Actions

Work Header

Lavender And Jet

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: Ths fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read so all mistakes are mine. Sort of a mashup of Sherlock, Persuasion and Bridgerton (mainly for the dresses, lol). If you want to read more then let me know


SOMEONE THAT I USED TO KNOW 


Dorset House,

London,

1813

He would be embarrassed to admit how long it takes him to recognise her. 

After all, the long, chestnut hair (upswept now) is present and correct. 

The light little foot and the careful, quiet walk are also still recognisably in effect. 

Warm brown eyes, observant and laughing, sweep across the throng of dancers on the floor- Just as he has seen them do many times before. They miss little and yet settle on nothing, not drawing attention. (Attention being something, he knows, that she has never enjoyed receiving). No, rather she smiles, whispers something to one of the Ton Mammas (Mrs. Dunverrell, if he’s not mistaken, which he never is.) The words elicit a smile and there it is. That laugh. That trilling laugh he once knew so well. 

It makes him smile in recognition, though it is not aimed at him. 

As if without seeking confirmation from his brain Sherlock finds himself crossing the ballroom, making his way towards her. As he does he straightens his jacket, hands going to his hair to self-consciously check it before he reminds himself that he need not: she had never required that of him. She had never required anything of him, save he be what he is. 

He comes to a halt behind her, waits a moment for her to notice him. Another moment. Then another, and another, until finally- 

“Dear God, Molly, aren’t you going to say hello?”

Well, nobody ever claimed that patience was his forte. 

The society mama she was talking to blinks, shoots him a sharp look to which he barely gives notice. 

His eyes are still on Molly. 

Smiling, a dimple at her cheek, she turns. Sees him. Her eyes light in recognition, the warmth in them everything he remembers. Everything he has missed. 

“Why hello, Mr. Holmes,” she says, inclining her head slightly. Given how well they once knew one another, Sherlock is relieved to see that she hadn’t thought to curtsy. The greeting is a reminder though: he clears his throat and holds out his hand to her to shake. 

Best to get this over with. 

“Beg pardon, Mrs. Smythe,” he says, giving her her married title. “So lovely to see you this evening.”

If it doesn’t please him to say it, he’s not going to give anyone cause to suspect as much. 

Molly’s smile dims somewhat. Her hand seems somehow… unsure, in his. “Yes, well,” she says. “I rather suppose that title is new to you, I shouldn’t wonder at you forgetting it.” She directs her gaze to her companion. “Mr. Holmes and I grew up together in Shropshire, Mrs. Dunverrell,” she explains. “We have not seen one another these many years, not since before my marriage.” Her smile brightens as she takes her hand back. “Which makes this an unexpected surprise, I must say.”

Mrs. Dunverrell narrows her eyes. “From what I’ve heard,” she says sweetly, “Holmes the Younger excels at surprises.” Sherlock opens his mouth to retort- what scrape of his is that a reference to?- but before he can the older woman coos at someone on the other side of the room, waving and excusing herself. 

She leaves Sherlock unimpressed and Molly grinning. 

“She’s not a subtle creature,” Molly says, sotto voce. An impish smile. “I can’t imagine why I find that engaging.”

Sherlock cocks an eyebrow at her but he can’t help it. He has to smile- he has always had to, when it’s her. “Yes, well,” he says, straightening his jacket once more. “I suppose I should have erred more on the side of-”

“Politeness?” 

Her eyes are sparkling. 

“Balderdash.” 

His tone is deadpan. 

“Or, as the rest of us call it, civility,” she retorts. He laughs and she shakes her head, casts a side-eyed glance at him. Despite himself, Sherlock is suddenly rather aware of the grey at his temples, threading through the black. He is suddenly aware that he is older- quite a bit older- than the last time they saw one another. Were John here, he would tease him about his vanity. 

Fortunately, however, John is not here. 

If she finds the sight of him unappealing, however, she gives no indication of it. Rather she laughs again, shakes her head again. As he watches she forces her eyes from his, back onto the dance floor where a pale, dark-haired debutante is dancing with some young buck or other. Molly’s eyes sweep over them with the peremptory skill of a governess before moving back to his own. 

“One must keep one’s charge in order,” she says at his questioning look. “Georgiana is having her first season and she hasn’t an ounce of sense when it comes to beaux.” 

Sherlock frowns, eyes flicking back to the girl. Surely Molly hasn’t a daughter old enough to come out- Has she ? But even as he tries to do the requisite maths in his head his eyes go to the locket at her throat: it’s heavy, made of jet. It hangs on a black ribbon. His eyes sweep over her gown, they take in the pale lavender bombazine, the black and lavender ribbon threading through her hair. 

Suddenly he sees it. Dear Lord, he sees it.  

He doesn’t want to look at the wash of emotions that move through him at the realisation. 

Nevertheless he stiffens. How could Mycroft have failed to inform him? “My apologies, Mrs. Smythe,” he says. His throat feels tight.  “I- I had not heard about your husband.” And he gestures to the locket, her dress. Lavender is a colour of half mourning which means the bereavement is, at least, not too recent. But still… 

A small, sad smile lights her face. “I’d ask how you guessed but that would be foolish,” she murmurs. A second, wherein her eyes seem to turn inward, and then she’s back with him. She raises that fierce little chin of hers, meets his eyes boldly. “The war has cost everyone someone,” she says bracingly. “I could not expect it to pass me by.”

“Quite.” He nods. He’s only too aware of what the last years have cost everyone in blood and misery. One could not spend so much time in His Majesty’s service and not notice. “Mycroft did not inform me,” he says, “or else I should have written to you-”

Molly shakes her head, that little hand moving in a fluttering, dismissive gesture which Sherlock dislikes. She only flutters when she’s nervous. “Mycroft has much on his mind,” she says evenly. “One could hardly complain of his forgetting about me.” Sherlock opens his mouth to argue but as he does his reason for being here- one Rosamund Marie Watson- swans onto the floor on the arm of a rake at least ten years her senior. She’s grinning like the proverbial cat with the proverbial cream dish and despite himself Sherlock swears under his breath. 

John is going to kill him. 

Molly looks from him to the girl and back. Her expression is curious. “Is that-?”

“John Watson’s daughter?” Sherlock says. “Yes, it is. I’m supposed to be watching her.” 

Just as he says the words Rosie meets his gaze and grins, waving jauntily. 

Despite everything, a smile twitches at Molly’s lip. “And why is her father not performing that august honour?” she asks dryly.

If nothing else, their childhood together must have indicated that Sherlock is not the sort of person one chooses as a chaperone.  

Sherlock shoots her a sour look. “John is not here,” he says testily, “because the good doctor cannot be trusted.” At Molly’s disbelieving laugh he shrugs. “Every single time John has attempted to attend one of these occasions with his daughter he has ended up either ejected from the premises or threatened with a duel.” He rolls his eyes. “A couple of times, it’s been both. If Rosie’s mother could see how he’s behaving she would never let him live it down.” 

Molly’s smile widens. “So I take it the good doctor is overly protective?”

Sherlock nods. Sighs like a martyr. “Ridiculously so.” Again he shakes his head, only reminding himself at the last moment not to rake his hands through his curls and set it into dishevelment. “It’s not as if it makes things any better: telling Rosie not to do something is about as useful, as, oh-”

“Telling you not to do something?” Molly helpfully supplies. 

She bats her eyes innocently and Sherlock narrows  his eyes. “Precisely.” A beat. The music has started. The couples have started swaying in time, the business of the night beginning in earnest. 

After all, Sherlock muses, these debutantes aren’t going to get themselves wed on their own, now are they? 

“Bloody hell but I still hate these things,” he mutters under his breath then. As has been the case so often since he returned from the Peninsula, he just feels so wretchedly old

To his surprise though he feels Molly’s hand at his arm. She gives it a squeeze. “I’ve always hated them too,” she says, sotto voce. “I’m only here because Georgiana has nobody left to bring her except me.” She gives a small sigh. “But if it helps any, you can have me too, to help you through it.” Another smile. "After all, they say misery loves company."

By now both her charge and Rosie are swirling expertly around the floor in the arms of their partners. Georgiana’s boy looks dazed, Rosamund’s looks positively smug. 

Sherlock gives Rosie less than an hour to knock that  right out of him. 

“That does help,” Sherlock says and then stops, unsure why he said something so uncouth out loud. 

Whatever would Molly think of him? 

Her eyes are still on the dance floor but nevertheless she’s smiling. “This is going to be a long season, old friend,” she tells him wryly, “but we’ll get through it together.” 

And though he doesn’t want to cogitate too carefully about the whys and the wherefores, her words make Sherlock very glad indeed. 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine.


GREY, LILAC, LAVENDER


She doesn’t think of him in the carriage ride home. (At least, she tells herself she doesn’t.)

She doesn’t think of him as she eases a slightly tipsy Georgiana to bed. (She tells herself she must concentrate on the task at hand.)

She doesn’t think of him as she supervises the servants in their gathering up of gowns, slippers, jewels and trinkets, all to be returned to their prospective strong boxes and display cases, all to be cleaned on the morrow or polished until they are needed again. (Which will be in, oh, about two days). She doesn’t think about him as her ladies maid takes down her hair and brushes it, asking her about the night and about young Georgiana’s performance therein. She doesn’t think of him as she finally slips out of her clothing and into her nightdress.

She doesn’t think of him.

She tells herself she doesn’t think of him.

She’s spent an entire lifetime, it sometimes seems, telling herself that she’s not thinking about Sherlock Holmes.

And yet, when Molly is finally alone in her bed, when the bustle and rush of the night is truly over and she can close her eyes and dream-

In that moment she can no longer pretend that she’s not thinking about him.

For as soon as she closes her eyes she sees him behind her eyelids. The sweep of his figure, the warm, still-familiar stroke of his smile, as lovely as the flick of an artist’s brush. His straightened back, still so erect and elegant. His hands, still long-fingered and strong. (She hopes he still plays his violin). In her mind’s eye she sees the curls she has spent so much of her youth just wanting to wind fingers through, to ascertain whether they felt as soft as they looked-Surely they must be as soft as they looked?- and she is forced to bite her lip. To expel a breath and tell herself she is being foolish.

And yet-

In truth he has aged- they both have- but the passage of time has not dimmed him. Diminished him.

He is still every bit as extraordinarily, blazingly singular as he had always been.

At the thought Molly puffs out a sigh. Turns on her side and tells herself to stop. Thinking. About. Sherlock. Holmes!

This admonition is about as effective as it was when she was sixteen years old.

For though she has long known it impossible, it seems she still cannot martial a modicum of sense when it comes to Sherlock. Sometimes she fancies the breed of madness he creates is catching. She is a widow, she tells herself forcefully. She has no need to remarry, nor any intention to do so. These past five years since she lost Thomas have been wonderful, her freedoms guaranteed, her life her own to plot a course with. She can behave as a married woman does but she does not have a husband to answer to. She has her own money and makes her own decisions.

Her life is good. Her life is better than good.

Were it not purchased by the early death of a good and kind husband then Molly would think it perfect.

And yet

In the five years since Thomas’ death she has worn half-mourning. At first it had been because she was genuinely heartbroken; not so much by the loss of her husband, but by her awareness that she was supposed to be heartbroken by the loss of her husband. Molly had struggled in her girlhood to tame the rather romantic sensibilities with which she was born: While she might have wanted a love match- and a love match with a certain curly-haired, fascinating neighbor- she had never truly thought that it would happen for her.

No, she had always understood that that had never been on the cards.

For marriage was a business, and a difficult one at that. In watching her own parents she had seen the damage done when two unsuited people made a lifelong commitment to one another and stuck to it through to the end; she was not willing to subject herself to that, no matter what her romantic young heart might have whispered. So while she and Thomas were not a love match they had, to be sure, been very, very fond of one another. Neither the marital bed nor the marital home had been a source of strife between them, and while they had not yet been blessed with children neither had they been particularly struck by disaster.

Thomas’ investments did not sour.

He did not stray, or if he did he had the good courtesy to do so in private.

He often told her how it would pain him to be a cause of her losing face.

And so up until his enlistment in the army he had been a model husband, had done everything and anything which was expected of him. (He and Molly had that in common, she had often dryly mused).

But then came the war.

Then came his death, is agony and squalor, far away on a foreign shore with no wife to comfort him.

And it had been wretched. They couldn’t even bring his body home to her, she had been obliged to bury a suit of clothes and some of his favourite things in a coffin and that at the behest of his ageing mother and Georgiana, his young sister. Neither woman had ever recovered from his loss, but Molly had. Molly had known she would, and the guilt of it was eating her alive, even now.

But still, she had seen to it all. Managed it all.

She had been the rock of good sense everyone had needed her to be.

When it was over she had worn black for a year and then switched to grey, lilac, lavender. She still wore black ribbons in her hair, still wore that damn locket of heavy Whitby jet his mother gave her around her neck. And even now, five years later, she was still wearing half mourning because, truth be told, she had no interest in being seen as a prospect for marriage. She was far too happy with her life for that.

Or at least she had been, she thinks darkly, until her childhood friend had walked into that ballroom tonight and set her peaceful, ordered world off its axis.

“Drat,” she says aloud, and she knows that for an understatement.

It’s always an understatement, with Sherlock Holmes.

At the thought she huffs out an annoyed breath. Sits up in her bed. She reaches for the pitcher of water beside her and pours herself a drink. Just for a moment she considers going hunting for the brandy she keeps locked in her dresser but she hasn’t the patience for it in the dark and besides, that would feel almost like she was giving in to her frustration.

She would not give into her frustration.

So she sits. Sips. Takes deep breaths and tries to think about this logically. Logic had always been at the heart of her problems, and logic would see her through this. Point the first, she reminds herself: Sherlock was unmarried, and that was by choice. As a younger son he had both more leisure and less pressure to produce an heir, something his brother Mycroft had achieved with remarkable alectrity once he married Lady Anthea Underwood. But Sherlock had shown, in his each and every encounter, that he did not please to have a wife, or indeed any sort of woman with him.

He didn’t even play the rake, something which many would have forgiven him more readily than his open scorn for the married state.

No, what Sherlock wanted, more than anything else, was to be his own man.

It was, irritatingly, something he and Molly had in common.

Point the second: Molly was happy with her life, and her freedoms. She did not wish either to be compromised: Widowhood was a fine state of affairs and one which she was rather unwilling to give up, even at the prospect of a union with Sherlock Holmes. (Not that she could imagine him wanting such a thing). After all, yes he had seemed pleased to see her, and yes in the last few years he had seemed to find some domestic felicity with the Watsons before Mrs. Watson’s untimely death. But that didn’t mean that he would want a union with her or anyone. However much she might like to imagine him as a lover, Molly was too much a realist these days to let her heart’s fantasies rule her head.

Sherlock Holmes was not on the table, and even if he was, she should not have him for fear of losing the life she loved.

Logically, therefore, she should stop thinking about him post haste and get some sleep.

“I have a long day tomorrow,” she reminds herself, her voice echoing in the dark.

With those words she nods to herself firmly. She closes her eyes and turns over again. Orders herself to sleep.

It takes her several hours to find it.

And all the while- all the while- she finds herself picturing a certain once-familiar smile. A pair of once-familiar eyes. It feels like they’re looking deep inside her.

She falls into a fitful sleep eventually and when she dreams, she dreams of Sherlock Holmes.

Meanwhile,
In the smoking room of Musgrave Hall

“So,” John ventures. “How did it go?”

And he takes a sip of his brandy. Looks gamely at his best friend.

Said best friend sighs. Sits down beside him. The fire is warm and inviting, a soothing thing after a night spent haring around after Rosie and his unexpected (unpleasant) surprise with Molly.

At the thought of his childhood friend, Sherlock can’t help his sigh.

As happy as he was to see her, he wishes he had found her in a happier state.

Without being asked John pours him a brandy and hands it to him; from above they hear the youngest Watson clattering about, doubtless still too excited to go straight to bed. The two men share a smile and to Sherlock’s relief Watson laughs.

“She enjoyed herself?” He asks, to which Sherlock nods.

“Her dance card was filled.”

John raises his eyebrows. “Anyone I need to worry about?” To which Sherlock is tempted to roll his eyes.

“You do realise that if you want her to behave,a lighter touch might be in order?” John bristles but he continues. “I am in earnest, John,” he says. “She only chases ineligible men to show you that she can: were you to leave her to her own devices then she would choose well.”

And he takes a sip of his brandy. Looks away.

This next is awkward to say, but say it he must.

“She is clever, John,” he says quietly. “You always say she’s her mother’s daughter, so let her be her mother’s daughter.

She will make the right choice.”

“Like Mary did?”

The words are low, angry. As always when he speaks about his late, beloved wife John’s mouth twists into a hard line. His eyes blaze and Sherlock can’t help it, he gets to his feet. Drains the brandy glass and sets off towards the door.

He is not having this argument with John again.

So he slips wordlessly out, makes his way upstairs. His room- the room which has been his for his entire life- is on the third floor, well away from everyone else. As he slips inside he closes the door softly, his fingers aching for his violin (though of course there’s no way he could play tonight.

Not unless he wants to be challenged to a duel.)

So instead he takes up his violin, brings it to his chin. He motions as if with his bow, slides his fingers delicately up and down the instrument’s neck. Eyes closed, he imagines the notes he’s playing in his head. Imagines his feelings streaming out through them, made beautiful and orderly and safe by the cage of music.

As he plays he finds himself smiling; it takes a moment to realise why.

For he’s remembering the song which played as he bid goodnight to Molly…

He’s humming it as he undresses and falls into bed.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine.  Thanks for their reviews go to MizJoely, ChiefDoctor, rabbit_in_blue, Mistykins06, SempreConAmore, MetricJenn, carette_caretta, SammyKatz, thewasp and Elizabethfromholland. The song for this chapter is here - enjoy!

 


JUST THE THOUGHT OF IT ACCELERATES THE PULSE


Musgrave House

Grosvenor Square

The Next Day 

John is gone by the time he wakes up the next day, off to see a wealthy patient who can’t wait, apparently. 

Sherlock doesn’t believe that for a minute.

Oh, he knows that his friend is in possession of an enviably exclusive client list- how else could he afford Rosie’s Season? - but he doubts that Lady Markby simply had to see Watson before ten on a Wednesday morning. Not with Lord Markby in town, at any rate. No, Sherlock knows that it’s far more likely John wanted out of the house rather than continue their conversation from last night, something which irritates him immensely- 

“Everything alright?” Rosie asks from the end of the dining table. 

It’s the first words she’s uttered this morning, aside from a barely legible greeting upon entering the room. Turns out, a night spent dancing, drinking punch and then wine and then dancing some more can lead to a rather spectacular hangover, something the girl is only learning now. 

In fact, she’s looking rather green. 

Sherlock can’t help himself. “Sorry, what was that?” he asks, quite a bit more loudly than is necessary. 

Rosie flinches and then glares at him. 

He grins beatifically back at her. 

“I asked,” she says testily, “whether you were quite well this morning: you seem distracted.” A beatific grin of her own. “Though of course, it may simply be that your advanced age is leading to hearing loss.” She shrugs angelically. “My sympathies, if so.” 

Sherlock snorts. At moments like this, brattish as she may be, she reminds him so much of her mother that he can’t help but adore her. “Yes, well,” he says theatrically, “old and infirm as I am, I can only hope that whatever is causing your headache this morning isn’t catching.” He takes a delicate sip of coffee. “Unless, of course, it is a result of last night’s overindulgence, in which case “my sympathies,” is definitely the sentiment...”

“Overindulgence?” Rosie scoffs. “I had but two glasses of wine with dinner.”

“And three glasses of punch during the dancing,” Sherlock interrupts, grinning wickedly. 

She cocks an arch eyebrow at him. “And what, precisely, is wrong with drinking punch?” she inquires. “All of the other girls were having some.”

“Then all of the other girls will have heads like yours this morning.” At her look Sherlock laughs. “I take it you do not know Haversham’s famous punch requires several bottles of rum, hmm?” He sees realisation hit Rosie and her expression is priceless. “In fact, in some quarters they call it the Devil’s Grapejuice-” 

“Bloody hell,” Rosie pouts. “You didn’t tell me!”

“I bloody did!” Sherlock retorts. Then, remembering that he is supposed to be encouraging Rosie into more ladylike behaviour- unlikely as it is to stick- he continues, “I told you to go easy on the stuff.”

Again Rosie pouts, crossing her arms. “You still could have been more forthcoming,” she mutters. 

“Aye,” Sherlock answers, “I could have but I wasn’t rightly sure what mischief you would make with such knowledge.” The girl opens her mouth to contradict him but at his arched eyebrow she apparently realises the weakness of any argument she might make. 

She has, after all, a great deal of form in the mischief-making arena. 

“I still say you could have told me,” she mutters but there’s no force to it, she merely wants to have the last word. She pokes desultarily at her porridge and Sherlock smiles, more softly this time. Inclines his head to the sideboard to their right. 

“Have some coffee,” he tells her. “It will help with the headache. Toast helps too, just no butter. And be more mindful next time.” Another smile. “Trust me, you’ll be right as rain in no time.” She stands, pours herself a cup of coffee and takes a slice of toast. As she does so he turns back to his paper. 

“Did you at least enjoy it?” he asks from behind the pages. 

“Oh yes!” Rosie chirps and just like that she’s off, telling him about who she danced with and who she spoke to and really, she hadn’t thought it would be so enjoyable to be wrestled into a dress and frogmarched to a ballroom but actually, it had been rather fun, meeting all those people. As she chatters away Sherlock smiles, glad that at least she enjoyed herself. Her coming out has been such a source of tension in the household that he’s pleased someone is getting something out of it. 

“But what about you?” she asks when she finally has to stop and take a breath. “Did you enjoy yourself?”

There’s something teasing in her tone that makes Sherlock put down the paper and look at her. The next words are directed playfully into her coffee cup. “You were talking to one of the other chaperones, were you not?” she continues. “Pretty little dark-haired thing, wearing a widow’s weeds-”

“That was Molly.” 

He doesn’t mean the words to come out quite as sharply as they do, if for no other reason than he doesn’t want to give Rosie any ideas. 

One look at her bright-eyed, shrewd countenance quite puts pay to that hope, however. 

He sighs: best to get this over with. “The woman you saw me speaking to is an old friend from childhood,” he says. “She has recently lost her husband, something of which I was unaware.” Rosie blinks, still young enough to be surprised by the thought of someone else having lost someone to the war. Sherlock supposes he envies her such naivete. “Molly- That is, Mrs. Smythe- is a dear old friend of mine and I would appreciate it if you would not... imply anything about us,” he says stiffly.

“Like what?” Rosie asks because of course she does. 

She’s Mary’s daughter through and through. 

“I would appreciate you not insinuating that there is anything romantic between us to either your father or your friends,” he says bluntly. “She should be given leave to grieve in peace, do you understand, Rosamund?”

She blinks: She’s only Rosamund when she’s in trouble, just as Sherlock is only William Scott Sherlock Holmes when he is. 

A beat of awkward silence descends. 

She breaks it. “I just thought you might have, you know, found someone,” she says eventually. At the look on his face she rushes on. “You’re a second son, Sherlock,” she says, “but you still have a sizable fortune and you’re, well, you . You’re handsome, brilliant...” She sticks her tongue out at him when he mock-preens at the words. “You know well that you are so do knock that off.”  

