A/N: And here's the final part of this ridiculous trilogy. Not that I want to blow my own trumpet or anything but three fics in 24 hours. That's a record for me I think. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to bed, before any of you can mention anything that makes me want to write again. ;)
His Own Terms
He is forced to smile and pose for photographs and this is really not his area. He has already tried to remove his tie twice, but Mary has slapped his fingers away told him that if she sees him at it a third time, she'll make sure he regrets it.
Sherlock doesn't doubt that.
He hates small talk, hates it with a burning passion but, for the sake of everyone else's happiness (and he's not entirely sure that's a good enough reason to be sacrificing his sanity) he plays nice, laughing at John's father's jokes and complimenting Mary's mother on her input in choosing the venue. John keeps one eye on him, and his disbelief becomes more and more evident on his face as Sherlock goes on.
The yellow is unfortunate. Not because it doesn't suit her (because offensively bright colours do tend to suit her) but because it draws his eye. Every time she's in his peripheral vision, his pupils zero in on her, on her hand, linked with Tom's, on their little bouts of giggles between themselves, their silly smiles and inconsiderate levels of happiness. He allows himself to be yanked into another series of photographs, his eyes lingering on Molly and Tom as they cheerfully accept champagne from a passing waiter.
It's more of a grimace, but it'll have to do. He holds it in place while the photographer snaps away, the muscles in his face straining as they beg to resume his normal expression. Eventually it's over, and John announces that they'll be moving on to the reception venue.
"Have to ditch this, first," Mary says, waving her bouquet. "I'll put money on Mrs Hudson…"
John laughs sarcastically. "You have a lot to learn about my sister."
"She's staying off the champagne," Sherlock comments. "Interesting."
"Yes, thank you," John says exasperatedly, as Mary hitches up her dress and heads off towards the throng of guests. Once all the women are gathered, Mary turns her back on them, then tosses the bouquet high into the air. It soars in a large arc, and in a pathetic display of superstitious desperation, hands stretch into the air, clamouring for the flowers. It's plainly obvious to Sherlock that she's simply raising her arms to protect herself from getting battered by a bunch of roses, but even so, it's Molly's hand that closes around the stems. She turns a bright shade of pink, and Sherlock grits his teeth, his jaw setting in a hardened expression. She glances up at him, and he forces out a smile, holding it until she turns away to be fussed over by Mrs Hudson, while Tom stands with the rest of the men, clapping awkwardly as he balances two champagne flutes in one hand.
Sherlock rolls his eyes and heads for the car.
"What's the rush?" John asks, jogging to catch up then falling into step with him.
"I want to get this bloody tie off."
Luckily, he doesn't ruin the wedding with his speech. Some of his jokes fall flat (well, almost, John smirks, Mary sniggers, and Molly smiles) but on the whole it goes more or less all right. Mycroft watches him like a hawk throughout, his fingers steepled and resting against his chin, and Sherlock has to bite his tongue to keep himself from asking John, mid speech, why he bothered to invite him at all.
Once the dinner is over, and they move into the main hall for the party, Sherlock glances towards Mary, his fingers reaching for his tie. Noticing, she rolls her eyes then gives him the smallest of nods, and he yanks the knot open, then pulls the blasted thing from around his neck and unfastens the top two buttons of his shirt. At last, he feels as though he can breathe again, but then he sees Tom, with his arm around Molly's shoulders, her head resting against his chest, and Sherlock turns away.
"It doesn't take a genius to work it out, you know."
He hates that drawl, and hates even more the sick feeling in his stomach that assures him he knows exactly what Mycroft is referring to.
"They're cutting the cake in a minute, don't you want to go and get your place in line?" Sherlock says through gritted teeth.
Mycroft chuckles. "Of course, how very like you to lash out when vulnerable."
"I'm not vulnerable."
"Yes, you just keep telling yourself that, brother. Perhaps you might start to believe it."
Sherlock closes his eyes, remembering his promises to John: don't cause a scene, don't insult anyone, and don't be a dick.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I must congratulate the happy couple," Mycroft pauses, his lips twisting into a cruel smile, then adds: "And John and Mary, too."
He very nearly swings for him.
He lifts his head out of his hands and looks up to see Molly, sitting in the seat next to his, her brow creased in concern.
"Fine," he tells her, picking up his glass and draining the last of his whiskey. He sets the tumbler down heavily, and Molly's eyes come to rest on it, and stay there for a few moments before she returns her attention to his face.
