Actions

Work Header

Paris is for lovers

Work Text:

Beta: susako

Disclaimer: all characters you recognize belong to the BBC and Steve Moffat and Mark Gatiss. My profit is the joy I had in writing. Yours, I hope, the joy in reading

 

“So,” Mycroft drawls, looking at the glass of cognac he is swirling in his right hand. The liquid draws a thick film across the glass’s surface, slowly gliding back into the small pool at the base, the high viscosity of the liquid indicating the expense of the product.

Molly nips her Baileys. She doesn’t actually like Baileys that much but asks for it every time in a quiet act of rebellion against all things Holmesian, ever since she nervously named it at her first dinner date with the Holmes brothers after being asked whether she would like anything with her coffee. The look of dignified shock Mycroft threw his brother then, followed with a slight raising of the eyebrows and a quiet nod to accompany his murmured, “if you wish, Doctor Hooper,” had almost sent her into fits of giggles.

Traces of the shock have remained on his features, however hard he obviously tries to battle them, every time she’s repeated her request at their twice-monthly dinners over the past two and a half years. A shocked Holmes is a wonderful thing to behold so she finds herself asking for it every single time. It results in her having to drink the stuff, but the look makes it totally worth it.

“You’re off to Paris tomorrow then,” he continues.

She nods. “Yes, it’s just five days, but still, it’s Paris. And the weather forecast looks fine, 15 degrees and sunny.”

“Oh, I’m so jealous of you!” Anthea squeals. “I haven’t been to Paris in ages. Do you remember, Mycroft, the last time we were there for the health conference? What a lovely time we had then! Can’t you have me organize something like that again, all play and no work? I’m really in need of a little holiday. And it would do you loads of good as well.”

“Anthea,” Mycroft corrects her, a stern look on his face.

Anthea giggles and raises her glass of amaretto at him. Another drink considered below par, Anthea has confessed to Molly that’s the only reason she asks for it. “Oh, come on Mycroft. Molly already knows all about us, don’t you Mol?”

“… Uh, no comment,” Molly manages. She finds she’s the one that’s blushing, while Anthea responds by sliding down even lower in her chair and sticking her tongue out at Mycroft.

Still, it’s good to have Anthea around at these ensembles she has to attend every two weeks. She should actually enjoy the dinner parties as the food is always astounding and both Anthea and Mycroft – the last one rather surprisingly – are genuinely good company. However, the thought that in the end it’s all aimed at keeping her away from John manages to add a sour taste to every meeting, a taste that hasn’t dissipated over time, despite all Mycroft’s denials this is not the actual reason she’s invited. He says the real reason is gratitude for the help she has delivered in creating Sherlock’s faked death.

And yes, she had figured out after spending three evenings in their company that in Mycroft’s and Anthea’s case the ‘P’ in the abbreviation PA should be understood as personal in every sense of the word. Molly may turn into a bumbling idiot the moment she sets eyes on Sherlock, but that doesn’t mean she can’t see what’s going on in front of her, especially if it’s to do with everyone who isn’t Sherlock.

“I’m glad to find there’s at least one female person in this room that’s still got her wits about her,” Mycroft sighs. “I apologize for Anthea’s behaviour, Doctor Hooper.”

“Please don’t. I can imagine Anthea longs for a little free time. Working at a morgue no doubt feels like an eternal holiday compared to what it must be like to work for you.”

“Paris is for lovers!” Anthea cries, “please, Mycroft. Do let’s go there?”

Mycroft shakes his head. “You’re drunk, Anthea. You shouldn’t have had that last glass of Barolo. First thing tomorrow morning we have to deal with the American delegation and after that it’s the Egyptian problem. That will cost us a whole week, at the least. You know that full well. The only person of our acquaintance who’s going to be in Paris the next few days will be Doctor Hooper. I’m convinced you will have a very agreeable time, Doctor Hooper. Pray tell me, what was the name of your hotel again?”

***

Molly waits until the car has glided away from the kerb and weaved itself into the London traffic before turning to the door to her flat. Once inside she drags Toby from the sofa – he knows he’s not allowed to lie there, he does it just to spite her – and pours herself a last glass before bed. Something proper, a good whisky, the first sip working wonders in chasing away the lingering sweet aftertaste of the Baileys. She kicks her shoes from her feet – who’s she wearing the high heels for during these evenings at Mycroft’s anyway? – and drapes herself on her sofa, emitting a deep sigh in which weariness battles with contentment that she’s home at last.

God, what an ordeal she has to go through during these evenings. Every time she looks at Mycroft Sherlock springs to the foreground in her mind again. At first and maybe even second glance one wouldn’t say those men were siblings – not one shared feature between them except for the height – but the more careful observer will notice they both carry the same arrogant stance, will see the shared defiant tilt of the chin and the habit of disdainfully looking down their – and here’s another common mark – rather long noses on the rest of the world.

One look at Mycroft and the vision of Sherlock is conjured up in vivid colours in front of her eyes, from the bouncy black curls on the top of his head down to the carefully buffed leather of his designer shoes, dumping all the hurt and anguish and pain of her hopeless, enduring love on top of her again.