He laughs and she smiles more, her expression softening. “I told Papa that having you as a chaperone might cause you… problems,” she says quietly. “I know you have no wish to marry but I doubt any of the Mamas in the Ton are going to take no for an answer.” At his surprised look she gives another shrug. “I just thought you might have chosen someone to talk with who would keep you out of circulation, as it were: I meant no mischief.”

This time it’s Sherlock’s turn to blink. Even as long as he’s known her, even as much as he’s trained her, sometimes Rosie’s powers of observation surprise him.

 “To be honest,” he says, “that hadn’t even occurred to me.”

Rosie takes a careful sip of her coffee. “It not occurring to you is rather the point, dear Godfather,” she says primly. 

On impulse Sherlock rises, walks over to her and presses a kiss to her cheek. In all the world, he’s not sure he cares for anyone more than she. “You’re rather brilliant yourself, you know,” he whispers into her hair. He can practically see her smile and, as it has done every day since her first one, it makes his heart warm. “I can take care of myself, dearheart,” he tells her. “You needn’t worry about me.”

She lets out a snort of laughter and he pulls away. The air between them feels easier. Lighter. 

“You say you can take care of yourself,” she continues, tone once again teasing, “but you didn’t see some of the things I did last night.” She mock-shudders. “If you sent the Mamas of the Ton to face Napoleon, the war would be over in an evening.” 

“I don’t doubt it.” Sherlock picks back up his paper and starts reading. “Would it even take an evening? 

I’d wager it could be done in an hour.”

And at that the morning returns to its light, chattery beginnings. 

Rosie’s words, however, continue to echo through his head for the rest of the day.


Meanwhile, 

In Another House of Grosvenor Square 

She’s dreaming. 

Molly knows she’s dreaming. 

Because in her dream it’s warm, and sunny, and she’s in the middle of the country. In fact, she’s climbing up the great oak at the edge of her father’s property, her skirt tucked up- rather ingeniously, she feels- into her stays. She’s also taken off her stockings and left them down below with her shoes, the better to keep them clean and forego a scolding from her governess- 

“Is that you up there Molly?” A voice calls and when she looks down it’s Sherlock striding towards her. Sherlock who’s smiling at her, his eyes bright and laughing. Sherlock who’s all of fourteen and quite the handsomest boy she’s ever met. 

The sight makes her heart swoop. 

For he’s taken off his cravat and rolled his sleeves up; his waistcoat is unbuttoned and his jacket lies slung across his arm. As she watches him approach she gets so distracted that she loses her footing and tumbles from the tree with a loud, unladylike yelp- Fortunately for her the landing is soft- there’s naught damaged but her dignity- 

Nevertheless he runs towards her. Helps her sit up. 

She is achingly, blazingly aware of his hand at her back, of his nearness as he looks at her. 

“What are you about?” he asks quizzically and she has no answer to give, at least none that she would dare own. 

“It’s the heat,” she says instead because that’s possible, isn’t it? If one were to believe her governess about the inherent frailty of the feminine body then one would almost think it unavoidable. Sherlock’s looking at her queerly though. “You’re as spry as a mountain goat,” he says softly. “It’s rare that you fall over.”

She gives her best rendition of a careless laugh. She’s not sure how successful it is, judging by the way Sherlock narrows his eyes. “Well, there’s a first time for everything,” she quips as she tries to stand. She misjudges things and trips again, this time landing in Sherlock’s arms. He’s not expecting it and now his legs go out from under him, sending them both earthward with an “oomph!” and a laugh. 

They both giggle and try to catch their breath, their bodies pressed against one another and their legs entangled. They’ve been like this hundreds of times before during play-battles and skirmishes, but for some reason this time seems different. This time it feels different. 

Molly’s not sure why. 

Because Sherlock is peering at her owlishly, his normally confident gaze confused. His eyes flicker from her own to her lips and back again and for some reason the action makes him sigh. Gulp. He licks his lips. Molly sighs too, leaning into him. She’s not sure what she wants, but she knows she wants something and she knows she wants it from Sherlock- 

“Molly!” Georgiana’s voice pierces her sleep, jolly and excited and rather a bit too loud for this time in the morning. “Molly,” Georgiana calls again, “Do come and see: I’ve been sent ever so many flowers!”

For a moment Molly groans. Closes her eyes. Presses her pillow across her face in an effort to block out the world. She considers feigning a headache and just staying in bed but she can’t bring herself to worry Georgie like that so she tosses the pillow aside. Sits up, pulls on her dressing gown and pulls open her door.

Georgiana is outside, practically hopping from foot to foot in excitement. 

“Just give me a few minutes to dress and I’ll be down shortly,” she tells her gently. The girl laughs, presses a kiss to her cheek and then takes off delightedly for the breakfast room. As she clatters loudly through the house and Molly can’t help but smile. She summons her ladysmaid and sets about deciding which dress to wear today and what she can think about besides that blasted dream of hers- 

She’s narrowed it down to her favourite dove grey or a new lilac from Bond Street from her ladies maid, Kitty, enters bearing a bouquet of red camellias. “Miss Georgiana sent these up,” she says. “She didn’t think her Mama would appreciate seeing them.”

“Why?” Molly asks, frowning. “Are they from someone we should be worried about?” 

Kitty beams, as proud as punch, and Molly’s confusion deepens. 

“Oh no, milady,” she says excitedly. “These flowers are for you .”

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. And can I just say, thank you very much to everyone who is reading, commenting and enjoying. I hope this continues to amuse. Oh, and the song for this chapter is here - enjoy!


A TRIFLING FRIEND INDEED


For a moment- for the tiniest, most infinitesimal moment- Molly feels her heart skip a beat. 

She stares at the flowers and she stares at the note attached to them and for just a second she allows herself to think that maybe Sherlock Holmes sent them. She allows herself to think that maybe Sherlock Holmes is thinking of her. 

The thought causes the most alarming... flutter within. 

For she can see the seductive logic of it: there is nobody else with whom she has recently spoken who might be inclined to buy her flowers. Were they from either Georgiana or her mother-in-law then those ladies would have presented them to her, not smuggled them into her chamber with a nudge and a wink. Yet even as she thinks this, some sensible, level-headed voice within her orders her to stop being so silly and just read the note that came with them. 

It won’t be from Sherlock, this august voice states. You know it won’t be from Sherlock.  

Now read the note so you can put that idiotic idea behind you and get on with your day. 

And so she carefully opens the note and peers at the scrawled missive therein. It’s some vapid sentiment, signed by a Mr. Culverton Smith. Molly frowns, trying to recall- Ah yes. Culverton Smith. He’s one of the gentlemen of His Majesty’s Privy Chamber. A small, punctilious individual, who has not spoken to Molly above five times in her life-  

On each occasion she had made sure to leave the conversation quickly; there was something about the gentleman which unsettled her. Deeply.  

“May I ask who it’s from, miss?” Kitty asks timidly, perhaps reading her mistress’ expression. 

Molly balls up the note and discards it.

She tells herself that the pang in her chest is not disappointment.  

“It’s from a man I barely know,” she announces, peering at the flowers. Red camellias symoblise  deep passion: whatever would make Culverton Smith think he knew her well enough to send her a sentiment like that

At her maid’s disappointed sigh Molly snaps her attention back to the present, hands the blooms to Kitty. “Here,” she says. “Have them.”

“Oh, I couldn’t, miss!” Kitty says. “They’re for you!”

Molly shakes her head, placing the bouquet on the dresser beside her. She knows Kitty practices flower pressing: better that the blooms go to her than the fire. 

Rather than say as much however, turns her attention back to dressing. 

The dove grey today, she thinks. Definitely the dove grey. 

It was one of the first half-mourning gowns she ever bought. 

Picking up the dress she indicates to Kitty that she wishes to dress. The girl hastens to help, and though she refused Molly’s offer of the flowers, her eyes keep straying to them. 

Molly makes a mental note to place them in her room for her later, that she might enjoy them at her leisure. 

“So I take it the camellias do not please you, miss?” she ventures gingerly. 

“Indeed not,” Molly mutters as Kitty helps her into her stays. “There’s a reason I wear half mourning, and it’s not so I can receive flowers from every ninny who sees me in a ballroom.” Kitty pulls the laces and she huffs in a breath. The lingerie feels… heavier than usual. She wonders why that might be. “I mean, can you credit it?” Molly continues, rather than ponder it. “I’ve barely even spoken to the man and he’s sending me flowers-”

“I think it’s romantic, miss,” Kitty says softly- But then, she would do. She’s the romantic sort. 

“You wouldn’t think it romantic if you had seen the gentleman in question,” Molly snorts. 

“Is he very grey?” Kitty giggles. 

“Very.” Molly shudders at the mere thought of being courted by such a man and Kitty’s expression turns sympathetic. She gives her mistress a small pat on the shoulder, something quite unusual for her. “But even if he as young and sprightly as Apollo,” Molly continues, “I can’t imagine why he would think me interested in remarrying-” 

“Did something happen last night to give him that impression?” 

Kitty has moved onto Molly’s dress, holding her mistress’ hand to keep her steady as that mistress steps into it. She then starts pulling it briskly up over her hips and shoulders. 

It settles like a fortress around Molly. 

The question brings her up short. Had she done anything to give the impression that she might be on the lookout for a new husband? She throws her mind back over last night- for it must have been last night, the flowers would doubtless have arrived earlier were it not- but she comes up short. She had done nothing unusual last night, nothing she hadn’t done at every occassion in which she had chaperoned Georgiana. She drank, she chatted. With the exception of speaking to Sherlock-

She stops. Stiffens. 

Oh dear. 

The proverbial penny drops with a clang. 

It’s so loud she’s surprised Kitty didn’t hear it. 

“Miss, are you alright?” Kitty asks. She sounds slightly alarmed. 

Molly doesn’t blame her. 

“Could you do me a favour, Kitty?” she asks. She’s feeling rather… faint. “Once you’ve finished dressing me, could you go downstairs and make sure there are no other flowers for me? I-” She clears her throat and tries to make her voice sound reasonable. 

“I have a theory I wish to test.”

More accurately, she has a theory she hopes is wrong. 

“Of course, miss,” Kitty says. “As soon as I’m finished, miss.” She starts buttoning up Molly’s dress at the back, her singers working with the rapidity and precision for which she was hired. Again it occurs to Molly that her clothes feel heavy- uncomfortable- today. “Are you hoping to get flowers from anyone in particular?” Kitty asks as she finishes, to which Molly shakes her head. 

She’s not expecting flowers from anyone, she thinks: That’s the bloody problem!

But she doesn’t say that: It’s not Kitty’s fault she’s in this situation and she won’t take it out on her. And after all, she may be wrong. But deep down she knows she isn’t: the Ton- or rather, certain male members of it- have apparently taken her innocent conversation with Sherlock last night as an indication that she is intent on casting off her mourning and reentering the marriage mart. They had seen the pair of them together and made assumptions, the same sort of assumptions everyone had made when they were young. And if Culverton Smith had taken that notion into his head then she doubts that he’s the only one- 

He’s not what one would call a radical thinker. 

Molly thins her lips, considers her prospects grimly: she’s young and in possession of a good fortune. Once men get the notion that she’s looking for a husband, her quiet days in society will be long gone, as will her independence. It would therefore behoove her to nip this nonsense in the bud.  

And it’s at this moment that she decides that she had better speak with the Right Honourable Sherlock Holmes, Esq. as soon as possible. 

After all, if he got her into this mess then he can help to get her out of it. 


Two Hours Later, 

Lady Huntingdon’s Musicale

 

Sherlock is considering stealing the younger Huntingdon’s violin and spiriting it away to safety. 

It’s the only way he can imagine making the travesty before him halt.  

For the two young girls- and their rather over-indulgent mother- have been torturing Mr. Mozart for at least forty minutes and quite frankly Sherlock’s starting to hope for either spontaneous  deafness or the silent solace of the grave- 

“I can fake an attack of the vapours,” Rosie murmurs, sotto voce. “Just give me the word.”

She manages to say this without moving her lips. 

Sherlock feels a touch of pride at her achievement. As tempted as he is to take her up on it however, he knows that it wouldn’t be wise for her to draw attention to herself that way. He also suspects that not even Rosie is a good enough actor to convince Lady Huntingdon she wasn’t making an escape attempt. So instead he takes the girl’s hand and gives it a silencing squeeze- 

Really, the solace of the grave is looking rather appealing right now-

As if the Fates had heard his plea the music finally, mercifully comes to an end. The audience gives a smattering of applause and stands, making its way towards the refreshments table, which is practically weighed down with cake, coffee and tea. Sherlock knows a trap when he sees one however and refuses to be drawn into this one- 

“On the count of three,” he whispers to Rosie, “We’ll slip out before anyone notices us.”

“Vatican cameos,” she says. 

“Vatican cameos,” he answers, nodding. 

They share a conspiratorial smile and with remarkable synchronicity begin meandering their way down the drawing room towards the door, and, hence, freedom. He’s so intent on this goal that it takes him a moment to realise that he’s bumped into someone- That he’s bumped into Molly!

“Beg pardon,” he says, catching her elbow and holding her upright. “I didn’t see you there, Molly.”

She smiles and he can’t help his own grin. But then, it has always been thus. 

“Well,” she points out sensibly, “I am very short and you are very tall.” 

“Story of our childhood, that.” He laughs, again unable to help himself, and her smile brightens considerably. She’s looking lovely today, wearing a stiff-looking grey gown and gloves. Her hair is pulled back off her face in a neat little bun, just the way she used to wear it when they were younger-

“Aren’t you going to introduce us, Godfather?”

The question comes from Rosie and instantly he snaps back to attention. 

His charge is grinning at him in a frankly bone-chilling manner and he has the sinking feeling that he is going to be hearing about his reaction all day, impertinent creature that she is. 

“Of course,” he says. He gestures to Rosie. “Molly, this is my goddaughter Rosemund,” he says. “I am acting as her chaperone for the Season. Rosie, this is my old friend, Mrs Margaret Smythe.” 

The girl holds out her hand and gives a small bobbing curtsy when Molly takes it. “A pleasure to meet you,” Molly says. “Please, feel free to call me Molly.” She shoots Sherlock a fond smile. “Your Godfather and I were childhood playmates, you know.”

Rosie’s tone is sly. “Then you must know all sorts of delightful stories about him when he was younger.” 

Molly grins. “Indeed I do.” She leans in and whispers, “I have also been known to accept bribes, in case you were wondering.” 

“Capital!” Rosie laughs, clapping her hands while Sherlock groans. 

When he looks at Molly her eyes are dancing. 

Abruptly, however, they turn serious. She clears her throat and it surprises Sherlock, how much he feels the loss of that smile. “Might I make a terribly forward request?” she asks Rosie, to which the girl nods. 

“Of course,” she says. 

Now Molly’s eyes turn to Sherlock and there is something worried in their depths. 

Instantly, it sets him on edge. 

“I should like to speak to you on a... private matter,” she tells him quietly. “Might you and Miss Rosemund be willing to join Georgiana and I for a stroll through Hyde Park this afternoon? 

I have something very pressing which I wish to discuss with you, and I cannot be seen to be alone with you when I do it.” 

“Of course,” Sherlock says, not for the first time lamenting his countrymen’s obsession with propriety. 

Shouldn’t Molly just be able to tell him what she needs to?

Nevertheless he nods. Inclines his head and hoops Rosie’s arm through his. They’re starting to draw attention and if he and Rosie want to be spared Lady Huntingdon’s second sally then they need to leave now.  

“We shall meet you at four,” he says. “By the main gate. There will be plenty of people to see us promenade even at that hour, but it won’t be crowded: will that suffice?” 

“It will.” Molly nods, smiling at both he and Rosie. She looks relieved, something Sherlock likes not at all. “I thank you- Now make your escape, I can’t leave Georgiana.” 

And she nods to the pretty, dark-haired girl Sherlock saw her watching over last night. The girl waves and joins her, a troop of her friends in tow. Sherlock doesn’t stay to be introduced to them but rather leads Rosie away as surreptitiously as he can. 

They lose themselves easily as the musicale’s crowd retake their seats. 

“What was that about?” Rosie asks when they’re safely outside on the pavement. 

“I have no idea,” Sherlock tells her, even as he silently vows to help Molly in whatever way she needs. Whatever she asks of him, he’ll do it. 

After all, if there’s anyone who deserves his attentions then it’s Mrs. Molly Smythe, or Molly Hooper as was. 



 

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. And can I just say, thank you very much to everyone who is reading, commenting and enjoying. The song for this chapter is here, and I hope this continues to amuse. 


PLAY THE CARDS WITH SPADES TO START


Hyde Park is mercifully quiet by the time Sherlock arrives. 

The busy period for promenading lasts until three so by now there’s few people left to see or be seen, something for which Molly is very grateful. She’s even more grateful when Sherlock exits his carriage:  as soon as he hands Miss Rosemund down he comes striding over to Molly, drawing appreciative glances as he goes. Not that he notices: no, he keeps his eyes on Molly and when he reaches her he presses a kiss over her outstretched hand. 

A subtle creature this man is not. 

The action flusters Molly slightly, though she would never admit it in a million years. He seems to realise it, too, for when his charge joins him and Molly introduces them both to Georgiana he asks that the two young ladies walk ahead together. There may be a couple of suitable men about and the two girls would do well to catch them this far from a ballroom- 

“Reminds me of when Mama took you and Papa tiger hunting in India,” Rosemund quips. She hooks her arm through Georgiana’s. “Would you like to hear the story?” she asks and the other girl nods, wide-eyed as she leads her away. 

Their chaperones follow, keeping a respectable distance behind as they amble towards the river. 

“I feel I should warn you,” Sherlock tells Molly quietly, “that Rosie will not be a good influence on your sister-in-law.”

Molly blinks at him and he looks chagrined. 

“Were you anyone else I would lie through my teeth about her virtues but well... “ He shrugs. “You know my mother.”

Despite herself Molly smiles. “And there would therefore be consequences for your subterfuge?” He nods and she can’t help her laugh. It cheers her to know that the dowager Viscountess Alexandra Holmes is still a force to be reckoned with. “I shall consider myself duly warned,” she says. He answers her smile with one of his own, boyish and lopsided, and just for a moment she feels… something. Something light, lighter than she has felt in a long time. 

It’s the queerest thing but that dream from last night, the one of them together as children, pops into her head.

She pushes it away but she still feels a pang.  

As she does so a bachelor- Lord Evenham, she thinks-  enters her line of vision and shoots her a positively flirtatious look, doffing his hat to her. His eyes rake over her with an obviousness which is barely the right side of respectful and the reason for this meeting comes back to her. She needs Sherlock's help. The effect is as disturbing as a bucket of ice cold water over her head, especially since she knows that Evenham was a good friend of her late husband’s. 

To business, she thinks. I need Sherlock to speak to the idiot men sending me flowers and get them to stop

“Is that man bothering you?” Sherlock asks, and, as he had when they were children, he sounds quite ready to enact vengeance on the blighter for whatever infraction he has committed. 

Molly shakes her head. She waits until they are within the line of trees which skirt the path (though still within sight of their charges) and leans into him. Quietly, she says, “there is something which I need to speak to you about. Something which requires… discretion.”

“As you said earlier,” Sherlock nods. “And it is something which you do not feel can wait long enough to be committed to paper-”

“It cannot ever be committed to paper,” Molly retorts. “It must remain between you and I.” For it is one thing to exchange letters with an old family friend, even a male one; it is quite another to do as Molly is doing and ask that male family friend to act in the manner of a brother or husband. The first is understandable, the latter bordering on the unladylike. Women are not supposed to behave as if they have the right to control their future, however much they may insist on doing so. And of course, were people to get the wrong idea about she and Sherlock's relationship, that something untoward were going on, then the damage to her reputation would be substantial. In all likelihood Georgiana would be tainted too, and Molly will not permit that to happen: the girl has her whole life ahead of her. She should not have that stolen from her because Culverton Smith and Sebastian Moran are imbeciles. 

So- 

They clear the trees, entering back into plain sight, and she pulls away from Sherlock. Straightens up and composes her features. 

It wouldn’t do for anyone to see them looking like they were speaking intimately. 

She tells herself sternly that she can do this; He peers at her quizzically for a moment before matching her stance, making sure to smile at those around him. He does not, however, respond to any of the feminine smiles directed his way, something for which Molly feels rather grateful though she knows she should not. Were he seen to be talking to other women, his speaking to her would not stand out as much, nor draw so much attention. He calls out to Rosemund not to get too far ahead of him- this earns him an eyeroll from the girl- and then they’re back within the tree line of the path again, and out of plain sight. He turns to her. 

“Are you in any sort of trouble?” he asks her, his voice quiet. Intense. 

He slows his pace too, the better to take advantage of their temporary privacy. 

Despite herself Molly feels a shiver trill up her spine. His question surprises her. 

“Yes,” Molly blurts and immediately wishes she hadn’t: his countenance undergoes the most swift and alarming change, and for a moment she rather thinks he’s furious. “No, no,” she says, “I’m not, not in-danger-trouble...” She hastens to reassure him because really, she’s not sure what he’ll do if she doesn’t. “Though of course, were I in danger-trouble then I would come to you immediately. But it is not- I’m not- That is to say-” 

His reaction has rather flustered her. 

He looks like he knows it too. For- “Molly,” he says quietly, “what is the matter?” 

And he peers at her intently. He has come to a halt, his arms crossed over his chest. Those mercurial eyes of his meet hers and hold; his very calmness gives her a chance to compose herself. 

Really, she tells herself, she shouldn’t be such a ninny . 

“I received flowers this morning,” she blurts out, beginning to walk again. Once those words are out, the rest follow more easily. He falls into step beside her. “They came from a Mr. Culverton Smith-” The name causes the oddest reaction in Sherlock; he purses his lips distastefully- “Another bouquet arrived just as I was leaving with Georgiana, this from Lord Moran, And I fear there will be more when I return tonight-”

“You fear?” Sherlock inquires. “I rather thought that women liked receiving flowers.”

It’s the oddest thing but he sounds somewhat… disgruntled. 

Molly shoots him a look. “Women like receiving flowers,” she says with asperity. “Happily settled widows do not.” He frowns and she sees that more explanation is necessary. “There is a reason I still wear half mourning, Sherlock,” she says, lowering her voice. It is, after all, unseemly to speak this way in public, and yet speaking of it to him in private is not an option. “Thomas has been dead for five years,” she tells him. “I have already mourned him. He was a good man and I wish he hadn’t died but he did: there’s naught I can do about it. However, while I continue to publicly grieve-”

She sees understanding enter his eyes. 

“Then you continue to have your independence,” he finishes for her. 

She nods, relieved that she hadn’t had to be more explicit. 

He is, after all, known for being a damnably clever man

“A widow can have a life of her own,” she continues, her tone more even. “The Season notwithstanding, she keeps her own hours, her own house, her own books.” She shrugs, making a show of stopping to admire one of the flowerbeds just coming into bloom. Sherlock stands aside and pretends to check on Rosemund and Georgiana before rejoining her as she starts to walk again. 

“It seems, however,” she continues, “that when we were seen talking to one another last night certain men within the Ton decided that meant I was heading back to the marriage market-”

At her words Sherlock gets the most peculiar look on his face. For a moment she almost thinks that he’ll swear. When she turns to examine him closely however, his expression has become utterly bland, so bland that Molly almost fancies she imagined his earlier indignation. 

