He should have been asleep. John was asleep. And no wonder, after the last 48 hours, anyone would drop from sheer exhaustion. Anyone, other than Sherlock Holmes, apparently.
They'd picked Rosie up in the wee hours of the morning on the way back to John's flat. After the events at Sherrinford and Musgrave, John was understandably eager to see his daughter, despite the hour.
Rosie must have sensed her father’s exhaustion. She dropped off quickly against John's shoulder within moments of their return home. Now, she was sprawled next to him on one side of the master bed. He’d offered to let Sherlock kip on the other side.
"We binned the spare bed when we set up Rosie’s room," he'd whispered apologetically as he carried the sleeping child upstairs.
"You can join us though, so long as you don't get grabby." He'd continued with a quiet chuckle, and inclined his head at his daughter, "She's not old enough to start rumors, yet."
Had Sherlock detected a hint of new meaning behind the old joke? Maybe someday John would be able to acknowledge the spark of attraction without needing to laugh it off. Maybe not. It didn't matter. That ship had long since sailed. Sherlock liked to believe what had grown in its place was something much stronger.
Oddly, the one person who'd understood was Mary. By all accounts, she had every right to feel jealous and threatened by the bond between Sherlock and her husband. Instead, with the exception of that one blinding moment in Magnussen's office, she had always supported and encouraged their unique friendship. Regardless, Sherlock drew the line at occupying Mary's place in John's bed, even just for sleeping.
He'd opted for the sofa in the lounge.
He should have been asleep. Instead he lay miserably staring at the ceiling, unable to force his eyes closed. The sofa was lumpy, and too short. But that wasn't the problem. His muscles twitched with exhaustion. If he could simply close his eyes for more than a few seconds, he'd be out in a heartbeat.
Every time his eyes drifted shut, the memories came flooding back in a jumble of random images, smells and sounds... stagnant water, burning wallpaper, the copper scent of blood, a soft voice breaking on the word "true".
He jolted up, eyes roaming the room for something, anything, to occupy his brain, to replace the racing collage of failures playing behind his eyelids.
God, how he wanted a cigarette. Or a hit of something stronger. He swallowed dryly around the thought as his eyes found Rosie's plush elephant propped against the back of the rocking chair.
A hand reached down and plucked the elephant from the chair. Mary caressed it lovingly as she stepped around the chair to gaze out the front window.
"You're blaming yourself for things you had no way to control, you know." She said, turning to face him from the window.
"You again? I thought you were dead."
"Some things refuse to stay buried."
"Yeah well, apparently you still need someone to knock some sense into you." Her voice was kind, almost laughing.
"John tried that. It didn't work."
"That was for him, not for you. Thank you for that, by the way."
He nodded as she crossed the room and dropped onto the sofa cushion beside him.
"I think he’s turned a corner. He's determined to do better for Rosie."
"I know. It's you I'm worried about."
He shrugged, "You're my in head, bit pointless to argue with you."
"So,” she went on, turning the plush toy over in her hands, “Should we talk about the elephant in the room?"
He didn't want to talk about it, no. But he couldn't sleep and she seemed intent on haunting him, so why not?
But not here. The shadows of Mary—the real one, not the trick of his psyche he was currently speaking to—lingered in every corner of the flat, from the floral cushions he was currently leaning against to the handwriting on the months old shopping list pinned under the refrigerator magnets. Even little Rosie's outfits echoed Mary's quirky style. He wondered briefly how long it would be before the child would begin to be clad exclusively in plaid and ugly jumpers. For now, though, this was still Mary's place. He was outnumbered here.
"Not here, let’s go for a walk."
He rose, pulled on his trousers and redressed. Mary had the decency to disappear while he did so. She came back as he stepped onto the pavement outside, falling in beside him, effortlessly matching his longer stride in a way only his imagination could make possible.
She practically glided along beside him in her big red coat. He shook away the memory of the last time he'd wandered around London in the middle of the night with a blonde woman dressed in red, but it didn't quite work.
