The dark, quiet baritone filled the room.
"You weren't joking, Molly, were you? You meant it seriously - that you wouldn't come back."
The woman locked eyes with the Consulting Detective, which was an incredibly tough task for her, as naturally, she would have lowered her gaze. This time, however, she wanted to be strong. Molly nodded.
"Would you stay if I apologized?"
"You aren't honest with me, Sherlock. Therefore, um..., no."
Molly could see the traces of the physical effort it had taken the younger Holmes to get down the stairs, sit there and talk to her, and the feeling of pity grew stronger in her. He had been going through a lot lately, yes, and she shouldn't be so hard on him, but she felt trapped like a helpless animal, the iron ring around her throat that was the pressure put on her and the expectations in her, threatening to suffocate her.
Sherlock's eyes were narrowed a bit and he was pressing his lips together. He tilted his head, frowning at Molly.
"What do you expect from me?"
The pathologist held the glance, noticing the brightness of his eyes, the dim light, however, restricting her ability to see their colour.
"My time is wasted on you if I have to explain it." Molly replied quite coldly, fighting the urge to step up to the Consulting Detective and run her hand through his unruly hair.
Sherlock's right eyebrow shot up in amazement and he shifted a bit in his position.
"You've changed recently."
"I... just don't let people... HANG ON!" Molly felt as if a cold shower had just hit her unexpectedly. Recently? How recently? She was aware that she might appear a bit reluctant to those few people who knew her well, as she was trying not to let others influence her too much anymore, but since Sherlock's memory loss, they had only met once and it would be impossible – even for him - to judge her change from that single encounter! He remembered – and he pretended not to!
"What have you just said?" She was now staring at Sherlock, a wild fury welling in her guts.
"I said you've changed recently."
"RECENTLY?!" she yelled. "How would you know?" The sound of anger that came from deep down her heart sounded like a furious roar of a tiger.
"Let me...," Sherlock started, but the upset woman interrupted him, raising a hand and signalling him to stop talking.
"Oooh, I see! You were just pretending – you remember very well!" Clenching her fists, she screamed slightly hysterically, her anger finding an outlet in an animal yell. "Argh! – There are really moments when I wish you were dead! That would save me all this bloody trouble!" Molly cried before she realised what she had said. She pressed her fist against her mouth, her gaze, that still held Sherlock's, terrified.
For the first time she could recall, the Consulting Detective gave in, lowering his eyes, and Molly wished the earth would swallow her right away. She had gone too far.
"I've tried very hard, Molly, but... I'm still here," he whispered, almost unintelligible.
"God, Sherlock, I'm so sorry! I...didn't mean it! Really! I know you did and I shouldn't have said this!"
Sherlock looked up, frowning.
"What do you know?" he asked suspiciously.
Molly stared at him for a moment, still feeling guilty about her remark. One should never ever lose control so much like she had just done, however hurt one may be. And still, she felt some of her confidence return.
Molly dropped her bag that she had so far clung to, taking a step forward towards the man on the steps. She took his left hand into hers, turning the palm up and exposing the thin but visible red line on his wrist. Sherlock didn't put up resistance, only looked at Molly intently.
"Your suicide attempt."
The Consulting Detective raised his eyebrows. "Suicide attempt? I would never..."
"Wouldn't you, huh? What's that scar then?" Molly said softly.
Sherlock wrested his hand from her grip. "It was an accident, accidental, without any intention."
Now it was Molly's turn to raise her eyebrows.
Sherlock sighed impatiently. "I wasn't... ok, but I had absolutely no intention to kill myself."
"Really? Why should I believe you now, Sherlock? Tell me just one reason! You lie to me whenever it is suitable for you, deceive me and take advantage of me, so why should I even care?" Molly burst out again. Her emotions were suddenly boiling over. On the one hand, she only wanted to help Sherlock get better, knowing that he was in emotional trouble himself and clearly seeing his physical struggle, but on the other hand, she was exasperated with being made everybody's marionette.
Sherlock remained silent and Molly huffed in exasperation, stretching out her hand to grab her bag in order to leave, but a sudden firm grip around her arm prevented it.
"Molly, I'm sorry."
The angry woman tried to shake off the Consulting Detective's hand. "No, Sherlock! Not this time. You and your bloody brother only want to use me, but I've had enough of it! You even pretended that you had still lost your memories when you haven't! Bastard!"
Sherlock got up arduously from his uncomfortable seat, stepping up close to Molly. She could perceive his scent and the grip around her arm becoming loose, almost tender. She felt her anger dissolve slowly, although she fought against it. This time she didn't want to give in. When his eyes locked with hers, she could see that the pupils were extremely dilated, black, dangerous pools. Molly tried to stay calm and told herself that this effect was most likely caused by the dim light, the drugs and the pain and had absolutely nothing to do with her.
