A/N: Only two weeks left. I think we can make it. Enjoy part two!
Division of Labour
Christmas music is blaring from every shop, but it's not synchronised. There's no consistency, just similarly terrible playlists being churned out for twelve hours a day. There are flashing lights and people crowding around window displays and the entrances to coffee shops and restaurants. Some of them decide to stop dead, right in front of him and Molly while they're trying to walk to their next stop, resulting in Sherlock yanking Molly to one side, to keep her from stumbling and himself from dropping the crystal whiskey decanter he's bought for John this year.
Better than a nose hair trimmer, apparently.
It's all a bit too much, the crushing rush and panic; there are still a good two days before Christmas, and the shops are open for another few hours tonight, so it's all entirely unnecessary. Sherlock leans over to Molly and murmurs in her ear.
"I need a break."
She gives him a sidelong glance, then takes him by the hand, weaving her way through the crowds, past the shops in a way that only a seasoned shopper could. The map he's committed to memory doesn't account for large Christmas displays or small business stands selling handbags or flavoured e-cigarettes.
They shoot down a side route, past a Chinese herbalist and a McDonald's and then out into the fresh air.
Sherlock exhales, his breath fogging in front of him, and he sets his bags down and leans against a bollard. He pats his pockets down.
Assortment of useful trinkets.
"Other jacket," Molly says softly. She looks up at him, her mouth hidden by her scarf. He's sure she's known this for some time, probably before they even left the flat.
He shouldn't be smoking at all, but this...this is hell on Earth.
She opens her bag, and he thinks she's about to redeem herself, that she will conjure up twenty Marlborough Reds that he can chain smoke two at a time for the next quarter of an hour.
She doesn't even have Marlborough Lights.
She has nicotine patches. Standard, NHS nicotine patches.
It's not even the good stuff.
"Don't," Sherlock says, and he glances back inside the shopping centre, certain he saw a newsagents somewhere along the way.
No, it was back next to Tiger, and he'd need to pass Topshop to get there.
He could try e-cigarettes, despite them being an insult to everything he holds dear. But Molly is already sliding his coat and jacket off of his shoulder so she can get to his sleeve.
He doesn't fight her, but nor does he look at her, and after she's stuck one patch on, he hears the peeling sounds of the wrapper of a second one.
He might just love her.
"I need three," he says, when she starts tugging his shirt sleeve back down.
"You can have another one when we get to the restaurant."
The packet is already going back in her bag, and he knows there's no use in arguing. She's a doctor, after all, and it's probably in breach of her ethics codes to cover an addict head to toe in nicotine patches. Someone might have something to say about it, somewhere.
"D'you want to go and get a coffee?"
He follows her gaze to the Pret across the road, where half the chairs are already on the tables. They must close at eight, which would give them about twenty minutes of respite before they get kicked out.
"What's left?" he asks.
Molly surveys the bags, and mumbles a checklist under her breath, ticking off John, Rosie, Lestrade, Mycroft - she had put a blanket ban on any diet books when he had shown her one in Waterstones and so he had had to settle on cufflinks, of all things.
"Mary and Mrs Hudson," she says.
"Are you sure I shouldn't get Mary the - "
She gives him a look and he falls silent. He's seen a flick knife in a pawn shop with a carved bone handle, but Molly had had several objections. They'd walked past the shop earlier and he'd dragged her in, just to show her how perfect it was. When she'd seen the faint bloodstain on the underside of the handle that the dealer had been unable to scrub, she'd vetoed it once and for all. They had left the shop with him trailing behind, telling her about how it was an antique, and whichever animal (rhino? Maybe elephant) had donated part of its skeleton would be long dead anyway.
She wasn't having any of it.
Instead, Molly suggests a spa day, booked online, so no need to go into any shops.
Sherlock's eyebrows draw together. He's not convinced.
"She doesn't seem like a spa person."
"She squeezed a human out of her body recently. That's the sort of thing that'll turn you into a spa person."
He searches on his phone for an appropriate venue with good reviews while they walk to the next stop. Molly leads him into another department store, though he has no idea which one. They've all started to look the same to him.
By the time he's received a confirmation email from the Eden Spa, they've arrived at a display of silk scarves, presumably one of them meant for Mrs Hudson. They're not quite the 'you've been talking for too long' alarm he was after, but he supposes one of them will do.
Molly is looking at a fuchsia coloured scarf with a white floral pattern on it, but Sherlock shakes his head.
"The colour. Drains her."
Molly raises an eyebrow, her mouth twitching at the corners.
"It came up," he says, clasping his hands behind his back and looking around the rest of the shop. "For a case. Botulinum poisoning. Housekeeper. D'you remember?"
"Yeah," Molly mumbles, and she turns away, and threads a teal scarf through her fingers.
The realisation that he has put his foot in it comes far too late.
She'd been used.
She still feels foolish.
He puts his bags down on the floor and moves behind her, placing his hands on her shoulders and squeezing gently. He's seen people do this in attempts at reassurance, and has recognised at least a minimal resulting effect.
He reaches past her for an indigo scarf patterned with navy line drawings of butterflies. "What about this one?" he asks, voice low. He takes it down from the rack and Molly inspects it.
"Yeah I think she'll like it."
"Shall we get it then?" Sherlock asks. "And we can get her some chocolates as well?" He gestures towards a mountainous red and gold display near the main walkway and Molly looks over, then nods.
"Yeah, let's go," she says, and she folds the scarf over her arm, holding the bags in her right hand at a slightly odd angle to keep it from dragging on the floor. Sherlock picks up his bags and they wander over to the chocolate display.