"The woman on the bus, the one John was texting, she's my sister."
"I know." She tapped a finger to her temple, quirking a smile. "Wouldn't be a huge surprise even if I didn't have a direct link to your psyche."
"It was to me."
"So, my sister-" he began, only to be interrupted.
"No, not yet. We need to talk about me first."
He was momentarily confused. Hadn't he and John already worked through that particular wagon-load of guilt?
"Don't you want to know my whole story?"
"Well yes, of course. But how can you possibly tell me anything I don't already know?"
She punched him lightly in the shoulder before wrapping her arm around his as they walked.
He was vaguely aware there was a general direction if not a specific purpose for the route his brain chose for this trudge around suburban London. He decided not to let it concern him and focused instead on the story his hallucination of Mary started to weave.
"You know my dad was American?" She began.
"Yes." He'd glanced at the contents of the AGRA drive, as well as Mycroft's file.
"Mum was from here. She and dad never married. She didn't even tell him about me until I was a month old. It wasn't a conventional love affair. He was career military and later Department of Defense. He phoned and sent gifts on special occasions. Sometimes, he'd turn up in our flat without warning or jet us off someplace to meet him…real-life James Bond stuff."
They approached a split in the road and Mary gently guided him to the left, smiling nostalgically at her memory.
"...and then your mum died when you were thirteen and you went to live with him." he prompted.
"Yeah, I was a mess too. Angry with grief. He had no clue what to do with me. So, he did the only thing he could think of-"
"He taught you to shoot." He finished for her, but she didn’t seem to mind.
"And I was very good at it. But you know that." They shared a sardonic smile as they continued walking.
"I'm telling you all this because you need to understand that I never expected…never wanted, an ordinary life. Never pictured myself doing laundry or baking bread or reading picture books at bedtime. You and I are alike in that way."
"But you did end up with just that, an ordinary life, didn't you?”
“Did I?” She smiled up at him, eyebrows raised. “I did try to stay out of trouble you know… But I took a job, after Tiblici. Didn't want to, but didn't have much choice-"
"Blackmail. You would've been exposed if you hadn't?"
"Something like that, yeah….”
He wondered briefly exactly how long Charles Magnusen had been threatening her before the fateful meeting in his private suite.
“So anyway, there I was, looking through the scope of a rifle, and I fell in love." She continued.
Brow furled, Sherlock frowned down at her, suddenly remembering a notation in Mycroft's file.
Bristol, March 2010. Possible identification as a person of interest. Investigation ongoing
"Ahhh...You were the assassin at the pool!"
Did he sound that smug when he popped his P's, he wondered? Probably.
"You watched John leap on Moriarty trying to save my life."
"Oh God, you're really not getting this are you?"
He felt his face scrunch up. He wasn't getting it.
"I fell in love with you, you idiot."
Whatever he’d been expecting her say, it wasn’t that. He scowled at her, trying to process that statement in any way that made sense. But there wasn't one.
"No, not like that." She scrunched her own nose up for a moment, then continued. "The both of you. Together. God, you were beautiful, you and John."
Somewhere in the back of his head, a snippet of overheard conversation played, "We're not a couple. Yes, you are."
He blinked as understanding set in. For all the times people had insinuated that he and John were more than friends, and all the times he’d let them because John was fully capable of protecting himself… Whereas Molly… No. He shook himself back to the idea at hand. He’d never considered that anyone would accept him and John as a sort of package deal.
"So, you...you wanted...us? John and I...together?" He said slowly, the pieces dropping into place. Suddenly Mary’s immediate acceptance of him made much more sense.
"I told you, I never cared for ordinary." She confirmed.