"I'm sorry, Molly. Forgive me," he said, and the unusual softness of his voice touched a chord with her, making her resistance melt instantly. Due to the turmoil within her, she was unable to say anything and she felt as if she was drowning in those eyes.
Blink, Molly, or you're lost! her subconscious told her.
They were just standing there for a while, their gazes entwined. Molly tried to see behind those eyes to find out what Sherlock's real intentions were, but she couldn't see anything but pain, and she eventually managed to blink, avert her eyes and muster all her remaining willpower.
"I've heard this before, Sherlock. Do you really think you can go on hurting people, manipulating them just as you like, then apologize and everything's okay again? It doesn't work. Not anymore. I pitied you because you were so... weak and... helpless. But you aren't anymore, you're just pretending it! You still haven't understood the concept of friendship – it includes honesty, Sherlock! That's all I expect from you. You don't have to be nice and charming; you only have to be honest with me. You know, Sherlock, maybe one day you might need the help of your friends, but if you carry on like this, you won't have any anymore!"
"Why would I need anybody's help?"
"Because you're getting yourself into trouble all the time! Dammit! You've proven that a lot lately!" the furious woman yelled, stomping her foot in rage.
Sherlock inhaled sharply, letting go of her arm completely and closing his eyes. Only then did Molly realize that with her strong shoes she had hit the man's barefooted toe without even noticing it. She resisted the first impulse to apologize and laugh, instead she turned around, grabbing for her bag again.
"Will you be honest with me, too, Molly?" the Consulting Detective asked behind her back and the pathologist stopped in the middle of her movement. That hit. She had always been truthful with Sherlock, only this once had his brother's power forced her to be dishonest. She hadn't done it deliberately, like Sherlock, that was why this question hurt so much. She slowly returned to the tall man, who was still standing at the foot of the stairs, his face screwed up in pain, drops of sweat visible around his hairline.
"I know that your brother doesn't have that effect on you, but have you got the faintest idea what – for a normal person like me – it means to be intimidated by someone with a power like Mycroft's?" she hissed, "I... had no choice – but you had!"
To Molly's surprise, Sherlock stepped even closer, leaning in to her and whispering in her ear, "Let's be friends again, Molly Hooper. I would miss you."
Her knees threatened to buckle from the whiff of his breath at her ear and again Molly had to struggle to catch a clear thought. This was terrible. She was aware that Sherlock knew the means to make every woman melt – and used them deliberately. Although her heart was pounding and a part of her enjoyed the tall man's endeavours to regain her favour, she desperately tried to keep the upper hand in this skirmish. She took a step back.
"You, Sherlock Holmes, only miss people because you need them to get what you want," she spat. "You don't understand anything about being friends!"
"Then you should teach me. You want me to be honest? Ask me anything you want to know and I will tell you the truth," Sherlock offered, slightly provocatively.
Molly raised her eyebrows, tilting her head and looking at the Consulting Detective quizzically.
Molly contemplated which questions she could ask, and at least a hundred came to her mind instantly. However, she wasn't sure if she really wanted to know all the answers after all. For the time being, she decided to ask just one thing of him:
"I have many questions, but not all at once. This one, however, is the one that I want an honest answer to now: Will you be truthful to me, Sherlock?"
Molly didn't know if it was just wishful thinking, or if she had really seen a glimpse of admiration in Sherlock's eyes.
"Yes," was his plain answer before suddenly the man in front of her swayed, his knees giving in under him. He stretched out his hand for the wall to hold on to, but couldn't keep himself upright. Molly jumped forwards, grabbing his arm and laying it around her neck to support him to help Sherlock sit down on the stairs.
"I guess, it was a bit too much. I'm sorry," he said apologetically.
"Yeah, Sherlock. It definitely was too much. For you as well as for me. I'm sorry, too."
The Consulting Detective bent his head between his knees, inhaling and exhaling deeply, the dark curls no longer covering the bright line where the scalp was shining through. The memory of the operation and the permanent EEG made Molly's hair stand on end and she felt sorry for what Sherlock had been through lately. He was apparently nauseous and dizzy and Molly waited until his breath evened out a bit.
"We need to get you upstairs. Can you walk?"
Sherlock looked up to her, smiling weakly.
"To be honest, Molly, no."
"'kay," she replied, unsure what to do. Sherlock had resumed his position, head bowed, but he seemed to be better, going by his breath pattern. He moved closer to the wall on his left, patting on the empty space of the stair he was sitting on.
"Sit down. I'll need a moment."
"'kay," Molly agreed in the high delicate voice she tended to slip into when she was insecure. She gingerly sat down next to the Consulting Detective, carefully avoiding touching him. Nevertheless, she could feel the heat radiating from his body.
"What was all this about?"
The dark, unruly curls lifted and the pale man threw a quick glance at the pathologist. He sighed briefly.
"Short version?" he wanted to know.
"Any version that's true," Molly answered, looking at Sherlock expectantly.
"You... are right. I remember – but not for long. More than I even wished to remember..."
"What do you mean?"