Behind his swaying coat John stands waiting patiently, the man she can’t breathe her secret to and she hasn’t, has she, so why don’t they trust her and leave her alone? Isn’t the fact she hasn’t told Lestrade that Sherlock is still alive proof enough she’s capable of keeping her mouth shut?

Greg pops into her lab at least twice a week. Strange as it may seem, England’s murderers and other criminals haven’t decided to close up shop now it has been proved by the papers Sherlock Holmes merely invented them for his own greater glory. The rate of crime has actually risen slightly the last two years and Greg is at his wit’s end, groaning at the sight of every new body that ends up in her morgue. He tells her at least three times each visit how much he misses having Sherlock around, his close observation, the great leaps of his mind that led to his sharp deductions.

“I’ll simply never get used to it,” he informs her, “not hearing that know-it-all voice telling us all we’re a bunch of stupid useless idiots. It was hateful, I felt like swinging my fist into the bloody git’s face half the time but he was right, wasn’t he? Christ, I feel like a stupid useless idiot all the time now.”

After which they end up at Bart’s canteen, Molly trying to cheer him up a bit by treating him to a cup of tea and a fruit tartlet (which are a slightly better job than the pre-sealed muffins) and definitely not trying to make him feel better by telling him Sherlock is actually alive and well. As far as she knows, that is. Mycroft never says a word and she has to rely on Anthea giving her a quick wink and mouthing “everything all right” for confirmation of the fact.

She sighs. Maybe she should believe Mycroft’s words and accept she’s being treated as a friend and honoured guest for the sake of having helped his little brother out of an extremely difficult situation. Her head hurts with thinking about it all and she should really go to bed. Her alarm is set for six and it’s already past one now.

She’s due to meet Cora and Vicki at St Pancras at eight, they’ll travel first class by Eurostar to arrive at Paris’s Gare du Nord station in time for lunch. Cora has promised them the hotel will be even more luxurious than the one she had booked them in Sevilla half a year ago and at the same ridiculously low price, one of the advantages of working in the tourist trade. Molly always feels bad about it, Cora assuring her every time she shouldn’t worry, that’s the way it works, she’s certainly not going to lose her job or anything, after which Molly lets it go. Until the next trip that is.

She yawns and stretches, flexing her arms. Tomorrow she’s going to go to Paris with her two best friends for five days. Five deliciously Holmes-free days. She’s determined to enjoy every single one of them.

***

Molly bathes her face in the longed-for warmth of the lovely spring sun, tilting her head some more to fully expose herself to the caressing rays, closing her eyes in bliss. What a wonderful day. So far the trip has been one big success. The hotel exceeds every heady expectation Cora had managed to whip up in both herself and Vicki with her promises of unrivalled luxury. It reduces them to a giggling fit every time they enter the sumptuous building.

This morning they have visited the Orsay museum and now they’re sitting on one of the benches on the quay next to the Notre Dame, enjoying a picnic of baguette with creamy Delice de Bourgogne cheese and jambon de Morvan accompanied by a bottle of red Sancerre. They drink the wine straight out of the bottle and Molly laughs each time she touches the glass with her lips; it feels like such a decadent and brazen act. On her left the church rises, framed by the pink clouds of Japanese cherry trees in full bloom. On her right she enjoys the view over the river to the Sorbonne district on the left bank. She sighs with happiness. God, it’s great to be alive.

“So, what are our plans for this afternoon?” Cora asks.

“The Notre Dame, of course,” Vicki answers. “And afterwards we go to the Louvre. Visiting hours are stretched to nine pm tonight.”

Molly nods her agreement. Cora looks a little apprehensive.

“Do we have to?” she says. “I mean, you both know I don’t care what we do in general but the weather is so lovely right now, and what with the long winter we’ve had, couldn’t we just go for a walk this afternoon? And do some more sitting in the sun? It seems such a waste to be indoors now it’s shining at last.”

Vicki and Molly sneak a quick glance at each other. Cora’s objections aren’t entirely unexpected. What’s more, Molly has to admit she’s more or less harbouring the same thoughts. It seems a shame indeed to let this fine weather go to waste and she gets the feeling Vicki is amenable to a change of plan also, maybe only willing to stick to it a little longer for the sake of appearance.

“I think Cora has got a point, Vick,” she offers. “How about we go and have a look at that park they created on that disused railway line on the Avenue Ledru-Rollin and then walk to the Canal St Martin from there? I read in the guide those places shouldn’t be missed and they’re supposed to represent the new Paris …” Vicki remains conspicuously quiet. “… Or we could go to the Musée Rodin, that does have a garden” she ends lamely.

“No.” Vicki swallows visibly. “No. Sorry, I’m being childish. If you both don’t want to be inside this afternoon of course we’ll go and do something else. It’s just, well … I was really looking forward to seeing the Nike statue again.”

Cora touches her arm. “Hey, we can go to the Louvre tomorrow morning. Skip the fashion museum. That doesn’t interest both you and Mol too much anyway. That statue has been standing at the top of that staircase forever, I’m sure it will still be standing there tomorrow.”

