Life After Death Ch 1 Pt 1: Aftermath
Molly Hooper climbed the flight of stairs up to the second floor landing, turned at the top and stopped outside the door to her flat. She fished around in the bottom of her copious work bag and eventually retrieved her set of keys then, sighing wearily, selected the correct key, jammed it into the lock and turned it, pushing open the door and reaching, instinctively, for the light switch on the wall. Letting the door swing closed behind her, she walked the few steps along the hallway and opened the door into her sitting room. It was only then that she realised her flat was empty.
It wasn't just that there were no lights on in any of the rooms, despite the fact that it had been dark outside now for at least two hours. The flat felt cold and lifeless – strangely similar to her latest client, the body she had PM'd that afternoon and, incidentally, the cause of her unusual degree of weariness. The body had been that of a child.
She crossed the sitting room in rapid strides, depositing her bag on the small sofa - switching on the table lamp and the floor lamp as she passed them - and pushed open the door to the guest bedroom. There was no one there, though there were visible signs of its earlier occupation – the unmade bed and a few items of clothing, thrown casually on the chair by the wall. Pulling the door to, she moved on to the next one – the door to her room. This room, too, was empty. She crossed the floor, turned on the bedside lamp and removed her jacket, dropping it on the bed. Retracing her steps into the sitting room, she turned into the short corridor that led past the kitchen to the bathroom. Both rooms were unoccupied. The growing feeling of unease had developed into full-blown anxiety. Where was he? And what on earth had possessed him to go out?
Her heart began to race so she leaned against the wall beside the kitchen door, closed her eyes and took three deep, slow breaths, to calm herself. The flat felt cold. It was well insulated and retained residual heat efficiently, so the heating had not been on for several of hours. He had clearly been gone for some time.
Molly ran through the options in her head. She could ring his mobile – no, he did not currently have a mobile. He had left that on the roof, as further proof of the finality of his actions. She could go out and look for him – no, because she had absolutely no idea where he could be. She could call his brother – NO. That would have to be the absolute last resort. If his brother knew he had gone out, he would be furious and it would only lead to further ill-feeling between the two siblings, whose relationship was already strained to breaking point.
Pushing down the rising feeling of panic and despair, she rolled off the wall and went into the kitchen. A cup of tea may not solve the problem but it would certainly help. While she waited for the kettle to boil, she walked to the kitchen window, which over-looked the street, hoping to see him walking along the pavement but the street light, opposite, illuminated nothing but a passing cyclist – who was definitely not him. She could not imagine anything more anathema to her erstwhile house guest than pushing pedals on a bicycle. She almost smiled at the thought, despite her desperation. Just as the bubbling sound of the kettle rose to a crescendo, the doorbell rang.
Molly raced back through the flat, grabbed the door handle and wrenched the door open. Sherlock stood on the threshold, coat collar turned up, shoulders hunched, hands pushed deep into his pockets, almost hugging himself. She was about to cry out, 'Where have you been?' - more in relief than anything - but the grim expression on his face pulled her up short and she simply stepped back, opening the door wide to admit him. He strode past her and walked into the sitting room, throwing himself onto the sofa, to sit, huddled, in his coat.
'The kettle's just boiled', she said, brightly, instead of all the things she really wanted to say, such as 'What if you'd been seen?'
Molly walked back to the kitchen and set out a second mug, to make tea. She returned, carrying both mugs, placed one on the coffee table in front of him and sat down in the single armchair, cradling her own hot beverage in her hands.
Her relief at seeing him safely back in the flat had reduced her anxiety only marginally. During the month he had been staying with her, his demeanour had become increasingly morose, as the dire nature of his situation grew more and more obvious. He was, after all, officially dead. He was also completely disgraced, his reputation in tatters, branded a criminal and a fraud, even suspected of the serious crimes of kidnap and possibly even murder.