"I remember everything that I had deleted from my memories, everything that I thought I had forgotten about, just everything..." His voice sounded somewhat despairingly.
"Your abduction...," Molly stated.
Sherlock turned his face towards her, raising his eyebrows inquiringly. Molly got in ahead of him. "Mycroft told me about it when you were in the coma. No details, just the fact that you had been kidnapped and that apparently you were struggling with the fact. Your slashed wrist, I mean."
"He told you about it?" Sherlock asked, unable to hide his irritation.
"I asked him about it. Sherlock... I... um... took care of you in the hospital, I just happened to notice the cut. I was just... worried about you."
Again the exhausted man threw a glance at Molly, which contained some kind of disbelief.
"That... was nice of you. Thank you."
This time the young woman had the feeling that her opposite actually meant what he said and a warm feeling of contentment settled in her heart.
"It was my pleasure. – But back to today's show..."
"Hm. As I said, I remember everything – apart from some moments around the shot and the time in hospital. I remembered that when you visited us after we first left the hospital – at Mycroft's home - he was abnormally courteous and friendly and when you arrived here today – by a taxi that you didn't have to pay for – telling us lies about your stroll through the city, I knew instantly that Mycroft had set you on my or our trail. Of course, he would have threatened you with something – most likely with the loss of your job, so it was clear that you wouldn't tell me anything voluntarily. I needed to know, though, what he had told you."
"Nothing. Honestly. He had just told me to spy on you if I wanted to keep my job. I have no idea what he wants, Sherlock. Really. He just mentioned that he wanted to prevent you from doing anything... stupid."
Sherlock gave a short humourless laugh. "He's not too concerned about my well-being; he only wants to know if I'm a step ahead of him with going after the sniper's brains."
Molly shot him a surprised glance. "To be honest, Sherlock, I don't agree. After all, he's not a block of ice! I... don't appreciate his methods, he could just ask for my help – just as you could, but ... - You said, you remember everything. Was it always like that, you and Mycroft?"
Sherlock hesitated for a moment, before uttering a quiet "No, not always," and Molly was convinced she could hear a note of wistfulness in his voice.
"Maybe...it slipped from my mind that he ... cared, and I got used to it, we got used to it." Sherlock said after some silence.
"But now you remember." Molly probed.
The Consulting Detective shifted a bit, sighing. "It's not as easy, Molly. We have spent a good deal of our lives in constant banter. That's how we get on with each other best. The hostility is just on the surface. That's how we protect ourselves and each other and that's how we are. It's easier to protect someone when you don't care about them too much, isn't it?"
"Hmmm, I guess, that's your special logic. I don't know – is it?"
"We both deal with pretty dangerous criminals, terrorists and scum like that. If you care for someone too much, and they find out, you have a weak spot…that's dangerous. "
"Ha, Sherlock, if only it was always as easy as that..." Molly murmured. "... controlling your emotions in order to prevent anyone from hurting you and others. Anyway, what are you up to then?" she said, changing the subject
"Before I can be up to anything, I will have to sort my memories out. Can you imagine what it feels like to have a brain that hasn't forgotten anything? If I wanted, I could tell you what I had for dinner every day during the last five years!"
"That's not too difficult, Sherlock. Let me guess... for fifty per cent of the dinners you had nothing," the pathologist joked, easing the tension a bit.
Sherlock smiled. "Will you help me, Molly?"
"Um, ... with ... what exactly?" she wanted to know, slightly surprised.
"Finding the person behind the shooter before Mycroft finds her," Sherlock replied frankly, piercing Molly with his look.
"Her? And why before Mycroft?"
"He'll kill her, but I want her alive! Her, Molly, because that's obvious! Revenge for someone who has long been dead is a woman's thing. Using poison, too. The errand boy was just a family member, but he wasn't the one pulling the strings. That's someone else."
"Erm, Sherlock, what errand boy?"
"Hmm?" For a moment, the self-claimed smartest man in the world was apparently at a loss, before his mouth suddenly formed a long "Ooh! - "You know about the poisoning, don't you? It seems, though, that Mycroft hasn't told you the full story."
Molly shook her head. The night at the hospital, Mycroft had told her that someone who had an old score to settle with the Holmes family had tried to poison Sherlock and that during the time of his recovery he had had a little mental breakdown in which he had tried to kill himself. To her question what had caused it, he had only given her some enigmatic explanations as to Sherlock having been abducted as a child, which was troubling him now. She had been given neither details nor the overall context, but had been quite shocked anyway by the mere facts back then. It seemed, however, as if there was much more behind it than she would ever have been able to imagine. Contemplating her favourite sleuth's background story, she started to feel bad about having been rather selfish recently. And still, ...
"Okay, Molly, I guess, there's quite a long story to
tell, but I don't want to do it here. Let's go upstairs. I think I can
manage now." Sherlock interrupted her thoughts, pushing himself up from
the stairs and giving her an inviting glance.