A/N: Two parter. Second part likely to come around the weekend. Enjoy!
Division of Labour
He'd be lying if he said it wasn't therapeutic.
And she'd be able to tell.
She pulls another strip of sellotape off of the dispenser, just a little too long, as always. She could probably wrap another dozen presents per roll if she got a bit better at judging it, but he's certain she doesn't care. She's quite happy with her silly Christmas jumper and her glass of red wine. He'd brought it with him, a good pinot noir from the Majestic that sits rather helpfully on the path between their flats. He's had half a glass himself, can feel the snifter of alcohol working its way through him, dulling the stresses of life.
There's an advert on the TV about a saving club for next Christmas, and he can't prevent the roll of his eyes. He'd like to get this one out of the way first, before the world starts trying to scam him for the next one.
"Sausage roll?" Molly asks, and he nods. She tilts back her chair, reaching across to the windowsill where they have piled the placemats that usually sit on her small dining table. A plate of crispy sausage rolls sits atop the stack, and Molly plucks one from the mountain of pastry, and holds it out to him. He takes a large bite, and chews it while he smooths the layers of paper down to make a neat diagonal fold. The other half of the sausage roll hovers in the air, perched between Molly's index finger and thumb.
She tries, rather cack-handedly, to sever a piece of sellotape with just the one spare hand, and an elbow to steady the dispenser. Sherlock holds the fold in place with one hand, and with the other, guides Molly's hand, and the rest of the sausage roll towards his mouth.
Molly pauses in her sellotape wrangling to pop the sausage roll into his mouth, then brushes her fingertips against her thigh, flakes of pastry fluttering towards the floor.
At long last, she hands him a length of tape, and lays it on top of the brightly patterned paper, then runs his thumbnail over it to ensure it sticks properly.
He takes a break, deciding it's very necessary to wash down his sausage roll with a glug of wine, and Molly starts unreeling a spool of shiny silver ribbon.
When she's snipped a piece (far too long) she passes it over to him in a springy tangle for him to unfurl, tie, and inevitably curl (despite his initial protests at being responsible for scraping a scissor blade along the length of the ribbon).
She starts writing out the tag, using the same gold gel pen she's carted out the past couple of years for this very same task. Her writing is a little bigger than usual, and a little more animated. It would look out of place on an autopsy report, but on a Father Christmas shaped gift tag, it looks just about right. She's smiling to herself as she does it, and even when she has to thread the glittery string through the hole in the corner of the tag, she looks wholly content.
She catches his eye, and immediately he returns to curling the ribbon, using quick motions with the scissors to try and get nice tight curls - all the better to hide the excess.
"You could just put my name on the tag as well," Sherlock tells her. He fiddles with the ribbon, trying to arrange the curls in a semi pleasing way while Molly tears off another piece of tape and sticks the label to the present.
"It's not for you," Molly says, taking the present from him and twisting in her seat so she can add it to the pile that will be redistributed around the tree later in the evening.
"But it could be from me," Sherlock argues.
The next present, a musical night light for Rosie, is dumped on the table in front of him, and the roll of wrapping paper switched for a different design; childish cartoons of snowmen having snowball fights. He wonders, briefly, if this is the equivalent of humans hurling lumps of flesh at one another, but then Molly presses the scissors into his hand and he returns to his work.
"You had no part in choosing these gifts," Molly tells him. "You can't just waltz in at the end, do a bit of wrapping, and claim credit."
Sherlock huffs, and snatches the next strip of tape from her fingertip. "Do you honestly think John has any idea what he and Mary have bought people for Christmas?"
"That's different," Molly says. She takes off another two pieces of tape, one stuck to her index finger, the other to her thumb, then uses the opportunity to pick up her glass with her spare hand, and have another sip of her wine.
"How is it different?" His next fold is a bit rushed, and a bit uneven. Not that a baby would notice, but Molly's eyebrows twitch in disapproval all the same.
She doesn't miss a trick.
"Well John and Mary are married for a start," she says with a breath of laughter.
"I'd marry you," Sherlock says, bristling with confidence.
