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the breath that passed from you to me

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1.

They have sex. Sherlock comes to London, they have sex, and he leaves again. Molly may have romantic dreams about him, but she's not a complete fool. It's not about the sex; it's about the connection. It's about being with someone who knows him.

He looks more and more worn every time. Sometimes he puts his head on her chest or her stomach, and she thinks the dampness on her skin is not sweat but tears.

Molly gives up trying to date. She stops wearing lipstick, stops answering the few messages that come as a result of her online dating profile, stops saying yes when mates from work want to set her up.

She hears one of the lab techs tell one of the new hires that she's had a disappointment, like something out of Austen.

It's fine. Molly ignores them. She lives. She puts one foot in front of the other, cuts up dead strangers, keeps her sheets clean and condoms in the bedside drawer. It's fine. None of it bothers her.

Until her period doesn't come.

*

Molly has access to an entire lab and she often works the night shift. She does a one-handed blood draw and runs the tests herself. No room for mistakes with this one.

Then, of course, she's no idea what to do. Sherlock's gone, no way for her to get a message to him, no way to ask what he thinks, what he wants. The burden of choice, of decision, lies solely with her.

*

"Doctor Hooper." A dark-haired woman dressed better than Molly could ever hope to be opens the door to a very expensive car. "Please come with me."

The car takes her to a restaurant for which she is even more underdressed than for the car ride. The woman takes her to a secluded booth where she's left to sit by herself and wonder what she's doing here for a good five minutes before Mycroft Holmes slides into the other side of the booth.

"I've taken the liberty of ordering for us," he says. "Neither of us has time to waste."

Plates arrive just after he does.

"What am I doing here?"

"Enjoying lunch. The salmon is excellent." Mycroft gestures at her silverware and waits until she picks up her fork.

"I do wonder," he says a bit later - the salmon is excellent - "just what you intend to do."

"Do about what?"

"Your situation," he says. "If you intend to continue the pregnancy, you and the child will, of course, be provided for."

She could ask what he means by that, but she chooses the more important question: "Does he know?" Her eyes prick with tears when Mycroft doesn't answer. "Can you tell him, if he doesn't?"

He doesn't answer that either, merely reiterates his insistence that she'll be taken care of. The dark-haired woman puts her back into the same car as before, and sends her alone to Barts.

Molly throws up every bit of the excellent salmon in the first-floor loo.

*

"You've gained twelve pounds," Sherlock says. "Boyfriend?"

"Pregnant." It's not, she admits, the best way to tell him.

There's nothing in his face she can take as an emotional reaction. "Mine?"

"Yes."

"You haven't terminated it."

"No."

"Are you going to?"

"I don't know." Molly leaves him there and goes into the kitchen. "I've no idea what I'm going to do. Are you eating?"

"No."

Molly heats up leftover take-away for one and takes it to the table. Sherlock sits across from her and watches her eat.

"You've not much time to make a decision."

"No," she says. "Few weeks, at the most. Easier to do it sooner if I'm going to." Molly loses her appetite and puts the rest of her dinner back in the fridge. She'll eat it later, or tomorrow, or not at all. "You can have a say. I mean, if you want me to terminate or not. You can have a say in that."

Sherlock looks at her as if she's a not very intriguing puzzle. "It won't tie me to you."

"I know." She has no delusions about that. When he's done with whatever he's doing, when he can be himself again and have John and Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade, he'll have no need for her. "We're the worst possible people to have a baby now."

"How is that?"

"You don't love me, and we're both lonely."

If he notes the omission in her reasons, he doesn't mention it. "No doubt Mycroft has offered to provide you with a lifestyle more suited to him than to me. That should ease the strain."

"Is that your vote?"

"Do as you like, Molly."

What she would like is to wake up in a world where she's only awkward, unnoticed Molly Hooper and he's swanning about solving cases and being the most unattainable man in her world.

"I'm going to bed," she says. "You can come. Not for sex. I'm knackered. But if you want to come to bed with me, you can."

He does, creeping in after she has the lights out and her head on the pillow. He puts one hand on her stomach and the other under her shoulders. It's nice, the cuddle.

He's gone in the morning, and she looks down her body, says, "Your dad's utterly brilliant, if a bit mad. Dunno you'll ever meet him."

That, she supposes, is that decision made.

*

"You're-" Sherlock looks at her stomach, which is most definitely showing her condition now.

"In the second trimester. God, the hormones." Molly pulls him into her bedroom and sets to getting him to do what he did to get her in this state. It takes less work than she might have expected, and she falls asleep more satisfied than she has been since she found out she was pregnant.

*

Molly's eight months pregnant the next time Sherlock comes to her door. She says no to sex, but he comes to bed with her anyway.

She wakes up in the middle of the night to use the loo and finds that he's awake, one hand pressed flat to her stomach. He doesn't say anything, just puts it back when she gets into bed again.

*

It's nearly six months later, when she turns on the telly to have something to occupy her while Charlie nurses, that she sees Sherlock again. He's on the news, a headline story about everything he's done since his death.

He doesn't come to see her.

 

2.

"That's interesting, isn't it, Charlie? Not going to revolutionize the field, but solid work it sounds like. Good methodology."

The door to the lab interrupts her quiet lunch. She's in a corner, away from expensive equipment or anyone's active experiments. But she chose it because everyone else should be away for the hour.

Sherlock barely glances at her as he comes in, John following behind him. "Isn't the point of picking him up from the creche for lunch to get away from the hospital?"

"He'll only sleep if he can hear my heartbeat. It means a lot of sleeping in the rocking chair. Going anywhere else is too tiring."

John hesitates, but comes over to her. "Who's this then?"

"Charlie." Molly tips Charlie so John can see him. "This is John. He's a doctor too, but not the same kind of doctor as Mummy."

John smiles. "He's lovely."

"Thank you." Molly doesn't look at him as she says it.

"John," Sherlock says, and John nods and joins him at the bench.

Molly turns the page of her journal and reads the abstract of the next article out loud.

"Isn't he a bit young for that?"

"He needs the sound of my voice more than words."

*

"And then Mummy took out Mr. Harrison's heart. We have to weigh the heart after we take it out."

The doorbell interrupts Molly's recitation of her day. Post-mortems might not be most people's idea of appropriate stories for children, but it's what she does all day, and talking to babies is supposed to be good for them. Aids language development and all that.

Molly lets Sherlock in without question. He looks at Charlie resting against her chest.

"It's good for children to be in contact with their parents." Molly frowns. "Not that I mean you. I mean I'd rather hold him. It's comforting."

"For both of you, I presume," Sherlock says. "This is why he won't sleep away from you."

"I'm sure he'll be wanting to get as far from his mummy as possible soon enough. It's fine for now."

Sherlock looks at her for longer than is comfortable. "I'm sure Mycroft offered you a nanny." He looks around the flat. "And a larger flat."

"He did."

"You didn't take them."

"I can raise my own child." She doesn't say the other part of it, that she didn't want to move while Sherlock was gone. He probably knows. He probably could have found her no matter where she was.

"You should take the flat," Sherlock says. "Not whatever he wants to give you. Find one you like and have him make the arrangements. You'll want the space when Charlie starts crawling."

It's more thoughtful than she expects from him. "Maybe. Do you want-"

Sherlock says, "No," before she's even sure how she was going to finish the question.

Molly bounces Charlie a little while Sherlock stares at her, because that's what you do when you're holding a baby.

"You're not one of those women who is well-suited to motherhood."

Molly laughs, softly because of Charlie. "No," she says. "I'm not the least bit suited to this." She runs her hand over Charlie's hair - dark already, but still straight; she expects it to curl later. "I do love him though. There is that."

"Some modes of thought on the matter consider that the most important quality in a parent."

Molly lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "I'll muddle through."

*

Molly puts Charlie's car seat down and lets John take her coat.

"Merry Christmas," she says to the room at large. There are a few greetings back, but she waits until she has Charlie out of his car seat and in her arms before she goes around to greet everyone. More people than the last time she was at Baker Street for Christmas drinks.

She tries not to think about the last time.

"Look at you," Mrs. Hudson says, "with a baby."

Molly takes Charlie over to her so she can see him.

"Oh, he's just lovely. Must get heavy carrying him about all the time."

"He does a bit. Good for the arms, though. We moved last weekend. Easy as anything to carry boxes into the new flat."

"Wait until he's a toddler," Lestrade says. "Then you'll really get a workout."

"He's just gorgeous," Annie says. Molly hasn't met her before, but since she's the only one there she hasn't, she guesses she must be John's girlfriend. "Isn't he, John?"

John raises his chin. "Can I get you a drink?"

"A drink would be lovely." Molly goes with him into the kitchen.

"Wine? Scotch?" John gestures at the bottles on the table.

"She can't have alcohol," Sherlock says from behind Molly. She hadn't noticed him coming. "She's breastfeeding."

"Right," John says. "I can make you some tea."

"Soda and lemon will be fine."

Molly takes the glass from John and sips at it. When she turns around, Sherlock is gone, halfway across the flat arguing with Lestrade about something.

It's a nice party, small, but pleasant. Lots of small talk interspersed with Sherlock's declarations and deductions. Mrs. Hudson cajoles Sherlock into playing for them, and even Annie looks on him kindly when he does.