A beat. 

It feels very long and rather awkward. 

“That is a difficulty indeed,” he says, voice oddly stiff. He clears his throat; he can’t meet her eyes. “And I take it none of these men are of any interest to you?”

Again, just for a moment she thinks he wants to swear though he does not. 

So she shakes her head. “No man is of any interest to me,” she says. She thinks, then amends. “Apart from you, but that is because you are my oldest friend and you hardly want to marry me, now do you?” 

And she laughs at the ridiculousness of the thought, perhaps a little harder than she might have done, (not that she would admit it.) At the mention of them both and marriage in the same sentence the tips of Sherlock’s ears turn pink. He gets this look on his face, one she remembers well from their childhood: It’s the one he gets when he’s overwhelmed by something. 

Despite her best intentions she can’t help but reach out and pat his arm reassuringly. 

He stiffens at the contact and immediately she pulls her hand away. 

He notices her hurt though she tries to hide it. 

He rallies. “I, I should be honoured to be considered worthy of your hand,” he stammers, quickening his pace. He’s moving so fast Molly has trouble keeping up with him; within moments they clear the tree line and are on full display once again. “But as you say, you have no wish to remarry and you therefore would not dream of- even to me-” 

He stops, so suddenly that Molly bumps into him. 

As he had last night he reaches out instinctively to stop her falling over and again her dream of them as children pops into Molly’s head. Again she feels that light… something from earlier on. That thing she hasn’t felt in forever.  

For a split second they stare at one another, she blinking, he breathing heavily. Though Molly knows she’s probably making a spectacle of herself she can’t bring herself to look away and neither, it seems, can Sherlock. Time seems to quiet around them, then to halt. Both Georgiana and Rosemund could be carried off by pirates and Molly doubts she would notice, at least not enough to move from where she is right now. Sherlock frowns, looking down at her quizzically; his eyes sweep down to her lips and he wets his own- “Molly,” he says, his voice soft. 

“Yes, Sherlock?” she murmurs. 

Her heart is thudding rather painfully and when oh when did that happen? 

“Molly,” he says, his voice getting louder, stronger, “Molly- Might you- Would you-” His voice gets stronger, louder, as he stares at her and for some reason she can’t fathom Molly finds herself holding her breath. “Margaret Hooper,” he finally murmurs, “might you do me the courtesy of allowing me to court you?” 

She blinks, unable to believe what she’s hearing. 

“I beg your pardon?” she asks because hasn’t he heard a word she’s said? 

The moment breaks, Sherlock clearing his throat and straightening up. He sets her back on her feet and steps away from her to a proper, respectable distance. Hands behind his back he gestures for her to join him, his manner stiff. Proper. 

Molly hasn’t a clue what to make of him but she’s fairly sure she wants to thump him. 

Given how long they’ve known each other, this is not a new experience. 

“What I meant to say,” he says after a moment, “what I intended to offer was well, a sort of guardianship.” 

Molly opens her mouth to snap at him- she’s not some maiden who needs to be guarded- but he rushes on with nary a pause. 

“You wish not to be courted by unsuitable men,” he says, “and I wish not to be bothered by society misses and their Mamas. Were we to come to some sort of… arrangement with one another, I’m sure it could be mutually beneficial to us both.” 

Molly blinks, surprised and (she tells herself) relieved as she realises just how practical his scheme might prove for her. 

“So am I to understand that you… You want to enter into a false courtship?” she says. “A- A courtship of convenience, if you will?” 

Sherlock nods, not looking at her. 

The tips of his ears are now a mighty shade of scarlet. 

“We keep one another’s suitors away,” he says, “and at the end of the Season we go our separate ways, hopefully having secured husbands for our respective charges: what say you?” 

And now he looks at her. He holds his hand out to shake and impulsively Molly takes it. Nods. 

“We have an agreement, Sherlock,” she tells him. 

Their contact lasts for only a moment- they are in public, after all- but it feels much longer… No, it feels much more important… 

Flustered again Molly walks ahead, intent on catching up with Georgiana and Rosemund. 

She doesn’t see the way Sherlock stares after her, nor does she see the small, nervous, wondrous smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is here, and if people are interested I’m thinking of posting a playlist for this fic. Please note I have made a couple of minor edits to the last chapter, just to make Molly’s train of thought clearer. And as always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards! 


I SEE THE WAY YOU SHINE


Sherlock makes his way back to the two girls in rather a state of shock.

He can’t believe that he just did that, nor can he believe that it worked. 

And yet clearly it did; Molly’s shoulders have relaxed, the tightness in her eyes disappearing. Whatever she might have claimed, this business with Culverton and Moran was bothering her. Not that Sherlock is surprised: it could only be considered abominably bad manners to send a widow in half mourning flowers. At best it implied a mercenary forwardness, at worst it implied that one thought the widow in question a light-skirt-  

At the notion that Culverton or Moran might consider Molly in those insulting terms Sherlock grinds his teeth, his hand tightening on his walking stick. 

Were anyone foolish enough to utter such nonsense in front of him then he would see to it that they were soon made very, very sorry. 

Neither Molly nor Georgiana notice his grimace but Rosemund does (of course). Though she shoots him a curious look, however, the girl keeps her council.  

Good

Honesty forces him to concede that he is merely putting off the inevitable, though: Rosie has been around he and her father long enough to know when to bide one’s time regarding an inquiry. 

That doesn’t mean she won’t ask once they’re alone

At the thought of explaining the agreement he has just entered into to his goddaughter Sherlock feels an uncharacteristic pang of discomfort: he just knows that Rosie is going to make it into something romantic and sentimental when all it really is is one old friend doing another old friend a favour. No matter that said old friend has grown into a rather beautiful, rather charming woman who is a great deal longer widowed than Sherlock had previously thought. No matter that Sherlock has found himself thinking of said old friend constantly ever since their meeting at that ball yesternight. No, there is no emotion in this, nothing other than simple friendship and expediency... 

As if to mock him at that exact moment Molly turns and shoots him a smile, so bright and sweetly dazzling that it rather makes his heart flip. In fact, he finds it so distracting that he trips on the verge of the path and nearly sends himself flailing. 

Rosie gives a snort of amusement, the little traitor, but when he glares at her she merely bats her eyes and inquires sweetly whether something is bothering him? 

“No,” Sherlock growls out. Then, recalling that they are in company, he recollects himself. It really wouldn’t do to give Molly or Georgiana the wrong idea of his character. “I merely tripped, Rosemund,” he says. “Even fine specimens of manhood such as myself occasionally trip, you know.”

Rosie’s eyes narrow, an ungodly glint entering them. When she speaks, however, her tone is solicitousness itself. 

“Then perhaps you should take Molly’s arm and she can keep you on the straight and narrow?” She shoots Georgiana a sly smile. “One must care for the aged in their time of need, you know.”

Georgiana laughs, half amused and half shocked at how forward her new friend is being. Sherlock shoots Molly a look which clearly says I told you so but though she too laughs she also takes his arm and falls into step beside him. She keeps a respectable amount of space between them but Sherlock swears he can feel the heat of her form reaching out for his, turning the tips of his ears pink again. 

It is somehow both delightful and  mortifying. 

“There now,” Molly is telling Rosie, “the aged have secured themselves, Shall you and Georgiana continue your hunt?” 

And she makes a playful shooing gesture. 

Before Rosie can retort though, Georgiana lets out a giggle and claps in delight. 

“Millie! Esme!” she calls, waving to a pair of girls on horseback riding through the park. “May I?” she asks Molly who nods indulgently. She takes a couple of steps towards her friends and then stops, turning back to Rosie. 

“Should you like to be introduced?” she asks. “The Castlereagh girls are ever so nice.”

“I- em-” For just a second- a split second- that devil may care confidence in which Rosemund cloaks herself cracks a little. It reminds Sherlock forcefully of how young she really is. For all her swagger she has few friends her own age and has had little chance to procure them; her eyes dart between the girls on horseback and Sherlock but before she can answer Georgiana places a comforting hand on her arm. 

“They are nice girls, Rosemund,” she says gently. “They shan’t be cruel or teasing, I promise.” Rosie meets her eyes and something passes between them, something mysterious which Sherlock suspects he is entirely too old and too male to understand, and to his relief Rosie nods. Smiles. Immediately her swagger returns and she allows Georgiana to bring her over to her two friends. 

Within moments she has them laughing. 

“Now that is something I didn’t expect,” Molly says quietly. “I wouldn’t have pegged her as the sort who has trouble socialising.”

Sherlock sighs. “The fault is mine- Mine and her father’s.”

Since it’s obvious that they will be waiting quite some time for their charges he gestures to a park bench to their right. Molly nods her acquiescence and takes a seat. She turns those clever, dark eyes expectantly on him and Sherlock, despite himself, has to fight the surge of self-consciousness. 

Really, he wishes he weren’t quite so grey at the temples. 

Rather than focus on that bit of vanity however, he elects to concentrate on working out what he can tell Molly about his army career, and its consequences. While he doesn’t doubt he could spin her a convincing tale, it seems wrong to lie, even in the name of King and Country. So- 

“Rosie’s father and I served together in the Peninsular Wars,” he begins. “For this reason Rosie has spent her entire life being dragged from army barracks to army camp and back again, and there has been little time for her to learn social niceties...” He pauses, grinning proudly. “Though I will allow that she can part a soldier and his money in several different languages, quite effectively.”

Molly snorts in amusement. “So she’s a card sharp?”

“Indeed.” Sherlock grins. “That is but the beginning of her many mercenary talents.”

A laugh this time. “I don’t doubt it.” Molly frowns. “But that doesn’t explain her lack of social graces: I can imagine the camps being all male affairs but surely some of the officers at the barracks must have had wives? Children?” 

Sherlock shakes his head. 

He sometimes forgets how little civilians know of war, and this war in particular.  

“The officers here have wives,” he says bluntly. “The ones on active duty do not. Occasionally a ship’s captain or admiral might have his wife and children aboard ship but only for a short voyage, never for longer.  

On the Continent, however…” 

And he sighs again, trailing off. Without thinking he takes a hand through his curls, something which prompts a smile from Molly. Reluctantly he matches it.  

For what feels like the millionth time since he returned to London, he can’t help but feel old. 

“The only reason that Rosemund’s mother was permitted to travel with us was because of her language skills,” he continues eventually. “She truly was a gifted linguist- Why, the only language I ever heard her have trouble with was Basque.” 

What he doesn’t mention- what he can’t mention- is that Mary Watson’s skill-set had run a great deal more deadly than a mastery of modern languages: she had been, until her death, one of the more lethal weapons in His Majesty’s arsenal. The doctor’s wife had been an infamous spy, ambassador and assassin for all the years he had travelled with her; between them they had been responsible for more darkness than he cared to recall. And yet now, thanks to the Official Secrets Declaration his majesty had made last year, Mary Watson was naught more than a ghost. 

The services she had performed for the crown were to be buried with her, her achievements treated as a scandal.

As always when he muses on this point he finds himself becoming angry- Better to concentrate on the here and now, on Molly, he tells himself. 

Nevertheless a battlefield rears up behind his eyes, mud and death and pain, so much pain-

Immediately- Forcefully- he pushes the memory away. 

Molly notices his discomfort though- Of course she notices. It had ever been thus, ever since they were children. Without saying a word she reaches out and takes his hand. Squeezes it. Though they are in plain view of everyone it cheers Sherlock that she doesn’t care what may be said of her. 

Again he feels it, that something from last night, from earlier. That thing that makes him feel lighter. 

He doesn’t know what to do with it. 

They stay like that for a moment, smiling at one another, and for the first time in forever all seems almost right in Sherlock’s world. 

“After Mary’s death,” he continues eventually, “I began to see how unsuitable the life John and I were leading was for Rosie. I knew she would soon be growing into adulthood, and I didn’t want her to think that an army camp in the middle of a bloodbath was all life has to offer…” He frowns, remembering. “Her mother never wanted that for her.”

“So you brought her home?” 

Molly’s tone is mild but there’s something in her expression that makes Sherlock feel oddly… vulnerable. As if he has given up more information than he meant to, though he knows that’s ridiculous. 

He must be getting paranoid in his old age. 

“I suggested coming home,” he hedges. “Her father made the decision, of course.”

“Of course.”

Molly doesn’t look like she quite believes him but she wisely elects not to say as much. She doesn’t take her hand away either and Sherlock is rather grateful for that. 

“And so now you’re acting as her chaperone, and my suitor,” she says. 

Sherlock smiles tightly. “I shall endeavour to excel at both.”

“I should expect nothing less, old friend.”

And they share another smile, still hand in hand. This one is kinder, warmer. Gentler. That dimple he always loved in childhood, the one he hasn’t yet seen when Molly smiles, appears. Sherlock has to resist the urge to reach out and touch her cheek, her hair. That dimple. He’d forgotten just how lovely she is when she smiles for him… 

It’s as he’s thinking this that a shadow falls across them. It's short. Dark. Unconscionably, rudely close. 

When he looks up Culverton Smith is leering at Molly, his expression justification (as far as Sherlock is concerned) for murder. 

“Well, well, well,” Smith says, “I see I made the right judgement about this filly…”

The punch comes out of nowhere and it knocks Smith to the ground.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is here , And as always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards!


A PINK RIBBON, TAKEN FROM HER EYES


The facer is so unexpected that it takes Molly rather a moment longer than it ought to realise just who threw it.

In her mind it hadn’t occurred to her that someone so small and female and far away as Rosemund Watson could have interceded on her behalf. 

Yet that is what must have happened. It is the only reason for Rosemund to be standing beside her now, panting, glaring daggers at the prone Smith and nursing her hand. 

If Molly had entertained any doubts about Miss Watson’s upbringing amongst men then they had just been put entirely to rights.  

“You little snake,” Smith hisses, lurching to his feet. A sneer, and he raises his walking stick: It is obvious on whose head he intends to bring it down. Sherlock pushes his goddaughter behind him, catching the stick easily on its upward arc. A moment of struggle and then Smith lets it go. 

Sherlock tosses it dismissively at his feet. 

“These women are under my protection,” he growls. “Is that understood?”

“Yes, well,” Smith says, touching his bleeding lip gingerly. His eyes rake over Molly then Rosamund with entirely intentional disdain. “She’s every inch Mary Morstan’s brat, I’ll give you that.” He sneers. “Though I suppose the bitch breeds the pup, isn’t that what they say?”

“Do not insult my mother!” 

Rosemund tries to come at Smith again, prompting Sherlock to grab her by her waist and restrain her. Georgiana rushes to the girl’s side, pulling her close and trying to calm her. She looks close to tears. The two girls she and Rosemund were speaking with have cantered over too, apparently curious as to what could set their new friend running pell-mell across the park- 

“I’m going to enjoy telling everyone in the Ton what happened here,” Smith whispers gloatingly before turning his smile on the two young women on horseback. 

They both look slightly nauseated. 

“And I shall enjoy telling everyone that you had your clocks cleaned by a sixteen year old debutante,” Molly retorts. She straightens her spine, shoots Smith her most withering glare.

“Just as I shall enjoy reporting your description of Doctor Watson’s late wife to all his patients.” 

Given how many rich and noble families John Watson serves, Molly is aware that this is no idle threat, nor one to be made lightly. 

Why, the bad will of even one of John’s patients could sink any political aspirations Smith might have.  

The other man opens his mouth- probably to insult her- and Sherlock drops his shoulders, fist swinging back- Molly suspects that if Sherlock Holmes thumps him he won’t be speaking out of turn for quite some time. Before any further unpleasantness can break out, however, Esme, the eldest of the Castlereagh girls, nudges her horse forward, effectively moving between Smith and Molly’s party. 

I shall also enjoy repeating what I have seen today,” she says quietly. 

Her words are confident. Mild. They have the tone of a young woman who is not used to being disregarded, but then they would: Lord Castlereagh is Smith’s senior on the Privy Council. 

At this the full import of his behaviour seems to finally occur to Smith for he bows, his old obseqiousness returning. “One should hate to disappoint so… honourable a young lady,” he says through gritted teeth. “I am so fond of your father.” Again he shoots the Castlereagh girls that nauseating smile of his. 

Both purse their lips in distaste. 

“My apologies,” he grounds out before turning on his heel and marching away, giving neither Molly, Rosamund nor Sherlock so much as a leave-taking. It is clear just who that apology was aimed at.

The rudeness of it would be incredible, Molly muses, had he not already behaved so abominably.

“Odious little man,” Esme Castlereagh mutters, before apparently remembering that she has an audience. “I beg pardon,” she says, inclining her head towards Molly, Rosemund and Sherlock. Her next words are addressed to Georgiana. “Are you alright, Georgie?” 

Molly’s sister in law nods. “Yes.” She looks to Rosemund. “Are you alright?” 

“I’m fine.” The girl nods tightly but Molly can’t help noticing the way she still has her fingers curled in Sherlock’s coat, though Georgiana is holding her. His nearness seems to calm her, something which surprises Molly. 

It had not before occurred to her just how much of a parent Sherlock is to the girl. 

A beat of awkward silence descends then. Millie, the younger Castlereagh breaks it. “Well, that was unexpected!” she says brightly. A look to Georgiana and then to Rosemund. “Shall we see you tonight at Lord Evenham’s?” 

Georgiana nods. “Yes,” she says. “I shall be wearing those new slippers I told you about.” 

“Excellent.” By now her sister has nudged her horse back to her side. “Well then,” Millie says, “we shall see you tonight-”

“And I especially look forward to seeing both Miss Rosemund and Mrs. Smythe,” Esme adds. She gives Rosemund a kindly smile. “But for now I’m afraid my sister and I must away.”

Millie nods. “Mama calls,” she says. “We shall see you all tonight!”

And she and her sister canter off. 

For another moment all is awkward silence, but then- 

“Let’s see if we can get an ice at Gunter’s,” Georgiana says. She offers Rosemund her arm. “Have you been before?” The girl shakes her head and Georgie smiles. “Well then I shall very much enjoy introducing you to the place.” She lowers her voice. “They say all the waiters are very handsome-”

“Georgiana!” Molly barks the rebuke but she knows there’s no heat in it. If Georgiana wants to make an off-colour joke after all that then fair dues to the girl. So she allows her sister-in-law to lead her new friend away; For a moment Rosamund looks back at Sherlock for reassurance and then she seems to remember herself. She straightens up and smiles, her usual cocksureness summoned like nothing less than a magical cloak. 

Sherlock’s eyes flick to Molly’s and then away, looking sheepish. 

“That was-” He sighs, deflating. “Bugger,” he mutters under his breath. “Bugger and Hellfire and Damnation.”

“Quite.” But though she knows that he should not be swearing in her presence, nevertheless Molly takes his arm and allows him to lead her away. 

Some of the tension leaves him as she does so and oh but she is glad to see it. 

“Well,” she says philosophically as they exit the park, “I don’t think Culverton Smith will be sending me any more flowers.”  

“He better bloody not,” Sherlock growls and Molly cannot help her chuckle. 


They spend the rest of the afternoon together, Georgiana encouraging Rosemund to try what seems like every flavour of ices once they reach Gunter’s. In return Rosemund tells jokes and makes her new friend laugh, the very picture of the jolly girl she normally pretends to be. 

One would think her encounter with Smith hadn’t happened at all.  

Though they know that they should probably discuss any possible ramifications of that encounter, Molly and Sherlock do not do so- London, in the middle of the Season, being the sort of place where even the walls have ears. Rather, the two chaperones share coffee, cake and small talk, never once alluding to what has just transpired.  

To anyone looking on it might seem like their group was perfectly cheerful. 

They would be wrong, Molly muses, but it’s what they would think. 

And so when they part they make sure it’s friendly. Light-hearted. Sherlock appears to be going out of his way to be polite to Georgiana and Molly, something which Molly knows for a fact would make his mother crow with laughter. The thought makes her smile: though she has been nursing a slow-burning, furious anger at how Culverton Smith dared to treat her, Sherlock and Rosemund today she nevertheless feels she has managed to hide it- At least she she hopes she has -

Once their carriage arrives, however, she does not instruct the coachman to turn towards home but rather towards Madame Anais, the modiste who has been charged with creating both she and Georgiana’s wardrobe for the season. 

That anger which has been sitting in her belly all afternoon is, she feels certain, about to be put to good use. 

“I thought we’d had all our fittings?” Georgiana inquires when she hears their destination, to which Molly shoots her a tight-lipped grin. 

She couldn’t say this in front of Sherlock but she’ll say it in front of Georgie. 

“There is a small matter I wish to discuss with Madame Anais,” she says. “It concerns my gown for tonight, and some alterations I want done to it. I should also like some changes made to the rest of my wardrobe-”

Georgie claps in delight. “You’re coming out of half-mourning!”

“I am not coming out of half-mourning,” Molly says, rather more forcefully that she meant to. “I merely wish to-” She sighs. “I merely wish to make sure that any dresses I wear this Season are as splendid and eye-catching as possible. I won’t have Culverton Smith thinking he has me scared and cowering in the corner of a ballroom, and I won’t have anyone else thinking it either.” At Georgie’s look she sighs. She’s not sure she’s making sense.  “Look, I won’t be but a moment- You may wait in the carriage if you wish-“

Georgie narrows her eyes, regarding her chaperone.

While she may not be as cocksure as Rosemund Watson she’s no fool, she can tell by the tone of Molly’s voice that something’s afoot. 

“An alteration  to your wardrobe, you say?” Molly nods. “In order to show Culverton Smith that you are not afraid, you say?” Again Molly nods. “And this has nothing to do with a certain handsome gentleman with whom you have so recently renewed your acquaintance, hmm?” 

“You think Mr. Culverton Smith handsome?” 

As soon as the words are out of her mouth Molly could kick herself: Georgiana does not need to be reminded of the unpleasantness of today. To her surprise, however, the girl laughs. Her expression clearly tells Molly that she’s not fooling anyone, least of all her charge. 

“Go, sister,” Georgie says, laughingly. “I shall stay in the carriage and I shan’t even ask about these mysterious alterations.” She shoots Molly a conspiratorial grin. “After all, what I don’t know about, Mama cannot manage to pry out of me…” 

And she makes a shooing gesture; Molly nods, relieved. She’s glad to hear that Georgie wishes to be an ally in this endeavour, and that she’s willing to accept her explanation for what she’s about to do to her wardrobe… 

So she squares her shoulders. Hops out of the carriage. She darts over to Madame Anais’ and taps on the window, relieved that she got here before the woman finished work for the night. 

“Oui?” Madame Anais says and Molly makes a show of pulling out her purse as she manouevres herself into the dress shop. 

“I have a last minute alteration to request for my latest gown,” she says, “and I’m willing to pay handsomely to make sure it happens…”


When she returns to the carriage she’s grinning ear to ear and feeling very, very, pleased with herself. 

And when she enters Lord Evanham’s ballroom tonight, Georgiana in tow, the look on Sherlock’s face upon seeing her makes every guinea spent today worthwhile. 








Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is here , And as always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards! 


LET LOOSE FROM THE NOOSE


Ballroom, 

Lord Evanham’s Townhouse, 

Mayfair  

 

From the moment he lay eyes on her he can’t seem to look away. 

