Molly shot around, nearly dropping the metal bowl, the intestine of the murder victim she was just examining dangerously sloshing to the rim of the container. Sherlock was leaning against the doorframe, looking wearily in her direction. He was as pale as a sheet.
"Sherlock! Where have you been? You look awful! It seems each time you come here you look worse! Er..., sorry, but honestly, Sherlock, you belong in your bed!"
The exhausted-looking man dismissed her objection with an irritated raise of his eyebrow. "I... needed information and organised something. Get changed," he ordered. The pathologist stared questioningly into the bowl with the reddish-blue-ish, slimy mass in it.
"I said so, yes. You said you wanted to help me find that woman. So, let's go shopping," Sherlock said, adding a fake yet sweet smile.
"Oh, it's for the case! What do we need?" Molly was still astonished, but thought that shopping in this case would most likely be stuff they needed for solving it, thus no shopping in the literal women's sense. She laughed inwardly; how could she for a second have thought that London's famous sleuth would go shopping with her?
"Yep, for the case. You need two, no three dresses with matching shoes, handbags and hats. You need a real hairstyle and a manicure and, well, the whole cosmetics thing. We don't want to raise suspicions, do we?"
The woman's ears were ringing. Had Sherlock really said something about a shopping and spa spree every woman dreamt of?! However, this particular man mentioning something like that couldn't mean anything good. An uneasy feeling befell her.
"Er... Sherlock? What exactly am I supposed to do? Does it involve any more drugs? If that's the case, I'm out, sorry." She lowered her gaze, feeling a pang of guilt because of letting Sherlock down, but at the same time scolded herself for her cowardice. There was a limit to everything she did and it was nothing she had to be ashamed of. Molly threw Sherlock a glance.
For a split-second his eyes showed a little sparkle and with a little push of his arm, he brought himself to standing firmly on both feet without taking advantage of the doorframe. For a short time he managed to actually stand without swaying, but exhaustion got the better of him.
"You have to act a bit, be a lady and make contact with Mrs Campbell, as she calls herself. Mrs Campbell, as you can guess, is the woman attempting to get rid of me. My scheme doesn't involve any drugs, erm... so far."
Molly felt excitement fluttering in her guts. That really sounded thrilling and she had to admit that the prospect of escaping the smell of the pathology rooms for a couple of days and being a lady - even if just pretend - sounded extremely promising to her.
"Yeah," she replied a little weakly, and then stronger, "yeah, sounds good. Let me just finish Mr Donovan here off and I'll be ready in two hours. 'k?"
"Mr Donovan? There's another Donovan that would make a great impression on your table," Sherlock mumbled and Molly stopped short for a second, frowning. "What?" she probed, unsure if she had got Sherlock right.
"Nothing, just daydreaming." the Consulting Detective answered distractedly, his gaze turned inwardly in concentration.
It had just been one of Sherlock's rare outbursts of strange black humour and Molly was glad that the respective Detective Sergeant Donovan, whom he had obviously been talking about, wasn't present.
Molly worked very fast to get her work done. Sherlock had told her to wait at Barts for him to pick her up and had disappeared without any further goodbye. She hadn't wanted to put him off by telling him that people were actually worried about him, disappearing for nearly three days. She had talked to John who had been quite relaxed on the surface, but she had been able to hear the grumpy undertone in his voice. Plus, as expected, Mycroft had paid him a visit later the same day. According to John's report, he had had a very nasty headache, looking pale and weary, which hadn't really helped conceal his anger that, in the lack of Sherlock's presence, had then been directed at John.
Mycroft had apparently dropped his mask of calm and composition and had behaved like any person worried about his brother: he had made accusations towards John and had tried to literally squeeze the information as regards Sherlock's whereabouts out of the poor doctor, who didn't know anything himself. He had then left 221B muttering to himself. Molly had seen Mycroft being worried before when Sherlock's life had hung on a thin thread, so she assumed that his brother knew exactly that the purpose of the drugging had been to get the necessary information the sleuth needed to find that woman, which meant putting himself into danger yet once more.
The pathologist was a bit torn between calling John or even Mycroft, thus abusing Sherlock's trust but potentially minimizing the risk they were about to take, or being as loyal as he assumed she was and remaining silent. Molly decided on dropping just a tiny little note to let John know Sherlock was alright and quickly sent a text: He's ok. Molly.
Molly was a slightly surprised, however, that the personified British Government hadn't shown up at the morgue to interrogate her. Being relieved about slipping through his net herself, she pushed the thought aside.