Molly puts her glass down and catches John's attention when Charlie starts make the small noises that mean he needs to eat.

"He's hungry," she says. "Is there somewhere I can?"

"Yeah, right, of course. Sherlock-"

"Yes, yes." Sherlock waves a hand at them, and John takes her to what must be, from the conversation and the periodic table on the wall, Sherlock's bedroom.

"Thanks," Molly says. "Won't be a bit."

"Take your time." John closes the door behind himself with a quiet click.

Molly sits on the edge of the bed and unbuttons her blouse. "There you go," she says as she gets Charlie settled. She looks around the room while he nurses. It's plain, neat, giant bed. Not really what she expected. Not at all how she ever thought she would end up in it.

"He seems like quite a good baby," Mrs. Hudson says when Molly rejoins the party.

"I don't have much for comparison," Molly says. No one else smiles with her. "But I suppose. Quiet most of the time. Serious."

"Much like his father, no doubt." Mycroft's voice comes from the door.

The question in the room is nearly palpable. Molly doesn't look at Sherlock.

"Mycroft."

"Don't worry, dear brother, I'm not staying. I was merely passing by on my way to another engagement and thought I would drop in to wish everyone a happy Christmas." He turns to Molly. "I trust Charles's gift arrived safely."

"Yes," she says. "Thank you." They probably all think he's Charlie's father now.

"You're quite welcome. May I?"

"Oh, yes, of course." Molly lets him take Charlie. Mycroft holds him as coolly and competently as she's ever seen him do anything else.

Sherlock crosses the room in a few steps and takes Charlie from Mycroft. "We're all assured a happy Christmas, assuming you haven't got a war to start in the next two days. You can go now."

"Sherlock," John scolds. To Mycroft he says, "Would you like a drink?"

Sherlock holds Charlie like he knows exactly what he's doing. Head supported, close to his chest so Charlie isn't adrift in the air.

It strikes Molly, the way it does sometimes, that she knows what he looks like naked. She knows what he looks like in her bed.

"No, thank you," Mycroft says. "I really must be going."

There's another round of good wishes, from everyone but Sherlock, and Mycroft leaves as suddenly as he'd arrived.

"Mycroft," Sherlock mutters.

Molly holds out her arms. "I can take him."

"You've barely eaten," Sherlock says. "And he's tired."

"Oh, I'm sure the boys can find somewhere for you to put him down," Mrs. Hudson says.

"He won't sleep without a heartbeat," Sherlock tells her. "Is this too much noise, or will he be able to sleep?"

"He'll sleep," Molly says. "If you- Do that." Sherlock has done exactly what she would. He has the blanket tucked close around Charlie, one hand holding it over his head to block the noise, and Charlie's other ear pressed to his chest. He's opened his suit jacket so there's only his shirt between Charlie and his heartbeat.

"Eat something," Sherlock says. "He's fine."

*

Molly lets Sherlock in, even though she's in her pajamas and ready to try to get Charlie to sleep.

"Is there something? Do you need something?"

Sherlock presses his lips together for a moment. Then he holds out his arms. "I'll sit with Charlie."

Molly just stares at him. "I thought you didn't want-"

"No," he says. "I need to think anyway, and you need sleep to be effective in the lab."

Molly gives Charlie to him and turns out the lights in the living room. "I usually sit in the rocking chair in the nursery." She starts down the hall, then turns. "You haven't been here yet."

"It's not so large that I'm likely to get lost."

Molly's too tired to let that hurt her. "Nursery." She points into it. "I'm across the hall. He'll want feeding in the middle of the night. You can bring him in to me." She leans in, close to Sherlock to get to Charlie. "Good night, love." She kisses Charlie's cheek. "Mummy loves you."

Sherlock's looking at her like she's something to be studied, but he doesn't say anything, so she goes into her room and closes the door.

Going to sleep so early in her own bed is strange, after so many nights spent rocking Charlie until late. Her body is used to his rhythms, though, and she wakes up just before Sherlock opens her door.

She's already unbuttoning her pajama top by the time Sherlock gives her Charlie. Molly sits up against the headboard, eyes closed and head tipped back, while he nurses.

She blinks her eyes open to keep from falling asleep and finds Sherlock watching her. "Not very sexy is it?"

"Evolutionarily speaking," Sherlock says, "proof that a mate can provide for the survival of the offspring is a desirable quality."

Molly smiles a little, and Sherlock takes Charlie from her when he's done nursing. Molly slips back under her covers without bothering to button her shirt, and wakes up in the morning to Sherlock bringing her Charlie again. Sherlock leaves as soon as Charlie starts nursing.

*

"-Tuesday," Sherlock's voice says at the end of the hall. He sweeps through the door with John, Lestrade, and Sergeant Donovan behind him, and forces them all to stop to avoid running into him when he stops walking.

Charlie, unsteady as he is, falls down with the loss of focus. He looks up at Molly, and she waits for a moment to see if he's going to cry. He doesn't. He looks down the hall instead.

"Ock!"

"Yes, love," Molly says. "Sherlock."

"When you fall," Sherlock says, "you have to stand up and start walking again."

Charlie plants his hands on the floor and pushes himself up.

"Let's go, Freak," Sergeant Donovan says.

"Oh do be quiet, Sally," Sherlock says. "You'll startle him and he'll fall again. It's not so far." His tone doesn't change much when he talks to Charlie. "You can make it."

Molly trails along behind Charlie until he gets within arm's length of Sherlock.

Charlie plants his hands on Sherlock's trousers - Molly cringes to think of the damage he's going to do when he does that with something all over them - and grins up at him.

"Well done," Sherlock says. "Perfectly developmentally appropriate." He scoops Charlie up and pulls a teething ring out of his pocket. It's one of the round ones, the kind you put in the freezer. Charlie grabs onto it and sticks it in his mouth.

"Hello, Charlie," Lestrade says. "Molly. We're here to see a couple of bodies."

Molly hesitates.

"It can't wait," Sherlock says. "I have Charlie."

"I don't want him seeing the bodies."

"I can take him," John offers. "Stay out here."

"No," Sherlock says. "I'll need you. I have Charlie. I'll keep him from seeing the bodies."

There's no way Molly will ever be able to figure out anything about Sherlock just by looking, but she tries it anyway.

"You would trust the Freak with your child?" Sergeant Donovan asks.

Molly says, "He's very good with Charlie," and lets them into the morgue.

Molly gets the bodies for them and listens to John and Sherlock talk their way through their relevance to the case. Molly catches the needle marks behind one of the ears and gets a pleased look from Sherlock for her trouble.

She keeps half an eye on Charlie, but Sherlock is as good as his word and keeps him turned away from the bodies.

The rest of them stand around discussing their case - or Sherlock lectures them about it; Molly's not clear on the distinction - while Molly puts the bodies away and washes her hands.

"He's sleeping," Sherlock says with a frown when Molly comes back to get Charlie. "Why is he sleeping?"

"Because he's teething," Molly says. "It hurts and then he doesn't sleep."

"He's sleeping now."

"Because he's tired and you're holding him and you gave him something to chew on." Molly's arms slide along Sherlock's chest as she takes Charlie from him.

"There are other ways to relieve the pain of teething."

Molly cuts him off before it can become a full-fledged lecture. "Yes, I know, and I've plenty of people giving me advice. I don't need any more. If you really want to help, you can come sit with him. Or tell me whatever it is Mycroft is trying to say with all the things he's been sending Charlie."

It's very rare that Molly surprises Sherlock, but she's done it now. Lestrade doesn't seem to know where to look, and Sergeant Donovan is frankly staring at them.

Molly ducks her head and presses her lips to the top of Charlie's head. "God," she says, "I'm sorry. When he doesn't sleep, I don't sleep." She tries a smile. "It's fine, really."

Sherlock says, "Text me a list of what Mycroft sent you," and sweeps out of the morgue.

John, Lestrade, and Sergeant Donovan take their leave a moment later.

"God, I'm rubbish at this," Molly says. She kisses the top of Charlie's head again and takes him up to the creche.

*

Sherlock hasn't come by to sit with Charlie since he started sleeping on his own, but there he is, three days after the morgue, outside her door. He doesn't look any more rested than she feels, but he holds out his arms.

Molly lets him in, but doesn't hand over Charlie. "You don't have to. I didn't mean it. You don't have to do anything."

Sherlock cuts her off by saying her name. There's a pause as if he's waiting to see if it's going to take. "I won't sleep, not yet." He holds out his arms again.

This time, Molly kisses Charlie then gives him to Sherlock.

Charlie's too worn out to be enthusiastic about visitors, but he curls trustingly against Sherlock's chest.

"Mycroft wasn't telling you anything," Sherlock says just before she goes through the door to her room. "He was," and here he looks positively pained, "helping. Providing items to aid in Charlie's development." He looks down at Charlie. "He will need more stimulation than other children."

Molly's tired, days on end of watching Charlie hurt and neither of them sleeping, so she just nods and goes to bed. It's not until the next morning when she takes Charlie from Sherlock and sends him home to get some sleep before he nods off in the rocking chair that the sheer terror of being responsible for the mental development of a child who is half a Holmes hits her.

*

Molly doesn't have the Holmes mind for finding patterns in anything and everything, for unraveling mysteries and knowing everything about a person just by looking at them. That doesn't mean she's stupid.