Vicki laughs. “All right. Never say never, eh? You’re both right, we’ll go to the Canal St Martin, sit in the sun and get sloshed. I insist on getting sloshed.” She takes another swig from the bottle. “And I propose we start now.”

Cora raises a fistful of bread and ham at her in the gesture of a toast.

“Need to invest in another bottle then,” Molly says, “although this stuff seems a bit expensive. I would have brought some of the cleaning alcohol from the lab if I’d known we were only going to Paris with the object of getting drunk …” They all giggle.

A sudden loud noise travels through the air from the direction of the church roof. They look up, their eyes scanning the gargoyles projecting from the top of the building. The sound rings out three more times. They recognize it now from film and television. It’s the sound of shots being fired from a revolver.

Suddenly people start to scream and point to the roof. The outline of two tiny figures has appeared up there, two men locked in what looks like a tussle. Molly, Cora and Vicki strain their necks looking up, shielding their eyes against the strong light with their hands. From what they can see it has evolved into a serious hand-to-hand combat taking place up there, dangerously close to the edge, both figures swaying in a dance with death. All of a sudden, one of the men lets go, the other falls backwards, precariously seeking his balance, arms flailing, and loses his footing before plummeting down to the ground. All in all it takes perhaps three minutes.

“Oh my fucking God!” Cora exclaims. “What was that? You’re a doctor Mol, you should go and look whether there’s anything you can do for the man.”

“He’s dead,” Molly answers in a flat voice. “Falling from that height, he’s dead as a doornail. Or wishing he was. He headed straight to the slab with that plunge.” She notices a movement at the edge of her vision. “What’s happening now?”

Scrambling down the building with the help of a rope, pushing himself away from the stones with his feet, thus enabling himself to take great leaps along the wall, the other man is lowering himself to the ground. His billowing dark greatcoat, dark hair and the amazing speed at which he descends create the impression of a gigantic bat hovering on the side of the building, swaying dangerously between the high stained glass windows. He pushes himself away each time with incredibly long legs –

“Sherlock!” She’s cried his name out loud.

“What?” Vicki asks. Cora adds, “What is it Molly? For Christ’s sake, you’re as white as a sheet. I thought you were used to this with all those corpses ending up in your morgue every day.”

“This can’t be real,” Vicki continues, “they must be filming or something. People don’t have a fight on top of a church and then go – what’s it called what that bloke’s doing now, abseiling isn’t it? – abseiling down it. Aren’t they shooting another James Bond movie right now? Hadn’t read it was due to be set in Paris. They already used Paris once, didn’t they? Who was it on top of the Eiffel Tower, Roger Moore or that other one, what’s his name, Timmy Something?”

“I don’t know,” Cora muses, her voice drowned by the wailing of police car sirens that have started arriving from several directions, “I don’t see a lot of gents holding cameras and mics and hanging around looking terribly important, do you?”

While her friends are discussing the possible interpretations of the proceedings, Sherlock has reached the ground and started running to the edge of the quay. Molly is completely certain by now it’s him, after all she’d recognize him anywhere. She now runs to the edge herself, just in time to see him jump into a small boat, start the engine, and shoot away over the Seine in the direction of the Jardin du Luxembourg. It’s all a flurry and a blur, her mind can hardly keep up with what her eyes are seeing.

She turns and walks back to where Vicki and Cora are still arguing over what is actually happening. At the foot of the building the police have started to fence off the crime scene. An ambulance tears around the side of the church and skids to a halt just in front of the yellow tape.

“Let’s go,” Molly says. Her voice is shaking.

Both Vicki and Cora look at her with concern. “What is it Mol? You look like you’ve seen a ghost just now.” Cora throws an arm around her.

“I did see a ghost,” Molly whispers. She’s glad Cora is holding her for she finds her legs threaten to buckle beneath her. She tries to smile reassuringly at Vicki, who she finds looking back at her with obvious concern, proving she doesn’t wholly succeed in her act of appearing all casual and nonchalant.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Molly says, mustering a firmer tone of voice. “I would sure like a drink however. We were going to get sloshed, right? Let’s find the underground and go to that canal. I don’t want to stay here.”

She starts walking away from the scene. She nearly stumbles over a stone in the uneven pavement. The Paris scenery has disappeared completely from her line of vision. All she sees is him, long, lean legs leaping over the ground in gigantic strides, arms pumping at his sides, whorls eddying around his head. She doesn’t know whether she should feel glad he’s alive or afraid. She finds she’s trembling all over and a coldness has started to eat away at her insides. What in heaven’s name should she be afraid of? What indeed?

***

On the tube to the eastern part of the city Molly recovers a bit. She does her best to laugh the whole thing off, blames the wine and the sun. Once they find themselves on the chairs of a terrace situated right on the edge of the canal, she rigorously adheres to an order of mineral water despite Cora’s and Vicki’s protests. She ends the argument with an attempt at a laugh. “Hey, I’m the doctor, remember?”

