It was exceptionally easy to believe that the Christmas party would be a huge success.

:::

Two weeks later, her optimism and confidence were all but distant memories. In all the scenarios she had created in her mind, she had never imagined the party going so badly. She should have expected it; she had been on the receiving end of Sherlock's sarcasm and hurtful comments often enough to know that a pretty outfit and a thoughtful gift weren't enough to make him look at her differently. She hated herself a little for hoping, and a little more for repeating the same old pattern.

She kept telling herself that Mrs Hudson and John had been very happy and grateful for her gifts, that the handsome DI had flirted with her a little, and that Sherlock had seemed genuinely sorry for hurting her feelings. She tried focusing on the fact that the evening hadn't entirely been rubbish, but she kept hearing Sherlock's harsh comment about the size of her mouth and breasts. Later, curled up in her bed with Toby, she had stroked his fur while swearing that she was done with Sherlock. That she could still admire his brilliance and his looks from afar, but that she was done hoping that he would one day see her as anything other than that girl in the morgue. She couldn't let him hurt her. It wasn't healthy.

So when Sherlock walked into the morgue a week after the party and insisted that he needed her to help him x-ray a camera phone, she only felt a small increase in her heartbeat. And when Sherlock unbuttoned his coat, revealing a brand new scarf, it was easy to pretend that it didn't hurt when she realised it wasn't the one she had picked out for him.