"Are you sure?" she asks, glancing quickly back to the glass. "You don't normally drink is all," she says with a shrug.
"It's a wedding, Molly. Have to get through it somehow." He watches the couples who fill the dance floor, John and Mary in the centre, while the rest give them a respectful berth. He's jealous, he will freely admit, (to himself, at least, and that's a big enough step to be getting on with). He wants that closeness, that ability to talk without anyone else muscling in on your conversation, the excuse to touch, to be reminded of the existence of the person you're with.
"Molly," he begins, sitting up straight. "Would you like to dance?"
"What?" She looks at him as though he's sprouted a third arm, her eyes wide, mouth ajar, confusion written all over her face.
"Would you," he repeats, accentuating each syllable, "Like to, dance?"
She opens and closes her mouth several times before words eventually form. "How much whiskey have you had?"
Sherlock doesn't answer her question, and instead stands up, his hand outstretched, waiting for her to take it. She glances over her shoulder to Tom, who has a drink in each hand and is fast approaching.
"Ah, Tom, d'you mind if I…" Even Sherlock is surprised at the amount of pleasantness he manages to cram into his voice, but perhaps all that practice making small talk has left him better than ever at playing nice.
"Not at all," Tom says, nodding, though his eyes look a little anxious. "Be my guest."
Sherlock returns his attention to Molly and waits, hand still outstretched, until eventually she takes it and stands up. He hasn't danced for years, but he doesn't imagine Molly will notice if he's a little rusty. It's with a great deal of uncertainty that she places one hand on his shoulder and allows him to take her other hand in his.
"Just follow my lead," he murmurs, taking her by the waist and pulling her just that little bit closer. She looks shellshocked, like a deer caught in the headlights, and if he's being honest, that's exactly how he feels. He has so much he wants to say, but how can he say it when her fiancé is sitting twenty feet away from them, his eyes following their every move almost as closely as Mycroft is. John does a double take when he sees them, moving slowly to the music, Molly staring straight at his chest, either unable or unwilling to look into his eyes.
"I have something I need to say." The words are painful to get out, and his throat feels tight, restricted, and even with his top buttons undone, his shirt collar still feels snug.
"Oh?" Molly says, looking up briefly.
"It's important to me that you know this," he tells her, running through a million and one types of phrasing in his mind and imagining all the possible reactions she might have to them. He can't seem to settle on anything however, and so the words come out stilted, disjointed, as though a moron were uttering them. "I know I haven't always been…I mean…" He sighs frustratedly and Molly stays silent, her footsteps matching his, though the pulse in her index finger gives her away. She's certainly listening.
"There have been times where I know I have been…if I ever made you feel like - like you weren't good enough. I'm sorry, I'm so very sorry. It was never you, who wasn't good enough, it was just me. I was…well, I was an idiot."
She exhales a shaky breath, and the heat of it on his chest causes something to tug inside him. It's a strange feeling, one that he's not sure he'll get used to. He doesn't even know if it's normal, to feel such things, but he's so new to all of this that he's just accepting whatever is thrown at him, and worrying about it later.
"It was always me," he continues. "Always me who wasn't good enough. Never you. Not for a second, you."
"D'you understand what I'm saying?" he asks, sinking his teeth into his bottom lip in a poor attempt to keep his thoughts clear of his face. Mycroft is watching after all, and the last thing he wants is to be ridiculed by him after the song finishes. He's not sure his promises to John will make it through that.
"Yeah, I think so, but -"
"Well there we are then," he says briskly as the song changes, the soft melodies replaced with an upbeat bass line. He releases Molly, and before she can say another word, he wheels about and heads towards the bar, where Mycroft is already waiting, two glasses of whiskey sitting on the bar top.
"And what exactly did you gain from that, may I ask?"
Sherlock takes his whiskey and drains it in one go. Mycroft raises an eyebrow, but doesn't say anything, and merely gestures for the bartender to refill the glass. He doesn't understand. It was never about gaining something, it was about letting go. It was about losing, on his own terms. No room for 'what if' scenarios to enter his head now.
"It was never going to work, even if he weren't in the picture."
Sherlock doesn't look over to Tom, not wanting to see him, or even hear his name ever again.
"She's far too human for you."
"And what does that make me?" Sherlock demands, his newly replenished whiskey tumbler trembling in his vice-like grip. "If not human?"
Mycroft smirks, shakes his head, and downs his own whiskey. Sherlock slams his glass down and leaves, knowing full well that Harry Watson has just sneaked out for a cigarette. Now seems like the prime opportunity to make friends.