Oh Sherlock knows he’s supposed to; it is uncouth in the extreme to stare at a woman, even one so beautiful as Molly. 

And it is particularly unseemly to do so when the woman in question is a widow. 

But he can’t help himself: Her eyes are bright. Warm. Shining. That long chestnut hair glistens where it is piled atop her head, a pair of jet and amethyst combs pinning it in place. A small jet cameo hangs on a purple ribbon around her neck and amethyst and jet studs glitter at her earlobes, amethyst and jet circle her wrists. She looks… exquisite. The gown she is wearing is lavender, it is true, and lavender is still a colour of half-mourning, but to that plain fabric she has added the most splendid black lace overskirt and train. Both are threaded, here and there, with silver and amethyst beading, making them glitter in the light- 

The effect is altogether mesmerising.  

Sherlock swallows as he watches her, his throat tightening with some emotion he tells himself he does not recognise. In vain he silently rebukes himself, telling himself to turn away and look elsewhere but he finds that he cannot. For though there are bright young things aplenty to gaze upon in this ballroom, and though most of them would be more than pleased to entertain him, of that he has no doubt, yet none of those women- no, girls - are Molly. And therefore none of them could attract his attention like this. Not so thoroughly, so heedlessly, so helplessly. 

As he thinks this their eyes meet. Lock. 

He feels the shock of it go through him, fluttering and agile as a strike from an arrow.  

Molly smiles at him. Inclines her head. He sees pleasure in her gaze, pleasure and pride and fondness and recognition and in that moment… In that moment he realises that he is well and truly lost.  

He finds himself ardently hoping that he will never be found again

As if from somewhere very far away he could swear he hears Mary Watson’s laughter echo in his head. 

So he swallows. Straightens up. Best to make the right impression

Molly has stepped into the ballroom by now, arm and arm with Georgiana. The crowd parts to let her through, everyone in the room taking note of how different she looks tonight. She might never know it but there are plenty of jealous stares. Her sister-in-law looks lovely in debutante white but Sherlock can’t help feel she pales in comparison to her chaperone, and judging by the looks Molly’s getting, many in the room agree with him. The realisation makes him… Good God, is he jealous? He hears Rosemund give a low whistle of appreciation, something he fully intends to reprimand her over, but before he can Molly has crossed the room and come to a halt before him- 

“Miss Watson, Mr. Holmes,” she says smoothly, dropping an elegant curtsy. 

Georgiana matches her. 

He is painfully aware that Rosie is watching him with interest, a knowing grin tugging at her lip, and he fights the urge to squirm. Lord help him in the carriage home tonight. His throat feels tight and for a terrifying second he thinks he’ll not be able to answer her, but then- 

“Miss Smythe, Mrs. Smythe,” he intones, aware that his voice, while deep, is not entirely steady. 

He bows deeply and Molly’s eyes sparkle, a delicious pinkness colouring the apples of her cheeks. 

He suspects his ears can match them. 

“I was just telling Molly how beautiful her dress is,” Georgiana pipes up. “Wouldn’t you agree?” Before Sherlock can answer she speaks over him, “but look, Rosemund is here. She and I should chat and let you two do your… chaperoning.

Come along, Rosemund.” 

And without so much as a by-your-leave the girl walks over to Rosie, hooks her arm in hers and starts towing her towards the Castlereagh girls. Esme lights up when she sees them coming. 

“Well,” Molly murmurs, “That was… direct.”

“Direct as a debutante can be,” Sherlock rejoins. 

A beat, as he and Molly look at one another. 

He feels oddly… shy. 

He suspects the sensation is mutual. 

“Would you-” he begins. 

“Might you want to-” she speaks over him. 

“We should dance.” 

The words come out abruptly but Molly beams at them. Beams at him. “I should love to dance,” she says. A small smile. “I know widows normally don’t but I rather think that this is a special case, is it not?” 

Sherlock nods. “Indeed it is.” He lowers his voice; his next words are meant for her ears alone. “You look very beautiful tonight, Molly,” he says quietly. “But then, you always do-”

“Really?” 

For a moment she blinks at him, genuinely surprised at his words, apparently, and Sherlock has the oddest feeling of deja vu. Of familiarity. He hasn’t heard her react to a compliment like that since they were children and the thought makes his heart lurch rather oddly, there in his chest. For surely she must know that he has always thought her beautiful? Surely he has told her? 

And yet, he suspects that he has not: it seems the sort of idiot thing he would have done in his youth.

Well, he thinks bracingly, that is one mistake of mine which is easily fixed.

So-

He straightens up. Focusses all his attention on her. Taking her hand he squeezes it, trying to invest his voice with every ounce of earnestness he can manage. He finds it difficult, but then he’s out of practice. “You are lovely, Molly,” he says quietly. “I have always thought you were lovely.” A beat. “Though might I be right in assuming that I have never actually said as much?” 

“You would be correct.” She laughs, the pink at her cheeks deepening, and he gestures to the dance floor. 

“I thought so. Well then, might I have this dance?” he asks, “or at least add my name to your dance card?”

And he gestures to the small booklet, hanging from her wrist. 

Again he’s rather surprised at the flash of jealousy he feels, imagining other names besides his own written within it. 

“I will dance with nobody but you,” Molly says, and her voice is breathless. Unsteady. Impulsive. 

He glances at her and once again, he can’t bring himself to look away. 

The look in her eyes is blazing. 

“You will dance with nobody but me,” he says and the words send a thrill zinging down his spine. 

He can’t help but think they have the feeling of a vow. 

She gulps. Nods. So he takes her hand. He leads her to the dance floor. The band is playing a Quadrille and really, is there a better dance for he and Molly? Flirtatious and fast-moving, it is everything they need. He is aware that there are many eyes on them but he doesn’t care- If anyone wants to challenge him then they are welcome to try. Try, and lose . Again she curtsies, again he bows and then the music strikes up. They begin moving together. Changing partners, moving apart and coming back to one another, again and again and again. Her eyes hold his gaze, her hands are small and strong and warm in his own. The heat of her body is near. Intoxicating. He can smell her soap and her perfume and her, her Mollyness… 

He feels a flash of yearning for her so strong it makes him ache. 

A flash behind his eyes, her in his arms, her mouth on his and the sensation is so distracting that he nearly misses his step. 

But they come back together, still focussed on one another. She leaves, she returns to him, flowing and expected as the tides. Sherlock might not often admit it but he likes to dance; his reticence about doing so has always had more to do with the absence of a suitable partner than any dislike of the activity. Right now, however… Right now he thinks that he could dance all night and not ever stop. This is the partner he has been waiting for

The Quadrille is over too soon. The next is a Cotillion, then a long dance. And another. And another. 

He dances them all and he dances them with Molly. 

If anyone thinks this uncouth they are too wise to say it to his face. 

By the time the musicians stop for their break he can barely contain himself, all he can think about is wanting to touch her, have her to himself… 

Which is why, as the crowd mills about and refreshments are served he takes her hand and, still holding her gaze, pulls her silently from the ballroom out onto the darkness of the veranda.

It’s so quiet and so dark after the brightness of the ballroom.  

She comes easily, her eyes dark and eager. He can hear how loud her breath is, there in the dark. He knows his can match her. He turns to her, about to explain, to ask permission. As soon as he looks at her though she merely nods and then moves against him, her arms reaching up to wrap around his neck. Her mouth finding his, her lips hovering above his own as her breath paints his skin. She’s panting now and so is he: her eyes glitter in the dark, her fingers curl in his hair. And then he’s kissing her, he’s kissing her and she’s kissing him and Christ but it feels good- It feels so bloody good to finally do this- 

He wraps his arms tight around her waist, pulling her roughly against him. She growls into his mouth, a low, erotic sound and then the two of them are lost to everything- Everything but each other.  

It is for this reason that they do not hear the sound of breaking glass. 



Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is here . And as always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards! 


POISE AND  RATIONALITY


The broken glass doesn’t work- Because of course it doesn’t, he’s getting to kiss Molly. 

It is only now that he’s doing so that he realises how much he has wanted to do so, and for how long. 

At the shock of ice-cold champagne spattering his face however, Sherlock pulls back. Blinks in discombobulation. Even as he does so, however, he shifts so that Molly is behind him, effectively hiding her identity. Something low and fierce and protective is growling in his chest and it has been there since the moment he laid eyes on her tonight. 

It is telling him to keep what is his from harm

“What?” he snaps, blinking, as a young boy in evening dress steps out of the ballroom and onto the veranda. It’s one of the younger Castlereaghs, Archie, he thinks. The lad’s face is red as he shifts from foot to foot. “Esme sent me,” he stammers. He glances worriedly over his shoulder then back to Sherlock: the last time Sherlock saw someone look that nervous, Napoleon’s troops were marching over the horizon. “She told me to tell you- That is, she says to inform you that Doctor, um, Doctor Watson is here-” 

“What?” 

What the devil is John doing here? 

The boy nods. “He- He is speaking to Miss Watson and my sisters and, and he appears to be rather…” 

The boy trails off, apparently unable to think of a polite euphemism for In Need Of Handling. 

Sherlock can sympathize: Tact is seldom a skill which thirteen year olds have mastered. 

“Go,” Molly says quietly from behind him. A hand at his back, small and warm and then her fingers brush his. The heat of it is so soothing . He turns, still shielding her from the boy’s sight, but when he looks down at her, her expression is resolute. “Go, speak to Doctor Watson,” Molly murmurs. “Esme is a sensible girl: she wouldn’t have sent for you if she didn’t think you were needed-”

“What about you?” 

The words slip out of his mouth before he really thinks them through; Molly cocks an eyebrow and immediately he inclines his head, acknowledging her unspoken retort. 

She can take care of herself. He knows that. Nevertheless- 

“Walk this lady around to the side doors and bring her to the ladies’ retiring room,” he tells the boy crisply. A pause, as he presses a single kiss to Molly’s knuckles before releasing her. His chest tightens painfully as he does. “If anyone asks, she required some air and you brought her out here- Is. That. Clear. Lad?” 

The young Castlereagh nods, gulping. “Yes sir.” He snaps to attention, moving out into the dark and offering his arm to Molly. “I can try not to look at your face, if you want,” he offers shyly, “so I can say I didn’t recognise you-” 

This causes Molly to roll her eyes and chuckle as she falls into step beside him. “To the side of the house, young man, if you please,” she says. “Keep your eyes on the path and all will be well.”

They start moving off and Sherlock hears her tell the boy that she’s pleased to see him so obedient to his older sister. 

“It is better to be the left hand of the Devil than to be in her path,” the lad mutters darkly before grinning, apparently delighted when Molly laughs at his quip.

It seems that Molly’s charms have probably claimed another victim, Sherlock thinks dryly, but then of course they have. 

As the two disappear into the darkness he squares his shoulders and heads back into the ballroom. It’s not hard to find John: he merely looks for the one location to which everyone in the ballroom is trying pointedly not to pay attention. For though London society thrives on scandal, the Castlereaghs are far too popular and powerful for anyone to feel comfortable gawking at their possible faux pas. No, better to pretend that nothing of note is happening. 

The group with whom Rosemund is standing are situated in the farthest corner of the ballroom, well lit by candles but muffled by acoustics, and thus John can be seen but his words cannot yet be heard. Unfortunately, however, it is clear even from Sherlock’s vantage point that John is both quite irritable and more than a little drunk. 

Alas, this is not an unusual state for him since Mary’s death, as Sherlock well knows. 

So he starts making his way through the room as unobtrusively as possible. Rosie is standing in the middle of a crowd of Castlereaghs, Georgiana and Esme at her elbow and a boy of about seventeen whom Sherlock recognises as the Castlereagh heir, Gregory, standing protectively at her back. The boy is trying- without success- to keep John calm, something the doctor is making difficult by gesticulating sharply at Rosemund-  

As charming as she is, this is more than the girl can handle, Sherlock thinks- Nor should she have to do so. 

As has so often happened since he returned to London, this thought makes Sherlock feel very, very old.  

By now he’s within earshot of Watson though; the good doctor is given warning of his approach by the somewhat relieved look on Georgiana's face. Sherlock feels the tension swirling in the room evaporate, the crowd tacitly turning their attention from what might have turned into an incident now that he is intervening. 

Good. 

“John,” Sherlock says warmly, patting his friend’s shoulder and smiling. It’s rather an odd turnaround in their relationship that these days, he’s the one who tries to ensure that others make allowances for John Watson. “You should have told me you were going to come along,” he continues smoothly, still keeping his voice light and friendly. “Rosie and I would have sent the carriage-” 

“Oh, I had no intention of warning you,” John says with a sharp smile. 

This close Sherlock can smell the brandy underneath his pomade and cologne. 

This, too, is not unexpected. 

The doctor’s tone is friendly but it has an edge of anger. It is a humour which Sherlock has encountered many times before, and one which he has no intention of allowing to be displayed in front of Rosemund or anyone else. John insisted on her having her bloody season, Sherlock will not permit him to ruin it for her. So- 

“Well,” he says lightly, “consider me surprised! I say, there’s probably a decent enough card game going on in the Smoking Room, should you like to deal yourself in and we can play a few hands?” 

John’s smile grows sharper. 

“Ah,” he says, “but that would mean leaving Rosemund without her chaperone, now wouldn’t it?” His eyes glitter, something knowing in their depths. Something… belligerent. Sly. Sherlock likes this not at all. “Although,” Watson adds, leaning into his friend and poking him in the chest, “it’s not as if you have been spending much time keeping an eye on Rosie, now have you?” 

“Papa!” Rosie hisses, mortified. This is not an easy thing to do to Mary Watson's child. 

Esme, Millie and Georgiana gasp, hiding their faces behind their fans; Gregory Castlereagh’s hands tighten into fists. The boy is obviously not willing to allow his sisters to be insulted, nor their friends- Not that John seems to notice. 

“No lip from you, girl,” he snaps at Rosie, “I’ll have plenty to say to you when we’re home, I know what you’ve been up to...” 

“And what do you think she’s been up to, John?” Sherlock asks, forcing his voice to remain calm and reasonable. “What precisely do you think your daughter and I have done?”

At the pointedness of the question their little group draws in a breath: A Rubicon of sorts has been reached. 

Sherlock knows that it’s best to call John’s bluff and deal with him rather than let him become any more worked up, but the thought brings little relief. 

For a moment Watson frowns at his words though, some clarity apparently coming to him. For a moment the anger, the heavy cloud of his drunkenness clears and Sherlock’s old friend is before him, embarrassed and disturbed by how he is treating those who love him. The sight of it is like a punch to the gut, or a  blinding, rabbit-jab to the head. Good God, Sherlock misses his best friend. But then-

Before either Sherlock or Rosie can say anything else John’s expression closes. He straightens up and curls his lip in contempt. Suddenly John Watson, widower, is before them and he is every bit as unpleasant as he always is- 

It’s on the tip of Sherlock’s tongue to ask him what he thinks Mary would make of him, but as always the words just won’t come. 

So instead he reaches out and draws Rosie to his side. Gregory Castlereagh seems reluctant to let her go but at Sherlock’s nod he withdraws, moving to stand protectively beside his sister Esme and Georgiana. John notices Sherlock’s action and Rosie’s obvious relief at it; as if to punish him for it he shoots Sherlock a mocking smile. 

“Where’s this new friend of yours?” he asks, his voice dripping innocence, his eyes narrowed. His intent is clearly to needle. 

“What friend?” 

As warm as the ballroom is, suddenly the temperature drops several degrees.  

Sherlock keeps his voice low and even because he wants John to know that he is moving onto thin ice now. Very thin ice. 

John is feeling either oblivious or suicidal, however. For- 

“The little widow,” he says gloatingly. “The little widow you’ve been cavorting with-” 

“Cavorting?” 

The word comes out a great deal louder than Sherlock had intended. Heads turn at it, and suddenly the crowd’s attention is focussing in on them again. Damn. Murmurs ripple through the ballroom, because of course the crowd know who John is talking about. Of course they know what he’s implying. 

Sherlock’s behaviour towards Molly has not exactly been subtle, tonight.  

Inwardly Sherlock swears, blasting himself for his thoughtlessness. In indulging himself he has been profligate with Molly’s reputation, something which will never do. For while the crowd might baulk at crowing over a Castlereagh’s disgrace, Sherlock knows they will have reticence tearing into a pretty widow, especially one who has turned up looking so unexpectedly beautiful, and one who has spent the entire night dancing rather than standing sedately about and watching her charge- 

Anger rises in him, swifter and more consuming than it has since they left the continent. 

John has no right to speak of Molly that way, nor of he, nor of Rosemund, and even three years ago he would have understood that. 

But the loss of his wife has changed him, warped him. It has made him so hard and gnarled and thoughtless that sometimes even Sherlock doesn’t recognise him at all. And that is the point of this: the John he first knew would not behave this way. The John he knew would not treat those around him with so little care or consideration. The John Watson he once knew was the finest man he had ever met and now he’s insulting his Molly- 

“Doctor Watson, I presume?”

The words come out of nowhere. 

They are calm, quiet. Confident. 

As if drawn by Fate herself, Molly enters his line of vision. She shoots him a smile. “Young Archibald Castlereagh showed me to the Ladies’ Retiring Room,” she says. “I must own, I feel much better now.” 

And then, cool and collected, she curtsies to John, extending her hand to him. Probably acting from habit more than any sense of politeness he takes it, bowing over her knuckles as he says his hellos. No fireworks erupt, no accusations. The tension in the room pops like a soap bubble as Sherlock suspects she’d known it would. 

After all, Molly has been navigating ballrooms for far longer than he. 

With a calmness Sherlock can’t help but admire Molly extricates her hand from John’s and moves to Sherlock’s side. He can’t help thinking that it looks like she belongs there. An apologetic glance at both Esme and Gregory and then Georgiana joins her. 

After a moment, so does Rosemund. 

They stand facing John, a veritable united front. 

This seems to disconcert John mightily. 

“It’s so delightful to meet you,” Molly says, making sure that her voice carries. Her demeanour all but dares anyone in the room to interrupt. “Rosemund has told me so much about you, and of course so has Sherlock.” She inclines her head to John, smiles her most matronly smile. 

It’s hard to believe that this is the woman who only moments ago was kissing Sherlock in the dark. 

The thought makes something hot and fierce and wanting skitter through his bloodstream. 

“I have, of course, always found him to be an excellent judge of character, ever since I was a girl,” Molly is saying. Still John seems discombobulated. “But might I offer you a refreshment, or a chair? You look a little peaked.”

At that John rallies. “I am fine,” he says mulishly, though both his behaviour and sobriety suggest that he is not and Sherlock suspects he knows as much. 

“Well,” Molly says mildly. “I shall take my lead from you: After all, you are the doctor.” A glance at Sherlock. “But perhaps I am interrupting a gentleman’s pleasures?” she says. “I thought you mentioned you might like to play a few hands of faro in the Smoking Room, Sherlock?”

He nods firmly. “Indeed I would.” 

And, taking a firm grip on John’s elbow he starts manoeuvring him towards the door. “Come play with me, Watson,” he says. “You know I never win without you…” 

Within moments he and John are through the door and into the darkness of the corridor without. Servants bustle, averting their eyes to the sight of the two men. It’s an integral part of a maid or footman’s skill, knowing when to pretend they can’t see what’s right in front of them.  

“That was embarrassing,” John snaps sullenly. 

Sherlock grits his teeth. 

“If you don’t want to be managed like a child,” he bites out, “then maybe you should not behave like one.” 

John pulls his elbow free, glaring at him. When Sherlock doesn’t back down he tries to shoulder his way past him, but the taller man refuses to move. 

“Oh no you don’t,” he snaps. “You don’t get to turn up here drunk, insult Rosemund and I and endanger her marriage chances just because you feel like it-” 

“Because I feel like it?” John hisses. “You think I’m here because I feel like it?!” 

And without a word he reaches into his inside jacket. Takes out a letter. 

With the same insufferable nonchalance he’d used inside he tosses it at Sherlock, who has to snatch at it before it hits his face.  

“Read that,” John bites out, “and then tell me I don’t have reason to be here-” 

And then he pushes past him. 

But even as he does, Sherlock finds himself recoiling. For he’s focussing on the hand in which the letter is written, and it’s one he recognises from not to long ago. 

“Milverton,” he mutters darkly as he scans the lines. 

It’s not as if the letter’s contents surprise him. 

What does surprise him- what hurts him, however- is the fact that John might believe any of the lies listed therein. 

 

Chapter Text

isclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine.  And as always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards!


A FRESH POISON EVERY WEEK


For a moment Sherlock can only stand there in the dark, clutching the letter to his chest and breathing harshly.

He knows he should go and check on John, he knows he should make sure that the idiot hasn't gotten into a fight with one of the other guests or planted himself in the gaming room with the intention of gambling until he drops (both of which have happened before) but somehow… Somehow he can't bring himself to do it. He can't bring himself to talk to John right now.

In fact, at this moment in time he can't imagine himself wanting to talk to John Watson, ever again.

But that's ridiculous, he tells himself: John is John. Sherlock would never abandon him. Nevertheless he closes his eyes, breathing in deeply through his nose as he had been taught when he first went into the field. Trying not to lose control, trying not to let his feelings overbalance him.

Focus on what you can do, not on what you feel, he tells himself sternly. Fear is like a flame: take away its air and it will suffocate-You will make it sputter out.

And yet, behind his eyelids he can see the words of the letter, the accusations. That Sherlock is neglecting Rosie, that he is leaving her to be preyed upon by unscrupulous men. That he is engaging in debauchery with a loose widow and cares nothing for the fate of his young charge. That John should believe these accusations is painful enough, but that he should believe them from the hand of Charles Augustus Milverton? This is a thing Sherlock cannot fathom. For, like Culverton Smith and Sebastian Moran before him, John Watson knows what Milverton is capable of. He knows the man for the petty, vicious criminal he is. And whilst neither he nor Sherlock have been entirely able to lead to these villains' downfalls they have been able to limit what damage they inflict upon the innocent-

So why would John believe what that man says about his best and oldest friend?

Sherlock cannot understand it.

As he thinks this he hears someone clear their throat. He opens his eyes to see Molly standing hesitantly at the barely-open door to the ballroom. Young Archie Castlereagh is beside her, presumably to offer plausible deniability should anyone come upon them together. She looks so lovely it makes him ache.

For just a moment Sherlock hates the charade of aristocratic propriety in which he lives with an almost incendiary passion: why can't he just speak to her? Why can't he just wrap her in his arms and kiss her again?

And yet, he knows he cannot. Not for her sake, and probably not for Rosie's, either.

"Sherlock..?" she asks quietly, and her voice is almost unbearably soft. "Sherlock, are you quite well?"

No, he wants to tell her. No, no I am not. What he says however, is, "John had to..."

He wracks his brain for reason to excuse the doctor's absence but nothing comes to him.

Mercifully, Molly seems to understand and intercedes.

"Rosemund suggested that you speak to someone called Wiggins?" she says. "She said to make sure that-"

Sherlock knows where this is going. "To make sure that John hasn't taken the carriage home without telling me, yes, yes that is a good idea."

Archie's eyes widen at the notion that an adult would do something so very thoughtless but Molly does not seem surprised. It occurs to Sherlock to wonder just how much of John's behaviour she has seen in others.

He hopes that it has not happened overmuch.