Molly arches an eyebrow, and he can feel her searching through his thoughts. She senses the second half of that sentence, is waiting for it, and so he gives it up without a fight.
"If it meant I didn't have to do any more Christmas shopping."
"Right," she says, in that dry way that she does when she's teasing him, when she holds eye contact a little too long, just to see him squirm under her gaze.
"I think it'd be worth it," he continues, feigning obliviousness to her scrutiny.
"Well you know it's a compromise," she says slowly, evidently unsure as to whether she genuinely needs to explain this to him or not. "That's what marriages or long term relationships are. They're just a pile of compromises that allow you to survive with someone else."
"And here I was thinking they were all about love..." Sherlock sighs.
"They are," Molly stresses. "But you need to be able to live with someone. If Mary does the Christmas shopping, John might take the bins out, or do the hoovering, or make the first cup of tea in the morning. He'll do something that Mary doesn't like doing."
"Division of labour," Sherlock says with a nod. "How practical."
"Well it needs to be practical," she says. "If you're going to spend your lives together."
"So," Sherlock says, pressing another fold into place, before running his palm over it to flatten out any bumps. "You could do the Christmas shopping, and I could buy you wine."
Molly, stretching across the table to reach a spool of pearlescent white ribbon, sags against the tabletop in a pool of laughter.
"You'd need to do something more substantial. And less damaging to my liver."
He thinks, and he thinks, and then he takes the length of ribbon from her and thinks some more as he ties it around the present, his hands working independently of his brain.
What could he possibly offer her? She's completely independent, doesn't need him for anything, other than wrapping presents when she can't be bothered to do it herself, but that's not a fair trade, he knows that.
He looks around the flat as he starts curling the ribbon, his brow furrowed. Inspiration isn't forthcoming, and she's so laid back that he rarely hears her complain about anything at all, chore or otherwise.
His eyes come to rest on her long braid, trailing over one shoulder, and he at last finds himself a bargaining chip.
"I'll clear out the plug hole in the shower when it gets blocked."
Molly frowns. "You can get stuff for that now. Dissolves it all."
He falls silent and wonders briefly what the fiancé did (ex-fiancé he reminds himself) in this world of compromises. It must have been fairly meaningful if she'd agreed to marry him.
"It's all a bit by the by," she says, as she unpicks a rogue tangle of sellotape from around the ends of her fingers (too long, always too long). "You'd need to get through the wedding first."
"And then the wedding night..."
There it is again, that dry, teasing tone. The one that makes her sound a bit older, the one that challenges him, when she reckons she can give him a run for his money.
"I'm sure I could struggle through," he says. He runs out of patience and tears his own strip of tape from the dispenser, while Molly tries to stick her ball of tape to the table to get it off her fingers.
"Yeah?" Molly asks. There's a wry smile playing at her lips. She doesn't believe him.
"Of course," he replies primly. "For the greater good."
She sniggers and takes another sip of wine.
"Seems like quite the sacrifice for something that only happens once a year."
He grumbles, and doesn't mention the faint red stain forming around her lips.
He quite likes it.
"Besides, if you're so good at reading people, surely you can get them the perfect Christmas present?"
He wants to scowl, because she's right, it should be easy. He should be able to read the wish lists of his friends by looking at their left sleeve, or some other such nonsense, but it doesn't quite work like that.
He doesn't quite work like that.
"Try telling that to John and last year's nose hair trimmer."
Molly sniggers again, and he shoves the plate of chocolate fingers towards her. She needs to eat more, or she'll be hammered by half past four.
She takes one, and snaps it in half with her teeth.
It's unnerving, sometimes, how she can see through every action, and read him like a book. Sometimes it's nice. Sometimes he doesn't have the words he needs and it doesn't matter.
"I don't think anyone wants a reminder of the fact that they're hurtling towards middle age. Least of all on Christmas day."
Mary had forcefully suppressed a smile, pressing her lips together into a thin line as she had looked around the room, then took a long sip of her herbal tea as a distraction. Had she not still been persona non grata in John's books at that point, Sherlock is certain she would have laughed aloud and reinforced the need for the gift.
"He needed it," Sherlock tells her. "And he was never going to buy one himself."