It's Lestrade's frown that causes him to turn around, and there she is, in that stupidly bright yellow dress (he likes it, no really, he does). Her eyes are red, her mascara smeared, and there are still traces of tear tracks on her cheeks, leaving a pale path through her make up. He's about to ask her what's wrong, because he can't tell, his brain's not functioning because the fact that he can't stand to see her so upset is overpowering his deduction skills. She steps forward, and she is mere inches away from him. He can feel her breath, smell her perfume, her shampoo, and that other distinctive fragrance that is just Molly, and he wants to reach out and touch her, but he's scared he'll break her, because he has done so many times before, when he's acted without thinking. He's not capable of thinking right now, he knows that he can't trust himself because his heart is hammering in his ribcage, his voice caught in his throat, and it's not until she takes him gently by the lapels that he dares to hope.
Her lips are soft, and he can feel the damp residue of her tears, but beyond that, he has no coherent thought. For the first time in his entire life, his brain falls silent. All the lights in his mind palace flicker out, and it's better than any hit he's ever taken. When she pulls away, his lips cling to hers until the last moment, but then everything comes rushing back, his mind palace bursting into life as his brain starts whirring again, and he wants to make it stop, wants that peace again, if only for another few seconds. He frowns, and then realises that the entire hall is silent. He looks to John, who is gawping at them, open mouthed, while Mary has abandoned her champagne to press her hands against her beaming face, her cheeks rosy like that of a giddy schoolgirl. Stamford meanwhile, is nodding in some sort of approval, while Mrs Hudson appears to be frozen on the spot, her hands clasped over her heart. Mycroft, who Sherlock knows has only hung around for the buffet and the opportunity to further provoke him, raises one dark eyebrow, but Sherlock dismisses it, and looks instead to Molly, her lipstick smudged, her expression caught somewhere between anxiety and exhilaration.
"Haven't you…" Lestrade begins slowly. "Haven't you got a fiancé?"
"Not anymore," Molly says thickly, and it's only now that Sherlock thinks to look down at her hand, specifically her left one, and more specifically her fourth finger.
The ring is absent.
"Really?" Sherlock murmurs.
She nods. "Really."
"What a dreadful shame," he mutters, and Molly giggles, resting her forehead against his chest. Physical contact is not something he tends to enjoy, but this…this is different. After all that yearning, all those times when he wanted to reach out and make sure she was real, now he can. His hand finds hers and he laces their fingers together, keeping a firm grip on her. He's not prepared to risk losing her, not when he's come so close to seeing her stumble off into a mediocre sunset with such a dull version of himself.
The hairs on the back of his neck are standing on end, and he's not sure it's entirely due to the fact that everybody is still watching them. He looks down at the floor, his teeth grazing his lower lip before he exhales softly. He glances at John, who is still gawping, except this time, he raises his hands in such a way that Sherlock knows he's awaiting an explanation.
He's not sure he can provide one.
"Well," he says at last, clearing his throat before he continues. "This has been rather fun but…" he glances at Lestrade, "I'm sure there'll be some sort of crime for me to solve in the morning…"
Lestrade folds his arms and raises an eyebrow.
"And John, Mary, I hope you have a wonderful honeymoon and um…"
Molly is trembling next to him, and he looks down in concern, only to discover that she's trying to stifle a snigger. She presses her free hand against her mouth and after a couple of deep breaths, she's regained her composure.
"Yes…" he says, frowning as he turns back to his audience. "Well, it's rather late so…"
"If I remember rightly," Mary calls across to them, "It was Molly who caught the bouquet earlier, wasn't it?"
"Yes," Sherlock replies quickly, "And then her impending marriage took all of five hours to fall apart. I hope you're proud of yourself."
Molly stiffens next to him, and the silence seems to grow all the more uncomfortable.
"Sorry," he mutters, quietly enough so that only she can hear.
"S'okay," she says with a shrug.
"Let's just…" John says, his gaze flicking between Sherlock, Molly, and Mary. "Let's just…one step at a time eh?"
Mary smirks, and raises her champagne glass, before downing the whole lot. John's eyebrows rise high on his forehead, but then he just laughs and collapses into his seat, his hand finding hers without a second's hesitation.
"Time to go, I think," Sherlock murmurs.
Molly nods, and, as dignified as he can possibly manage, he leads Molly towards the doors on the far side of the hall, not even bothering to try and keep his smile at bay.