Precisely two hours after they had set the appointment, Sherlock showed up at the morgue, looking better yet still pale and exhausted. He scrutinized Molly, looking her up and down and up again, so that the pathologist started squirming under his gaze.
"Leave that ridiculous bag!" he ordered, his eyes becoming slits as if he was estimating something on her.
"It's ... not ridiculous! I need to bring some things here, so I need a bag of that size!" she defended herself, instantly knowing that it was in vain. Men would never understand a woman's handbag - and Sherlock of all men wouldn't be an exception.
"Leave it. You don't need it for the next couple of days. I'll feed the cat."
Molly blinked a couple of times from surprise. He hadn't said anything about not returning home or to work.
Sherlock rolled his eyes about her apparent sluggishness.
"You'll call in sick and you'll get a proper sick note. "
"But,... if anybody sees me...?" she objected, kneading the cloth of her oversize handbag nervously.
The Detective briefly screwed up his face, turning up the corners of his mouth into a smile-like grimace and blinking exaggeratedly.
"They wouldn't recognize you."
"Oh," the pathologist stated slowly, unsure what to think about Sherlock's scheme. It could mean a lot of fun, but acting wasn't her strongest skill. To be fair, she was terrible it, stammering and getting into a muddle from her nervousness each time she had tried to pretend to be someone else. At school it had resulted in her being a tree, animal or any other ridiculous participant of the school plays who didn't have any lines to speak.
As much as the prospect of doing something potentially dangerous thrilled her, she was literally scared that she could fail and thus be discovered.
Pull yourself together, Molly Hooper! For once in your life, be brave and don't fuck it up! she scolded herself.
Going out into the bright afternoon sunshine, Sherlock instantly pushed Molly into a cab that he had hailed. Only rarely did the pathologist's funds allow her to take a cab, and the underground didn't offer many good views, so she enjoyed the beauty of London in sunshine during their journey in the dense capital's traffic. When they passed St. James's Park and Green Park, Molly was completely lost in daydreaming. She already felt like the queen herself and she was tempted to raise her hand for a royal wave. Leaving the main roads and entering narrower streets with rows of Victorian two-storeyed buildings, all flawlessly white with black forged iron fences with little golden spheres on top of each railing. Lush flower baskets were hanging from the street lamps, adding some pleasantly colourful spots to the black and white. The Porsches, Bentleys and Mercedes-Benz parking at the kerbs underlined the luxury of this part of London. This was where the money was - and this was where she didn't belong. The first-floor lattice windows were peering down on her accusingly. Molly suddenly felt out of place and awkward.
"Sherlock, where are we going?" she asked cautiously. The Consulting Detective was looking out of the side window, seemingly lost in thought as well. Obtaining no reaction, she tried again, touching his arm to get his attention. Sherlock jumped, looking at her with some confusion in his eyes for only a second before they were clear and awake again.
"Where are we going?" she probed.
"As I said: Shopping."
"Yeah, but this is hardly the part of London where I normally go shopping."
"No, no Oxfam or Marks and Spencer around here, I imagine."
Albeit Sherlock didn't say anything but the truth, his words stung because of his contemptuous tone. She was well aware of him wearing only bespoke shirts and suits, but she wasn't wealthy. She tried to save some money each month, and the last time she had spent a large amount of her savings on a dress, had been totally in vain. Only once had she wanted to catch Sherlock's attention; that one Christmas that the sleuth had managed to turn into a horror of a Christmas and the loneliest of her entire life, when he had made fun of her make-up and dress and the presents she had carefully picked - not just his, but everyone's. He had been wrong about everything back then, utterly wrong. Molly tried to focus on something else as she felt tears of scorn and shame in her eyes. Only recently had she realised that the apology following her humiliation had actually been a display of recognition as he simply wouldn't have cared about what most people would have thought of his cruel deductions.
Molly felt his attention on her and, after blinking away the most persistent teardrops, raised her eyes. Sherlock was looking at her with some softness in his gaze.
"Sorry, Molly. I'm grateful you are helping me," he said sincerely, finishing his sentence with a genuine smile.
"Sherlock, I, um... should probably know some of the details of your scheme - at least what my role is in it, so that I know what I am to expect. I will not shy away from helping you - as long as you don't drug me again, that is - but it would really be good for me to have at least the faintest idea of what I'm supposed to do."
The Consulting Detective briefly furrowed his brow before nodding and outlining to her the scheme that he had come up with. While he was explaining it to the pathologist, Sherlock didn't look at her, but delivered it in his usual machine-gun-rattling speaking manner. Molly was slightly surprised by its simplicity, but at the same time scared she could have missed something crucial.