Nevertheless he draws himself up and nods. Bows to her. He needs to pull himself together, and he needs to do it now. "Would you tell Rosie that I shall go and check?" he says. Molly nods. A split second, and then she looks to Archie.

"Go and get me a glass of punch, would you young Castlereagh?" she asks.

The boy blinks at her: he knows he's not supposed to leave them together, and yet he also seems painfully unsure of how to tell an adult as much. Sherlock can't help but feel a flare of sympathy for him.

"It will be alright, boy," Molly says gently. "I promise: I shall be on your very heels, I shan't be out here for long. And you shan't get into any trouble."

Still unsure, nevertheless the boy nods. Slips back inside. Molly rather pointedly closes the door behind him, an act which both protects and endangers: protects because it makes her less likely to be seen, endangers because it makes her look far more suspicious in the event that she is spotted.

Sherlock grits his teeth. "You are too trusting with your reputation," he says tightly.

The irony of him telling her that, considering his behaviour tonight, is not lost on him.

Nor, apparently, is it lost on Molly. For she cocks an eyebrow at him. Crosses her arms. "Considering how both of us have behaved in public tonight," she points out, "I think it's rather late to start worrying about that."

With swift steps he closes the gap between them. Takes her by her elbows. "I have been remiss with you," he says harshly. "I will not be remiss anymore toni-"

He means to finish that statement, truly he does, but Molly cuts him off by kissing him. As it had on the veranda, it steals his will, his soul. It seems so much more consuming than kisses normally do. For her lips are soft and warm and lovely; her body is sweet and needed against his own. Her smallness fits his tallness, her softness matches his solidity. For a mad moment Sherlock gives in, he pulls her to him. What started as a kiss of tenderness, of soothing, within seconds becomes something else. Something fierce and fiery and glorious. It burns, sets his pulse pounding. It feels unlike anything he has ever experienced before.

It is only with great difficulty that he pulls himself away.

"We can't do this here," he says, his voice harsh. Panting. Yet even as he says the words he tightens his grip on her. He buries his nose in the softness of her hair.

What on earth has come over him? He thinks wildly. He doesn't do things like this.

"I know we can't," she says, her voice equally desperate. It stirs something in him, something harsh and yearning. "But I still had to- I wanted to-" With an obvious, deep breath she shakes her head and steps away from him. Makes herself let him go.

Her breathing is uneven but for the first time she looks in command of herself.

The sight of her, falling apart with the wanting of him and yet forcing herself together, it sends a shot of heat and wanting right through Sherlock's skin.

Nevertheless, he lets her go. Wisely she takes three decisive steps away, setting some distance between them. "Much has happened tonight," she says. "We shall… We shall find a way to talk about it, I promise. But for now, you go and find this man Wiggins.

I shall keep an eye on Rosemund until you return."

Sherlock nods, about to thank her but before he can she crosses the space between them. Once again she kisses him, a quick, almost desperate thing. And then she's gone. She returns to the ballroom, leaving his heart hammering, his pulse like a thunderclap. It occurs to him to hope, as he's heading off to search for Wiggins, that nobody saw them. He can only pray that that is true. Because what just occurred was so utterly distracting that he'd have had no idea whether there had been witnesses…

When he gets outside he discovers that John has indeed taken the carriage. He reacts to this news as might be expected, with some creatively colourful language he picked up during the War.

Some of it's even in English.

It is in that moment that he decides that tonight… Tonight he is staying with Mycroft and Thea. He doesn't trust himself, should he run into John- And Rosie has no need so know that.

So he stalks back inside, angry and confused, stuffing John's hateful letter inside his pocket-

Which is how he discovers the key, tucked into his pocket.

He frowns at it, turning it over in his palm- And then he catches the unmistakable sweetness of Molly's perfume.


Meanwhile,

Inside,

Molly returns to the party, gives Sherlock's message to Rosemund.

Given the amount of effort the girl puts into pretending that nothing is wrong, Molly can't help but suspect that this is not the first time she has had to make excuses for the behaviour of her father.

Why is it, Molly muses, that it's always to us supposedly fragile daughters that such labour falls?

Fortunately for Rosemund, however, both Esme and Georgiana seem determined to set her at her ease. Though older than she (and not nearly so harebrained or brazen) nevertheless both seem intent on making sure that the younger girl is seen to have their support.

Added to that, young Gregory Castlereagh seems rather taken with Rosemund, and Molly makes a note to herself to check into the lad- Or perhaps she should ask Sherlock to do it? To the best of her knowledge the Castlereagh boy has everything to recommend him in both fortune, reputation and manners. That he is both near in age to Rosemund and seems to like her as she is (not as he would have her be) also reflects favourably on him. It need only be ascertained what Rosemund thinks of him. While it may ruffle some feathers, Molly is willing to proceed: she is aware that Georgie's mother has long harboured notions about her daughter marrying into the Castlereagh family but privately Georgiana has expressed wariness. She likes Gregory well enough, apparently, but not enough to marry him.

As someone who married as she was expected and not as she wished, Molly has always privately sworn that she will not allow that fate to befall Georgiana. She intends to abide by that promise.

If the girl finds her Sherlock then Molly will do her best to make sure her sister-in-law gets to marry him.

It's the least she can do.

At the thought of Sherlock, however, Molly is forced to duck her head and take a sip of her drink. Just remembering the way he kissed her tonight makes her feel hot and breathless. It makes her feel… Good Lord, it makes her feel like a green girl again. Molly had of course been kissed before, she had even learned to enjoy the marital act with Thomas but she had never- She could never even have imagined-

Heat, and the smell and taste of him, and  Lord, the way he's touching her-

As she thinks it she feels a little faint. The memory engulfs her, his mouth on hers, her arms about him. The reckless, fierce needing she'd felt as they explored one another in the dark. Molly has always prided herself on her pragmatism, on her good common sense, but tonight for the first time she had realised just how much common sense can be overrated when kissing in the dark with a man like Sherlock Holmes-

"Beg pardon, Mrs. Smythe, but might we prevail upon you for a lift home, tonight?"

Sherlock's voice sounds at her elbow and when she looks at him he seems calm. Collected.

There's no hint of the anger she has no doubt is bubbling under his skin.

"Papa took the carriage a-?"

Rosemund snaps her mouth shut on the word but it's clear she was about to end that sentence with "again." In a remarkable display of good conscience the entire Castlereagh family and Georgiana pretend not to have heard her.

In fact, Molly spies Georgie's hand snaking down to give the girl's elbow a conciliatory little squeeze.

"He was needed," Sherlock tells the girl, an evasion which just skirts lying and despite herself Molly is impressed. It seems that the years have finally taught him some semblance of diplomacy, if only in this matter.

Perhaps Rosemund senses as much because she nods. Pastes a smile on her face.

"The joys of a physician father," she says in an enviably convincing impression of ruefulness.

Not for the first time tonight, Molly's heart goes out to her.

Not for the first time tonight, Molly would rather like to thump her father.

"You could take our carriage, if you should like," Gregory Castlereagh adds, smiling at the girl. "My mother would be delighted to see you home," he adds, "since you live so near to us."

His sister Esme and Georgiana exchange knowing looks and the boy colours.

"We would, of course, be happy to leave Georgiana home too," he says. "And Mrs. Smythe," he adds.

At this Esme and Georgiana's looks grow positively amused and he scowls at them.

"We will be happy to leave you home," Molly tells Rosemund firmly, using her best matronly tone. To his credit Gregory blushes a little- he was being rather forward- but he lets the matter go.

Instead he holds out his hand to Rosemund and when she takes it he kisses her knuckles. "I hope to have the honour of seeing you again," he tells her, something which makes his older sister grin. "But for now I rather think I shall join my brother Freddy in the Smoking Room."

And with that he turns on his heels and walks away.

Molly can't help but notice that Rosemund watches him go.

"So," Molly says briskly, rather than let the silence stretch out, "we shall be bringing you home tonight, eh Rosemund?"

Rosemund nods. She seems distracted. "Yes," she says, before seeming to recollect her manners. "You have my thanks, Mrs. Smythe."

Molly smiles. "The pleasure is all mine."

She doesn't know how true that is going to prove.

For it's when she, Georgiana, Sherlock and Rosemund all squash into their carriage together that night that her temptation will truly begin…

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine.  The song for this chapter is here. Please note, things get a little steamy in this chapter so if that's not your bag Ctrl+F down to "Wiggins," and you will be safe. And as always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards!


BEAUTY, SET OFF WITHIN HER


The Smythe Family Carriage

Later That Night

He sits beside her for the carriage ride home and it. Is. Torture.

Not because of how near he is, but because every inch of Molly's body seems to feel that he's not nearly near enough and is clamouring for her to do something about it. Something drastic.

More drastic than sneaking him a key to her home?

Instantly she pushes the thought away.

But of course it doesn't go away, not really. Any more than the knowledge of how much she desires him does. Rather, she feels herself warm at every breath he takes. Every smile and touch he gifts her with. Whenever they go over a bump in the road she is jolted against him and each time that happens the heat within her redoubles, just as it seems to do within Sherlock-

"Bloody Hell," he mutters the fifth time it happens.

He has just about managed to right her but in order to do so he has had to grip her waist.

The feel of those big, warm, long-fingered hands on her is making her stomach squirm.

Eventually Molly stops even trying to keep her distance: after all that has happened tonight, this really seems like the most minor of her infractions. And perhaps her charge agrees with her, for both Georgie and Rosemund have made a point of falling asleep, the younger girl resting her head on the elder's shoulder. Both of them snoring lightly, something which makes Sherlock smile as he fondly brushes a stray blond hair from his goddaughter's face-

"She looks so much like her mother," he says and there's a world of unspoken feeling in that sentence. A universe.

Molly hates how unutterably bereft it makes him sound.

"She must have been a beauty," Molly murmurs, to which he shakes his head.

"Mary was striking," he says quietly. "She was extraordinary. But she was never what one would call beautiful- She was far too singular to merit so pallid a description as that." He looks at her in alarm. "Not that- I mean, you are beautiful, Molly," he stammers, "I have always thought you beautiful and I do not mean that I find you pallid-"

Molly smiles, cheered somehow by his disconcertedness. This, she thinks, this is the boy I used to know.

She is surprised to realise how much she has missed him, these last few years.

"I took no offence," she says softly. "Though I must allow that I…" She blushes, ducks her head. Now it's her turn to feel like the child she once was. "I enjoy hearing that you think me beautiful," she forces out, all in a rush.

At her words he beams and she can't help matching him.

"Well, Molly, you are beautiful. So I'm merely stating the truth."

For a moment they just grin at one another like imbeciles. Despite the night's events, in the cool and quiet of the carriage all feels right with their world. And then suddenly Rosemund mutters something in her sleep, frowning: instantly both chaperones spring apart like scalded cats. When neither girl wakes their eyes meet again and they both laugh quietly in relief.

"The chaperones need chaperones," Molly quips, to which Sherlock nods.

He takes her hand in his and holds her gaze.

"I found a key in my jacket pocket," he says, very, very softly. "I believe I know who put it there."

And he presses a small kiss to her wrist, just at her pulse-point. It feels so intimate Molly might as well not be wearing gloves. In fact, it feels so intimate that she might as well not be wearing clothing.

Though she suspects it makes her a wanton, Molly rather wishes right now that she was not.

At the thought she gulps, blushes. She's being ridiculous, she tells herself. She is an experienced woman, not some virgin debutante. And considering how she and Sherlock behaved tonight, surely she shouldn't be missish that he had the audacity to bring that key up?

After all, she had the audacity to slip it to him.

"I thought that you might want…" She can't meet his eyes. "That is to say, I hoped that you might…"

She can't seem to get the words out and his silence isn't making it any easier.

"I won't be using that key, Molly," he says quietly.

She blinks, surprised and hurt. Could she have misread things? When she looks up at him, however, his gaze is burning. His grip on her hand tightens. "If you wish to be alone with me," he says softly, "if you want me- Then I can come up with something far safer for you than that…."

He kisses her knuckles, bowing his head.

"Because I would never be so cavalier with you, my darling."

At the sound of that endearment on his lips Molly's pulse jolts. She's a little shocked at how arousing she finds it, coming from him. It's just a word, one she's even been called before- Just not by him, and that seems to make all the differenceSherlock is watching her closely in that way that he has, taking in everything about her, the way she licks her lips, the heart she knows he knows is pounding-

"Do you want me?" he asks her.

Though he's trying to sound arch, she can hear the shyness under it. He genuinely isn't sure.

His fingers caress her pulse-point, something she finds surprisingly distracting.

"Yes," she says and her voice is very, very certain.

At least she can give him that.

"Oh, thank Christ," he mutters raggedly and they both give a helpless little laugh.

How long has it been since she laughed with a man?

Slowly, holding her gaze, he pulls her to him. Sets her on his lap. He keeps his eyes on hers the entire time and Molly knows without his saying anything that he will take his cue from her. She is in control here. At the thought a swarm of hummingbirds flutter into her bloodstream: She can feel the warmth and strength of him, can feel it seeping into her through her cloak and gown. It's making her… It's making her sticky and hot and aroused.

She'd forgotten how overwhelming it feels to want this man.

Still holding her eyes he takes her face in his hands. He kisses her forehead, then the corner of her mouth. When her eyes flutter shut he presses a kiss each to her eyelids, then one to her earlobe. Her palm. The curve of her cheekbone. That one particular spot behind her ear. She sighs in pleasure and leans into him. Gives into him. She slides her arms around him and presses herself as close as she can to the warmth and breadth of his body. She wants to learn the shape of him. Breathing in time with him she threads her fingers through his hair and caresses his nape, tugs-

"Good..?" she asks breathlessly when he gasps. He nods.

He's kissing her throat now.

She's stroking his chest and shoulders.

"Very good," he murmurs, "You're so very good to me, my Molly…"

And he kisses her deeply, druggingly. The fact that they have to be quiet adds to the excitement rather than taking anything away. As he does this his hands drift up from her waist towards her breasts. Molly bites her lip, arching her back in invitation even as she continues to tug his hair and scratch his scalp. She can't seem to stop moaning into his mouth. The heel of his hands cup her, his thumbs teasing the ready, stiffening buds of her nipples and she can't help herself. She tugs his hair sharply, pulling his mouth up to hers for a searing kiss-

And then suddenly, suddenly the carriage jolts to a stop.

"Guv!" The voice is loud. Insistent. Unwelcome.

It is followed by a freezing cold gust of wind and with that, a spray of rainwater.

"Guv! I've got news," the voice says urgently. "Hudders sent me!"

With a wrenching hiss Sherlock pulls away from her. He glowers thunderously towards the (now opened) carriage door. "What?" he snaps. "Because frankly, somebody had better have been kidnapped!"

Discombobulated and aroused, Molly follows his line of sight, takes in the person who interrupted them. She'd rather like to murder him. He's a slightly-built, darkhaired individual who's grinning at her toothily.

"Wiggins," Sherlock barks, "Stop gawking at the lady and tell me what's wrong before you wake up Rosie."

At the mention of the youngest Watson the man nods and clears his throat. He mouths a sorry at Molly, something which Sherlock likes not at all. "Don't bother her," he says with asperity, "bother me. Now why are you banging at the carriage door like a highwayman?

We can't possibly be home yet."

Wiggins nods. "Hudson set me up to find you," he says. "There's-" His eyes dart to Molly and Sherlock growls in exasperation. "There's something of a, a… situation brewing in the house. Some guests, and some… entertainment." Another nervous look at Molly. "It's a Vienna sorta situation, Hudders said to say."

"Vienna?" Sherlock says sharply. He frowns, makes instinctively to stand and then belatedly remembers that Molly is still in his lap. He sets her gently back onto the seat beside him, pressing a kiss to her cheek just as Rosemund lets out a loud yawn and opens her eyes.

"Are we home yet?" she asks sleepily.

"No," Sherlock says, gentling his voice. "Not yet. Go back to sleep, Rosie."

"No need to wake up yet, Miss Rosemund," Wiggins adds, his voice surprisingly affectionate. The girl shoots him a tired grin and then closes her eyes. As soon as she does so she begins snoring again, some of the tension goes out of Sherlock's frame. He stalks over to Wiggins.

"How many are at the house?" he asks, sotto voce.

Again the man's eyes flick nervously to Molly; nevertheless he mutters, "Hudders says ten guests, four… entertainers."

"Four?!" Sherlock rolls his eyes, rakes his hands through his hair. "Bloody Hell, John!" he hisses in annoyance before belatedly lowering his voice, lest he wake the girls.

A glance at Molly. His expression is unreadable.

"Would you object to taking us somewhere else?" he asks her tersely. "Perhaps my brother Mycroft's townhouse?" Another sigh. "I'm afraid John has made himself rather… unsuitable for company, the idiot."

Molly nods. "Of course- Though may I ask why?"

Again Wiggins and Sherlock exchange looks and Sherlock gives a small nod. Immediately Wiggins closes the carriage door and readjusts his cloak, setting back out into the darkness and rain.

"I'll tell Hudson where you've gone, Guv," he calls over his shoulder. He tugs his forelock to Molly, grins at her again. "Lovely to meet you, Missus-"

"Away with you," Sherlock growls, closing the door on him. For a moment he amuses himself by muttering by far the longest and most impressively colourful string of swear words Molly has ever heard, his head in his hands. Then he leans out of the window, calls up to the coachman with directions to Mycroft's home.

When he returns to his seat Molly looks at him expectantly and to her surprise there's red at his cheeks. Now he's having trouble meeting her eyes, which seems somewhat ridiculous given their evening together.

What on Earth..?

"Vienna was a rather… infamous affair of ours," he says hesitantly. "Of John and I's, that is. It was before he found Mary- Or rather, before they were married."

"Indeed." Molly peers at him. "May I ask what happened?"

Sherlock sighs. The colour at his cheeks grows darker and Molly can't imagine why.

"We- Ahem, that is, John and I were sent to find an informer in the Prater," he says. A pause, as he clears his throat. "This informant- she worked in one of the city's more luxurious brothels, a very exclusive house called The Golden Dove." Molly frowns, not understanding the connection, and he sighs. "It was… Let's put it this way, it wasn't either of our finest hours," he tells her. "Though as an act of endurance, apparently the girls found us impressive. So nowadays Vienna means that John has brought some… company back to the house. Female company."

Oh, Molly thinks. Then, Oh.

Oh.

She rolls her eyes. "For heaven's sake," she mutters. "Surely that's what his gentleman's club is for?" Molly knows that married men and bachelors alike pay for women but to bring such a person to one's own home, and while one's own daughter is under one's roof?

It's preposterous.

She is, once more, overcome with the desire to plant a facer on Doctor John Watson.

Sherlock looks pained. "John's never done this before," he says defensively. "At least, not while Rosie has been in town." Something about his tone of voice makes Molly suspect there's more to that statement than he's willing to say. He shoots a fond look at the girl and Molly's heart aches for him; again she finds herself wishing bodily harm on Rosie's father, at least until he rediscovered his common sense.

"I can't countenance bringing Rosie back to the house in such circumstances as that," Sherlock is saying. "Not if there are… Well. You understand. So I rather think I shall have to bring her to Mycroft's-"

"Of course." Instinctively Molly takes his hand, squeezing it. He shoots her a tight smile, pulling her more firmly to his side, and though it's not as romantic nor as arousing as any of the other things he's done tonight, nevertheless it feels more intimate to Molly.

She's relieved he felt that he could explain everything to her.

So she holds his hand as they travel through the dark. She holds his hand as the rain and the wind howl about them, as it makes them shiver. Eventually Sherlock sets her back into his lap again, though this time it's merely to cuddle for warmth- Well, for the most part. It's near three when they finally reach their destination; quietly Sherlock opens the front door with his own key and rouses a member of staff. Within moments three unfortunate footmen have been called and with infinite care he picks up Rosie. Carries her inside in his arms.

A moment, hesitation on the step and then- He turns and looks at Molly.

The heat in his eyes is scorching.

"It's late," he says. "You and Georgiana should stay too."

A gulp. He licks his lips.

"We can set up rooms for both of you, it's not safe for you to travel at this time of night."

Molly doesn't need to be told what he's offering and what taking him up on it might mean.

She knows she should say no, and she certainly knows that tongues will wag when- not if- she says yes.

Nevertheless she shakes Georgiana awake and whispers to her that they'll be staying over somewhere new tonight. That it's too late to make it back to their own house, and that tomorrow they will apologise to her Mama. The girl frowns sleepily but nods, too tired to argue much, apparently.

She even smiles when one of the footmen picks her up and carries her into the house.

Molly trails behind, her throat tight. Her heart hammering. Sherlock's shoulder brushes hers as he leads her upstairs, and she finds herself wondering whether she's going to end up feeling some gratitude towards John Watson's idiocy for tonight?

The thought brings no joy but neither does it bring her displeasure.

Because all that matters to her right now is that she and Sherlock are about to spend a night under the same roof, sharing the same four walls.

She won't let this chance go by her- Who knows when she will be able to do this again?

And so she follows him into the house. Stares in appreciation at the sweep of his shoulders, the elegant, beautiful stretch of his hips and legs. She wants him, oh she knows she wants him.

One look at his expression leaves her with no doubt that this desire is mutual- Mutual and ready to burst into flame.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is here . Please note, this chapter is sexy funtimes : if that’s not your bag then you can leave off reading once you get to the word “ Hesitant .” Return to us on “ contentment,” to read the rest. As always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards! 


HONOUR


The Blue Suite

Mycroft Holmes’ Townhouse

 

He waits until Georgiana and Rosemund have been settled. 

He waits until the servants have gone back to bed. 

He waits until the house has once again sunk into utter quietness, utter stillness- 

And then, like a thief he slips out of his room. He pads down the hall to where he knows they’ve put Molly. 

He can’t quite believe that he’s about to do this, and yet he can’t bear the thought that he might not. 

He stops at that, breathes in the dark. At the thought of what he’s about to do- of Molly and he together- the most delicious shiver runs down his spine. His stomach tightens into knots, as do other, less gentlemanly parts of his anatomy. Again he thinks about how much older he is now than when they first knew one another, again he finds himself fretting about how much he has changed, aged. Lost. He can no longer be the man she expects. 

And yet… 

It’s Molly, he reminds himself, so it will be alright. 

Everything is alright when it involves Molly. It has ever been thus, at least for him. 

Calmed, he puts his hand on the door handle to her room and twists, pushes. It opens easily. His heartbeat, already loud in his ears, starts thumping painfully and his cock twitches in his smalls. His skin feels tight, it prickles with heat. Nevertheless he takes another deep breath. Tries to calm himself. Centre himself. It wouldn’t do for him to lose control. 

Slowly… Slowly he opens the door. Slips inside. 

Molly’s sitting curled up on the bed, apparently waiting for him. 

“I thought... “ She whispers, flustered. Lovely. She’s lit a single candle but set it on the floor. “I thought people might see if I lit another...”

“There’s nobody to see, Molly,” he whispers. 

“There’s always someone to see.” 

He has no answer for that.  

Nevertheless he comes closer. Takes in the sight of her. He sees her eyes flicker down to his bare chest, his dressing gown. The hardness tenting his pajama bottoms. 

The appreciation in her eyes is very, very gratifying. 

Sherlock supposes there are advantages in coming to her as a man, not a boy. 