All his friends – bar one – believed he had killed himself by jumping off the roof of St. Bartholomew's hospital. He had even arranged for his closest friend to be the star witness to his suicide and this was the most painful aspect of the whole sorry situation. He had used John's friendship to put the final stamp of authenticity on his carefully crafted deception. John believed he was dead, therefore the world believed he must be.
The sound of his voice was so sudden and unexpected that Molly jumped, almost spilling her tea.
'Did he? He came here?' she asked.
'No, I mean he phoned. On the landline.'
'What did he want?'
'To tell me everything is arranged – diplomatic passport, visas, plane tickets - everything. He's sending a car for me, tomorrow morning, 7 o'clock.'
'Oh', she replied and sat motionless, as a thousand different emotions poured through her.
There was no denying that it had been difficult having him living here for the last month, not least because, to the outside world, she was mourning his sudden and dramatic death. She could see he was emotionally tormented, but he had erected a stone wall barrier which made it impossible to offer him any sort of comfort. Molly knew that being confined in this small flat, with nothing but brooding guilt and despair to occupy his mind, was a torture for Sherlock. And he didn't even have access to his violin, which could have offered some solace.
But the thought that, in just a few hours, he would disappear from her life, possibly for ever, was too awful to contemplate. She felt her heart rate rising and a tight band begin to squeeze her chest. She was about to burst into tears, so she jumped up and scurried into the kitchen, closing both intervening doors behind her.
Molly hung onto the ceramic rim of her Belfast sink and fought hard with her emotions, taking deep, shuddering breaths in an effort to regain control. After a few minutes, which seemed like an eternity, she felt calm enough to brazen it out. She scooped cold water from the tap onto her face, patted her skin dry with a tea towel and went back into the sitting room. Sherlock was still on the sofa, still wrapped in his coat, the tea on the table still untouched.
'I thought I would do spag bol for supper. What do you think?' Molly asked, as normally as she could.
He stood up and turned in her direction, fixing her with a forlorn stare.
'Not for me, thanks, Molly. I'm really not hungry. I'm going to pack and get an early night.' He even tried to smile which was more heart-rending than his stricken expression. 'Good night.'
He walked away, into the guest bedroom, closing the door.
Molly busied herself for the next couple of hours, preparing and cooking enough spaghetti bolognaise for both of them, in the vain hope that he might be tempted - by the rich aromas of garlic and frying onions - to change his mind but the door to his bedroom remained firmly closed and she ate alone at the small, round table in the kitchen. She washed up the dishes, put the leftovers into Tupperware containers and into the fridge, and wiped down the kitchen surfaces.
She was exhausted, from her tough day at work and the emotional rollercoaster she had been riding for the past month, so she opted for an early night too and, having changed into her cotton pyjamas and carried out her bedtime beauty regime in the bathroom, she walked through the flat, turning off all lights, checked that the front door was locked and bolted, and went to bed.
Molly didn't know how long she had been asleep, only that something had dragged her back so sharply to full consciousness that she was completely disorientated. Someone had touched her shoulder. She sat up, her eyes wide, and saw a dark shape standing right by her bed. Then her brain rebooted and she recognised him.
'Sherlock! What is it? What's the matter?' she gasped, still disconcerted by the sudden awakening.
'Molly, I'm afraid,' he gasped, in a voice wracked with pain and desperation, turning her skin icy cold and freezing her blood in her veins. Sherlock flopped down in the chair, against the wall, and put his head in his hands. Molly reached over and turned on the small bedside lamp, casting a dim illumination over the room. She couldn't speak, couldn't form a single coherent thought, could only gape, open mouthed, at the man in the chair.
He seemed to gain some measure of composure and sat upright, dragging his hands down his cheeks to let them rest on the arms of the chair. Exhaling a long, slow breath, he said,
'I went to the cemetery today – after Mycroft phoned.'
He paused for a long time but she knew he had more to say, so she sat very still, so as not to disrupt his chain of thought.