"Yes but you don't buy someone something they need at Christmas, you buy them something they want."
Sherlock frowns. He is certain he has heard similar sentiments echoed in the film that's been on the TV this afternoon, trundling along in the background, interspersed with poorly timed, blaring adverts full of fake snow and jingling bells.
"Well then I don't know," he says, giving one final sweeping curl to the ribbon and sliding the box across the table to Molly, who adds it to the pile.
"You should have a think about it."
"I thought about it last time," he huffs. "How long did it take you to come up with the genius idea of incense sticks and bath salts for Mrs Hudson?"
There is a very distinct eye roll in his peripheral vision.
"She's easy to buy for," Molly says with a dismissive wave of her hand. "But it was important to go to the shop. The rose was a bit sickly. Jasmine was a much better choice."
He's past caring at this point.
"I'll buy you dinner if you help me. A good restaurant, not just something quick. I'll book a table and everything."
"God," Molly says quietly. "You must be desperate if dinner is on the cards."
"Absolutely." There's no point beating about the bush. Christmas is less than a week away and he's made zero progress. Mary has roped him in to collect gifts for John and Rosie, Molly has had him wrapping presents (she probably knows he enjoys it) and Mrs Hudson has had him calculating appropriate sizes for Christmas jumpers. He has been the opposite of a Scrooge, but he's still stuck when it comes to buying his own gifts.
"Fine, we'll go out on Thursday evening. Have a think between now and then."
There she goes again, with her x-ray vision.
"And I'm not helping you buy a gift for me. You're on your own there."
Dangerous ground, but he'd expected it. He'll rope Mary in for this. She'll keep him on course.
He continues wrapping content with that things will get sorted one way or another, but when she dumps a ridiculous, colourful tin, in the shape of Bertie Bassett on the table, he nearly walks out the flat.
"John likes Liquorice Allsorts," she says with a shrug.
"Couldn't you have purchased them in a square box?" He eyes the tin distrustfully. It stands at around fourteen inches high, with a good five inch diameter. The hat doubles for a lid, with a large and irritating bobble on top that needs to be navigated with wrapping paper and sellotape too.
"I thought it was fun," Molly says, her small smile giving away her amusement. "Should be easy for a genius like you though, right?"
She's thrown down the gauntlet, the one she always does when he's complaining about something, but this bloody tin really is beyond the pale. He knows she's saved it for the later end of the day, once he's done all the easy ones. She's been sneaky about it.
He's slightly proud of her.
But he's also annoyed.
He manages to wrangle the stupid thing into some paper, all the while ignoring Molly's sedate smile as she holds out strips of tape on her fingers. She gives him twice as much ribbon as usual, perhaps to encourage him to disguise some of the less beautiful folds.
He begins tying a noose out of the ribbon, and lowers it onto Bertie's neck. When Molly lets out a snort of laughter, he knows that her attention has been drawn away from the TV and back to the task at hand.
Now he's been spotted, he relents, and reties the ribbon in a slightly more festive manner, before she hands him the scissors for his curling. He's got a dent in his right thumb from pressing it so hard against the blade all afternoon. He tries with his left hand for the next strand, but that only shreds the edges of the ribbon, leaving it poker straight and sad looking.
"D'you want me to do it?" Molly asks, her eyes lingering on thumb before she looks up to him.
He shakes his head and gets on with the job. "It's fine," he says. "Only a few left."
She gives him one of the sticky bows for the next gift, one of a small handful included in the ribbon pack. It's a bit big for the present, but when he points this out, she tells him she thinks it will look nice.
He doesn't bother calling her a liar.
If anything, he likes the little ways she looks after him. Never overtly, never overbearing, and seldom with the words 'your best interests'. That particular phrase has only ever been carted out when he's been high (or low) and entirely unruly.
It's not a phrase he likes.
But he does like the way she leaves his mug on the mug tree by the kettle. It's never very far from reach, and never ever exiled to the cupboard.
Little things like that, they keep him on the straight and narrow. Remind him that it's worth staying sober. There's too much to lose if he drops the ball again, and she reads it, she can always read it. Maybe it's the way his veins pop under the skin from the constant balling of his fists, his eyes might dart around nervously, or there's something in his stream of text messages (perhaps his radio silence is just as telling).