She’s wearing her slip and nothing else; she hasn’t any other clothes with her so of course that’s all she has to sleep in. He can see the silhouette of her body illuminated by the candlelight. Sherlock’s gaze rakes over her hungrily; just as he is no longer a boy, she is no longer a mere girl. The darkness of her sex, the curve of her breasts, both stand out starkly beneath the thin white cotton of her slip. Her nipples are peaked and ready for him. Her hair is hanging loose and her feet are bare.  

“Bloody Hell, Molly,” he breathes reverantly and he can’t help it, he holds his hands out to her. Pulls her to her feet, to him.

She feels so… delicate, so warm, there in his arms. 

She giggles, ducking her head and looking away. It seems that she’s trying to control an urge to cover herself. “This is the first time I’ve… With anyone besides Thomas,” she says quietly. She’s biting her lip. “I should like to… But I’m not used to…” 

“Neither am I.” 

And it’s true. He’s never played the rake, nor the womaniser; in this they are similar. Those who have interested him have been few and far between. So he takes her hand in his, brings it to his bare chest. He lets her palm rest there so she can feel how hard his heart is beating. The action is oddly… grounding for him. Their eyes meet and it’s like they’re connected, breathing in time. Feeling in time. It’s almost unbearably intimate, Sherlock thinks. 

And yet, he finds that he does not mind that, not if it’s with her.  

“This will be different for both of us,” he says quietly. “Neither of us are beginners, but neither of us are profligates either, are we?” This time he ducks his head, this time he closes his eyes- He does not wish to say these words but say them he must. 

“Should you change your mind though, should you not wish to-”

“Oh I do! I won’t!” 

She says this in a most gratifyingly blunt manner. She blushes at her own forwardness and they both laugh again. Smile again. 

He brings her other hand to his lips and kisses it before he says the next. 

“That’s good to hear,” he tells her, and she beams. “But should that change, we can stop. I want you to know that we can stop.” He takes a deep breath, meets her gaze. It’s important to him that she understands. “And should anything… Should anything come of this then I want you to know that I would be honoured to make good my gentlemanly duties to you-” 

Her hand tightens against his chest: she knows what he means by that, knows that he is pledging both his name and his protection to her, should their union produce a child. 

Some sorrow moves through her eyes and instantly all he can do is think about kissing it away. 

He knows intellectually that he can’t, but oh he wishes he could.  

“I doubt that will be necessary,” she says quietly. Something- Sherlock thinks it might be shame- steals into her expression; it looks so wrong on her sweet, lovely face. “I can’t, you see,” she’s saying, “Thomas and I- we tried and tried and we couldn’t- I couldn’t-” She gulps. “So, you see,  you’re perfectly safe-” 

She tries to force a smile and Sherlock shakes his head, tips her chin up so that she must look at him. 

With careful, gentle reverence he presses a kiss to her lips, trying to communicate all he cannot trust himself to say. 

She sighs into the kiss, presses her forehead to his. For a moment she makes herself still, makes herself small, her soft little body curling in against him. He thinks she understands what he’s trying to tell her. So he pulls her to him, holds her tight. She’s trembling, just as he is, and it sets something fierce and protective growling in his chest-

“Thank you for saying that,” she whispers eventually, and her voice is tiny.  

“There is no need to thank me,” he says quietly. “Whether a child comes or not- Whether this only happens once or not- I just wanted you to know that I am a  man of honour, and that I will honour you, come what may.” 

“I know you will honour me.” A beat. A breath. “Just as I will honour you.” 

And she pulls back, looks at him. The words are soft. Hesitant. And yet they have the sound of an order about them, or maybe… Maybe a vow. Her gaze is hot, no- burning. Aroused. Arousing. Something has changed within her, he doesn’t know what., but there’s no doubt now about what she’s doing, what she wants. 

She’s certain of herself and she’s certain of what she wants to do with him and oh but that is a pleasing thing… 

So holding his gaze she stands on her tiptoes. Kisses him. Her lips are warm and sweet and hungry. Sherlock can’t help himself: He gives himself entirely over to her. He touches her, strokes her. He can’t stop kissing her and it feels so bloody good. As she had in the carriage she threads her fingers through his hair, scratches his scalp. With a gorgeous smile she nips his lower lip, suckles it- he moans and she grins in triumph at the sound of it-

“Honour me,” she teases. 

“You first,” he tosses back at her. 

Her grin is infectious. “Alright then…” There’s a sweet sort of devilishness in her eyes now. “Let’ see what I can do to you…For honour’s sake, of course...”  

And, still kissing him, she turns him so that his back’s to the bed. A small push from her and he’s seated on its edge. He parts his knees and pulls her into him; she comes easily, kissing him, stroking his hair. They can’t seem to get enough of one another and Sherlock can’t help but feel that that is as things should be. Tangling her fingers through his curls she guides his mouth to her breasts.  

“Show me first,” he pants, “show me, I want to see you…” 

“Do you, now?” And breathless, she pulls back from him. When he nods she tugs at her nightgown, lets it slide over her shoulders. Her breasts. Down, down, down, until it’s pooled at her feet and she is bared to his gaze. For a moment Sherlock stares at her, enraptured: Her belly, her legs. The lovely, sweet wholeness of her. Her breasts are perfect, small, her areolas a deep, rich brown that makes his mouth water- 

“Now that is beautiful,” he breathes. He strokes his nose reverently against them. Fills his hands with the warmth of her buttocks, her hips. Her self. 

“Your lips,” she says, “I want… I need…” 

“You need me to honour you.” 

This time it’s his turn to grin and again he pulls her to him. Again he kisses her. He takes her left nipple between his lips, starts to suckle and tease. She gasps loudly and though he hates to do it but he shushes her. 

He doesn’t want them found but it seems she doesn’t care. 

“I want more,” she mumbles huskily. “I want more from you- I’ve always wanted more from you-“

And she kisses him fiercely. Hungrily. He’s so very, very hard now. Their tongues slick and slide together, velvet and wet and wild. He knows his control is unravelling- He just can’t bring himself to care- so he takes his mouth to her breasts and licks them, suckles them. Cups them and kneads them. They taste so lovely, so perfect. So her. As he works her she steps out of her nightdress, clambers into his lap. Her knees settle on each side of his thighs, her mound presses down hotly onto his cock. The feel of it makes him swear, makes him stop for a moment. He will not come apart like some green boy. A panting breath, he shivers, he kisses her… 

“Christ but you feel good,” he rasps. 

“So do you.” 

And she shoots him a smile, almost blinding in its brightness. 

With a tug she pulls his mouth up to her lips again, their kisses turning clumsy and wild and sweet. Wanton. 

“Need you, need you,” she keeps muttering into his mouth. “Oh please, please…I need you...”

“Molly, Molly…” 

He wants to be impressive and clever but her name seems to be all he can remember how to say. 

They’re both rutting against one another with abandon now. Again he brings his hands to her bottom, pulling her tight to him, feeling the softness of her. The fullness. She seems to have been built exactly to fill his hands. Their hips moving in a rhythm as old as time itself and Sherlock finds himself wondering how much longer he can last, whether he can get her there before he himself comes apart. Christ, he hopes so. Even as he thinks that though, she slides his dressing gown from his shoulders and off him. Sets to kissing and nipping and licking him the way he’s licking and nipping her... 

Her lips find the raised, puckered skin of his scars and for a split second he stops. Freezes. 

The cold, desolate mud of a battlefield rises behind his eyes. 

He’s embarrassed and he hates that he’s embarrassed: he doesn’t show people those and he’s not sure he wants her to see- He’s not sure he wants her to discover what became of that golden boy she knew- 

At his reaction she pulls back. Looks at him. As she had when they were children she reads his expression, frowning. For an awful moment he thinks she’s going to stop or cross-examine him or demand an explanation. He’s not sure there’s any explanation he can give. But then- 

Gently, deliberately, she takes his face in her hands and kisses him. 

It’s tenderness itself, so sweet, so good. So soft. So Molly. 

Holding his gaze she kisses his forehead, his eyelids, his cheekbones. The thudding pulse at his throat. The corner of his mouth. And then carefully, tenderly, she kisses the puckered, scarred skin at his shoulder blade. The back of his neck. She keeps stroking his flesh. Touching him.  

“You’re good,” she moans softly, “you’re so right for me, my darling…” 

“Are you sure?” he mumbles helplessly. Heedlessly. 

He’s not sure what exactly he’s saying. 

“I’m sure,” she whispers, “I’m sure, my darling…”

Another kiss and Sherlock tumbles them back onto the bed, his heart pounding. He’s awash in emotion. 

Another kiss and he reverses their positions so that now he’s on top of her. Staring into her eyes. 

Their gazes lock and it feels like the rest of the world has ceased to exist: He can feel her hands stroking his back, his sides, his buttocks. Feathering along each one of his scars. Blessing them. 

It feels so right, so tender… 

“I want you,” she tells him helplessly. “You can’t imagine how long I’ve wanted you…” 

It’s only as he’s staring down at her that Sherlock allows himself to admit just how long he’s wanted her- And how frightened he had been to admit it until now. 

So he kisses her, breathes her in. Their eyes lock and he is spellbound. She wraps her legs fiercely- tightly- around his hips, kissing him. Touching him. There’s a depth of feeling to what they’re doing now that he’s never felt before. Her hand hunts inside his pajamas, finds his cock. She palms his length, squeezing him gently. “I want to see you,” she murmurs and he nods, working the garment down his hips and off. It feels so good to be bare for her- so good and yet still so vulnerable.  

That he can bear it- that he can like it- surprises him.  

Again he thinks he should not like it we’re he with anyone but her. 

When he’s naked she smiles: Her hands roam over him. She touches him without fear or shyness. “Are you ready?” he asks and she nods. 

“So ready.” 

A cheeky grin, almost teasing now. “Come and honour me, my darling...”

“I’d give you every ounce of honour I have, Molly.”

And slowly, holding her gaze, he allows her to guide him into that sweet place between her legs. That seat of so much pleasure. 

Slowly, holding her gaze, he allows her to take him into the heart of her. 

It’s not seamless but then it wouldn’t be: it takes a moment to find the right way for both of them. The pleasure of bedsport is often like that, though, so Sherlock bides his time. When he finally finds what works for them both she sighs in pleasure, her eyes fluttering shut. The expression on her face is blissful. Satisfied, A snap of his hips and then he withdraws, making her moan for him. He enters her again and he feels rather than sees her smile. 

She pulls him close. Nuzzling and licking her neck he presses inside her. Once, twice and then he hits his stride. He settles into a rhythm that seems to please them both. She gasps, mouth falling open as her fingers scrabble across his shoulders. His back. She starts raising her hips to meet his thrusts, she tightens her thighs’ grip on him, holding him fast. Sherlock moans as he moves inside her, the smell and sight and taste of her almost more than he can bear- There’s nothing else left in the world but he and Molly- 

“Yes,” she keeps muttering. “Yes, yes, yes…” 

He knows his own babbling can match her and the thought brings such pleasure. 

Were things different, were they alone, then he would try to make things last for her. Unfortunately however, he suspects that he cannot. He will not permit them to be caught, not even under Mikey’s roof. So he sets a merciless pace, their bodies writhing together. Clinging together. The bed shakes as she moans for him. He can’t seem to stop moaning for her. Letting her guide him he finds her pearl, teases it. He knows that a woman has need of that pleasure. To each thrust of his hips he adds his fingers and soon Molly is a panting, babbling, scintillating mess. 

It makes her look so beautiful. 

“Yes,” she mutters, gasping, helpless… “Yes, and yes, and yes…”

She comes apart, her body bucking, head thrown back in abandon. 

The sight is so lovely he swears he’ll climax just from the seeing of it. Molly utterly sated, Molly utterly undone... And all of it by him

Yet even as he strokes her through her aftershocks she smiles at him. Kisses him. “My turn,” she mutters, and at her urging he turns. Takes her astride him. 

He can’t help how exciting he finds it. 

“Hold me,” she tells him as she takes him back inside her. “Hold me steady against your heart, darling...” 

Sherlock nods, helpless. Heedless. He knows he won’t last much longer. The sight of Molly atop him, the feel of her… It’s making him come undone . And he doesn’t last- She rides him, a mere few thrusts and he’s coming deep within her, moaning and panting her name. Holding her close as he shatters. She kisses him and swallows the noises he makes. The babble and praises. When he’s spent she collapses on his chest, panting. It takes him a moment to realise that she’s still working her pearl, her hand thrust between her legs. As he watches she comes off again and he can’t help himself: he kisses her. Touches her. Holds her tightly to him. 

He feels utterly spent and yet utterly serene. 

Molly sighs in contentment, there in his arms: when she looks at him he can’t help but smile at her and her delight matches his. 

“That was…” He puffs out a breath. Let his head fall back on the pillow. “That was…”

“Honourable?” she inquires mischievously and they both can’t help it, they fall into a knot of giggling. For a moment it feels as if they’re children again. It makes his heart so glad. They stifle their laughter, burying themselves in one another. When they finally subside they smile at each other, they stroke and touch and caress. 

It just feels… right

“I can’t stay,” Sherlock says eventually. “I want to, but-”

“But the servants might find you.” Though the words are sensible he can hear the regret in them. The vulnerability. He knows she’s trying to be stoical and in that moment he decides- He decides that the next time they do this there will be no sneaking away. 

He will honour this new thing between them, he doesn’t care what it takes. 

“Mycroft’s people won’t talk,” he tells her. “I can promise you that. But I don’t want Rosie coming looking for me tomorrow morning…” 

Molly laughs, shaking her head. Her tone is wry. “I have been meaning to have the birds and the bees talk with Georgie,” she says, “but this isn’t the way I want it to begin.” 

He kisses her knuckles. “I can’t imagine it is.”

At this she laughs. Pulls him close. Kisses him. Though he knows he should go, it’s nearly an hour before he manages to force himself away. 

He feels the wrench of it intensely as he closes her door. 

He feels the twist in his chest as he walks away. 

And yet he steals back to his room in the pre-dawn light, her perfume carried on his skin. 

He can still feel her kiss like a brand against his lips.

Chapter Text

Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is here . There's no smut in this chapter, and we are returning to our usual rating. As always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards! 

 


TILTED STAGES 


Molly doesn’t sleep after Sherlock leaves. 

It’s not that she can’t, it’s that she doesn’t want to. 

Because as sated- as satisfied- as she’s feeling, she’s also still alive with sensation. Still awash with it. Her skin still tingles where he touched her, her mouth still burns with the memory of his kisses. She can smell him on her sheets, taste him on her lips. Her fingers itch with the wanting of having him near. And as for her own actions? She laughs in delight, in disbelief, as she thinks of them. She had been bold, fearless. Wanton. Wicked . She had given him so much pleasure and taken so much pleasure in her turn- 

It was really quite extraordinary. 

She closes her eyes at the thought, smiling. She’s never been so glad to be a woman, not a girl. For as much as she had enjoyed her marital bed, as much pleasure as she had learned to take from her husband, it had never been like this. She had never been like this, nor had she wanted to be. She had always taken what was given to her- Always played the part expected of her. Until last night, that is. 

She laughs to herself in the silence, thinking on it.  

And to her surprise there is no shame in her at the realisation. She had liked what she and Sherlock did together last night far too much to ever feel ashamed. The way he had touched her, the way he had looked at her… It had been as if he were looking at something wondrous. Something precious. Molly had never felt so... seen before. She had certainly never dreamed that bedsport could feel so good. She blushes, pressing a pillow to her face and remembering. Not just what happened in this room but everything else. Their dancing. That first moment he saw her in her gown. Their pleasures in the carriage and his actions in the park. The moment when she touched his scars and he truly let her in. The way he had held her as she spoke of her childlessness, her embarrassment at it-

It was all, she can’t help but think, quite... lovely. 

So lovely, in fact, that she can’t wait to explore it further. 

She laughs out loud again at the realisation. 

A small voice rises at that, cautions her to be careful. Prudence, sense, these have always been her watchwords: is she willing to discard them merely for the sake of a tryst with Sherlock Holmes? But even as she thinks it she knows the answer. Having experienced what it’s like to be with him, to have him, why there’s little she wouldn’t trade to continue the pleasure. And she’s a widow, she’s unlikely to fall pregnant: the dangers for her are minor, surely?

So long as they can be discreet and find both Georgie and Rosemund a husband before the end of the Season, she tells herself, then all will be well.  

Yet even as she thinks this, some traitorous image rises within her: She and Sherlock, dancing together in a ballroom. Arm in arm. Not hiding from anyone. She’s wearing yellow or scarlet or royal blue, no more mild, sensible half-mourning gowns for her. On her ring finger there’s a simple golden band and Sherlock is wearing a matching one on his… 

Molly smiles at the thought but she doesn’t dwell: she knows Sherlock isn’t the marrying sort. He would have been ensnared well before now if he was. And while he may have promised to wed her should she fall pregnant, she would never want to be an obligation. 

She would want their marriage to be something he chooses for himself and himself alone. 

So she pushes the image away, neither sad nor frustrated by it. She had always been, she reminds herself, so practical when it comes to her heart. She has the life she has, and she has neither the wish nor the energy to repine, hoping for another. Much better to spend her energy remembering the delicious things she and Sherlock did together last night… Much better to imagine the delicious things which might lie in their future… 

Her hand disappears beneath the sheets at the thought and she smiles to herself. 

Those pleasures from last night will, it seems, have a brief- delicious - reprise…


 

Meanwhile

In the Blue Suite

Sherlock sleeps for only a couple of hours but that is not new to him. 

He’s used to subsisting on hot drinks and stubbornness, after all his years of war. 

What is unusual is the quality of the sleep he gets; when he wakes though it’s only a couple of hours later he feels well and truly rested. 

This is probably a good thing because what wakes him is the sound of Mycroft’s valet, Sharlto, knocking on the door. 

“Come!” Sherlock calls and the unfortunate servant steps inside. 

He looks rather like he doesn’t want to be here and given that the clock behind him says it’s barely seven, Sherlock can’t say he blames him. 

“Master asks that you come down,” Sharlto says. His tone conveys that this is not truly a request. “The Mistress and he wish to speak with you-”

Sherlock frowns. “Whatever for?” 

He doesn’t see what the fuss is about. Last night wasn’t the first time he has decamped to Mycroft’s and he doubts it will be the last. And while having three women in tow might be unusual, it’s hardly the oddest group of strangers Sherlock has brought to his brother’s door. Rosie sometimes spends more time here than she does at her father’s.  

If Mykey has shared his thoughts on this matter, however, he has not shared them with his valet: The poor man cannot answer him. 

So Sherlock sighs. Best get this over with. “Is there coffee, at least?” he asks in a martyred tone, to which Sharlto answers in the affirmative. 

He looks relieved at the ease of the question. 

Thus incentivized, Sherlock gets out of bed, goes hunting about for something to wear. He has clothes in this house- actually, he has clothes in this room - and so his toilette should not take long- More’s the pity. 

“Tell Mycroft to give me twenty minutes,” he says. “I must get myself into the sort of shape which Madame Anthea finds acceptable.” 

“Very good sir.” Sharlto bows his head. He pauses at the door. “I thought you would like to know: Angelo popped around to Mrs. Smythe’s and appraised her of her daughters’ location. He also brought some fresh clothes back for them.”

“Good, give him my thanks. At least Molly and Georgiana will be able to change.” An image flashes behind Sherlock’s eyes, his imagination painting a very naked Molly being laced into one of her gowns- or being taken out of it. Needless to say, he is rather prominent in both scenarios. The thought makes the tips of his ears turn pink. Someday… Someday he will get to do that to her..

But that day is not today so he dismisses Sharlto, gets dressed. Brushes his hair and shaves.

He pokes his head into Rosie’s room to check on her but mercifully she’s still sleeping. 

Thus attired and thus ready for battle he goes downstairs to face his brother… 

He knows he should try to look respectable or contrite or something, but he’s much too pleased with last night to do anything other than grin.  

 


 

When he enters the morning room Anthea and Mycroft are already waiting for him. They’re reading the morning papers.  

As soon as he enters Mycroft nods to the servants and without a word each one of them files out the door. This is not unusual; in his capacity as spymaster for their Majesties, Mycroft runs a tight house. His staff are both unusually well paid and unusually obedient. The threat of an accusation of treason hangs over their heads if they are not. Nevertheless their actions set Sherlock’s teeth on edge. He has no intention of defending Molly to his brother, nor to his sister-in-law. 

What is happening between them is not a thing which requires justification. 

When he looks at the couple before him, however, neither say a word. They merely look at him, stare him down, the clock ticking loudly in the silence of the room. 

So , Sherlock muses, they think stewing in my own juices is the way to go

He crosses his arms nonchalantly and waits for them to say something. 

When he doesn’t crack Anthea takes a small coin from her pocket, hands it to her husband. Mycroft smiles fondly at her as he pockets it, pressing the swiftest, darting kiss to her knuckles. 

“So,” the elder Holmes says, “it’s true: you’ve taken up with a woman. Must be a sign of some coming Apocalypse.” 

He takes an irritatingly delicate sip of his tea, pinkie raised.  

“Old Hooper’s daughter, is it? That little tomboy who used to follow you about like a puppy..?”

It’s on the tip of Sherlock’s tongue to deny it, or make light of it, but instead he shrugs. Pours himself a cup of coffee and settles into the nearest chair. 

What would be the point in the lie? It’s not like Mycroft will understand his actions. 

“Taking up with a woman was  good enough for you,” he says instead, inclining his head politely towards Anthea. “One would have thought you would be happy for me, brother mine-”

“He is happy. We both are.” Anthea speaks over her husband; she’s one of the few who would ever attempt to. “But you must admit that we would be remiss if we didn’t ask…” 

“What my cover story is?” 

Sherlock is starting to feel irritated. He’s not a spy, at least not anymore, so why is everyone treating him like he’s engaging in espionage? 

“What your intentions are, you idiot,” Mycroft rejoins, looking rather irritated himself. He throws his wife a long-suffering look, rolling his eyes. This prompts a small, not terribly well hidden grin from her in answer and once again he kisses her hand. In retaliation she kisses his cheek. 

They really are revolting, Sherlock muses, when they’re being domestic. 

Not, he supposes, that he can blame them. It took them long enough to admit how they felt for one another. At the thought Sherlock sighs. 

Again he reminds himself that he should get this over with.  

“Look, Molly and I are… We are…” It’s dismaying to find his words failing him. He rakes a hand through his curls, making them stand up wildly before taking a long, hopefully clarifying sip of coffee. (Alas, the caffeine doesn’t work but then he didn’t really expect it to). 

“I want to be with her,” he says eventually. “She wants to be with me. That’s as far as we’ve gotten.” 

“But is she besotted enough to marry you?” Mycroft demands. 

To this Sherlock can only cock what he has been reliably informed is the world’s most condescending eyebrow. 

It has caused him to be punched on more than one occasion. 

“The subject of our marrying has not come up,” he says tightly. “She is a widow in half-mourning and she has no desire to give up her independence by reentering the marriage mart-“

“But she has a burning desire to get into your trousers, brother mine?” Mycroft asks tartly. “Is that it? Or do you merely have your heart set on fathering an illegitimate child?” 

“Mycroft!” 