He nodded and they walked on. She seemed content to give him the time to piece this new revelation into the puzzle. His mind churned around the idea and how it worked into what had happened with his sister. Moriarty had failed to “burn the heart out of him”, but Eurus had very nearly accomplished it. He found himself wondering if she had deliberately chosen his worst moment of grief for Mary to pose as Faith Smith. She’d obviously known what John meant to him, had she deduced Mary’s feelings and his own affection for his friend’s wife and been jealous of that as well?
“Probably.” Mary answered unexpectedly. giving the impression she’d read his mind, since he’d momentarily managed to forget he’d conjured her, “I think she was playing the long game.”
Even with his sister safely back in her cell in Sherrinford, the implications were chilling. How much had she been able to glean with no more than a glance at John’s blog? Was Mycroft correct that every aspect of his life was somehow formed in response to his mad sister and her obsession with him?
“How long do you think she knew about Molly?” Mary broke back into his thoughts.
Ah, there it was. More elephant and not nearly enough room.
He shook his head. “A while…long enough, obviously.” He glanced down at the blue and purple bruises on the sides of his hands from smashing the coffin. His mouth went dry at the memory.
“You know there’s a reason John and I chose the two of you as Rosie’s Godparents, right?”
He nodded, not wanting to voice what a colossal mistake that might have been.
They walked a bit further in silence. Sherlock swallowed around the lump that had formed in his throat at the thought of what Eurus had threatened to do to Molly, and worse, what he had actually done to her himself.
“She’s not going to forgive me.”
“You don’t know that.”
“Yes, I do. Besides, even if she did, what could I possibly have to offer her?” He stopped abruptly and dropped his head to stare down at the pavement in despair. He wanted a hit so bad he could taste it. He could phone Wiggins, meet him at one of his bolt holes and be high before sunrise.
“Trust me. That would only make it worse.” Mary reached to rub his shoulder, but he pulled away.
He barked out a laugh, a hollow sounding thing. How could he trust her, when he didn’t trust himself?
“All I’ve ever done…all I ever do is hurt her. I do and say horrible things. It took a frankly horrific nightmare scenario for me to fully realize my…” He paused, then spit out the word, “…feelings. I can’t possibly give her what she wants or what she needs.”
“And what is that?”
He shook his head. He had tried. That day in the stairwell after he’d asked her to solve crimes together…he’d tried so hard to let her go. It was one of the most difficult things he’d ever done, having that conversation with Molly, telling her she deserved happiness, knowing that neither of them could have what they wanted, but acting like he was ok, so she wouldn’t see how it was tearing him apart.
He’s not from work….He’s nice. He’s got a dog. We go to pub on weekends….
“Oh my God!” Mary exclaimed, exasperated. “Don’t tell me Sherlock Holmes couldn’t see through that load of horse shit? Has it never crossed your mind that just like me, she doesn’t really want any of that ordinary rubbish.”
“But she-“ he started before Mary cut in again.
“Molly Hooper cuts into dead bodies for a living and makes horrible morbid jokes about it. She watched you flog the corpse of one of her colleagues, a man she liked for God’s sake, and it turned her on. She’s always given what you needed, despite the way you take her generosity for granted. Somehow, she’s also managed to keep you, of all people, on the back foot for years. What the hell ever gave you the idea a woman like her wants ‘nice’ and ‘pub on weekends’?”
Even if it was true and coming straight from his own subconscious, he was less than convinced. Not to mention angry with himself for conjuring this phantom in the first place.
“She’s one of the kindest, most compassionate, most stubbornly optimistic people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know and God help me, I do love her. I know that now. But I’m…I’m a sometimes-suicidal drug addict at worst and a complete arsehole at best.” He raged. “…and she deserves so much better than me!”
Oddly, Mary only smirked at his irate shouting. She quirked her head toward the door of the house they’d stopped in front of. Sherlock followed her gaze to see the silhouette of a figure illuminated by the light inside the open doorway.
Molly Hooper took a step towards him, eyes meeting his in the pre-dawn light.
“Why don’t you let me decide for myself what I deserve, Sherlock?”