She doesn’t really listen to her friends commenting on the Paris scene staging itself in front of their eyes, Cora pointing out the mistakes every elegantly dressed Parisian woman had made that morning while standing in front of her wardrobe deciding what to wear, Vicki rebuking her laughingly, declaring she’s a shallow creature and should feel thoroughly ashamed of herself. She takes over with a long story about the preposterous battle two of her colleagues are engaged in, much to the amusement of the rest of the staff as the incident that started the argument has already been forgotten by both participants. Every quarter of an hour they clink their glasses and signal the garçon – whom they’ve decided is cute but nothing special – for another round.

Molly pays enough attention to give her friends the impression she’s partaking in the general silliness. Meanwhile she’s busily instructing her mind to stop its turmoil. Not that her own mind pays much attention to her. A serious battle of willpower is being fought inside her head. She doesn’t want to give in to any thoughts on Sherlock in front of her friends. She’s never breathed a word about her ridiculous hopeless infatuation to either of them and she’s certainly not going to tell them of her woes now.

Of course they remark on her never going out with a man but whenever they bring up the subject she ends it by reminding them her last date was such a disaster she’s thoroughly had it with men, at least for now. That certainly isn’t a lie as the thought of that night still sends a blush of shame and remorse to her cheeks. She shudders with revulsion at herself every time she remembers how she insulted that nice bloke – wasn’t his name Geoff? Oh hell, what a hateful person she is. She’s managed to forget his name, and he had been so decent throughout the whole sorry business – by apparently sighing ‘Sherlock’ while Geoff, yeah, she’s certain now that actually was his name, was ardently trying to get her off. It’s one of the most offensive things she’s ever done, unintentionally but still, one of the few things she wishes she would forget but she knows she’s going to carry the burden of this memory with her for the rest of her life.

“Blank mind, blank mind, ohm, ohm, ohm,” she tells herself, endeavouring to laugh at another of Cora’s remarks.

At least the sun is shining.

***

Ascending from the tube near their hotel that night they find the weather has taken a turn for the worse while they were below ground. Sheets of rain fall out of the sky, drenching them to their skin during the five minutes it takes them to run to the hotel. Once inside they decide each of them will go to her room straight away for a hot shower and bed as tomorrow will be another busy day. They wish each other a good night with lots of noisy embracing.

Finally, finally Molly finds herself alone, leaning with her back against the door to her room in relief, dripping water on the no doubt a hundred quid per square meter carpet that covers the floor of her suite, but she couldn’t care less.

***

The shower does nothing to diminish her worrying. She stands under the scalding hot spray for what must be half an hour in the hope of soothing herself into a numb state that will allow her to fall asleep, staying upright by supporting herself against the tiles. She sees Sherlock running to the edge of the quay when her eyes are open and she sees him running when she closes them, attempting to give in to the sensations of the hot water gliding down her body and the deliciously spicy essences of the expensive shower gel the hotel has provided her with.

It’s no use. With a sigh she turns off the taps, towels herself dry, then slathers the hotel’s expensive body lotion, equally spicy and delicious, the texture velvety-smooth, on her legs and arms and torso. The bathrobe is a soft embrace. She makes herself a cup of coffee with the complimentary Nespresso machine, and ends up in front of the French windows.

Outside the weather has turned into a full spring storm. The rain lashes against the window doors, rubbish is hurled across the pavement by the wind that’s positively howling now. The few people still outside are fighting the gale, using their umbrellas as a shield to protect themselves against the lashings of the wet water monster that was clad in the disguise of a fine spring day only a few hours ago.

Her heart is still thumping in her chest, reverberating in her ears. Her mind is a whirl. Slowly but certainly however a few feelings are separating themselves from the turmoil to place themselves centre stage: relief and gladness.

Thank God, he really is alive. Or at least he was at two pm this afternoon. Anthea has winked the truth at her every time. Only now does she fully realize how afraid she’s constantly been for the past two years, afraid Mycroft would enter her lab one day in order to solemnly declare his little brother had been killed in some godforsaken country.

How would that be, living in the knowledge Sherlock isn’t a part of this world anymore?
Knowing he will never crash her facilities again to demand she hands him body parts, tissue samples, a coffee – “black, two sugars”, as if she doesn’t know that’s the way he drinks it – a corpse to flay and litres of blood to take away. To throw her a haughty smile and a withering look. To tell her she does matter to him.

It would be so much more comfortable but also terribly dull and hateful. Having been a part of his world – however small – her world would be a worse place to live if he ceased to exist.

After what she has seen this afternoon she fully understands Sherlock must be living in a state of permanent danger greater then she will ever be able to imagine. Fighting on top of the Notre Dame, hell, Vicki was right, it sounds like a scene plucked straight out of a James Bond film. But Sherlock has always been one for staging his doings with a flourish; he’s simply incapable of not imposing a dramatic air on every act he cares to undertake, so she supposes it all fits. Somehow for the past two years he has been able to elude and bring to justice, and from the evidence in front of her eyes this afternoon, to eliminate the henchmen of Moriarty’s network, all by himself with no real help from the outside world at all. One day he will turn up in her lab in triumph. declaring he has slain his enemies or whatever it is he does to them and is now free to do as he pleases at her morgue once again.