She notices, after the first few times, that on non-urgent occasions - although there's always a sense of urgency about Sherlock in her lab - Sherlock and John always come to the lab at lunchtime.

Charlie's vocalizations aren't quite real sentences yet, but he can make himself very clear when he wants to. The lab is safe enough that Molly puts him down. He makes his own way around the benches to Sherlock.

"You will have to wait a moment," Sherlock says. "I have to put the sample on the slide first." He has a scalpel, which he is using to scrape something off of a very large pendant.

"I'm not occupied," John says. "I don't even know why I'm here." He glances at Molly, for permission maybe, before he picks Charlie up and holds him where he can see what Sherlock's doing.

Charlie reaches for Sherlock, an entreaty Sherlock ignores until he has the slide under the microscope. Then he takes Charlie and settles him on his lap. "It's a case," he says. "The pendant was dragged through something after it was taken from its owner and before it was returned to her. She considers it precious - the way she handled it. She would have cleaned it if it had been an accident."

"And she's not a criminal," John says.

Sherlock makes an annoyed noise and adjusts the microscope. His other hand never leaves Charlie, keeping him safe. "You finding her sexually attractive does not negate the possibility of criminal behavior."

"Sherlock." John's voice has gone tight and displeased. "That isn't-"

"Of course it is." Sherlock pulls away from the microscope with one swift motion. He adjusts the knobs to pull the eyepieces together, frowns at it, adjusts it again, and lifts Charlie up to look into it. "Paint," he says. "Acrylic, likely from an artist."

Charlie grips one eyepiece and babbles an unintelligible sentence.

"You'll learn to recognize it later," Sherlock says.

Molly's heart aches, and some of her terror recedes. No matter what Sherlock may have said at any point, she isn't solely responsible for Charlie's development.

*

Molly gets used to - again - having Sherlock in her flat, staying awake nights in the rocking chair with Charlie, swapping out teething rings and pressing Charlie's ear to his chest to hear his heartbeat.

She is not used to Sherlock dropping by at half ten on a Saturday.

Charlie, of course, is delighted. He says, "Ock," and continues to babble on even as Sherlock picks him up.

Sherlock listens with what seems like more attention than is really warranted. "Your language development is coming along nicely," he tells Charlie.

Charlie beams at him, like he understands.

Sherlock puts him back on the floor, in the midst of the mess he's made out of Mycroft Holmes' ideas about appropriate child development aids. Sherlock watches Charlie choose one of the soft cubes, each of the six sides made of a subtly different fabric.

"Do you still think," he asks, "that we are the worst people for this?"

Molly has to think, months and months of pregnancy and raising a baby between when she told him that and now, to remember the conversation. "You're not lonely anymore," she offers.

Sherlock looks at her sharply. She doesn't bother trying to hide anything; it's not worth it around him.

To her surprise, he doesn't say anything to her. Instead, he folds himself onto the floor and describes the fiber content of the two sides of the cube Charlie has his hands on.

*

Charlie can manage stairs, some of them, but Molly still carries him up to the flat at Baker Street. "Merry Christmas, everyone," she says, and gets a chorus of greetings back, the sound of Sherlock's violin behind them.

John comes to take her and Charlie's coats, and he brings a lovely blond woman with him who he introduces as Mary. Molly puts Charlie down, and he promptly takes the few steps that bring him to Mary and grabs onto her leg.

"Charlie, love," Molly says, and she bends down to pry him away.

"It's all right," Mary says. She crouches, carefully, so she's at Charlie's level. "I'm a nanny, live-in. I don't even own anything that isn't washable and child-proof. Hello, Charlie. My name is Mary."

Charlie gives her a perfect, gorgeous smile.

"Oh my," Mary says, tilting her head up to look at Molly, "he is lovely. Going to break a few hearts when he's older."

Charlie lets go of where he'd shifted his grip to her arm and heads for Sherlock. He has to go around furniture and Lestrade, and he can't possibly see Sherlock for half the journey, but he does it unerringly. "Ock," he says, "up!"

Sherlock stops playing, picks Charlie up, and sits on the couch. "Put your hand here," he says, placing Charlie's palm flat to the body of the violin. "You'll be able to feel the vibrations."

Molly realizes she's being rude and snaps her attention to Mary. Charlie will be fine with Sherlock. "Your pendant," she says before she thinks about it. "Sherlock brought it to the lab."

Mary touches it. It looks better; even Molly can see it's been cleaned, and anything would look better on Mary than lying on the lab bench. "Yes," she says. "I hired him. That's how I met John." Her face goes soft when she says that. "It was your lab, then? John said Sherlock had a friend there."

Molly looks across the room at Sherlock bent over Charlie and the violin. "Yes," she says. "I mainly do post-mortems, but sometimes that requires the use of a lab." She makes a face, because post-mortems and lab work are not good party conversation. "You're a nanny?"

"For now."

Molly follows Mary's gaze to John laughing with Lestrade in the kitchen.

"The youngest is off to school next fall, so they won't be needing me. I'm not sure yet if I'm going to look for another position or find something else to do." Mary looks at Molly again. "Oh, but you don't have a drink. Let's get you something."

Molly looks at Charlie again - he's perfectly, happily, occupied by Sherlock's continued instruction - and lets Mary take her into the kitchen.

"You didn't get Molly a drink," Mary says. She brushes a kiss onto John's cheek. It looks comfortable, easy.

"I'm sorry," John says. "I was distracted." He waves at the room, a meaningless gesture that Molly takes to mean he forgot in the bustle of coats and introductions. "What can I get you?"

Molly looks at Mary's half-full glass. "Wine," she says. John pours her a glass and tops off Mary's.

"Charlie looks well," Lestrade says.

"Yes," Molly says. "He's wonderful." It comes out more forceful than she meant, and she hasn't even touched her wine.

"That's lovely," Mary says, "that you adore him."

Adore, Molly thinks. Adore doesn't even begin to cover the way she feels about her son.

"Toddler now, isn't he?" Lestrade says. "Getting into everything, I imagine."

Molly smiles. "Yes. I've cleared all the lower shelves in the flat, and he still finds things to take off of them."

"It's only a stage in his development," Mycroft's voice says from behind her. "I'm sure he'll grow out of it. Merry Christmas, Doctor Hooper, Miss Morstan, Inspector Lestrade, Doctor Watson."

"Merry Christmas," Molly says.

"Dropping in on us two years in a row?" Sherlock comes to the kitchen as well, Charlie held in one arm and the violin dangling from the fingers of his other hand, leaving only Mrs. Hudson in the living room. "No need to make a habit of it."

"It's the only reliable way to convey good wishes to all of you at once. Hello, Charles."

"My-of," Charlie says.

There's a ripple of displeasure across Mycroft's face and an answering smile on Sherlock's.

"Consonant blends," Mycroft says. "You should be able to say them any day now."

Sherlock turns away, putting himself between Mycroft and Charlie. Molly would have done it if he hadn't.

"You've conveyed your wishes," Sherlock says. "You can return to whatever plans you've manufactured to make this convenient."

"I would never manufacture plans," Mycroft says, "but I will be late if I linger. Good evening."

There's a moment of silence broken only by Charlie's soft babbling after he leaves.

"Who, exactly, was that?" Mary asks. "And is he always like that?"

"Sherlock's brother," John says, "and yes."

*

Molly is surprised to hear from Mary again.

Mary says, "Sherlock gave me your number. Would you like to have lunch?" so Molly leaves Charlie in the creche at lunchtime and meets Mary eight blocks away for curry.

"John didn't mention," Mary says after they've done all the hellos and how are you?s, "so I assume he doesn't know that Charlie is Sherlock's son."

Molly's breath catches. Only three of them know that. Sherlock hadn't chosen otherwise, so she hadn't either. "You-" She doesn't know what she means to say, or ask.

"I've spent my life caring for children," Mary says. "There's a resemblance. Besides, I've no idea how he feels about you, but it's obvious he loves Charlie."

Molly doesn't think that's obvious in the least. "I've no idea either," she says. "Are you going to tell John?"

"No," Mary says. "That's between him and Sherlock. But if we're going to be friends, I want you to know that I know."

"Oh," Molly says. "Are we going to be friends?"

"I've no idea," Mary says cheerfully, "but we might as well make a go of it."

*

Molly gets a text from Mary on a Thursday: Girls' night, Saturday, 8pm. You in?

Her phone buzzes again a second later with another text: I will sit with Charlie on Saturday. SH

Molly texts back a yes to Mary and Sherlock shows up at her flat at half seven on Saturday. He runs his eyes over her, picks up Charlie, and walks straight into her bedroom where he ignores the clothes she'd been trying on and pulls a skirt and blouse out of her closet.

"Your usual shoes will do," he says. "You're going to drink, and you'll harm yourself in heels."

Molly looks at what he's chosen. They are smart enough, and he's right about the heels. She thinks she can take his suggestion as meaning he'll stay for Charlie if she comes home drunk.

"Your mummy," Sherlock says to Charlie in a familiar lecturing tone, "is going out with a group of women, only one of whom she's met before. She wants to look smart without looking like she's trying to look smart. It's a waste of mental energy, but that's what most people do."