'I wanted to see my head stone…I don't know why,' he shrugged. 'But, when I got there, John was there - and Mrs Hudson.' He exhaled sharply. 'God, Mrs H. was a bit wobbly on her pins! I think she'd had her evening soother a bit early...'
'John was talking - to me. I couldn't hear what he was saying, I was too far away and, obviously, hiding in the bushes, but he touched my head stone and I could see he was crying… Then he sort of...stood to attention – like a kind of salute – and then he marched away.'
He paused yet again, watching the scene play out in his head.
'I felt so bad!' he groaned, curling in upon himself. 'I wanted to run over, to shout, John, it's OK! I'm alive!''
He leaned back, his head against the bedroom wall, and closed his eyes, then dropped his head forward again, into his hands. 'But I couldn't because – if I had – it would all have been for nothing and…'
He stopped, abruptly, because they both knew what came next. After a few more moments, he sat up again. 'So I really am dead. My old life is over. Moriarty's won, he has won. He has burned the heart out of me. Tomorrow I start my new life – my non-life. I'm cast out, into exile, and no one will wonder or care where I am or what I'm doing because all my friends think I'm dead…'
'I'll care!' She spoke with such force and vehemence that it startled him - she even surprised herself. Sitting up in bed, her back against the headboard and the duvet across her lap, in a rush of pent up emotion, with unshed tears glistening in her eyes, she blurted out,
'There will not be one single moment of any single day that I won't wonder where you are or what you are doing, that I won't hope and pray that you are safe and, maybe, even happy. And I will miss you so much…SO much!'
The blast of her outburst hit Sherlock like a shockwave. And it was as though his mind, after all the years of imposing a strict dominance over his physical being, suddenly shut down.
He stopped thinking.
His body, held in submission for so long, burst free and he was overwhelmed by a rush of sensory overload. He stood up and, in one fluid motion, climbed onto the bed and, taking Molly in his arms, pulled her down with him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her face into his hair. The world contracted to a small bubble of space and time, which contained just him and her, beyond which, there was nothing.
Breathing in her scent – her hair, her soap, her natural body odours - he felt an urgent need to touch her bare skin and his hands fumbled under the hem of her tee-shirt and slid up her ribs to rest on her shoulder blades. He turned his head to find her mouth and devoured her. She threaded her fingers into his hair, caught his bottom lip between her teeth. His face was smooth and soft, with the slightest hint of 5 o'clock shadow on his top lip, and he smelt of aftershave and wood smoke.
Scrambling to his knees, on the bed, Sherlock rocked back onto his heels as she curled her legs underneath her, kneeling too. He eased his lips away from hers and stared into her eyes. Her pupils had exploded - there was barely any iris visible around those bottomless, black pools. Her cheeks were flushed and her lips, which he had described, so cruelly in the past as too small, were plump and voluptuous, engorged with blood. Her glossy chestnut hair, usually restrained in a plait or a pony tail, fell loose and fanned out across her shoulders and down her back, a dark, lustrous frame for the porcelain perfection of her face and neck.
Molly met his gaze with a fiercely passionate glare and, leaning forward, pushed him back on the bed and threw herself on top of him. Now she was kissing him, sliding her mouth along his jaw and down the side of his neck, to the hollow alongside his clavicle. She pushed herself upright and straddled his hips. Crossing her arms, she grasped the hem of her tee shirt, pulled it over her head and flung it away.
Sherlock watched, in a trance, as she grasped both his wrists and placed his hands on her breasts, meeting his eyes with a challenging gaze, daring him to respond. Her nipples were hard and erect and, as he brushed them with his thumbs, she moaned and arched her back, pressing her pelvis into his. She slid her hands down his arms and peeled his dressing gown off his shoulders. Without conscious thought, he rolled his shoulders, shrugging out of the sleeves.