With a sigh Molly pulls on the cord that closes the curtains. She makes herself another coffee – it’s no use trying to chase sleep in the state she’s in now so she might as well enjoy this luxury while it’s available – and drops on the freighter that is the bed, thumps some of the pillows behind her back and grabs her book. Mansfield Park, the novel in which little mousy Fanny Price wins the affection and the hand of her beloved Edmund by steadfastly remaining herself. Wholly over-romantic drivel – all right, she does understand the subtext, in fact she recognizes she should do well to follow the philosophy Jane Austen has so carefully worded for her benefit – that manages to breathe a fresh gust of oxygen on the little flame of eternal hope Molly is still guarding in her breast against all better knowledge. She’s read it five times over the past two years, finding solace and a kind of delicious self-torture in the sentences as the well-known story unfolds itself. Now she hopes reading it will distract her enough to allow her a few hours of sleep in the early morning.

The weather must have deteriorated even further as it is know positively knocking against the windows, hurling branches and shouting her name. With a jolt she realizes that’s impossible.

She’s on the third floor. The hotel is such a palace that means she’s roughly 10 metres above street level. No branch is hurled that high, however severe the weather may be. In front of the doors of the window is a French balcony, it’s only purpose to keep people from falling out of the window, a plant holder with an array of forget-me-nots and white tulips hanging from its railing.

The knocking starts again, louder and this time she’s certain it is her name that is being shouted, a few ‘for God’s sakes’ thrown in for good measure. She jumps off the bed and goes to the window, pulls the curtain cord and reveals Sherlock’s face behind the glass – a pitchfork of annoyance etched between his eyebrows, half-hidden by the leaking wet mop his hair has turned into, dark streaks running over the left side of his face, mingling with the water, dissolving, only to be replenished by its source – his right fist raised to start a fresh round of hammering on the window.

She yanks open the doors and he falls into the room, straightening himself right away, moving away from the windows she’s struggling to close. He’s wet through and through, she can almost see a small puddle start to form on the floor and the coat is gushing rivulets of rain. She stands holding on to the doors for support while he’s looking her over, his eyes travelling up and down her figure, a slow smile starting to spread itself over his face.

“Hello Molly,” he says.

“Sherlock,” she breathes. “What .. How ... “

“Drainpipe conveniently situated next to your window,” he interrupts her stuttering. That’s not what she meant to ask but the moment he says the words she has understood it’s Mycroft that directed him here. She remembers him specifically asking for the name of her hotel.

Sherlock wipes a hand over his face. It comes away darkened with a glistening substance. “I’m in need of some medical assistance and accommodation,” he continues, “Paris for me has all of a sudden sadly deteriorated into a less welcoming city. I’m afraid I’ll have to ask you to provide me with both services, Molly. It’s most fortunate you and your friends decided to plan a little hoIiday in Paris at exactly the same time I had to be here to … never mind. I promise my presence here won’t endanger you or your friends in any way. I’ll text Mycroft and certify the level of surveillance on you will be raised. I’ve made sure no one followed me here. Thanks to this weather I have managed to shake them off. Still, I consider it a wise move if you step away from those windows and close the curtains again. Here, allow me. That’s better. I’m delighted to find you here, Molly. May I hope you reciprocate the sentiment?”

His smile deepens, turning itself into the dimples in his cheeks, those lovely dimples she wants to stroke every time they manifest themselves on his face.

The whole speech has been delivered at his customary whirling staccato speed. She’s left standing like she finds herself half the time she’s confronted with him – gaping like a fish.

“Of course … Sherlock, what,” she stammers, and then she really notices the state he’s in.

He looks horrible with what she now sees is blood oozing from a gash above his eyebrow. His right cheekbone is grazed and with a gasp she notices the bruises on his neck as it rises out of the folds of his clothing, the pattern and discoloration indicating strong hands have been trying to throttle him recently.

He has started to try to struggle out of the coat, knitting his brows together, biting his lip and hissing with pain so she mentally adds broken or bruised ribs to the list of injuries. She moves forward to help him.

“Here, let me,” she says, stepping around him to ease the coat off his shoulders, nearly falling under its weight as the wool has become a waterlogged mass. Next, his suit jacket, equally wet and in the narrowness of its cut struggling against her efforts to be gentle as she tries to pull it down from his arms, causing him to hiss some more.

“I’m sorry,” she stammers helplessly, “I’m so sorry. I’m doing my best …”

“I know you are,” he hushes her, “don’t apologize. I’m the one that’s causing the inconvenience here.” He draws his hand over the left side of his face again to wipe away the blood that continues to flow from the wound over his eyebrow.

Her mind reels at those words. How unlike the Sherlock she knows, always ordering her about and being plain rude to her half the time. True, the few times she’d seen him at Mycroft’s after his fall he had been very pleasant in his behaviour towards her but she’d attributed that to shock, as the impact of his choices and deed must have been slowly revealing themselves to him at that time. It appears the effect still hasn’t worn off after more than two years.