Molly gives up on waiting for him to leave the room - it's not like he hasn't seen everything of her already - and takes off her clothes. Sherlock watches her, but not the way he does when they have sex. She doesn't realize she knows that it's a different kind of watching until she thinks it.

The lecture goes on while she puts on the clothes Sherlock chose for her, and Charlie looks at Sherlock the whole time, listening closely, learning from more than just her. She's relieved, and she wants to snatch Charlie back, tell Sherlock that she chose this, not him.

Sherlock looks at her peculiarly, and she turns away to step into her shoes.

She has to come close to him to kiss Charlie. "Enjoy your time with Sherlock," she tells him. "I'll see you in the morning. Love you."

"Love you," Charlie echoes back, and Molly kisses him again for good measure.

Molly starts to step away, but Sherlock's hand on her cheek stops her.

"What?"

He looks at her, for a very long moment, then lets go. "You're going to be late."

Molly is late, but no one seems to mind. "Mary says you have a toddler," Kyla says. "We all know how that goes."

The whole group of women, she finds, are nannies, former nannies, and one child development expert. "It's good cross-contamination," Judy, the child development expert, says. "We all learn from each other."

"And then we stop talking and get pissed." Heidi leans away from the table and orders them another round.

Mary hugs Molly tightly at the end of the evening, when they're dispersing to buses and taxis and the Tube. "You'll come out with us again," she says, and, "I'm going home to John. I'm not saying you have to keep Sherlock at your flat, but it would be nice to have sex with my boyfriend without his commentary later."

Molly laughs, drunk enough that it's funny, and makes no promises. Still, she thinks about it when she gets home and Sherlock is on her sofa raising questioning eyebrows at her.

"No heels," she says, swaying a little as she crosses the room to sit next to him. "That was a good idea. I would have fallen down."

"Yes," Sherlock says, "you would have." Then a frown creases his forehead. "You didn't think about taking the Tube."

Molly laughs. And laughs. And laughs some more. "No," she says. "No, no, no. I had your child and your monstrously rich brother pays for my flat. I took a cab."

That doesn't make Sherlock look any more pleased.

"You're gorgeous," Molly says, even though she didn't mean to say anything. "Really fit. I can't believe-" And then she stops herself from talking and kisses him instead. To do it properly, she has to turn, climb half into his lap. God, throwing herself at him, literally this time. She expects to be rejected. She expects him to dump her on her arse and leave.

He kisses her back, carefully.

It unlocks everything she wants from him, everything she knows they'll never be, and she kisses him hungrily, shoves her hands under his suit jacket, says, "No, please," when he stops kissing her.

"Charlie," he says. "Locked door."

And yes, yes, that's a fantastic idea. Brilliant. Her bedroom door locks. She leaves her shoes by the sofa, the skirt and blouse he picked out in the hall, her bra and knickers on the bedroom floor.

Sherlock locks the door and lets her - lets her, she's not fooling herself, none of this has ever been about him actually wanting her - have him.

*

Girls' night becomes a monthly thing, a slightly shifting group depending on responsibilities and other commitments. Sherlock stays with Charlie, or arranges for Mrs. Hudson or Greg Lestrade to watch him if he has a case. Molly drinks but doesn't get drunk again.

 

3.

Charlie clambers up the stairs at Baker Street, book clutched in one hand. He's getting control of his body now, not quite her baby anymore. Molly follows him closely anyway, ready to catch him if he falls.

Charlie precedes her through the open door of the flat. He ignores everyone else and goes right to Sherlock. "Ock," he says, "look." He can say Sherlock's name now, and will, sometimes, but he still calls him "Ock." Molly figures it's better than any variation on "Dad," even though she's almost certain Charlie regards him the same way.

Sherlock takes Charlie's coat off before letting him sit in his lap and turn the pages of the book. It's one of Mycroft's gifts, and Molly supposes that letting Sherlock go through it with him will probably do more than she can with whatever Mycroft intended with it.

John takes Molly's coat, and Mary greets her with a hug before hooking her arm through Molly's and taking her to the kitchen to get a drink. Molly calls out greetings to Greg and Mrs. Hudson on the way.

"He's very good with Charlie," Greg says in an undertone when Mary lets go of Molly enough for her to talk to anyone else. "I wouldn't have thought it."

"Oh, Sherlock's got a good heart," Mrs. Hudson says.

They've moved on to discussing the deplorable state of the weather when John's voice, from the edge of the kitchen says, "My God."

Molly looks up, alarmed at his tone and the direction of his gaze. But Charlie's fine, still in Sherlock's lap, identical expressions of intense concentration on their faces. She looks at John, staring at them, and back at Charlie and Sherlock.

"Sherlock," John says.

Sherlock does look up at that, meeting John's eyes across the room for a moment until Charlie tugs on his lapel and he looks down again.

"Can I talk to you?" John asks.

"I'm rather occupied at the moment," Sherlock says. "It will have to wait."

"Sherlock," John says, with more force.

"I believe," Mycroft says from the door of the flat, "that Doctor Watson has finally figured out one of your secrets."

John turns on him instead, and not having that anger focused in Charlie's direction lets Molly take a breath. "You," John says. "This is why you've been dropping in at Christmas."

"Yes," Mycroft says, "of course. Hello, Charles."

"I thought," John says, "that he might be yours."

Molly can barely contain a noise at that. Mycroft. No.

"No," Mycroft says. "Children would not be," a pause, "advisable for me."

"Did you even think of that?" John says to Sherlock. He doesn't raise his voice, but it's frightening enough without the extra volume. "Did you even think about the danger you're putting him in?"

Charlie's fingers are tight around the fabric of Sherlock's coat. Sherlock puts one arm around him, and he settles a bit, although he's still looking from Sherlock to John to Molly with the same watchfulness Molly catches on him sometimes when he's in unfamiliar situations.

"No one," Sherlock says, low and sure, "would ever find the bodies of anyone who hurt my son."

Molly's heart catches in her throat. His son. She didn't think that would ever be a choice he would make.

"You can be quite sure of that," Mycroft says.

"I shouldn't be hearing this," Greg says.

"But I believe," Mycroft continues, "that you're frightening Charles."

Sherlock gets up, deposits Charlie in Molly's lap, and joins John in the kitchen. Mycroft goes to stand in the doorway, making himself a barrier between the two of them and the rest of the party, and Mary comes over to sit on the arm of Molly's chair.

"It'll be all right." Mary puts her arm around Molly. "You know John won't stay mad at Sherlock long."

Molly holds Charlie close, too close, breathes in his smell and accepts his arms around her neck. "All right, love," she murmurs. "Mummy's all right." She kisses his temple. "I love you."

"I love you Mummy," he says, solemn as anything.

"That's rather more excitement than we usually have at Christmas," Mrs. Hudson says.

"You were seeing him while he was," Greg pauses, "away."

There isn't any reason to answer that. He's a detective. He can figure out the math.

"Charlie," Molly asks, "what did Sherlock say about your book?"

She lets him tell her about it, more advanced, she thinks, than most children his age could manage, and tries to ignore the voices coming from the kitchen. After an uncomfortable few minutes, Greg strikes up a conversation with Mary about her job.

Sherlock comes out of the kitchen, John and Mycroft just behind him, and picks Charlie up.

Charlie wraps his arms around Sherlock's neck and says, "I love you, Ock."

"The correct response," Mycroft says, "is to return the sentiment."

Sherlock talks to Charlie the same way sometimes, more direct, less genteel, but the same kind of instruction. Teaching him the rules of navigating society, as if it's a game.

"Only if one feels it," Sherlock says.

"Ah," Mycroft says. "Just so."

Molly doesn't dare breathe. She won't be able to bear it if Sherlock hurts Charlie.

Sherlock's mouth works for a moment, Charlie leaning back in his hold to look only at his face. "I love you too," Sherlock says at length.

Mary squeezes Molly's shoulder, then goes to join John. Mycroft leaves. The party gets back into what counts as full swing for Christmas drinks at Baker Street.

Charlie falls asleep in Sherlock's lap while Sherlock plays something gorgeous and quiet on the violin.

*

Judy throws a New Year's Eve party. Molly takes Charlie to Mrs. Hudson's - Sherlock said he was busy - and shares a cab to the party with John and Mary.

Molly knows a dozen people there, and she's perfectly fine on her own when John and Mary get drawn into conversation. She chats with Judy, meets Lizzie's partner, dances with a man who smiles at her and kisses her hand.

She thinks she sees Sherlock across the room, but it can't be. Sherlock doesn't do parties, certainly not such ordinary ones.

There's no one for her to kiss at midnight, but she sips a glass of champagne and watches the couples around her, watches John and Mary. They're not romantic a lot of the time, but they're comfortable with each other.

Molly tells them to stay when she lets them know she's leaving. "Charlie, you know," she says. "Enjoy the rest of the party."

Mary hugs her tight. John's hug is more careful. Still angry, then, about Charlie.

Sherlock is waiting for her in the foyer, Charlie in his arms and cab waiting on the street behind him.

"I would have come to get him," Molly says.

"I know." Sherlock holds doors for her and gives the cabbie her address. She expects him to leave her and Charlie at her flat, but he pays the cabbie and comes up with her.