At his tone Sherlock stands, his fists clenching at his sides: He will not allow his brother to insult Molly. With an annoyed look Anthea rebukes her husband. Gestures for Sherlock to sit down. She pours some more coffee into his cup, adds some cream. A rather long, rather petulant silence stretches out, as it often does when both Holmes brothers are at the table without their mother to keep the peace.

The clock chimes, everyone sips their coffee and rather than say anything both the brothers Holmes glare at one another.  

“You care about her,” Anthea says eventually, and mercifully it’s not a question. 

Sherlock nods anyway. 

Whatever else might be said of his feelings, he knows that that, at least, is true.  

“And you’ve known her for a long time, haven’t you: You grew up together?” Again Sherlock nods. “But you have not offered for her-?”

“As I said, she doesn’t want to remarry.” 

Saying the words sets something low and painful, sitting in his chest. 

Anthea raises her eyebrows in surprise. “And knowing that you still went ahead with last night?”

He tries to lighten the mood. “That’s one way to put it-"

“Don’t be flippant, Sherlock,” Mycroft snaps. “This is serious, as you well know.”

“Why?” Sherlock snaps back. “Why is it serious? We both know half the Ton is shagging the other half, and the ones not engaging in extramarital affairs are using brothels and courtesans: why is this different?” 

Mycroft is looking at him as if he’s an idiot. “Because it’s you, ” he hisses. “And it’s little Molly Hooper. You had the chance to marry her when you were young and you practically ran away screaming. Yet now you take her to bed under my roof with nary a pause for thought-” 

“I wanted her,” Sherlock snaps back. “She wanted me. God knows we’re both old enough to make our own decisions, so why are you behaving like we’re a pair of disobedient children?” 

Mycroft rolls his eyes in melodramatic frustration. “Sweet Jehovah, give me strength!” he mutters.  

“Why did you bring Molly here last night?” Anthea asks, trying to break the tension. “She and her... daughter? Protege?” 

Sherlock shoots her a sour look. He’s in no mood to play games. 

“I have no doubt you both know that Georgiana is her sister-in-law, Thea.”

Anthea nods, unruffled by being caught in an attempted deception. But then, she wouldn’t be, considering what work she used to do for his brother. “And might I assume that Rosie being with you also had something to do with why you brought her here?” She asks carefully. 

Anthea takes a delicate, suspiciously innocent sip of her coffee as she does. 

“You see, we’ve been getting the oddest reports from yours and Doctor Watson’s household…” 

Ah, Sherlock thinks. 

So that’s why I’m really here.

It’s not about Molly, it’s about bloody John. 

He swears under his breath: he should have known this would come up. Whilst Mycroft might have been irritated at being drawn into his brother’s relationship with Molly- and with being maneouvred into creating cover for it- Sherlock suspects that it’s John Watson who truly holds his interest here. 

After all, John had been his handler initially; it had been Mycroft who had introduced them. By the time Mary joined their unit he and John had been bonded close as brothers- Just as Mycroft had planned. In the heady years of his youthful adventures John had been the tether which held him to ground. While he burned John kept him steady. While he flew, John helped guide him back to earth. John Watson hadn’t just saved his life, he’d saved his soul. But now John is falling apart and it feels like he’s taking both Sherlock and Rosie with him; in the two years since Mary’s death it’s been like he’s a different man. A man Sherlock neither likes nor wants to know. A man Sherlock can’t believe he thought of as a brother. 

Again he thinks of last night, again he remembers Milverton’s letter... 

His heart twists painfully at the memory and then just like that Molly is in his head. He’s remembering her hands on him. Her lips on his. Suddenly he can breathe a little easier. 

Mycroft narrows his eyes, watching him. 

“Things are… Things are delicate, with John,” Sherlock says eventually because really, that’s the only way he can think to phrase it. Also, because it’s John and his best friend deserves loyalty from him, even now. Sherlock also isn’t sure how Mycroft will take the news that he’s corresponding with Charles Augustus Milverton. 

Mykey is a little… touchy when it comes to that man. 

Anthea and Mycroft share a look though. “He’s still drinking?” Mycroft asks. 

Sherlock nods. 

They both know just how much that small statement entails. 

“He turned up at Evenham’s crush last night, half cut,” Sherlock says. “We barely stopped him from creating a scene and ruining Rosie’s chances for good and all. He even took the carriage and went off to one of his clubs- Which is why Rosie and I were travelling in Molly’s carriage last night.”

“And is that the only reason you ended up here?” 

Anthea has this tone she uses when she’s trying to draw something out of you and not have you notice it. Sherlock’s a little surprised to hear it now- He would have thought her too sensible to try using it on him. Nevertheless he nods. 

If she’s asking the question then she and Mycroft have heard something, at least. And if they have heard, who else might have? 

It’s best he knows what’s being said.  

“He had a party last night,” Sherlock says, lips thinning in distaste. “A group of carousers and some… company, back at the house while Rosie and I were at the ball. Hudson made arrangements to warn us.” He shrugs, helpless. While he may have turned last night to his advantage he honestly doesn’t see what he could, in conscience, have done differently. 

“I couldn’t bring Rosie home to that,” he says, looking at his brother and sister-in-law. Surely they see that? “And I didn’t like the thought of Molly and Georgiana, travelling alone at the time of night after they were kind enough to do me a favour. 

If anything had happened to them it would have been my fault.”

“So you brought them here instead.” 

Mycroft’s voice is calm. Calculating. But there’s something in his eyes that Sherlock has seen before, something he has never liked. Mycroft has begun cogitating. 

No good ever comes of that. 

“Stay out of it, brother,” Sherlock tells him warningly. 

Mycroft cocks an eyebrow. “The situation with John or the situation with Molly?” 

“Both.” 

The elder Holmes smiles. 

“I can only promise to do that in one of those cases, Sherlock.” A smirk. He puts down his paper. “At least try to be happy with the one I have chosen.” 

And then suddenly he gets to his feet. Suddenly he’s out the door, calling for his carriage.

“You and I are going to see John,” he tells Sherlock. “I feel we simply must have a chat, before he’s done with his hangover.”

Sherlock follows his brother out, a feeling of dread slowly growing within him; The look on Anthea’s face says she agrees with him. The warmth of Molly suddenly seems so far away, and yet he tells himself that she is still with him, within him-

It’s why he’s able to do this , he tells himself as he joins Mycroft in the carriage. 

 

Chapter Text

Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is  here . As always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards!


STRAIGHT TO HIS FACE


Mycroft's Carriage

En Route to Sherlock's Townhouse

Later

Since he can't say goodbye Sherlock scribbles a note to Molly, asks Anthea to make sure she gets it.

His sister-in-law looks amused but nods and solemnly promises to personally give it to her- He's in the carriage before he realises what a gift he just dropped into Thea's lap.

Oh dear.

It's not that his sister-in-law is particularly prudish- She isn't. Keeping up appearances really is more a priority of Mycroft's. But Anthea is also far too clever at nosing out people's secrets and far too interested in his affairs for anyone's good-

He now rather wishes he had had the chance to warn Molly of that.

He doesn't like the notion of her being cross-examined- however charmingly- by Thea, or anyone else.

Nevertheless, he supposes he will simply have to trust that Molly's obvious good sense will be enough to handle his sister-in-law…

After all, it was enough for Culverton Smith.

At the thought of that odious individual he frowns, thinking. In all the… events of the day before he hasn't really had a moment to stop and ponder Smith's sudden overtures to Molly. That she had also suddenly received flowers from Sebastian Moran, a man with whom both Sherlock and Mycroft have previously tussled, seems stranger still. Were Professor Moriarty to start writing her poetry from beyond the grave then she would have attracted the perfect hat-trick of villains, he muses, before dismissing the thought.

The notion of Moriarty anywhere near his Molly is really too unpleasant to contemplate, ghost or no.

And yet…

It's not that he finds the notion that either Smith or Moran would be attracted to Molly odd: Molly is, well, Molly. She's beautiful, accomplished, rich. And even were she none of those things, she is in herself more than enough to tempt any man into courting her. He cannot imagine any fellow with eyes being immune to her charms. And yet, that those two men should have started trying to court her… It's odd. Disconcerting. Sherlock frowns, thinking on it.

They wouldn't have been so foolish as to target her merely because they saw her talking with him-  Would they?

A great pit of foreboding opens in his stomach at that... Mainly because he knows the men in question absolutely would.

He thinks back to that first meeting with Molly, their conversation. They had spent a great deal of time together that night, it was true, but then wasn't that to be expected from two old friends? Particularly since one of them was attempting to act as chaperone to his goddaughter, a post for which everyone agreed men were entirely unsuitable? Closing his eyes Sherlock runs through the people he saw at that first ball: Smith was there, toadying up to Lord Castlereagh and his wife. Was Moran also present? Yes, Sherlock thinks, yes he was. He asked Rosemund to dance but at the look on her godfather's face the girl had refused. Good. Rosie might play with rakes but she knew enough of he and John's work to accept their opinion of a man as gospel when necessary-

Which meant that if they were trying to get at him, then Molly would be their next logical target. Since Rosie had shown herself unwilling to be beguiled, and he had shown himself to be beguiled by Molly, they had chosen her as their target. The realisation makes Sherlock swear to himself. For in their years working together he and John had certainly made many enemies, and he while he may have curtailed those enemies' activities Sherlock has not always succeeded in removing them from circulation-

A sudden jolt knocks him from his reverie and he blinks, opening his eyes. The carriage has come to a halt; they must be at his home.

Sherlock gets to his feet, about to exit the carriage but before he can Mycroft raises a hand in request. Unwilling and suspicious, nevertheless Sherlock sits back down.

Something tells him this little tete-a-tete will not be pleasant.

"Before we go in, there's something I wish to ask you," Mycroft says. The words are addressed to his gloves, his umbrella. Sherlock blinks at this, surprised: his brother never deigns to ask one questions. He assumes. He deduces. He does not request you tell him things, that is for mere mortals.

"Yes?" he ventures, uncomfortable.

Mycroft purses his lips, taking a moment, and it's unspeakably peculiar, seeing his elder lost for words.

"I know you think me… Well, I know what you think of me, Sherlock," Mycroft begins. "And you may even have the right of it, however much it pains me to admit. But I want you to know…" He sighs, closes his eyes.

His hand tightens almost uncomfortably on his umbrella handle.

"I want you to know that whatever has happened to you and Doctor Watson, whatever has become of you both… That was never my intention."

And he opens his eyes, looks at Sherlock.

There's something disconcertingly… emotive in his gaze.

"I never meant you to be hurt, brother mine," he continues quietly. "I never meant to bring harm to anyone, including the Watsons."

Sherlock sighs. "And yet Mary is gone and John is a widower," he says evenly. Tiredly. "Whether you meant it or not, whether meant it or not, that is the world we are in."

"It wasn't meant to be." And Mycroft shakes his head. Frowns. He seems to find the next words even more difficult to say. Again it occurs to Sherlock, how disconcerting it is to see him like this. "When I first sent Mary Morstan to join you, I never dreamed that she would fall in love and marry," he's saying. "I never dreamed that she would produce a child, I thought her far too sensible for that…"

Sherlock lets out a bark of laughter. "Mary, sensible?" he demands. "Had you ever met her?" Mycroft shrugs and he shakes his head in disbelief. "And what precisely about Mary Morstan said to you that she would follow orders like a good little drummer girl, hmm?"

"I didn't think she'd follow orders," Mycroft retorts. "I just assumed that when she chose her companion it wouldn't be a man like John Watson she'd settle on."

He looks at Sherlock, very straight and very hard.

In that moment something which Sherlock has spent a very long time trying not to think about, let alone acknowledge, falls into place. It feels like a crack inside him.

He can see in Mycroft's face that he knows it too, the bastard. For the first time in a long time he genuinely wants to punch his brother.

"You meant her for me," he says quietly, and he can't help the knot of, of…feeling which those words evoke. It's a fist of rage and helplessness and indignation, all rolled together and clenching in his chest. "You meant Mary for me, you meant Mary to be my companion…"

"Yes." Mycroft breaks his gaze, starts fussing with his gloves, his hat. The air of discomfort about him is palpable but there is nothing apologetic in his tone. "I thought that you would suit, and I thought that you would make one another happy-"

"But why?" Sherlock looks at his brother, mystified. "Why on earth were you concerned about my being happy?" Because Mycroft Holmes had spent their entire childhood telling his brother that emotions were a weakness, that sentiment was a thing to be ignored. It was Mycroft who had encouraged him to join the service, it was Mycroft who had discouraged his youthful feelings for Molly. It was Mycroft pointed out at every opportunity that Sherlock was extraordinary and should live an extraordinary price, no matter the cost to him or to other people, and to hear him say this now…

He stares at his brother and for a moment it's like looking at a stranger.

To be fair he meets his gaze calmly, without dissembling or reproach.

"You said you had a question for me," Sherlock says coldly. "Ask it."

Mycroft cocks an eyebrow at his Arctic tone but he nods. Composes himself.

He looks his brother in the eye, one of the few who would be brave enough to do so, given the way that brother is glowering at him.

And people say, Sherlock thinks, that I'm the one with more bollocks than brains.

"Do you want to marry Molly Smythe?" Mycroft asks him bluntly.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. The man is unbelievable. "Molly does not wish to remarry-"

"I didn't ask what Molly wants," Mycroft speaks over him calmly. "I asked what you want, brother mine: do you want to marry the little widow or not?"

Sherlock can't see how this fits in with their earlier conversation and he doesn't feel like giving Mykey the satisfaction of admitting to his feelings. Nevertheless he can't bring himself to lie about Molly. Even spoken in jest, such words would feel disloyal, dishonourable.

And he has had enough of lying to last him a lifetime.

"Yes," he grinds out through gritted teeth. "Yes, I would marry Molly if she would have me."

Mycroft nods. "Good, that's what I hoped you would say."

"You hoped?!" Sherlock snaps, to which his brother smiles. It's a tight-lipped, mercenary thing. He's looking more like the famous Ice Man by the minute, the puppet-master so many in government and at court fear.

It is somehow both frightening and yet oddly reassuring.

"Yes, I hoped," he says. He sets his hat atop his head, pushes open the carriage door with a surprisingly jaunty swagger. "I do not want you to lose anymore than you already have because of my… inadequacies."

And he hops out onto the ground. Straightens his coat jacket and coat.

Sherlock narrows his eyes. "Thea put you up to saying that," he accuses, following suit.

"Indeed she did." Mycroft's tone is almost cheerful. "She's really rather marvellous for that sort of thing: turns out that when she said she'd make an honest man of me she was not being metaphorical."

"Huzzah." Sherlock straightens his own hat, pulls on his own gloves. They start up the path towards the house. "I still don't see what any of this has to do with what's going on with John Watson," he mutters under his breath. Mycroft must hear him though, for he catches his elbow, leans into him. When he speaks his voice is very, very soft, these words clearly only meant for his brother.

"This isn't to do with John Watson," he mutters. "It's to do with you. You, Sherlock, and nobody else. I want you to remember that there is more to your life and your future than this house and the mistakes of the past. I want you to know that you have things to look forward to, should you get your act together enough to fight for them."

"Like Mary did?" The words are out of his mouth before he can help himself. Their bitterness is palpable. "Mary fought for what she wanted and looked at what it got her-"

Though Mycroft flinches at his bluntness, nevertheless he doesn't pull away.

Rather he cocks his head. Surveys his brother. "What would Mary want for you?" he asks. "And what would she want for Rosie? For John?"

"She'd want us all to be happy." Of that, Sherlock has no doubt.

Mycroft nods, as if there's something self-evident in that statement but Sherlock doesn't see it.

"We will see to it that John and Rosie have the chance to be happy," he says. "And we will see to it that you have that chance too, brother: there's none who deserves it more." Again that mercenary smile. "Except, perhaps, my lady wife."

And before Sherlock can comment on this- frankly disturbing- piece of positivity, Mycroft has opened the door to the townhouse and ventured inside.

"Come along," he calls, "chop, chop. People to wake, doctors to cross-examine, etc, etc, etc."

Sherlock grinds his teeth and clenches his fists but nevertheless he follows him inside.


The Library

A Few Minutes Later

To Sherlock's not-so-great surprise, he knows more of the women in the house than the male carousers.

That's mainly because in the course of his investigations he has found courtesans and working girls to be by far one of the more interesting sources of information on the Ton.

They also seem to like him, something he has always found slightly mystifying.

"Morning, Sherlock!" the first woman they come across trills, grinning. She's as naked as the day she was born and covered in paint, almost as if she had been rolling in it. (And maybe she has; Sherlock makes a mental note to check his art supplies later). She stretches her arms aloft, causing her rather impressive breasts to rise, and both the brothers Holmes blush and turn away.

"Do you know where your clothes are, Venetia?" Sherlock inquires. She answers in the affirmative. "Then could you put them back on, please?"

The girl laughs, scooting her to feet. "So virtuous," she coos, making a point of pinching Mycroft's backside as she saunters past. He jumps and then tries to pretend he did nothing of the sort.

Sherlock is unconvinced, something his expression conveys quite eloquently.

"Are the rest of the girls here from your house?" he asks Venetia, still keeping his back to her as she hunts through a pile of clothes, looking for her gown. Again she answers in the affirmative. "Then can you please round your confederates up and vacate the premises?" Sherlock asks. "I can have Wiggins arrange a carriage for you all."

"No breakfast?" Venetia pouts.

"Alas not," Mycroft says. He hunts in his pocket, takes out a guinea. "Take that to Coffreys in Covent Garden and buy yourselves some coffee and a bun, there's a good girl."

Venetia grabs it out of his hand and stuffs it into her bodice. "It'll be brandy and cake, ducks," she tells him, "but thank you kindly, anyway." She then starts rousing her fellow courtesans, a great deal more efficiently than either Sherlock or Mycroft would have dared do.

The Holmes brothers also pretend not to notice her picking the nearest man's pocket.

"Do you know where John is?" Sherlock inquires once they're dressed, to which one of the other girls- Fredericka, he thinks- points towards the door to John's study.

"He collapsed in there," she says. "Couldn't hold his whisky, the poor mite." There's a chorus of knowing, feminine sniggers at that. She and the girls are putting on their shoes by now, their dressing accomplished a great deal quicker than one would expect in the absence of a ladies' maid.

Sherlock supposes they've had the practice, though.

Once the girls are gone- Venetia again pinching Mycroft's bum before she goes- the brothers set to rousing the male carousers. This is a great deal more fun, since it involves the pouring of cold water over them, cups of which have been provided by their housekeeper Hudson.

The woman is clearly not best pleased with one of her employers.

Each man wakes, swearing and sputtering. Most of them come up swinging, too; they get a punch in the chops for their trouble.

Both Sherlock and Mycroft, being used to having people try to hit them, rather enjoy ejecting those men from the house. They are told not to return in no uncertain terms, under pain of more than a thump. Only one of them is foolish enough to argue; that individual leaves with a black eye, courtesy of Mycroft Holmes. Having made the fatal error of insulting both the brothers' mother and any hypothetical wives they might possess, Sherlock knows that the blackguard got off easy. Mycroft is touchy about people insulting Anthea.

The house thus cleared Sherlock dispatches Hudson to make some dry toast and a large pot of coffee.

He and Mycroft then head into John's study, making as much noise as possible as they go.

When they enter the room is in darkness; everything stinks of alcohol and tobacco, of sex and unwashed bodies. Sherlock wrinkles his nose at the grimness of it all, once again thankful that he hadn't brought Rosemund home last night. They find John passed out as his writing desk and wearing little beyond his smalls, his flesh smeared here and there with paint- So clearly he and Venetia had gotten along well together.

With a huff of distaste Sherlock pulls open the curtains on the bay windows. He then opens the windows wide, letting the cold of the wind sweep into the room (and hopefully airing it out). John mumbles something irritated in his sleep, frowning and turning, trying to hide his eyes from the light.

It makes him look… It makes him look awfully young, Sherlock thinks.

Wearing that same tight smile he's had in the carriage Mycroft stands beside him. Leans down so his mouth is at the doctor's ear. "John Watson, where is your medical bag?" he booms.

Instantly John jerks awake, his eyes bleary and bloodshot.

They flash around the room in a panic, trying to find the source of the medical emergency. After all, he spent years being the nearest doctor to every battle, he knows what it's like to be put to work at a moment's notice. When at last his eyes come to rest upon Mycroft he opens his mouth angrily, clearly about to tell the older man off-

Alas, before he can do so he turns a horrible shade of green and doubles over, vomiting all over his former commanding officer's shoes.

As angry as he is at the man, Sherlock can't help but think it serves his brother right.

Mycroft steps back quickly, managing to avoid most of the onslaught. Acting as he has been required to for the last two years Sherlock makes his way to John's side, pats and strokes his back. He murmurs quietly that he's here, something which past experience would suggest John finds soothing. When the doctor is finished throwing up he stands, his face embarrassed. Eyes casting about for his clothes (God knows where they are). Sherlock hands him the last cup of iced water, something which would have ended up poured over him had he not proven so easy to rouse. John gulps it down thankfully.

"Morning," he finally mumbles.

"Good morning, John!" Mycroft booms, again far too loudly and jovially to be decent this early in the morning.

John looks at him in loathing.

"Oh don't be like that!" Mycroft says. "You've already ruined my shoes: let's call it even." He shakes some of the vomit off his shoes and onto John's Persian rug with the same gleeful smile, before settling himself in the chair in front of John's desk. Making himself comfortable.

Sherlock takes the seat beside him, pausing to fish a long silk stocking out from beneath the cushion and discarding it.

John flops back in his chair, his face still grey.

He brings a hand to his forehead, wincing at the pain, and Sherlock notes with worry that the fingers are trembling. Mycroft notices it too: tremors are the telltale sign of a drunk, both of them know this well. And a doctor with unsteady hands is little use at all.

Despite his better judgement Sherlock finds himself wondering what Mary would say were she to see her husband in this state.

He doubts it would be complementary.

"Are you here to talk morality?" John asks, his voice hoarse. "Or is this a social visit?"

He's already casting around for another drink, judging by the way his eyes are lingering on the top drawer of his desk. .

Mycroft and Sherlock exchange looks, the former disgusted, the latter horrified but unsurprised.

"Oh no, we're not here to talk morality," Mycroft says. "We're here to talk about marriage: Are you aware that you nearly ruined your daughter's prospects for securing one of those last night?"

John frowns. "Rosie's not getting married," he says. "She's far too young." He blinks, panic darting into his expression. "Is she here?" he asks, "did you-"

"Did I bring her home when you had filled the house with courtesans and rakes, you mean?" Sherlock can hear that his voice is not quite even. He can't bring himself to care about it. "No, she spent last night at Mycroft's- Not that you gave any indication it matters to you, considering your behaviour."

"My behaviour?"

John's frowning and Sherlock's not sure whether it's the effect of the hangover or something else. There's something… unfocussed about the man, something he's not sure alcohol alone could produce. "How much do you remember about last night?" he asks carefully but his friend appears not to hear him.

"So she's alright?" John adds. "She's- Rosie is alright?"

Sherlock frowns. "Why wouldn't she be alright?" he asks. "Aside from the obvious?" And he gestures to the room.

John opens his mouth to retort, expression angry, but before he can say anything his eyes roll up in his head and he collapses backwards, his head narrowly missing the edge of the fireplace. As Sherlock watches he starts to shake and shudder, his limbs quaking as if he's having a fit-

"Get Hudson," Sherlock snaps, pulling off his cravat and grabbing his friend's legs Pulling him towards the centre of the study.