"That's it?" she wanted to know after Sherlock had finished.
"Molly, it sounds easy, but..."
"...don't worry, I won't spoil it," she assured him, but wasn't all too convinced of her words herself.
"I'll tell you the details when you need them - just to make sure you don't confuse anything. "
"Sherlock...," Molly warned him. Although she knew that he often didn't even notice that he was offending people, she didn't want to be treated just as it pleased him. Normally, John was the moral arbiter reminding his flatmate of utterances and actions that were 'a bit not good'.
The taxi stopped in front of one of the noble houses and the pathologist wondered where around here there could be a place that offered clothing. The houses all looked the same and there were no shop windows or signs that could give her a clue. Sherlock paid the taxi, tipping the driver with quite a sum. Molly guessed that he was just a lucky cabby and that it was carelessness rather than appreciation that made the Consulting Detective so generous.
The tall man disembarked the taxi elegantly, the long black coat that seemed a little over-dressed in the quite warm sunshine, falling back obediently into its straight and completely creaseless shape and Molly distantly wondered if ever she would be able to afford a coat of such quality. The only coat she possessed was of a wool-synthetics mix that loved to crumple, even though it hadn't been all that cheap. She had never paid too much attention to her every-day clothing, had never really cared about what others thought of how she was dressed, but in the light of her task, she became quite excited about what her outward appearance would be.
Sherlock held the taxi door open, and, much to her surprise, offered her a helping hand. As soon as she was standing safely on the pavement, the tall man turned around and strode in the direction of the gate of the house they were standing in front of, Molly following him shyly. The gate and the front door opened at the same time and a distinguished elderly man in a perfectly fitting black suit, white shirt and alarmingly lilac bow tie was awaiting them. The young woman noticed the tape measure around his neck, arranged like a scarf with one lose end hanging on the front and the other one on his back. He was bald, the skin shiny on his head, however, Molly could spot a slight shade around his head, which gave away that the hairlessness was at least partially achieved by regular shaving. The man was smiling, throwing his hands up into the air before embracing himself.
"Mr Holmes! What a pleasure it is to welcome you here again!"
Molly briefly stared at the person at the front door and had some difficulty holding back a grin. Going by his nasal manner of speaking and his exaggerated gestures, the man could only be as gay as pink ink, and the imagination of Sherlock dealing with a fussing-around homosexual who might even be attracted to the tall, slim man with his curly black hair and pools of eyes that seemed to ever be changing their colour, nearly made her laugh.
The detective, after greeting the man in a very friendly way, had already entered the house while Molly was still standing indecisively at the bottom of the stairs.
"Come in, love! Uuuh, you look awful! Sorry, dear, no offence, but have you ever taken a look into a mirror?!"
Molly blushed a bit and she was ushered through the small entrance hall into a spacious, sun-lit living room that was an abundant display of furniture, that despite its mixture of styles and colours formed a tastefully composed whole. However, it still didn't show any signs that in this house she would be equipped with elegant clothes.
The next few hours passed by rather quickly. Molly was taken to the first floor where paradise was awaiting her. Mr. Romeo, as the cheerful man was unsurprisingly called, led her into an all-white room. Even the thick carpet was flawlessly white. The sides of the room were covered by large wardrobes and the smaller wall was one huge mirror. The opposite of the mirror wall had a door on the right hand side and next to it were two comfortable-looking white leather armchairs with a glass-and-silver side table between them.
Molly was told to go to the adjoining room, the fitting room, and get undressed. The pathologist was afraid to leave spots on the carpet with her bulky but comfortable black shoes and looked down at them questioningly. However, Mr Romeo shooed her, telling her to eventually get rid of those rags she was wearing.
The fitting room was very different from the other room, much smaller, but still about the size of her own living-room. The abundance of pink and gold in the room was quite a brutal contrast to the blazing white. Never in her life had Molly seen such a fitting room. The wallpaper seemed to be made of pink silk with golden embroidery showing elegant swans and Lotus flowers. There was an Empire-style chaise longue with pink upholstery, the wooden parts plated with gold, two matching chairs and a small round table with a glass of champagne on a golden plate. There were some embellished hooks and hangers on the wall by the door, on which the most luxurious underwear was waiting to be tried on.