“You’re not inconveniencing me at all. I’m glad to be able to help you, Sherlock. You know I am.”

“Will you help me take off the rest of my clothes then?” he asks. “I can’t manage. My ribs are hurting like hell.”

This is the scenario she’s played in her mind countless times. Him asking, ordering, seducing her to undress him while she’s standing in front of him, slowly flicking open the buttons of his shirt one by one to reveal that lean muscled torso, gasping at the sight … She literally gasps as she sees the damage to his right side, the whole lower ribcage one big bruise. With her careful doctor’s hands she palpitates, feels his ribs.

“They’re broken, three of them,” she says.

“Damn. You’ll have to tape them. Now my trousers if you don’t mind. They’re really most uncomfortable.” He tries to undo the button, causing an agitated look of acute pain to travel over his face

She drops to her knees to untie his shoe laces. In her breast the woman and the doctor are at war. He’s asked her to perform that part in her secret film script that whips up her arousal to the cusp of orgasm every time she indulges herself. She’s about to undo the button and the zip of his trousers, making sure her fingers don’t accidentally brush past him for that would be wholly indecent and then she must manage to wriggle the garment down somehow. His trousers – once again of a cut so impossibly narrow she briefly wonders how he got into them in the first place – clinging sodden-wet to his neat round bum and those endless legs that she imagines are all lean well-toned muscle. Oh God.

He’s in pain and he needs to get warm, to have his ribs taped, that gash above his eyebrow sewn up, some food and liquid shoved into him and a good bed to rest in for a few hours. He certainly doesn’t need her to be unable to provide him with those necessities because she’s too distracted indulging the fantasies in her head, thank you very much.

Standing perfectly still and as passive as a nineteenth-century aristocrat awaiting the attentions of his valet at nighttime he gazes down on her as she’s willing her hands not to tremble while they’re busy at his front. Purpose achieved, she moves them to his hips and starts trying to strip the trousers off. She can’t help herself, touching him there, feeling the firm sides of his arse, the hardness of his thighs, sends a shiver down her spine, a tremor through her hands. The trousers are a soaked-through sheath, adhering themselves to his underwear and his hips and thighs – and in her clumsiness she accidentally pulls down his briefs as well.

“Hell, no,” she whispers to herself and she feels the blush manifesting itself on her cheeks before starting on its downward journey. She fights it with all her might, decides the briefs would have to come down anyhow and to bend over must hurt like hell, so she would end up being the one to take them off anyway. She strips and strips the endless stretch of his trousers down those long, long legs, feeling and seeing how firm and graceful they are, how soft his skin is and the sparse almost invisible hairs, noticing the big scar from what was probably a stab wound on his left thigh, the scabs on his kneecaps that indicate a more or less permanent state of being grazed.

At last she reaches the floor and helps him step out of his shoes, socks and trousers before she slowly rises, gathering all her strength and self-control. She wills herself not to look but it’s no use.

He’s exquisite from head to toe, as stunningly gorgeous as she’s always known he would be, sporting a body that would send any model advertising underwear in one of those magazines Cora likes to flick through, tearing up the wall with envy. Worse, her eyes have travelled past his penis – flaccidly emerging from its nest of black whorls, resting against his sac and his upper loins – and found that even in rest this part of his anatomy is lovely, not ludicrous as she’s found all the other limp members she’s laid eyes on. She’ll never be able to forget the sight of that attractive penis, the urge she feels to touch it with her fingertips, her whole hand, her lips and teeth and tongue, to make love to it with her entire mouth, her throat, every part of her whole body …

She’ll never be able to forget for one moment that is probably the last thing he’ll ask her to do.

She ends up with her eyes firmly locked on his breastbone. She can’t look him in the eye now. Yet she reads in his stance he’s nonchalantly indifferent to any effect the exposure of his nakedness might have on her. He’s perfectly comfortable, for as far as it’s possible for someone in pain to be at ease. She’s a doctor and a friend whose help he’s soliciting. Nothing more.

“Thank you,” he rumbles, then starts to shiver violently, the strong contractions travelling through his form reminding her of her duties.

“I’m so sorry,” she gasps, before hurling herself in the direction of the bathroom. “I’ll fetch some towels and there’s another bathrobe. I’ll be with you in a moment with my first aid kit.”

She runs the cold than the hot tap over two small towels, grabs a big one and the spare bathrobe and runs into the room again to find him standing where she left him, convulsing and in obvious pain.

“Here, allow me,” she says and wraps the big towel around him, wipes the warm towel over his face, then puts the cold towel to his brow and guides his hand there to hold it. She starts patting him dry, merely brushing over his chest and back, working downwards, taking care to avoid any visual contact with all the real danger zones, ending with toweling his hair, standing on tiptoe and reaching up with her arms to his unfeasible height.

She helps him into the bathrobe and sits him on the edge of the bed. She runs to get hold of another towel from the endless supply the hotel has provided the room with and wraps it around his feet.

“Better?”

He nods for an answer. Now he’s seated, his whole figure exudes a great weariness. He must be exhausted. She finds her first aid kit and spreads its contents on the table.