Though he clearly dislikes being ordered, Mycroft rushes to obey.

Chapter Text

Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. The song for this chapter is  here . As always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards!


CYNICAL SOULS


Hudson appears within moments bearing a tray with a teapot, a cup, a wide, deep bowl of water, some towels and- Sherlock silently thanks the young window's sense- a pouch of charcoal from his room.

Mycroft looks confused but he hasn't time to explain: whatever John has ingested, it's best they get it out of his system as soon as possible.

And if there's one thing the staff in this house knows how to deal with, it's an overdose.

To that end he has Hudson and Mycroft help him manoeuvre John upright and into his chair. Hudson opens the pouch of charcoal and starts grinding the black substance into the cup as quickly as she can; Sherlock tips John's head back as she works and forces his mouth open, sliding his fingers in to check whether there's any more vomit within. (Thankfully there is not). He then sets the bowl of water on John's desk and without ceremony dunks his friend's face swiftly into it, yelling his name as he does. He does this twice, thrice, before it has any effect.

Icy as the water is- and loud as Sherlock's voice is- both cut through John's loss of consciousness eventually.

He comes back to himself with a series of hacking, painful-sounding gasps. Tears come to his eyes, his chest rising and falling in a desperate, struggling-to-breathe rhythm.

"John?" Sherlock barks, "John, I need you to swallow something for me, alright? Do you understand?"

His shaking has not abated and he appears to be unable to control himself beyond opening his eyes. He does, however, seem to nod his head- at least that's how Sherlock chooses to interpret it- They don't have time for him to do anything but interpret-

With an impatient motion Sherlock demands the charcoal-filled cup from Hudson. He splashes some water into it, brings it to John's lips. Still holding his head tipped backwards, he pours the concoction into John's mouth, forcing him to swallow it down.

The doctor sputters but Sherlock doesn't relent; with Mycroft holding John's arms steady Sherlock repeats the manoeuvre three more times until John appears to be more awake. As his eyes clear his trembling eases, though it doesn't stop. Sherlock's not surprised; they'll need to know what's causing his condition before they can treat all of its symptoms.

Speaking of which-

"We'll need more charcoal," he tells Hudson. "Go to my room and take all you can find there. Then send one of the footmen down to Pomfreys' to buy whatever else they have in stock."

"Very good, Sir." Hudson nods grimly, bobbing a quick curtsy before dashing out. As soon as she's gone Sherlock brings the cup to John's lips once again and forces him to drink. This time however he turns away, shaking his head, so Sherlock lets him take water instead. Watson looks balefully at his friend- "Is this revenge for Budapest?" he croaks- to which Sherlock smiles, relieved.

"There can be no revenge for Budapest," he says dryly. "What happened in Budapest is beyond revenge, and beyond redemption."

He smiles as he says it and John matches him. Just for a moment they're who they once were again, two best friends who have been through the wars but are holding one another fast-

The thought brings an ache to Sherlock's chest.

"Do I want to know how you knew to do that?" Mycroft asks dryly then, breaking the moment. Breaking moments being what he's best at. He's eased his hold on John's arms and stepped away, examining the teacup's contents with a sort of interested disgust.

Sherlock remembers the expression clearly from his own boyhood experiments.

"I discovered the medicinal effects of charcoal when I was serving with your brother," John rasps. His voice sounds sore, and Sherlock makes a mental note to check his throat for inflammation later. "It soaks up just about anything in your stomach," the doctor continues, "and the only real effect is that it turns your shite black-"

"Charming." Mycroft cocks an eyebrow , looking slightly queasy. Sherlock and John share a tight smile: they are well acquainted with the elder Holmes' squeamishness. "And might you have any idea what caused this little… incident?"

John's cheeks colour, a familiar, mulish set coming to his mouth. "I can't imagine."

"You'll have to do better than that," Mycroft says condescendingly.

"Oh will I?"

"Yes, John," Mycroft growls. "I'm afraid you will."

"You're not my commander anymore," John says, "I don't have to answer to you-"

He tries to stagger to his feet; the effect would be rather more impressive if he were not still grey in the face and unsteady. He needs to lean on his desk for support.

"You don't need to answer to me," Mycroft shoots back, "you need to answer to your family and your loved ones." He crosses his arms angrily over his chest. Gestures to Sherlock. "One would have thought you familiar with the pain of watching someone you care about abusing their body, considering what you and my brother have endured together, and yet here you a-"

"Enough."

Sherlock glares at both of them. He is not being put in the middle of Mycroft and John again, no good will come of it. It never has.

They've been having some variety of this argument since Mary died and it has yet to produce a fruitful result.

Rather he turns his attention to John, gestures for him to take a seat. Mutinous as he looks, the good doctor nevertheless does as he's asked, sitting back down. As soon as he does so the strength seems to go out of him, his pallor turning more ashen. Sherlock stands, about to grab the coal bucket from the fireplace should John need to get sick again but the doctor waves him away. Instead he takes deep breaths in through his nose, spreading his hands flat on the desk before him. Forcing his fingers out with great deliberation, digging the fingertips into the wood. Sherlock recognises this method as his, a way he used to calm himself in the aftermath of a bad opium episode-

It's somehow both chilling and soothing, seeing John do something he has done so many times himself.

He finds himself wincing, imagining that this is how Mummy and Mycroft felt every time they watched over  him.

A long, uncomfortable beat.

"Do you know what you took?" he asks John quietly. "Or might one of the girls have offered-?"

"I didn't take anything," John snaps. "And I didn't accept anything from a doxy, either. I'm not a fool."

At the brothers' disbelieving reaction he rolls his eyes and pushes his chair angrily away from his desk. Again he struggles to his feet. His shaking has quieted, it's only his hands he has trouble keeping steady now. And yet, he still looks like death warmed over, like he might drop at any moment. The thought frightens Sherlock more than he would ever say. "I don't. Take. Narcotics," John is biting out. A feral, harsh grin at Sherlock. "One addict in the house is quite enough, I assure you."

Sherlock feels the jab but doesn't answer it. John is trying to turn his attention to self-defence and he is unwilling to let him: What he has seen today proves his friend is in too much danger to allow himself to become sidetracked.

So he schools his expression to calmness, leans back and crosses his arms.

If John wants to bring up his past foolishness then he's welcome to: Sherlock will use it to bolster his case.

"Fits like the one you just endured are not usually associated with alcohol," he points out evenly. "As you have so thoughtfully articulated, I would know. So are you saying that you took enough liquor last night to give you alcoholic poisoning?"

He raises his eyebrows in question; irritatingly, Mycroft matches him.

John opens his mouth to retort and then closes it with a snap.

For a moment he remains stubbornly silent, but then-

"I don't remember," he allows, his voice very quiet. He almost sounds like he's sulking. Sulking- Or afraid. "I- I'm not sure how I could have managed to drink enough to make myself truly sick," he says. "I've always known how to hold my liquor… I don't see what would make last night special." Sherlock purses his lips, not pointing out the obvious: that last night was by far the largest night's carousing John had subjected himself to in the years since Mary's death. The words hang in the air, however, and John must be aware of it for he opens his desk drawer, takes out the tumbler of whisky hidden therein. He sets it on the table, the honey-coloured liquid glinting in the light, and gestures to it as one might an exhibit in a courtroom.

There's very little of it left.

John frowns, noticing: he clearly thought that he hadn't drunk as much as he had, that's obvious.

On the other hand, overindulgence is an easy thing, Sherlock muses, when one is already out of one's wits.

And being out of one's wits still seems to be the state which John is craving. Almost without thinking, it seems, he opens the tumbler and tries to pour himself a drink. Sherlock swoops in, grabbing it from him before he can do so, pushing the teacup of charcoal towards him instead. John shoots him an annoyed, martyred glare but picks it up and starts to sip. Sherlock picks up the tumbler's stopper, makes to put it back in the bottle's neck. He's going to make sure this is put out of John's reach. As he does so however, he catches a whiff of the liquid inside-

Sherlock halts. Frowns. Sniffs.

He gestures to Mycroft to join him.

Mycroft sniffs the liquid in distaste. "Good God, John," he says, "what sort of rotgut are you drinking these days?"

There's something wrong with that whisky, Sherlock hasn't a doubt of it.

"It's not rotgut," John objects. He sounds scandalised. "That's twelve year old whisky, I'll have you know. It was a gift from the Duke of Carlisle-"

"Twelve year old whisky doesn't smell like a decaying rat's carcass," Mycroft retorts. Another sniff and this time he looks truly nauseated.

He pushes the tumbler away decisively.

Sherlock, on the other hand, examines the liquid. It doesn't look like anything's amiss but he trusts his nose. Setting it down he swipes his index finger along its inner rim, wetting his fingertip. He then licks the tip of said finger, trying to sort through the taste as both his brother and his best friend glower at him. Neither looks best pleased.

He gets the smack of the alcohol, the notes of amber and spice. The liquid is definitely whisky but there's something else within it too. Something trips along his tongue… Something familiar… A bitter-sweet after-taste that lingers. That coats his mouth. It's cloying, unpleasant yet also… sweet?

It reminds him of something and Sherlock cannot put his finger on what.

He closes his eyes, concentrates, trying to isolate the alien substance… A numbness seems to be edging its way across his tongue, the inside of his lips...He's so intent on isolating it that he almost doesn't feel it when his legs go out from underneath him…

He collapses on the floor just as John had earlier and as he falls he realises just what's in John's whiskey...


Meanwhile

Back In Mycroft's House

It's not often that one is roused by the lady of the house, but that is who comes up to awaken Molly.

Gorgeous, elegant and with a distinctly mischievous smile on her face, Lady Anthea Holmes seems utterly delighted to make Molly's acquaintance, something which rather surprises the young widow. (Not that she is rude enough to give a sign of it).

After all, shouldn't Lady Holmes be circling her warily, wondering whether she is trying to trap her brother-in-law into marriage or some such rot?

And yet, her hostess is politesse itself.

She even delivers a missive from Sherlock- "He made me promise to put it into your hands myself, poor lamb,"- before shooting Molly another sly smile and leaving her to read the note in peace. The message merely relays that he has gone to check on John and that her mother-in-law has been appraised of her and Georgiana's location-

Because she's alone in the room and there's nobody to see her foolishness, Molly brings the paper up to her nose and inhales.

She catches the whiff of Sherlock's pomade and cologne on it, something which makes her grin like a giddy little schoolgirl.

What on earth has come over her?

Before she can make a further fool of herself there's a knock at the door and a female servant enters, holding a fresh dress. "Missus said you'd want to change," the girl says, bobbing a curtsy. "Shall I help you get started?"

"Yes, please." Molly stands and strips out of her slip; fortunately for her the new clothes include fresh underthings. She slides the pelisse over her head, wriggles into her stays. The servant helps her, keeping up a lively stream of chatter which surprises Molly: Mycroft Holmes' servants are not known for their friendliness- Perhaps this is because she is a guest of Sherlock's?

Once she is dressed the girl offers to dress her hair, something Molly acquiesces to gratefully. (She's embarrassed to admit she wishes to look her best should Sherlock rejoin them soon). She sits in front of the vanity, allows the girl- her name is Betsy- to dress her hair. All the way through the girl keeps up her chatter, her smile bright and friendly in the mirror's reflection and Molly allows herself to enjoy the attention, to bask in the pleasure of the morning after the pleasures of last night-

Of course, those pleasures can't last, and they come to a rather dreadful and abrupt halt when the door to her room opens without so much as a knock.

In sweeps her mother-in-law, her face set in a rather supercilious smile.

"So this is where you've been hiding," the older woman says, and the pleasures of Molly's morning pop like a soap bubble in a bath.

Chapter Text

Disclaimer: this fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Not beta read, so all mistakes are mine. Apologies for the delay in posting: the last few weeks have been a bit crappy in RL and I couldn't bring myself to write. But I'm here now, so… The song for this chapter is  here . As always, thank you to everyone reading and reviewing. But for now… Onwards!


BLINDSIDED


"Mama!" Molly blurts out as the older woman barges into her room. "Why, I didn't know that you were here-"

"Well, that's obvious."

And the older woman tuts and pats her hand in that vaguely patronising way of hers, settling herself down onto the bed before turning her attention to the ladies maid. She dismisses the girl though she is still in the middle of dressing Molly's hair with a snort and a sharp, "it's my daughter who is in need of your services, not her chaperone!"

The girl looks to Molly, unsure what to do, and Molly intervenes.

The poor girl looks so  nervous .

"Would you be so good as to fetch me a cup of tea?" she asks her lightly. Mrs. Smythe makes to interrupt and she speaks smoothly over the older woman. "By all means if you are needed to see to Georgiana then you need not return, but should you be free I would be delighted to have you finish my hair." A glance at her mother-in-law. "Just as long as I have a cup of tea while you're doing it."

"Would you like me to bring up a pot, ma'am?" the girl asks and Molly smiles.

"Capital notion!" she says. "My mother in law and I have some business to discuss and tea would be just the thing."

The girl nods and bobs a curtsy before leaving the room; she keeps a wary side-eye on Mrs. Smythe's eye as she does so. Molly thinks this wise. Smythe actually waits a moment after she closes the door and then opens it, just to make sure that she's not standing outside listening. Again Molly admonishes her- they are guests in this house- but she is resolutely unimpressed.

"We all know the stories about Mycroft Holmes," she points out sensibly. "And what I have to say is not for his ears."

Molly eyes her suspiciously. She already doesn't like where this is going. "And what might you have to say?" she asks. "That can't be repeated in front of the help?"

The older woman's supercilious smile turns mercenary. Her eyes actually twinkle, which Molly finds ever so slightly blood-curdling. "Why, I merely meant to congratulate you, my dear," she says.

She smiles a rather disturbingly knowing smile and taps the side of her nose.

"What an excellent stratagem," she continues, "having Georgiana stay with the family of the most eminent bachelor on the marriage mart-"

Molly's stomach drops. Someone has been reading Miss Austen again. "Mama!" she snaps, horrified. "Georgiana is barely seventeen, and Sherlock is, is-"

"He's a mere five and forty," Smythe says primly. "For a man, that's the prime of life, quite the right sort of match for our Georgie! And he's so rich, so handsome, he has such excellent breeding-"

"He's not a horse."

The words slip out before Molly can stop them. Smythe cocks a condescending eyebrow at her.

"And you're not a filly," she says pointedly. Molly's cheeks colour as she realises that her mother-in-law must have heard how she behaved last night. How she and Sherlock had, had…

The memory of their dancing together fills her mind and despite herself warmth fills her chest.

The memory of what they did together after they danced- of what they did in the bed on which Mrs. Smythe is currently sitting, in fact- brings a rush of warmth to other, less ladlylike places about Molly's person.

Luckily, Mrs. Smythe does not appear to be suspicious of her former daughter-in-law.

Unfortunately, she appears to be impressed with her objections, either.

"You are a widow of three and forty, Molly," she says bluntly. "Men in the prime of life do not involve themselves with women so far past the blush of youth as you. Being jealous of your charge is distasteful: desist." And she narrows her eyes, the famous attention which Thomas Smythe had craved and feared for the entirety of his and Molly's married life now honing in on her target. Though her cheeks are slightly hot Molly straightens up, forces herself to meet her mother-in-law's gaze. The older woman has always taken such pleasure in walking all over everyone but she is not going to walk all over her.

Not about Sherlock.

"Mama," she says stiffly, "I am perfectly aware of my age, and my obligation to Georgiana. And while I may be delighted you think me capable of concocting a scheme to get Georgiana within the walls of the Holmes' family manse, I must assure you that you give me too much credit: I have done no such thing."

Again the older woman tries to answer, again Molly speaks over her.

She absolutely, positively cannot allow this scheme of hers to take root.

"Furthermore, while I am not sure what I have done to earn your censure," she continues, "I can assure you that Georgiana has no interest in Mr. Holmes the younger, nor, indeed, do I believe she will develop an interest-"

"Pish and tosh," Smythe says. "She's seventeen: she can't possibly be trusted to know what she wants or who she wants it from."

Molly snaps her mouth shut, genuinely astonished and surprised at her own astonishment. She had known precisely who and what she wanted at seventeen, even if she hadn't been allowed to have him. For a moment it feels like she's looking at a stranger: While she has always known Smythe to be more old-fashioned than her own family regarding the wishes of her children, to hear a mother so nonchalantly dismiss her own daughter's fate is distasteful.

Would she have been like this about our daughters? Molly wonders, should Thomas and I have managed to have children?

Molly is suddenly grateful to realise that she will never know.

But Smythe is not done talking, God help her. "Holmes would make an excellent match for Georgiana," she's saying. "The family are exceptionally old and well-connected: they have the good will of the palace, they've both done exceptionally well in the war." Having seen some of Sherlock's scars, Molly would argue that point. "Georgiana will do as she is told," Smythe continues, "because she is told, that is how I have raised her-"

"But Sherlock doesn't want to marry Georgiana!" Molly tries to interrupt.

She's starting to feel just a little desperate.

"Oh," Smythe says, cocking an eyebrow. "And how can you be so sure of that?"

Molly knows that she is treading on thin ice here, that the last thing she needs is her mother-in-law starting to suspect her of something. Nevertheless she answers honestly- since honesty is usually the best policy when one is intent on diverting attention from one's own behaviour.

It makes everything so much easier.

"Sherlock told me he has no plans to marry," she says quietly. "He doesn't want a wife and never has." At Smythe's disbelieving look she rushes on. "I assure you, I speak the truth: we are old friends, there has always been a great deal of intimacy between us-"

Something moves through Smythe's eyes at the mention of the word intimacy, something Molly likes not one jot. Suddenly she has no doubt that her mother-in-law knows what she's been up to, just as she has no doubt that said mother-in-law has set her heart upon ending whatever it is she believes is between her and Sherlock. Maybe because she wants him for Georgiana, maybe because she doesn't want Molly to remarry. The reason doesn't matter.

The sheer… presumption of it all makes Molly want to scream.

A look at her mother-in-law's knowing expression in the mirror tells her she is correct. Perhaps it makes her childish, but suddenly Molly can't summon any more energy for this exchange.

"Believe what you wish," she says then, "since I know you will." She turns her attention back to her reflection, picks up her brush. She will have her hair finished, and she will make sure she looks as well as she possibly can when Sherlock returns.

"You may feel that Georgiana will make a fine match for a man twice her age," she tells her mother-in-law, "but personally, I think we should focus our attention on those who actually plan to wed, and who have shown an interest in Georgie."

"Oh?" Smythe asks archly. "And who might they be?"

At this Molly smiles: Georgie has plenty of suitors, and some of them have far more coming to them by way of money and titles than Sherlock Holmes. All of them are also a great deal closer to her in age. So she starts listing them off, trying to make each one sound more enticing than the last-

While, on the other side of the door, Georgiana and Rosemund listen in, exchanging horrified looks. "I don't want to marry Sherlock!" Georgie hisses. "He's ancient!"

Rosemund looks sage. "Don't worry," she says. "You won't have to."

And so she begins to plot as only a teenaged girl- and Mary Watson's progeny- can…


Meanwhile,

At Sherlock's Townhouse

Sherlock knows he's taken an hallucinogen, because both John and Mycroft's eye sockets are currently sprouting black and purple lilies.

Their lips are also turning yellow and sewing themselves shut, only for their stitches to pop open as a couple of words escape before the whole process starts again.

It should be noted that the words escaping their mouths are taking the form of fluffy yellow ducklings with burnt, bare skulls where their heads should be.

Unfortunately for Sherlock, however, he has thus far found himself too intoxicated to communicate this fact. Or the fact that he's been drugged. Or the fact that he suspects compound he's been dosed with has somehow been altered, given both its potency and the speed with which it took him over.

On the other hand, he suspects that both John and his brother have seen him caned so often that they will recognise the signs.

This, he reminds himself, is probably good news, something of which there is rather a meagre supply right now.

As he thinks that, he feels something hard and hollow hit the back of his head. He also realises that he is now looking up at what appears to be the ceiling- Or at least it would be were the stucco cherubs his mother insisted on decorating with not turning into slow moving, white plaster sea creatures, all of which seem intent on removing themselves from their moorings and trying to eat him-

Damnation, he thinks. I've fallen over and I can't even tell which way is up.

I'll never escape.

Above him the plaster behemoths continue to writhe. One, a figure of Aphrodite which has transformed into a giant, sabre-toothed whale, swoops down towards him but at the last moment turns into a life-size statue of Molly.

The thing smiles, warmth bleeding into the pale white plaster until it resembles the real life Molly in every way. Still smiling, the Not Molly reaches down and kisses him. Her lips are cold and wrong, not like Molly's at all. When she pulls back though he's not in his parlour any more but in the estate on which he grew up. Musgrave Hall is silhouetted behind him. It's a sunny day and the birds are singing; he doesn't know how but he's fairly sure he's only about fourteen years old. He's certainly not an adult.

The Not Molly is still there but now she too looks young: judging by the length of her hair and her proponderance of freckles, Sherlock thinks she's probably about thirteen.

She was so damn pretty, he thinks disjointedly, when she was thirteen.

They're lying together, on their sides and facing one another. Their faces are so close they can feel one another's breath. Above them the canopy of the great oak at her father's property spreads out, shading them from the sun and allowing them some privacy as they giggle and touch and kiss, as they whisper secrets to one another and swear undying devotion…

This never happened, Sherlock knows it.

However many times he may have dreamed of doing it, he never allowed himself to let this happen.

In his youth and foolishness he had chosen glory and adventure and not the sweet, innocent pleasures of an afternoon spent whispering beneath the branches of an oak tree with the person he liked best in all the world…

As he thinks this a darkness falls over the sun. Suddenly, there is darkness.

Molly looks at him, frightened, and instinctively he takes her hand in his. Pulls her to him. "I won't let anything happen to you," he says fiercely, as fiercely as only a young boy can. And yet- There's a great shift beneath him, as if he can feel the very earth moving. Seasickness jolts him, spots appear in front of his eyes and he tries, he tries so hard to hold onto Molly's hand…

But he can't.

He doesn't.

He feels her yanked away from him.

The sun blacks out completely, the oak tree and the summer's day disappearing into the ether as if they were mist. Sherlock takes a deep breath and it feels painful, tight- He feels, as if from far away, his body arch as he falls into darkness-

And then he's lying on the floor in his parlour, John and Mycroft peering down at him.

His clothes and hair are soaked with sweat but mercifully, he appears not to have vomited.

He always hated it when he got sick on himself.

"Mycroft," he croaks, sitting gingerly up, "Mikey, how long was I out for?"

Sherlock can tell his brother is trying to look nonchalant. Nevertheless his voice is not quite steady as he says, "an hour."

"Remarkable," Sherlock says. "It felt like minutes." To his credit, John helps him to sit up. He gives him water. Sherlock holds his hands in front of his face and they are mercifully steady. His mind, though it is still mutinous, is mercifully clear.

But more importantly-

"Fetch Hudson," he says to John, "and tell her I need to know precisely who has been cleaning this room for the last five months." A sharp look at Mycroft. "I believe we may have an explanation for some of what happened last night."

Unfortunately for him, however, despite the best efforts of the staff the young widow is nowhere to be found.