He takes Charlie straight through to the nursery. Molly hangs up her coat and goes to the kitchen for a glass of water. She's probably not drunk enough for a hangover even without it, but Charlie will be up early and the combination of alcohol and London winter are very dehydrating.

Sherlock joins her in the kitchen. "You enjoyed the party," he says.

"Yes." It's weird in how very ordinary it is, the two of them talking about the party while their son sleeps in the nursery.

Molly drinks the rest of her water and puts the glass in the sink. She turns to Sherlock and looks back at him. If he's going to stand in her kitchen and stare at her, she's going to get some enjoyment out of it.

One side of his mouth quirks up, like he knows what she's thinking and it amuses him.

"You're not lonely," he says after long enough that the silence is starting to be uncomfortable.

Molly thinks about girls' night, lunches with Mary, Judy's party. About, over and around it all, Charlie, taking up her time and her life and space in her heart. "No," she says, "I guess I'm not anymore."

Sherlock crosses the kitchen and kisses her. It's not a meaningless kiss, not the kind of kiss that leads to sex. It's a sweet kiss. A midnight kiss.

"Happy new year, Molly Hooper."

Molly smiles at him, the father of her son kissing her in her kitchen. "Happy new year, Sherlock Holmes."

*

"I'm keeping my flat for now," Mary says at girls' night when she tells the whole group about the state of her and John's relationship, "but we're trying it out."

"You and John have been together for ages," Lizzie says. "Why not just move in with him?"

"He's got a flatmate," Mary says. "We haven't told him yet. We're waiting to see if he's okay with it."

"His flatmate?" Rachel asks. She's new to girls' night and hasn't heard much about Sherlock yet. "Just tell him you're moving in."

"Think of it this way," Mary says, and although she's serious, there's laughter in her voice, "if Molly were going to ask a man to live with her, she'd have to make sure it's okay with Charlie. This is the same thing."

"Does that make you the stepmother?" Judy asks.

Mary laughs. "Could be. He acts like a spoilt child often enough."

"Now what about you, Molly?" Kyla asks. "You've not been out with anyone since I've known you, unless you're keeping it all very secret."

Molly thinks about Sherlock kissing her at New Year's, about letting her have him the first time she came out for girls' night. "No," she says. "No secrets."

"I've a friend," Kyla says. "He teaches pre-school, so he'll understand about Charlie. Great bloke."

"If he's so great," Lizzie asks, "why aren't you dating him?"

Kyla laughs along with the rest of the table. "No," she says, "we're just friends, but he is lovely. You'd like him," she says to Molly.

"No," Molly says. "That's lovely of you, but no."

"Still hung up on the ex?" Heidi asks.

"Ex?" Rachel asks.

"Not that Molly would ever tell us," Heidi says, and Molly doesn't think she means to be hurtful. "But Charlie didn't come from nowhere."

"He's not- It's co-"

"Don't say it's complicated," Rachel says. "It's never that complicated."

So Molly doesn't. She tells them the truth instead. "He doesn't love me." To her horror, she can feel her eyes fill with tears. It's worse saying it to them than it was saying it to Sherlock.

Across the table, Mary winces.

"Oh, God," Heidi says, "I'm sorry." She puts her arm around Molly. "Someone pour her another glass of wine."

Molly laughs a little and wipes her eyes. "It's all right. You weren't to know." She accepts both the wine and the change of subject Kyla affects that takes her out of the spotlight.

She doesn't forget about it, though. Doesn't forget about how much it hurts when she lets herself think about it, doesn't forget about how now Mary knows everything about her. Or almost. As they're leaving, Mary hugs her close and says, "Don't worry, I won't tell him."

Molly doesn't answer that. She just hugs Mary back, gets into her cab, and tries not to think about it on the way to her flat.

Sherlock is lying on the couch, just as he would be in his own flat. He glances at Molly when she comes in, then sweeps himself off the couch and comes to stand in front of her. "You've been crying," he says. "They upset you."

Molly turns away to hang up her coat. "It's fine."

"It's not fine." Sherlock puts his hand on her arm, uses it to turn her toward him. "They're supposed to be your friends. They're not supposed to upset you."

Molly pulls herself out of his grip. "It's fine. It happens. No one meant to upset me. It's fine."

Sherlock stands unmoving in front of her for a long minute. Then he puts his arms around her. It's a hug, she realizes after a moment. He means to be comforting.

It's almost too much to bear, but she lets herself have it, leans into his chest and inhales the scent of him. Only for a moment before she really can't bear it. Then she pushes him away.

"I'm fine," she says to his puzzled expression.

"You're not fine."

"Well, I will be. I just need to look in on Charlie and get some sleep. I'll be fine." She steps aside, so he can leave.

He looks at her suspiciously.

"Really." Molly can't quite manage a smile. "It's fine."

He still doesn't leave.

"Sometimes," Molly says, "this happens with friends."

He looks at her for another horribly long minute before he leaves.

Molly locks the door behind him, leans her forehead on it until she can move again. She opens Charlie's door quietly, just to look in on him. Molly watches his chest rise and fall for a minute, two, five.

She goes to bed and doesn't cry, even though she feels like she could.

*

There's a text, in the morning, from Mary: Why did you let him come home?

She texts back: Was he very awful?

Mary texts her: Harangued me for letting anyone upset you.

Molly doesn't have an answer for that.

 

4.

"You have to tell Mycroft no," Sherlock says as he sweeps into the morgue.

Molly looks at the corpse open on her table, her recorder on, Sherlock trying to take up all her attention.

"I am busy," she says.

"Mycroft." Sherlock paces back and forth on the other side of the table. "You can't let him dictate Charlie's education."

"You went to public school, didn't you?" Molly drops the body's liver into the scale and reads the weight out for her record.

"Yes," Sherlock says. "I hated it. It was horrible."

Molly turns the recorder off. "Charlie isn't you."

Sherlock dismisses that with a wave of his hand. "You can't let Mycroft do that."

Molly knows better than to make any promises to him. "Is that all?"

Sherlock presses his lips together. "You're humoring me."

"I take Charlie very seriously," Molly says. "I will do what is best for him. I also take this seriously." She gestures at the body on the table, the liver in the scale, the turned off recorder. "If you're finished, I'll get back to this."

"We could home educate him. Between us, he would get an excellent education." Sherlock looks off into the middle distance for a moment. "John could teach him to shoot."

It's a terrible idea, but there is still an open cadaver on her table. "No need to figure it out just yet." Molly turns the recorder on and reaches into the body.

The look on Sherlock's face is precisely the one Charlie gets when Molly doesn't let him stay up past his bedtime.

*

The thing about Sherlock is that even when he's being horrible, he's usually right. It is time to think about schools for Charlie - any old school isn't going to work for him - and Charlie probably wouldn't like most schools.

Molly googles a bit on her own before she decides it's worth calling in an expert and invites Judy out for lunch.

Judy looks at her for a moment after Molly explains half the situation - Charlie and needing to find a school - then shakes her head. "I know you don't talk about his father, but he's some kind of politician or minor royal, right?"

Molly looks down. She hates this part, never being able to talk to anyone about it. Not even Mary, not really. She answers the part of it she can. "There's money, and influence."

"All right," Judy says. "For anything that's going to be able to handle Charlie, you're probably going to need them. How is he with other children?"

"Watchful. More so than with adults, at first. He'll play with them, and I think he likes the company, but you can tell he's treating it like a game he has to figure out." She hates speaking so clinically about him, but sugarcoating it isn't going to help her find the right school.

"Have you ever had him evaluated?" Judy speaks slowly, carefully. "If he's on the autism spectrum, that changes what he needs."

"No," Molly says. "The carers suggested it, but he's not- He doesn't fit the criteria. He's just very, very clever."

"All right," Judy says. "There are a few places in London, one in Oxford, an experimental place in Dartmoor, and one in Edinburgh."

"London," Molly says. "I'm not sending him off to school." And certainly not to Dartmoor or Edinburgh.

Judy gives her the names of the places in London. "I've worked with John McLeod Primary School, and the other two have good reputations. Good for children, willing to work with parents." She pats Molly's hand. "You'll find something. Or you can let his father pay for everything so you can leave your job and home educate him."

Molly makes a face. "That's the option I'm trying to avoid."

*

Molly makes appointments with all three schools for a Tuesday morning. She wears a smart skirt and a blouse, heels, and drops Charlie off at the nursery in the morning as usual. They're all fine, but she finds herself agreeing with Judy's assessment of John McLeod Primary School.

"We're using a modified Montessori approach," Caroline Harper, the school's head, explains as she takes Molly to see the school. "Children, especially the children who come to John McLeod, learn best when it's self-directed." Caroline takes Molly down the wide, cheerful hallway. "We do, of course, insist on social interaction as well. We have a number of genius-level children who would be perfectly happy to lose themselves in their intellectual pursuits. However, intellectual activity is not the only purpose of a school." Caroline stops in front of a door. "This is one of our younger classrooms. We accept children as young as three, and we conduct assessments to determine the proper placement for children. We attempt to best match them with both a peer group and a teacher."

Molly looks through the window in the door. There are approximately fifteen children spread across the room. The majority of them are engaged in solitary pursuits, but there are two children working together on some kind of project. There's an adult, the teacher, she supposes, crouching on the floor next to one of the desks, listening to one of the children talk to him.

