Copper Beaches

Please, let me keep this Memory, just this one

“How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd.”
- Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard Eloisa to Abelard

Finally she had managed to shake him awake. Sherlock had had a nightmare – or so she thought – and had tossed and turned in bed. Then he had cried out as if in agony, and finally he had called her name. She had shaken him so violent by the shoulders that she had been afraid, if he would not wake up any moment, she would have no other choice than to slap him. But then it had worked. He had shot bolt upright and opened his eyes, staring at her, as if he thought she had appeared out of thin air. Then his eyes had been fixed on the engagement ring.

“Sherlock?” she whispered hesitantly.

In the darkness of the room, she could not make out much more than the contour of his face. She reached for the bed stand and switched on the lamp. The room was bathed into a warm glow.
She looked over to the man beside her, who sat there unmoving, like a statue. The only indicators that he was not one were the cold sweat on his forehead and the movement of his chest, expanding with heavy breaths.

“Sherlock, are you alright?” She knew it was a stupid question, because he was not alright, obviously, but his behaviour made her anxious.

His eyes darted around the room, as if trying to orient himself. Then they settled on her and he blinked a few times. With a speed she would not have given him credit for in his momentary state, he snatched her hand and squeezed it so hard that it almost hurt her. Still she tried not to cringe. She knew he would never hurt her on purpose.

“I could not find it.” There’s a tremor in his voice and his eyes were a swirling pool of emotions.

Never before had she seen him like that. It scared her. But she knew she could not let him see that.

With her right hand she slowly reached to touch his shoulder. She acted as if she was dealing with a wounded animal. She did not want to scare him away.

“You were having a nightmare, Sherlock.” She calmed him in a soothing tone, but the concern was evident in her voice.

He violently shook his head, and her hand fell off his shoulder, hanging useless at her side. “No, no! I was in my Mind Palace. And it was not there!”

His breathing became more erratic and Molly feared he might start to hyperventilate. His eyes darted around the room once more, as if the thing he had been looking for in his mind palace could be hid somewhere here.

Molly tried to get him to focus. “Sherlock, what was not there? Some clue, some evidence?” Molly figured that most of Sherlock’s mind palace was packed with case-relevant information.

His breathing did not slow down, but at least he looked at her again.

“You did not wear your ring.”

She had never heard his voice so small and felt a wave of panic wash over her as well. So this was obviously not case-related. It was related to her. She squeezed his hand that was still holding her in a tight grip, as if letting her go would mean he’d lose the last bit of his sanity.

“I can’t help you if you won’t tell me what happened, so we need to focus.”

His eyes widened at her words and he leaned away from her, as if expecting her to slap him.

Molly’s voice was intense, when she repeated, “I said focus.”

Sherlock gave her a bewildered look, and then suddenly she could see his breathing slow down a bit. He took a few deliberate breaths, and she felt the grip on her hand loosen a bit.

“Good,” she nodded slowly and gently touched his arm with her right hand. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when he reopened them, they were still full of confusion, but more focused than before.

“I was wandering through my Mind Palace, looking for... something,” he began. His voice was low, but controlled. “Some things have changed there since... I’ve been attacked. I went into the room where I keep the memory from the day when you were rescued.”

Molly bit her lip while she listened to him in nervous anticipation and felt her heart began to speed up its pace. She did not even have time to process how surprised she was that Sherlock had a room where he had stored this memory. She became afraid of where this was going. The day she had been rescued – by him. She would never forget that day. It had changed everything, yet nothing at all.

Sherlock continued, “I saw you standing there with the giant shock blanket draped over your shoulder, like it was swallowing you. Your gripped it so tight. And then my eyes fell onto your left hand.”

He made a pause and took a quivering breath. Molly did the same. She knew what was coming. Yet still she had to shut her eyes the moment he said it, “You did not wear your ring.” His voice was almost inaudible.

She asked herself, if maybe when she kept her eyes closed for a moment longer, she would wake up and realize that she had been the one having a nightmare.

But Sherlock’s voice shattered that illusion, “Why did you not wear your engagement ring, Molly?”

So she opened her eyes again. When she looked at him she noticed how distinct his eyelashes were against the pale translucence of his eyes. He regarded her, demanding her to explain it to him. She did not know what to say, naturally. At least now she had the answer to the question if he thought they had already been engaged when she had been taken hostage. Molly remained silent.

He took hold of her other hand as well, and his tone gained urgency when he went on, “I went to look for the room with the memory of me proposing, but...” his voice became louder, as if he was frustrated and angry with himself, “... but I could not find it. It was gone!”

Molly saw his breathing speed up again. It was as if he was obsessed and depressed at the same time. She was worried he might get another, more severe panic attack. She needed to do something to calm him down. She needed to assure him that the memory was not gone. But she did not know how to do that with a memory that had never existed in the first place.

Sherlock tugged at her hands, as if trying to get her attention again, “Molly, why?”

She was not sure if he meant why she had not worn the ring, or why he did not find this one particular memory. But it did not matter to her. She could not tell him the truth in both cases.

She knew she could not stay silent any longer.