Molly eyed the lingerie, then the champagne. Wondering whether she was supposed to try on the underwear as well, she decided that having a drink couldn't do any harm to ease her discomfort a bit. She took the first sip slowly, enjoying the fizzing liquid in her mouth before finishing the rest of the glass in a couple of big gulps. She opened the laces of her shoes and kicked them off her feet. Unsure what to do next, she went to the hangers by the door, touching the incredibly soft lace fabric of the bras and briefs. When she saw that the underwear was actually her size, she couldn't resist the temptation anymore and she changed from her own clothes, which she dropped unceremoniously on the floor, into the luxurious undergarments. Realizing that, strangely enough, there was no mirror in the fitting room, she opened the door, peering into the white room to see if Mr Romeo was there, but she couldn't see him. Somewhat relieved, she fully opened the door to scrutinize herself in the mirror. The very second she had stepped into the room, she stopped short, shocked by the reflection in the mirror. She bit her lip, swallowing a curse and fighting the urge to turn round and slam the door behind her, and with that, making an utter fool of herself.
"Fits," Sherlock stated plainly without taking his eyes off of her. Molly's heart skipped a beat. How could she have missed that he was sitting in one of the armchairs? Blushing crimson and unable to say anything, she just stood there wringing her hands, when all of a sudden the door to the floor flung open and Mr Romeo entered the room.
"Oh, love, that looks great! I knew it was the right size," he tweeted. You definitely shouldn't wear such... rags! You have such a delicate physique! Look, Mr Holmes, isn't she beautiful?"
Focussing his gaze on his mobile phone, Sherlock replied, "Beauty is a subjective perception; a combination of different qualities that please the aesthetic senses, especially the sight, but I'm afraid, I'm not susceptible ..."
Molly felt as if someone was pouring a bucket of cold water over her and apparently her face was an open book as Mr Romeo hurried towards her and Sherlock stopped in the middle of his sentence.
"Hush, Sherlock!" the man exclaimed, embracing the humiliated Molly. "With all due respect, that is a plain lie! Your taste is extremely good and your aesthetical senses way above average! As your wardrobe supervisor and tailor I know what I'm talking about." In a softer tone he added, "You look wonderful and he knows it, but that's him, isn't it? You must know, I have known him for many years now, since he was quite young. I'm always trying to see the adult in him, but sometimes it just feels as if he hasn't grown up at all. Always denying beauty and style."
"Enough now, Ted!" Sherlock terminated the flow of words of the older man. "On with the dresses then."
Under the critical eye of the two men, Molly tried on several elegant dresses with matching shoes that Mr Romeo accurately picked from the wardrobes. Albeit feeling like a mannequin dressed to be displayed in a shop window, she nevertheless enjoyed seeing herself in so many different high-quality garments. In the end, she was equipped with the three dresses with matching high-heels and handbags they had come for, plus three sets of underwear, silk stockings and a cream-coloured coat with a very large cashmere pashmina shawl. Since Molly wasn't all too used to walking on high-heels, her gait was a bit wobbly and she even got a lesson in sashaying.
The tension that had arisen at the beginning was soon forgotten and when, while trying to walk on the four-inch heels, Molly was swaying because of the champagne that was making her dizzy, Sherlock actually came to her help, doing the catwalk himself. She had to sit down on the soft floor because her knees wouldn't carry her anymore from laughing.
After a warm good-bye, and a taxi trunk full of high-grade shopping bags, they drove to the next destination not too far away from where they had been. Just as the other house, this one didn't show any exterior signs of being a beauty salon. This time Molly wasn't as surprised anymore to find such a thing behind a normal front door. She spent she didn't know how much time getting her hands manicured, her hair washed, cut and styled. As much as the extravagant woman muttered about her neglected hands, she was pleased with her hair and even found her ponytail not too bad a hairstyle. She showed her how to pin it up with some rather easy movements so that it looked very elegant. For once, Molly was glad that she took good care of her skin as it was examined very critically now, but considered to be in a good condition; only needing some concealer, make-up, powder, blush etc. Since she would have to do the make-up herself for the next couple of days, she was also instructed on it and given the necessary utensils.
Molly normally loathed excessive shopping and now she remembered the reason: it was bloody exhausting. Tired and hungry, she flopped into the taxi seat, Sherlock joining her.
"Tomorrow will be the first day, Molly. I'm taking you to the hotel now where you can eat and get some rest. We only have one day at the maximum before my brother will have found us and spoilt everything. So, do your very best."
Stifling a yawn, the pathologist nodded. "I will. Don't worry." Sherlock gave her a very long look that spoke volumes of his doubts.
Sherlock instructed the cabbie and Molly burst out laughing, earning an
irritated look from the now very pale sleuth.