"Are all your classes this small?"

"Yes," Caroline says, "or nearly. No class is larger than twenty, and we have additional teachers who spend part of the day in each of the larger classes."

Molly turns away from the window. "How do you promote social interaction?" She thinks about Sherlock, who must have been a horror at that age, and of Charlie, who she wants to grow up to have friends.

Caroline looks at her watch. "If you'll come this way, some of the older classes will be having their social hour." She takes Molly outside, where they look over what appears to be uncontrolled chaos. "We believe age is not the determining factor in children's social or intellectual maturity, which is why we have mixed-age classrooms; however, their physical development is something else. We don't want anyone getting hurt. We do have some all-school activities, but daily social time is in age-appropriate groups. We have organized activities for the physical education portion of the day, as well as this." Caroline sweeps her arm out. "Unstructured play is very important in children's development."

Molly returns to the morgue for the afternoon feeling quite good about John McLeod, despite Caroline's warning that their selection process is quite exclusive.

Sherlock, John, Greg, and Sergeant Donovan arrive at half three to look at a body. They're on the way out when Sherlock turns back.

"Heels," he says. "And you were wearing lipstick earlier. You've rubbed it off, but the traces are still there."

"Yes," Molly says. She returns the bodies to their places.

"Why," Sherlock asks, "were you wearing heels and lipstick?"

"I had meetings."

"You-"

"Meetings," Molly says. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

Sherlock narrows his eyes at her, but when John says, "Sherlock," he turns around and leaves.

*

Molly trusts the arrangements to Mycroft and ends up with a late morning appointment to take Charlie to see John McLeod. Two days before, she leaves the morgue at lunch and goes to Baker Street.

Mrs. Hudson lets her in, and the door to 221B opens at her touch when Sherlock calls, "Yes! Don't be boring."

He doesn't invite her to sit, so she stands in the middle of the flat and looks down on him laid out on the sofa. "I'm taking Charlie to see John McLeod Primary School day after next. Do you want to come?"

"You could have texted."

"I wasn't sure you'd want that in writing."

"Oh." Sherlock frowns.

"Ten-thirty," Molly tells him. He doesn't answer, so she shows herself out.

 

5.

Molly throws a party for Charlie's fifth birthday. She invites a small handful of his friends from school and their parents, Mycroft, Sherlock, and John and Mary. Mycroft sends a gift and Sherlock doesn't respond to the invitation; the rest of them come to the party.

Sherlock shows up just as Charlie is opening the last of his presents. He sets a final gift down in front of Charlie.

Charlie tears the paper open, lifts the lid off the box, and pulls out a case that he opens to reveal a child-sized violin. He sets it down and scrambles over the pile of presents to throw his arms around Sherlock.

"Thank you, Ock!"

Sherlock hugs him back and smiles. "Lessons, too, of course." He looks at Molly. "On a schedule agreed to by your mother."

Charlie scrambles back to his friends, and they take up a lively discussion about the mechanics of musical instruments. Molly never would have been able to follow it at their age, but she can imagine that Sherlock and Mycroft might have had the same kind of conversation when they were children.

One of the other parents, the one who's a theoretical physicist, parlays it into an impromptu lesson on particle vibration that captivates the children for the remainder of the party.

"That was quite unlike any children's party I've ever been to," Mary says when everyone but she, John, and Sherlock has left.

"But just like most of the ones I've been to," Molly says.

"Mummy." Charlie comes to Molly and looks up to meet her eyes directly. "I need some quiet time."

Molly rests her hand on the top of his head, lightly and briefly. "All right, darling."

Charlie nods at her and takes the violin and one of the books from the box Mycroft sent and retreats to his room. The door closes with a click.

"And that," Mary says, "was remarkable."

Molly laughs a little. "It's one of the things they teach at his school. The whole place is full of geniuses - well, you saw - and they tend to get overstimulated, so they teach them to take their own time-outs."

"It is quite good self-management," Mary says. "Think we could make it work with Sherlock?"

"I'm not a child," Sherlock says.

"But you could do with the occasional time-out instead of deciding to test the properties of every liquid in the flat, including my shampoo."

"I," Sherlock declares, "do not need quiet time."

"Have you ever tried meditation?" John asks.

Molly says, "I'll just make more tea," and escapes to the kitchen. It's a mess, like the rest of the flat, and she does a bit of tidying while the kettle boils. It keeps her hands busy, keeps her from thinking about an afternoon spent with her son's friends and their parents, about how much, pathology specialization aside, she is not one of them.

She hears the voices soften, and footsteps behind her, so she isn't particularly surprised to hear Sherlock's voice. "You're upset," he says.

"I'm all right," Molly says. She doesn't turn to look at him until he's standing next to her at the sink, and then she smiles, strained around the edges and in no way able to fool him.

"I don't understand," Sherock says.

Molly sighs. "He's growing up. He's five, and I won't be able to follow half of what he says in another three years."

"He's intelligent," Sherlock says with a frown. "He's in an environment to develop that. He has friends whose company he enjoys. He appears to be happy. You should be happy."

"I am. I am for him." Molly shakes her head. "I know it's foolish. I know. It's only." She looks at Sherlock. "It's only that none of it is me. They like him because he's brilliant and gorgeous, and that's you. He can go to the school because of Mycroft. He has all of this," she waves her hand, meaning the flat and the life she can give Charlie when her salary doesn't have to pay for rent or Charlie's school, "because of Mycroft."

Sherlock blinks. "I did not have friends," he says, "and I was brilliant and gorgeous." She can almost hear the quotations around it. "I did not have friends until John. You are generally considered a kind woman, and you have taught Charlie to care about others. You've taught him to value friendships. They would not have remained his friends otherwise. Mycroft," he can never seem to say it without a sneer, "would have put you in a house in Kensington with staff and furniture you didn't dare touch. He would have sent Charlie to a school of his choosing that grooms politicians. I would have put you in the basement flat at Baker Street and home educated him. You found a place Charlie would consider a home, and a school that was better suited to him." He touches her, cups her elbow with his hand. "You're his mother, and you've done all of this."

Molly turns and rests her forehead against his shoulder. He doesn't complain about the emotional messiness of it all, just lets her take comfort from it.

"Thank you," she says after a moment. She dries her hands and rescues the kettle before all the water boils away.

John and Mary stay for tea, but not for supper. Molly throws together something light - rice and veg - and Sherlock sits with them at the table and talks music and physics with Charlie. He eats more than Molly has been led to believe he does. He would have to, sometimes, she supposes, to maintain the amount of muscle she knows he has, or maybe he's being a good example for Charlie.

He shows no signs of leaving, and Molly lets him do Charlie's bedtime ritual, waiting for him to clean his teeth, tucking him in, reading to him. Molly hovers in the doorway for the last - half a chapter of A Brief History of Time. It's sometimes over Charlie's head, and Molly's offered more than once to read something else instead. He says no, and that he'll read it again if he needs to - and comes in to brush a kiss over Charlie's forehead after Sherlock does.

Sherlock doesn't leave.

Molly tidies up, clearing away the mess from the party so it isn't all there in the morning, and does the washing up, throws some clothes in the washing machine, all while Sherlock does whatever it is he does when he's entertaining himself.

She doesn't hear him come into the kitchen, only knows he's there when she turns around and he's already inside her space, so close she has to catch herself by grabbing his arms.

"Charlie will be asleep and unlikely to wake until close to morning," Sherlock says.

Molly knows Charlie's sleeping patterns as well as he does, if not better - she's the one who lives with it - and doesn't figure out why he's telling her this until he steps even closer and says, "And your door locks."

"Oh." Molly looks at him, waiting patiently for her, but he wouldn't offer if she weren't going to take him up on it. She kisses him, says yes with that instead of words.

He takes her to bed, where he is his usual competent self - he's gotten good at this, and very good at it with her - but also careful with her, gentle.

Molly does not let herself cry.

Sherlock comes back to bed after he disposes of the condom, which she isn't expecting. They don't cuddle, but he's there, warm and close enough to touch. "You're a very good parent, Molly," he says. "Much better than I would be."

"You do all right," she tells him. "He adores you. You came to his birthday, and you've seen him at every Christmas. You don't lie to or disappoint him."

Sherlock is quiet for a moment. "Do I disappoint you?"

"No. Not- No. I didn't think you would do any of this, be involved at all."

"And for you? Not for Charlie, do I disappoint you?"

"I didn't expect anything from you."

Molly can feel more than see Sherlock lean over her to turn on the light on her nightstand. He stays there, hovering over her, looking down at her face. "Why not?" Molly can't read his voice, doesn't know if he's upset or merely curious.

"You don't love me," she says. Time hasn't blunted the pain of that. "You didn't- You didn't really want me. You wanted to see someone who knew you, and everyone else you knew thought you were dead."

"If you knew that," Sherlock asks, "then why did you agree?"

Molly can't quite bring herself to tell him she loves him. "You're fit and gorgeous," she says. "I wanted you." She does touch him now, sliding her palm down his chest. "I do want you."

He frowns at her. "I am not- This is not-"

Molly shakes her head. "No. I know. I know it's not. It's okay." She lets her hand fall away from him. "It's fine."

Sherlock keeps frowning. "You haven't dated."