She cleared her throat, “Sherlock, I was at Bart’s when I was abducted, remember? I can’t wear the ring while I’m working. It was in my locker. That’s why I didn’t wear it that day.”

She was quite proud of herself for coming up with such a logical explanation, and she hoped that he would buy it, that this would settle it and he would be satisfied by her answer. He would shake his head, grace her with a half-smile, wrap her in his arms and they would go back to sleep.

He did shake his head, but the rest did not happen as planned. He frowned. “I know you were taken at Bart’s...” he voice trailed off.

She could see that he was searching his brain for the rest of the facts she had presented him. His breathing had slowed down considerably, but his body was still tense.

Molly could not dare to imagine the feelings he underwent. She looked into his eyes, but had the feeling he was not even there.

After a few moments – that felt like an eternity to her – he focused on her again. “I see,” he said.

Molly’s lips twitched, in an attempt at a nervous smile, but then he suddenly looked so tormented that sadness washed over her face and it was hard to tell if it was for him or her.

“But the proposal, how could I forget about that? How?” He sounded utterly lost.

Once more he gripped her hands tighter and pulled her closer. For some reason, even though they were touching, he felt so far away.

“Tell me, Molly! How did I propose?” he demanded.

Again Molly closed her eyes. She could not stand looking into his. She knew there was only one thing to calm him down. Everything inside her rebelled against the thought of it. It would be another lie, another prevarication.

“Molly?” His voice was laced with worry.

She directed her gaze away from him. She acted, as if she was remembering, when in reality she desperately tried to make something up. She had to invent yet another memory. One she had sometimes fantasised about, but had known that it would never come true, and now it was up to her to make it reality: Sherlock Holmes proposing to Molly Hooper. Through her lies an impossible fantasy would become a memory; part of their history.

She took a deep breath and started to paint him a picture with her words, “You know how I always complain about you storing body parts and food side by side in the fridge?”

He nodded slowly. His eyes looked intently at her, and she knew he was hanging on her words.

She held his gaze and went on, “Well, I had lectured you about it one day before I went to work. I was quite mad at you and told you that I expected your experiments to be gone by the time I came home in the evening. So when I did, I asked you if you had done what I had asked you to, but you pretended to be in your mind palace. I went to the fridge to have a look myself. I went furious when I saw that the fingers were still next to the tomatoes. And just when I was about to reach for them to throw them into the bin, I saw something that had not been there in the morning and was neither a body part, nor food. It was a blue velvet box. I reached for it and opened it with trembling fingers. I guess my eyes were as big as saucers when I stared at it, and my heart beat wildly in my chest. I jumped when I heard your voice right behind me, asking me if I liked it.”

She swallowed hard and watched Sherlock watching her. She desperately hoped he would buy it. That he would think he would propose to her like that. That this was the way it had happened. He was an astute student of people and if he would detect her lie...

His question caught her off guard, “And then?”

She frowned and parroted, “And then?”

He shrugged, “Well, what happened then?”

She almost chucked, had she not felt so desperate. “I answered in the affirmative. Well, I nodded, because I was quite speechless and then I started to cry.”

“You started to cry?” he asked shocked.

“I was so happy,” she explained. “I hugged you and then you asked me if that was a ‘yes’, and I told you that it was.”

“And then I slipped the ring onto your finger and kissed you?” he finished with a questioning tone.

“Yes,” Molly answered. She did not see any reason why she should have contradicted him.

He tilted his head to the side and regarded her once more. He was stroking her knuckles with his thumb, and Molly could not tell if the gesture was smoothing or stirred her up. Maybe a bit of both.

Her chest felt tight and her mouth dry. She had lied to him again. She told herself that it was for the greater good, but somehow she could not bring herself to believe it. She knew that when he would regain his memories, her words would have left permanent scars. When she had told him about his proposal she had tried to remember how she had felt when she had seen the engagement ring he had given her for the case, the excitement, the nervousness, the hope she had felt. She had tried to block out the anxiety, the sense of foreboding and the fear.

Finally he seemed to have found what he had been looking for in her face, because he scooted closer to her, their faces only inches apart.

“I am sorry I forgot,” he whispered with remorse and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“It’s okay, it’s fine” she assured him in the same hushed tone, albeit she was about as far from fine right now as she could have been.

One hand travelled over her engagement ring, as if making sure it was still there and the other came to rest on her neck while he pulled her close and gently brushed his lips against hers. She didn’t even pretend to resist. Molly could feel him trying to convey his gratefulness into the kiss. He was thankful that she was not mad at him for forgetting something so important in their relationship like the proposal. Molly reciprocated, but felt like crying at his gentle caress. It made her doing feel even more like a betrayal.

Sherlock pulled back and rested his forehead against hers for a moment. He seemed to gather his thoughts and to store the new gained memory into Molly’s room in his Mind Palace. Then he laid back down again.

Molly stayed silent and switched the light off. Sherlock pulled her towards him, gave her a kiss on the crown of her head and fell asleep within a few minutes.

Careful as not to wake him, Molly extracted herself from his embrace and turned to her side of the bed. She huddled on the far end of it, her back towards him and silently let the tears fall. Sometimes she wished she was the one who had forgotten.

A/N: The title is a quote from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the spottless Mind.
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