She refills his wine glass, just a little. He doesn't like too much, and he can do moderation with wine. It's not fun enough to be any real issue for him.
"Last one," she says, and she places a hexagonal box of Turkish delight (Mycroft, though heaven knows why she's bothered) on the table. He's tempted to scrunch the paper messily, but he can save the passive aggressive wrapping for his own gift - a book of low-GI recipes. He's had his think about it, he'll purchase it on Thursday.
Just as he's thumbing the last bit of sellotape into place, there's a swift knock at the door. Molly frowns at him, then passes him the spool of ribbon as she gets up and heads towards the door. She pads down the hallway, and there's a pause as she looks through the peephole, then the clunk of the latch as she pulls open the door.
"Hiya, you all right?"
It's Lestrade, and he doesn't wait for Molly's answer before he continues.
"Sherlock here by any chance?"
"Yeah," Molly says, "Come in, come in."
Molly shuffles back into the lounge, arms folded across her stomach from the blast of cold air that Lestrade has brought in with him from the outside world.
Sherlock turns back to the present and ties the ribbon around it, pulling it into a tight knot. He starts curling it with the scissors, and Lestrades heavy footfalls draw nearer.
"Did you find the second body?"
"Yes," Lestrade says, his tone grim. "Now will you please - "
Sherlock dumps his scissors on the table and stands abruptly.
"Good. Just as I thought then."
Lestrade is biting his tongue, Sherlock knows it, but he's in a cheerful mood and a double murder has only buoyed him further.
"That makes it a seven," he says, and he drops the Turkish delight unceremoniously onto the pile of presents. He moves over to the sofa, where his shoes were earlier discarded, and jams his feet into them. He lifts one foot and places it on top of Molly's patchwork pouffe as he ties his laces.
"And we all know a seven is worth putting your shoes on for," he adds. He's feeling smug, but then he catches Molly's eye, and he removes his foot from the pouffe, and hops about on one leg, securing his laces, before he switches to the other foot.
Lestrade is tired. There's a faint coffee stain on the lapel of his jacket, and his stubble is looking a shade longer than usual. The bags under his eyes are more pronounced, the lines of his face drawn with more emphasis this evening. He is, however, still something of a detective. His eyes linger on the pile of neatly wrapped presents next to the dining table, and then his eyes narrow as he surveys Sherlock, who can practically see the clogs turning laboriously, and still managing to arrive at the wrong conclusion.
"D'you want to come along?" Sherlock asks, turning his attention back to Molly.
She opens her mouth to reply, but then he remembers and cuts her short.
"Work in the morning."
She should get some sleep, and should probably finish off the last of the wine. He's not sure how accurate her work will be when she's spent a good portion of the afternoon imbibing, so perhaps it's for the best if she stays here and gets a good night's sleep.
"I'll see you later."
He touches her arm briefly on his way out, and Lestrade must notice, because he's absolutely silent in the lift. In fact he doesn't say a word until they're in the car, on the way to the second crime scene.
"You've been wrapping Christmas presents with Molly?" he asks.
"Yes..." Sherlock says slowly. He's staring straight ahead, at the headlights flashing past them, but he can sense Lestrade glancing towards him every few seconds, to try and gauge his expression.
"While there's been a body lying on a slab, case waiting to be solved?"
Sherlock's eyebrows draw together. "I told you there would be a second body, and that you needed to find it before I'd come on board. Must I really hold your hand every step of the way?"
Lestrade inhales, as though he's about to retaliate with some unfunny riposte, but he must think better of it, because he lets the breath out again, the retort dissolving into the air.
It's a quarter to six by the time he crawls into bed. The upstairs neighbour is in custody, and there's easily enough evidence to get him a life sentence with a lengthy minimum term.
Molly stirs, but he murmurs a few words to let her know that it's only him, and she settles immediately.
The scent of her is all over the pillow, and he breathes in deeply, picking out the coconut of her shampoo, and the peony of her body spritz.
His eyelids start to droop, and he wonders what she might want for Christmas.