"No."

"Not since Charlie," he goes on. "Not since-" His mouth thins into a tight line. "Not since I jumped off the roof at Barts."

"No."

Sherlock stops looming over her, lies down next to her instead. "Why not?"

Molly shrugs. "I wanted you, and I had you, sort of, for a bit, and then there was Charlie, and you, sometimes, and it doesn't seem worth the trouble." She listens to him breathe as he thinks about it. She doesn't know if he knows the last, that she loves him and this is enough. It's the kind of thing he doesn't always figure out.

"You still want this. Me, sometimes." He doesn't make it a question, but it feels like one.

"Yes." Molly turns off the light. "I knew what this was. I know what it is. I do still want it."

 

6.

"Molly!" The shout accompanies very loud banging on the door.

Molly jerks the door open. "You're going to bother all the neighbors."

Sherlock looks her over, then sweeps past her into the flat, John following at a more sedate pace.

"Where's Charlie?"

"Not here. He's at a friend's for the night. What's going on?"

"Call him." Sherlock holds out his phone, which won't do her any good since she doesn't know the number.

Molly calls Laura on her own phone. "Just wanted to say goodnight," she says when she asks to talk to Charlie. She keeps her voice even, although Sherlock pounding her door down can't mean anything good.

There's a minute while Laura calls Charlie to the phone, and then Charlie's voice saying, "Hi, Mummy. Michael has blackboards on his walls."

Molly smiles. "You're having fun, then?"

"Yes," Charlie says decidedly. "We're drawing."

"That's good. Sherlock is here. He wanted to say hello."

"Okay!"

Molly passes the phone to Sherlock and isn't the least surprised when there's another knock at her door. She is surprised when it's Mycroft on the other side, but she lets him in and they all listen in on Sherlock's side of his conversation with Charlie. Molly is fully prepared, at the third interruption - the buzzer this time, no using their own means of entry into the building - to let Greg and Sergeant Donovan in just before Sherlock hangs up the phone.

The phone is still in his hand, a hard square pressing into Molly's bicep, when he grabs both her arms and asks, "Are you all right?"

"Yes," she says, trying to stay calm no matter how alarming the circumstances are. "Why shouldn't I be?"

Sherlock stares at her, holding on too tight, then his hands drop away and he leaves her phone on the coffee table as he paces.

"There's been a threat," Greg says.

Molly's knees go weak, and she sits heavily on the couch. "Charlie."

"No." Greg looks apologetic. "You."

Molly looks up, confusion cutting through her terror. "Me?"

Greg looks at Sherlock before answering. "Sherlock's been working with us on a case, serial killer, the one the press is calling The Serial Slicer." He hesitates and looks at Mycroft.

"I assure you," Mycroft says, "I have clearance for this conversation."

"No doubt," Sherlock says, "he knows more than you do about the investigation."

Greg looks as if he's going to protest, but gives it up as a lost cause. "We've held details back. We've been getting letters, before each murder. They contain clues to his next victim, but so far we've not been able to identify them beforehand. The latest letter points to you."

"How do you know it's me?"

Greg looks as if he really doesn't want to answer that.

Sherlock takes over. "The letter says, 'Quite clever involving Mr. Holmes, but I can't have him continuing to interfere. His whore will be next. Quite a pity to make her boy an orphan, but I'm afraid it can't be avoided. One does have to wonder, how did a single mother become his plaything? Perhaps I'll ask her before I slit her throat.'" He recites it all calmly, in a monotone that's nearly as frightening as the words.

"Your security detail has been alerted," Mycroft says.

Molly turns her attention to him. "What?"

"You can't imagine I would leave your and Charlie's safety to chance."

"You don't leave anything to chance," Sherlock says. "Always pulling strings. You're bothered by more than just the letter." It takes Molly a moment to realize the last is directed at her.

The letter is more than enough, but she is. There's something teasing at the edge of her consciousness. She says, "He doesn't know about Charlie."

"He knows he exists," Greg says. "And seems to think his father's dead if he expects killing you to make him an orphan."

"Everyone at Barts thinks that," Molly says. It's not what's tugging at her, although maybe close.

"Do they?" Sherlock's gaze sharpens.

"There was a man," Molly says slowly. "He came into the morgue last week, to look at one of our unidentified bodies. His sister was missing, and we had someone who fit the description. He asked me how I became a pathologist."

"What did he say?" Sherlock steps closer, intense and demanding. "What were his exact words?"

Molly closes her eyes and thinks back to the morgue. "He said, 'How did you become a pathologist? Doesn't seem the usual career for a young woman.'"

"What did you tell him?"

Molly shrugs. "That I became interested in medical school and found I was good at it. People often ask me that."

Sherlock looks past her to Mycroft. "You will-"

"Of course," Mycroft says.

Sherlock nods sharply. "John," he says, as he moves toward the door.

John looks at each of them in turn. "You'll be all right?" he asks Molly.

"I assure you, Doctor Watson," Mycroft says, "that she will be perfectly safe."

A woman Molly doesn't know, dressed entirely in black, down to her eminently sensible shoes, slides into her flat through the door Sherlock is holding open.

"Ah, Julia," Mycroft says.

That seems to satisfy John, and he leaves with Sherlock.

"Doctor Hooper," Mycroft says. "This is Julia. She will stay with you tonight."

Molly half smiles at the woman. "Hello."

Julia nods at her. "Ma'am."

"Julia is perfectly capable of handling any threats to you," Mycroft says. "Charlie will be similarly protected. I've no doubt Sherlock will have this wrapped up shortly." He nods at Molly before he strolls out of the flat, as unconcerned as anything.

"Right," Greg says after he's gone. "Should've known those two would take over my case." He doesn't look particularly put-upon by the fact. "Molly, I'm sure Mycroft's people are excellent. We'll have a patrol come by and keep an eye out as well."

Molly nods on automatic. "Thank you."

Greg comes to her and squeezes her shoulder. "You know what Sherlock's like, and we'll be following him around ready to make the arrest. This shouldn't go on too long."

Molly manages a more genuine smile for him. "I know. Thanks, Greg."

Greg takes Sergeant Donovan with him when he leaves. Molly locks the door behind them and turns around to smile nervously at Julia.

"Ma'am," Julia says, "please stay here while I do an interior perimeter sweep. Then you may go about your evening as usual."

There is nothing usual about Molly's evening, but she stays where she is while Julia does her sweep. There are always things to be done in a home with a small child, so she does some of those before she goes to bed.

Molly doesn't expect to sleep, and indeed she lies awake, staring into the dark for what must be hours. She does sleep, eventually, and wakes up in the early hours of the morning from a dream about Jim holding a scalpel to her throat. She hasn't thought of him in years.

It takes even longer to fall asleep the second time, and she sleeps only fitfully, only for a few hours, little enough that there are dark circles under her eyes when she gives up.

Julia is still awake and alert in the living room, and she accepts Molly's offer of tea and toast with polite distance. Molly leaves her to it and tidies the flat to within an inch of its life. Charlie's away, she hasn't anywhere else to be, and she won't be able to focus on anything more complex.

Sherlock is out there, somewhere, tracking down a man who wants to kill her to punish him. She's not even sure it would work. Jim had threatened John, after all, and this one can't be half as clever as him.

The knock on the door at half nine causes her to drop a stack of Charlie's books. She shoves them into a pile and finds Julia between her and the door, peering through the peephole before stepping away and letting Molly open the door.

Sherlock comes in with blood on his sleeve and a bandage wrapped around his left hand. He takes in Julia as if he's forgotten who she is, then dismisses her and turns to Molly. "You're all right."

"Yes," she says.

Behind her, John closes the door and introduces himself to Julia.

Sherlock seems to slump. "You're all right."

"Yes, I'm fine."

"You often say that," Sherlock says, "even when you aren't."

"It's a social nicety," Molly offers. Then she looks at Sherlock, really looks at him, and steps forward in case she has to catch him. "You've gone gray. Sit down before you fall down."

"He has a cut that needs stitching," John says. "Wouldn't let anyone take him to A&E."

Molly guides Sherlock to the couch and sits next to him when he refuses to let go of her wrist.

"Do you have a suture kit?"

"First aid kit, cabinet above the refrigerator."

Sherlock looks at her oddly. "You keep a suture kit."

"Yes." Molly smiles at him, just a little. "Between you and Charlie, I thought I might need it."

The buzzer sounds. Julia answers it and lets Greg and Sergeant Donovan up when Molly agrees.

"Is it over?" Molly asks Sherlock.

"Yes." Sherlock goes a little gray again. "Unless the Met has become so grossly incompetent as to lose him again." He says the last just as Julia opens the door for Greg and Sergeant Donovan.

John comes back with his sleeves rolled up and everything he needs to clean and sew up a cut. He drapes a towel over Sherlock's thigh before unwrapping the bandage on his hand. It's deep, and straight.

"I think we can keep him in custody," Greg says. "Will you give a statement now?" He and Sergeant Donovan both have notepads at the ready.

"If I must."

"I'll make tea." Molly stands, and has to peel Sherlock's fingers away from her wrist. "I'm only going to the kitchen."

Sherlock's talking when she comes back, a litany of deductions interspersed with questions from Greg and reminders to stay still from John. They take a break for Molly to pour tea for everyone but John.