“I’m going to stitch up that eyebrow,” she says. “Your cheekbone and ribs will have to wait till after you’ve taken a shower. I’ll give you a shot of lignocaine first. It may hurt. I haven’t done any injections on persons that where actually alive for quite a while and I find most of my patients aren’t given to complaining about the treatment.”

He grins at this, the wolfish grin that shows his white teeth and lights the mischievous green lights in his eyes.

She’s a doctor now so she deftly injects the anaesthetic, angles his face towards the light and starts to disinfect and then sew the wound, taking care to make the stitches as small as possible so the scar will be hardly visible. Her hands are sure and steady, doing their work though they’re so close to that fabulous face with the cheekbones, the faintly pink glowing lips that beckon like a gateway to paradise. At least he’s closed his eyes so he can’t distract her with his opaque shimmering stare.

She knows she can do this. She won’t let him down.

“I’ve used dissolvable thread so no need to find a doctor to have them taken out,” she says once she’s finished. “I assume you had all your shots before you left so we shouldn’t worry about any side effects, should we? I suggest you go take a shower now while I ring room service to have some food brought up. What would you like?” She helps him get up again.

“I don’t care. What I really would like is a whiskey, though. And … ,” he hesitates before continuing, “would you mind dropping off my clothes at the reception in order to have them dried and cleaned? And ask them to have the whole lot brought up here at five thirty am tomorrow. I have to catch a train at the Gare du Nord at six thirty.”

“I’ll order you something. But no alcohol, not in the state you’re in now. I’ll give you a strong painkiller and that should allow you to catch a few hours of sleep.”

He starts to protest but she ignores him, sweeping up his clothes from the floor instead. “I’m the doctor here, remember?”

“Now you sound just like John does.” No more than a casual mention of his lover’s name. Yet she hears his voice, always deep and velvety-rich to her ears, acquire an even more dulcet aspect as his mouth shapes itself around that one syllable, delivering a stab wound straight to her heart.

She nearly drops her bundle, but forces down the surge of emotion roaring inside her before replying. “Well, he’s a doctor as well so I suppose that only fits, doesn’t it? I’m glad to hear he’d agree with me. Now go take that shower.”

“Phone,” he demands. She finds it in the inner pocket of his jacket and hands it to him. He sends her another smile and retreats to the bathroom. “Will you help me out of this robe?” he shouts a few seconds later. “It hurts like hell.”

***

The next half hour sees Molly in a frenzy of activity. She decides he’ll have a pasta Bolognese – she remembers her sister complaining it’s the only dinner her eight-year-old daughter Daisy will have so it should do the trick of inducing him to eat something – with a side dish of asparagus and a chocolate tartlet to lure him to finish his plate. A litre bottle of Badoit will deal with the fluid intake.

Dinner ordered she struggles into some clothes and takes the lift down to reception. She shoves the massive wet bundle into the arms of the startled attendant together with her impossible request to shape it into presentable, wearable pieces of clothing again in a few hours time.

Mission accomplished, she descends on the little hotel shop to find Sherlock a tooth brush, decides on a disposable razor and some shaving cream as well. Prominently at display on the shop’s counter is an advert for a men’s eau de cologne. She smells the bottle and gets hit by the strong scent of musk and citrus fruits, blended together by the strong smell of late summer roses in full bloom. It will fit him perfectly. Though the stuff is hideously expensive she adds the smallest bottle to her pile as well, and asks the shop attendant to add the price to her hotel bill.

Upstairs again she knocks on the door to the bathroom, warning him of her approach, finds he’s still under the shower and deposits her shopping over the washbasin.

Then she busies herself with the cushions on the bed to create a kind of seat that will allow him to sleep while sitting more or less upright and measuring the tape for his ribs. The food is brought and she lays the table, pours him a glass of mineral water and sets herself in the other chair, plastering what must pass for a happy smile on her face.

***

The door to the bathroom is thrown wide open, releasing huge billowing clouds of warm steam and the figure of Sherlock, apparently expecting her to help with dressing once again. His right hand holds his phone, fingers busily texting. He’s using the fingers of his left hand as a comb, dragging them through his moist hair.

“Good shower. I needed that”, he says, voice drizzled with dark honey from the moisture, “just texting Mycroft now. He’ll have his people take care of the bill for the food and the laundry and the toiletries. Thank you so much for those.” Another casual smile thrown in her direction. She realizes it’s the second time he’s thanked her in an hour. That’s more than in all the previous years of their acquaintance. “I don’t want you to be embarrassed in front of your friends. Your surveillance should be upgraded to grade three active, I guess. I’m honestly very sorry about that but we can’t run the risk. I don’t want you hurt. Grade one will do for your friends. I take it you’ll be staying here for two more days. I’m pretty certain there’s no immediate danger for the three of you once I’ve left the city but we’d better make certain, say, grade three for the rest of your stay?” He sends the text with a flourishing tap of his thumb. “Let’s see to those ribs, shall we?”

After she’s applied the tape and helped him into the bathrobe again he seats himself at the table.