Peeling off his tee shirt, Sherlock dropped it to the floor. In the same movement, he caught her around the waist and pulled her down on top of him, pressing their bare flesh together. With one hand splayed across her back, he twisted the fingers of his other hand into her hair, pressing his mouth to hers. Both her hands were tangled in his hair, she returning the pressure of his lips, pushing her tongue against his.
Driven by savage impulse, unfiltered by conscious thought, he rolled both their bodies over and covered hers with his. Bracing one elbow on the bed, he reached down and, looping the thumb of his free hand in the waist band of her PJ bottoms, dragging them down to her knees. She kicked her legs to finish the job and, at the same time, caught the waist band of his PJ's and rolled them down over his buttocks. He pushed them past his knees, kicking them free, too.
Lost in the rapture of their mutual sensuality, living only in the moment, they explored each other's bodies with fingers, lips and tongues. Though time passed, they were oblivious to it. Sherlock's whole body pulsating, he was increasingly aware of the heat, emanating from his groin, spreading outwards, engulfing his entire being. He was on fire.
Pushing up on his elbow, he ran his hand up her leg, slipped it under her thigh and hitched her leg up, over his hip. He was fully aroused now and the pressure of her pubis, pushing against him, threatened to undo him. Molly hooked her heels around his thighs, opening up to him, urging him to enter. He needed no further encouragement. As he breached her, she uttered a low moan then a gasp. Crossing her ankles over his buttocks, Molly locked them together.
Sherlock braced his weight on his forearms, grasped her wrists and pinned her arms above her head. They moved rhythmically, in unison. He dropped his forehead onto the mattress, next hers and Molly turned to bite his neck. She held him in a vicelike grip, as the pace of their mutual movement increased. They were breathless now and, with every thrust, she emitted a gruff, feral groan which he found unimaginably arousing. Both approaching the climax of their passion, he focused all his awareness on the point of conjunction. His world exploded in a burst of pure, visceral ecstasy. Her muscles rippled and contracted in waves and she arched her spine and screamed his name.
His passion spent, Sherlock collapsed on top of Molly, and they lay, spent and sated, their hearts racing. But, gradually, their breathing eased and the heat began to dissipate from their bodies. At last, he felt her vice-like grip relax and he gently eased off her, rolling over on his side. He pulled her to him, desperate not to lose the closeness of their bodies. She turned with him, draping a leg over his hip and reaching a hand to smooth the sweat-damp hair back from his forehead.
Face to face, a scant inch apart, they gazed intently into one another's eyes then Sherlock kissed her, gently, and a huge rush of tenderness over-powered him, towards this woman, whom he had held, determinedly, at arm's length for the last five years. He knew from the very beginning of their acquaintance that she had strong feelings for him but, long before, he had decided never to entertain such thoughts himself. Her fixation was a threat to the integrity of his sense of self, so he had rebuffed her and wilfully misinterpreted her vain attempts at flirting, whilst taking full advantage of her emotional attachment to manipulate her, when it suited him to do so.
Yet, to whom had he turned for assistance in his darkest hour? Who had given him unconditional support, facilitated the elaborate hoax that had saved the lives of his three closest friends, risked her own professional reputation and future career by forging his death certificate, sheltered him in her home, whilst he brooded and wallowed in self-pity and despair?
He looked into those warm, brown eyes and, perhaps for the first time in his entire life, Sherlock truly understood the concept of love. Tomorrow, he would leave behind everything he held dear, everything that represented for him security and certainty but, for this one night, Molly had given him respite from all his demons and she had done it in the full knowledge that, after this night, she might never see him again. He hugged her to him, breathed in her musky, post-coital scent, felt the contours of her body mould to his and, for this brief moment, he felt at peace.
Molly's internal clock registered that it was morning and time to wake up. She opened her eyes and blinked at the light from the bedside lamp. She was puzzled, for a moment, as to why she had fallen asleep with the light on then she became aware of the body that draped its limbs across her and breathed gently against the back of her neck. Her memories of the night before flooded back.