Sherlock drinks half a cup in a few swallows, then latches onto her wrist again. He picks up speaking with an explanation of how he found the man's flat, and then stops, mouth snapping shut.

"There were quite a large number of photographs of you," he says to Molly, his voice entirely different, different enough that everyone stops what they're doing, even John's hands stilling.

"All right," Molly says softly. His eyes are dark and almost, she would say, frightened. She cups his cheek with the hand he's not keeping hostage. "It's all right."

Her phone breaks the moment. Sherlock's fingers tighten around her wrist when she tries to get it, so Greg brings it to her.

"There's a man here," Laura says. "He says he's picking up Charlie."

Molly's stomach tightens. "Put him on."

"Molly," Mycroft says. He's never called her Molly in his life. "Please do let Charles's friend's mother know it's perfectly all right for me to bring him home."

Molly relaxes, leaning against Sherlock to let him know it's fine. "Yes, of course." Mycroft puts Laura on the phone and Molly gives her permission to send Charlie home with Mycroft.

"Mycroft," Molly explains to Sherlock. "He's bringing Charlie."

"Good," Sherlock says after a pause. "That's good." At Greg's prompting, he returns to the story of what happened once he reached the flat, a story that has Molly wincing even before he gets to the part where he caught The Serial Slicer's knife with his palm.

He gets interrupted again when the door to the flat swings open and Charlie tumbles through, Mycroft following him at a more sedate pace.

Molly catches Charlie before he can launch himself at Sherlock.

"It's my hand," Sherlock says, "not the rest of me."

"You need to stay still so John can finish your stitches," Molly says. She pulls Charlie onto her lap instead.

Mycroft nods at all of them, and takes Julia with him when he leaves.

Charlie, mindful of Molly's words, wraps his arms around Sherlock's bicep instead of tumbling into him. "You got hurt."

"Yes, I did."

"How?"

Molly readies herself to interrupt, but Sherlock keeps it at a level appropriate for him. "I was trying to stop someone who wanted to hurt me."

Charlie frowns. "You got hurt anyway."

"Yes," Sherlock says, "I did."

"Were you scared?"

Sherlock's jaw tenses, but he answers. "Yes."

Charlie leans his cheek on Sherlock's arm. "How do you know where to put the stitches?"

John looks at Molly, but she doesn't mind; Charlie is curious about everything, and he's already calm about watching the stitches.

"It depends on how deep the cut is, and how long." John carries on talking as he sews the last few stitches, explaining how to decide where to put them, why stitches instead of plasters, and why he's making each stitch separate from the others. He covers Sherlock's palm with gauze and tape when he's finished. "Now he has to be careful. He can't get it wet, and he can't do anything that will tear the stitches." That bit seems to be as much for Sherlock's benefit as Charlie's.

"Why?"

"Because it will only take longer to heal if it tears open. And cuts that get infected can make people sick."

Charlie peers intently at Sherlock. "Will you be careful?"

John looks triumphant and Sherlock annoyed, but Sherlock says, "I will be as careful as I can be."

"You should have Mummy kiss it better," Charlie says.

Sherlock eyes Charlie and Molly. "That is not how the human body works."

Charlie frowns at him. "But it always feels better when Mummy kisses it."

"It's the placebo effect."

"What's the placebo effect?"

"Roughly," Sherlock says, "it means that if people believe something will be effective, it does have an effect, even if it there is no reason for it to be so."

There's a long moment while Charlie puzzles that out. "You don't believe it."

"No," Sherlock says.

The frown hasn't left Charlie's face. "But I do. Will that make it work?"

Sherlock says, "Most likely not," but extends his hand to Molly.

She brushes her lips over the bandage on Sherlock's palm, mostly to appease Charlie, who seems satisfied with that. It puts an odd look on Sherlock's face.

"Charlie, I saw some bananas in the kitchen," John says. "You can't ever try to sew up a person, but you could learn how to do sutures on a banana."

"Mummy?" Charlie twists to look at her, asking for permission.

Molly kisses his temple. "Yes. Go on."

"You'll need a change of clothes," John says to Sherlock, "if you're staying. I'll text Mary."

Sherlock looks just annoyed enough that John has to be right about that.

With John and Charlie in the kitchen - the sink goes on, and John's instructions about proper handwashing filter over it - Greg prods Sherlock to finish his statement. Molly stays and listens to it all, everything he did to protect her between when he showed up at her flat last night and when he came back this morning.

"What I don't understand," Sergeant Donovan says when Sherlock is done and Greg is flipping through his notes, "is how he knew you had a girlfriend when no one else did. And how did you get a girlfriend anyway?"

"I'm not his girlfriend," Molly says.

"Partner, whatever."

"Not worked it out yet?" Sherlock says. "A wonder you haven't been promoted."

"All right," Greg says. "That's enough out of the two of you." He starts in on a bunch of follow-up questions he doesn't quite finish by the time Mary arrives. Since Sherlock has once again taken possession of Molly's wrist, Greg lets her in. She brings with her a handful of bags giving off the scent of takeaway and Mrs. Hudson carrying a plate of cake.

"You didn't have to do that," Molly says.

"Oh, Mycroft did most of it," Mary says. "I assume my husband is about somewhere."

"Kitchen," Greg tells her.

"Marvelous. Are you staying?"

Greg looks at Sergeant Donovan, and puts his notebook away. "Yes. We have to have lunch sometime."

Mary drops a bag of clothes next to Sherlock and bends down to kiss his forehead. John comes out of the kitchen, and he and Mary fairly light up to see each other. They kiss in the doorway, and Mary reaches down to ruffle Charlie's hair. "Help us with the plates, will you?"

Mrs. Hudson stops to fuss over Sherlock. "Oh, Sherlock, what have you done to yourself this time?" She puts the cake down on the coffee table and hugs him, which he returns with his free arm.

"I'm quite all right," he lies. "Nothing John couldn't take care of."

Mrs. Hudson obviously doesn't believe it either, but she takes the cake into the kitchen.

Mary brings out plates for Molly, Sherlock, and Charlie, and sends Greg and Sergeant Donovan to get their own. They eat spread across the living room, Greg and Sergeant Donovan at one edge, Molly and Sherlock on the couch, Charlie on the floor on the other side of the coffee table where he can still see them, John and Mary in chairs they've pulled close enough that their knees touch, and Mrs. Hudson in one of Molly's armchairs rounding out the circle.

Greg and Sergeant Donovan leave after cake. John, Mary, and Mrs. Hudson help tidy up and put all the leftovers away.

John pulls Molly aside to say, "He's barely eaten in a couple of days. See if you can get something more into him in a bit, and for God's sake make sure he sleeps."

Molly looks in Sherlock's direction, but he's sufficiently distracted by Charlie. "I dunno that he'll listen to me."

John stays silent for a moment, looking at Sherlock. "I've rarely seen him that frightened. He was drugged once, and a few times when people were trying to kill me."

Molly just nods, because she doesn't have anything she can say to that. It seems to be enough; John squeezes her shoulder and gathers up Mary and Mrs. Hudson to share a cab back to Baker Street.

Charlie is on the couch with Sherlock, curled into his side but careful of his injured hand, still chattering away about spending the night at Michael's. Molly hates to interrupt them, but there are circles under Sherlock's eyes, and Charlie has to be completely overstimulated by now.

"Nap time," she says into a convenient pause in the conversation.

Charlie's face immediately scrunches up. "I'm not tired."

"No? Well, I think Sherlock is, so if you're not going to sleep, you'll need to be quiet."

Charlie looks up at Sherlock. "Are you going to take a nap?"

"Yes," Sherlock says, although he shoots a suspicious look at Molly, "I think that would be best."

Charlie considers it for a moment before he asks, "Can I come lie down with you?"

There's a slight smile on Sherlock's face when he says, "Yes, you may."

"You too, Mummy."

"All right. Do you want to put on your pajamas?"

"Do I have to clean my teeth?"

Molly smiles and says, "No."

"Okay!" Charlie dashes off to his room.

"John put you up to this," Sherlock says.

"Yes," Molly says. "We could all use the sleep anyway. He wants you to eat something in a bit too."

Sherlock doesn't answer her.

They reconvene in Molly's bedroom, all three of them in their pajamas. Charlie takes the middle of the bed, Molly and Sherlock bracketing him on either side. Sherlock falls asleep almost as soon as they're settled, and Charlie not long after that.

Molly isn't surprised in the least when Charlie wakes them all up by having a nightmare.

"Ock!"

Sherlock startles, but puts his hand on Charlie's shoulder. "I'm right here."

"You were hurt. Someone was hurting you." Charlie burrows close to Sherlock. "It was scary."

"It was only a dream," Sherlock says, "your unconscious mind synthesizing your experience."

"Mummy?"

Molly puts her hand on Charlie's back. "I'm right here, darling. We're all right." She keeps her hand there while Charlie cries himself out and drops back into sleep.

"He's listening to my heartbeat," Sherlock says. "I thought he'd outgrown that."

"You had your fingers on my pulse for hours earlier."

Sherlock looks as embarrassed as he ever does.

"It's okay. I don't mind." Molly holds out her hand, and after a moment, Sherlock takes it, his fingers settling around her wrist again.