“Mmm, Bolognese,” he approves of her choice, “my favourite. How did you know? I always order this at Angelo’s after we’ve completed a case.” He starts eating with enthusiasm. “So, how’s life for you Molly? Having a nice time in Paris? Everything still okay at Bart’s? Mike Stamford still busily boring the students out of their skull with those dreadful lectures of his? And how’s Lestrade? I suppose he must have reached a more or less permanent state of befuddlement by now.”

She laughs. “He’s pretty desperate. You can be certain there will at least be one person very happy to find you’re actually alive after all. He tells me he misses you at least two times a week.” She’s noticed he didn’t ask after John. Well, of course he knows she hasn’t seen him.

“I’ve certainly missed that enraged look of exasperation on his face,” Sherlock muses. “I’m honestly greatly looking forward to working together with him again. Or rather, ahead of him.”

She’s silent, then asks, “when will you be coming back, Sherlock? Have you nearly finished whatever it is? You don’t have to tell me, it’s just, well … we all miss you … I suppose.“

He stares down at his plate, then looks up at her, a quiver to his lower lip, and swallows. “I know you can’t tell me how he is, Molly. I know you abhor my solution and I completely agree with you now, it was the most stupid, childish, insipid idea I’ve ever had in my life.” He sighs. “Six more months should do the trick. Today was a bit of a drawback, finding my safe house wasn’t actually all that safe anymore. However, they’ve overplayed their hand and I think I can actually put that to my advantage if I act quickly.” He finishes his plate. “Can’t tell you anymore, I’m afraid.”

“You don’t have to. Eat your asparagus like a good boy instead and I want you to drink at least half a litre of that mineral water. Or no chocolate cake for you, young man.”

“I don’t really like them, they’re green. I hate green vegetables.”

“Eat,” she orders.

***

She’s helped him into the bed, thumping the pillows and aiding him in adjusting into the position that’s the least uncomfortable and will actually allow him to fall asleep. She’s given him a heavy dose of painkillers.

Now she’s in the bathroom, the faint smell of the eau de cologne she bought him drifting around her, brushing her teeth, mentally preparing herself to enter the room again.

There he lies, sprawled naked in her bed, the place where her fevered imagination has spread him a thousand times before. He’s already dead to the world, head fallen to the side, moist lips half-opened, eyelashes fluttering under the first bout of REM-sleep. Yes, he’s lying in her bed but he might as well have bedded down on the other side of the world for all the good it’s going to be to her.

She stands beside him, her eyes roving over the delights on display, her hands remembering the texture of his skin, the shape of his flesh, wanting to lift the sheets to provide her eyes with complete visual access to every part of his body, to store away the remembrance of it for future reference.

God, why does he have to be so picture perfect? Why does he need to have such a lovely lean body, such a fabulous face? Why does he have to be this flawless example of ideal manhood?

Slowly, ever so slowly, against her will, her right hand extinguishes itself to his head, drawn inexorably to the black swirling mass of his hair spread out on the pillow. Her fingertips brush past the outset of a coil, the texture so supple and fine, velvety-soft, inviting her to delve deeper into the whorls, to bury her fingers, her whole hand in them.

Carefully she invades the realm of shapely gossamer curls, sheathing her hand in their delicate sumptuousness, the luscious feel reminding her of the hideously expensive gloves Cora almost talked her into buying last winter. Made of pliant supple leather lined with the thinnest cashmere they had adhered themselves to her hands instantly, covering them with a feeling of pure luxury. One hundred and fifty quid they were, not exactly the price she’s willing to pay for a pair of gloves that she’d probably lose on the tube anyway, so she had put them back mournfully, already regretting the loss of the delicious sensation on her hands, yearning for it. She never thought she would be experiencing the feeling again here, fingering the whirling sea of smooth coils on top of the head of Sherlock Holmes.

The curls and whorls wriggle back into their springy shape from the flattening strokes of her hand, their bounce highlighting with glints as they fall back into a glossy whirling madness.

She probes deeper, her fingertips touching his scalp now and starts to stroke, cautiously in order not to wake him, giving in to the sensation of pure bliss her fondling, the lavish caress of the curls as they brush past her hand awakes in her.

Suddenly he stirs and she stands arrested, caught in the act, her heart in her throat. He murmurs and moves his head again, seeking the contact with her hand and she starts to carefully caress him again. Pulling and drawing her hand through the rippling strands, sharing the intimacy of the moment with him as she fingers the eddying throng of waves. He crouches into the touch like a cat, his nose wriggling in satisfaction, eyelids shivering in delight, arching his head into her hand, sighing longingly:

“John … “

She stills.

Every bit as cautious as she’s begun her exploration she starts to extract her hand, pulling it out of the warm cashmere she’s covered it with. He whimpers in protest at the loss of sensation, questing the strokes, then settles into sleep once more. She draws and draws, feeling the warm strands swirl past her fingers. At long last only her fingertips remain in the glowing whorls, she pulls them out until it’s only the edge of a curl brushing against her little finger. Just one soft individual hair clinging until that’s lost as well.

She sobs.

Oh, how it hurts. It still, still hurts.