She took his hand and plaited her fingers with his, then drew both hands, together, to her chest and pressed her body against him, closing her eyes to savour the warmth and comfort of his embrace. The change in his breathing rate and the increased muscle tone of his limbs told her that he, too, had awoken but he didn't pull away. Instead, he drew her closer and seemed to savour the closeness, too. She wriggled round towards him, releasing her hold on his hand to push the bed hair out of his eyes, pressing a tender kiss to the corner of his mouth.
But they both knew the moment could not last.
'It's twenty past six, Sherlock,' Molly whispered. 'The car will be here in 40 minutes.' He closed his eyes and touched his forehead to hers, in acknowledgement of the truth of her statement. 'I'll put the kettle on,' she said and, rolling away from him, slid out of bed, pulled on her dressing gown and left the room.
She stood in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, hugging her dressing gown round her and feeling desolate. From the corner of her eye, she saw Sherlock flit past the kitchen door, dressed in his now familiar blue dressing gown, en route to the bathroom. As she listened to the muffled sounds of his morning ablutions, silent tears slid down her face and dripped onto her sleeves. The tight knot in the centre of her chest was making it difficult to breathe.
She heard the shower switch off and, moments later, he came out of the bathroom and passed the door again, wrapped in a big white towel. Molly made two mugs of tea and carried them into the sitting room, placing one on the coffee table and taking the other with her, to the window, to look down on the street below, still illuminated by the single street lamp, opposite. Standing there, warming her hands on the hot mug, she saw a sleek, black car slide to a halt, outside her building. She looked at her watch. It was only ten to seven.
Too early! Don't take him yet!
A few moments passed and her doorbell rang.
Molly opened her front door to two men, one tall and slim, carrying an umbrella, the other broad and muscular – who may as well have had the words 'body guard' stamped across his forehead.
'Good morning, Miss Hooper. I do hope I'm not too early.'
She stepped aside, tacitly inviting them in. Mycroft Holmes stalked to the centre of her small sitting room and gave it a quick, critical scan. The 'heavy' stood just inside the door, hands clasped behind his back.
'Please sit down, Mycroft,' said Molly, glad that her weeping fit had died at the sight of the black car. 'Sherlock won't be long, I'm sure,'
'Thank you, but I must decline,' Mycroft smiled, deprecatingly, inclining his head to her. 'I won't be staying long,'
The door to the guest bedroom opened and Sherlock emerged, dressed in his dark suit, blue scarf and black coat, carrying the small leather valise which held the few possessions which Mycroft had managed to retrieve for him, from 221b Baker Street, without arousing John Watson's suspicions. At a nod from Mycroft, the heavy stepped forward and held out a hand for the bag. Sherlock passed it over then looked, pointedly, at his wrist watch, which said five to seven, and sat down on the sofa, picking up the mug of tea that Molly had placed there for him. Sitting back, he began to sip it, without a word or a glance in his brother's direction.
'Well,' said Mycroft, 'shall I leave you to say your goodbyes, Sherlock?'
Turning to Molly, the British Government made a slight bow and intoned, in a voice that oozed condescension,
'Thank you, Miss Hooper, for all the assistance you have given my brother, and for your hospitality. He could have stayed with me, of course, but I can see why he would prefer the delights of your company. Goodbye, dear lady.' And he walked from the flat, leaving Molly in no doubt that he knew all about hers and Sherlock's nocturnal triste.
No sooner had Mycroft and his lackey vacated the little flat than Sherlock jumped to his feet, abandoned his tea and came over to Molly, enfolding her in his arms. They hugged tightly but neither spoke, for a long, long moment that was nowhere near long enough, then he eased his grip on her, pressed a fierce kiss to the top of her head, turned away and was gone. Molly stood in the middle of the room - abandoned, bereft - as sobs began to bubble up from that great knot around her heart, then she toppled into the armchair and let her grief overwhelm her.