He stays on best behaviour for the last few minutes of the ordeal, and when they reach the restaurant, he orders a bottle of wine before they make it to their table.
"I really think I should get Mary that knife."
Molly rolls over to face him.
"It's probably stolen," she says. He can sense the movement on her face, though he can't really see it in the dark. He's certain she's frowning.
"Probably," he replies. "Most things are, in there."
She lets out a quiet huff and he knows he's not making any progress.
"There's a chance it's a murder weapon too," she adds. "You saw the blood on it."
"Could have originated from an infinite number of possibilities," he says. "But, if that's true then I'll pay an extra forty pounds for it."
It might be pitch black, but her aim is true, and she swats him on the arm, before she recoils, snatching her arm back under the duvet, lest she lose half a degree of warmth.
"Don't you think she'd like it though?" he presses. For some reason, he feels like he needs her approval before he can go ahead and buy it. He feels as though it would be a betrayal to just go and get it and wrap it up and give it to Mary on the sly on Christmas day.
He's spent a good portion of his life lying, deceiving, especially when it comes to the people he cares about. He's not sure why his conscience should rear its unwanted head now, especially over such a trivial matter.
"She's left all that behind," Molly murmurs. Her voice is softer than usual; tiredness is setting in, sweeping its blanket over her and lulling her into unconsciousness. "She's married, she's got a baby..."
"It not like I'm buying her night vision goggles and an M-16," Sherlock argues. "And besides, it's more of a decorative item than anything else."
She laughs into the pillow. "Flowers are decorative," she says. "Not so sure about stolen murder weapons."
"It's only possibly a murder weapon."
"But definitely stolen?"
"Oh yeah, no question."
Another breath of laughter issues from her, and a smile twists itself into existence on his own lips. These moments, just before she falls asleep, when they exchange quiet words in the dark, they're his favourite. Her flat's on a high enough floor that he can rarely hear traffic, and never pedestrians. There are no streetlights glaring through the window, illuminating the outline of the curtains. It's quiet, and peaceful, and he can almost (almost) lock the door on his mind and just be, just for a little while.
"Get it if you think she'll really like it," Molly concedes at last, rolling onto her front and folding her arms between her pillows.
He lays there for three seconds, and then he sits up and swings his legs out of the bed. Molly grumbles, and tugs the duvet back up to cover her shoulders.
"Yeah," he tells her, leaning forward to feel around for his clothes, chucked lazily onto the wicker chair just half an hour before.
"Will it be open?"
"Always open," Sherlock replies. "People don't tend to want to shift stolen goods during business hours."
She sighs into her pillow, and he's not sure she's processing his words any longer. They just float in the air around her head then dissipate. Maybe a fragment of the message makes it through to some low lit corner of her brain, but she's too tired to make an effort now.
"I'll be back in an hour," he whispers, and he neatens the duvet, flattening the small peak that would have broken her cocoon of warmth.
"Don't wake me up," she mumbles, and he gets changed quickly then tiptoes from the room, carrying his shoes in one hand.
He doesn't put them on until he reaches the lift, where the noisy soles are well out of earshot.
"Absolutely not," Mary says, giving him a disgusted look as she paces back and forth in front of the fireplace with a wailing Rosie in her arms.
"The thread on the screw's gone on hers, they're a bit wobbly."
"They're a work tool," Mary replies. "You can't get her work tools for Christmas."
Sherlock slumps back into the sofa and lets out a sigh. Rosie's displeasure is as loud as ever, and he can't help but feel envious. It wouldn't be appropriate for him to start bawling his eyes out at the mere mention of Christmas shopping. The sound rings in his ears, and he closes his eyes, waiting for it to abate.
"Get her something nice. Something she'd really like." Mary has now taken to rocking Rosie, and the motion soothes her just enough for there to be a drop in decibels.
"How am I supposed to know what that is?" he complains, but Mary just lets out a spluttering laugh.
"You know her better than anyone!"
"No," Sherlock says. His eyes snap open and he sits up straight. "She knows me better than anyone, that doesn't mean it goes both ways. She's..." He looks around the room as he searches for the right word, as though the answer might be graffitied on the wall. "Complicated," he finishes with a shrug, and he slouches back into the cushions again.
"Rubbish," Mary says, and she sits down, as Rosie's griping peters out. "You do know her. You just want this to be easy and it's not."
"I don't know how to do nice gifts," he replies, looking up to the ceiling, his hands clasped on top of his stomach. "And she should have a nice gift, but I'm just no good at that."
"I know, I remember the nose hair trimmer."
Sherlock sniggers, and Mary lets out a hushed laugh, careful not to disturb Rosie, now that's she's settled down.
"What d'you think she'd like? More than anything in the world?"
"A holiday," he jokes, looking across to Mary, who laughs, but then her face slackens as she gives the idea some thought.
"Could work," she says, nodding her approval. "If you want to get her something really nice."
"Don't be ridiculous," Sherlock snorts. "You can't buy someone a holiday for Christmas." He shakes his head, then mutters, "I'd have been better off asking John."
"Well ask him then," Mary says with a shrug. "But I would point out that you can book a holiday online."
The idea is suddenly all the more appealing.
"It doesn't have to be three weeks in the Caribbean, it could just be a city break, or a long weekend in the Cotswolds. Anything, just take her somewhere."
That's a spanner in the works.
"What d'you mean take her? She wouldn't want me to go."
"What are you talking about?" Mary scoffs. "Of course she would."
"Don't you think she needs a holiday from me?" Sherlock asks. He's fully aware he doesn't make life easy for Molly, fully aware that he can be miserable, and he can be grumpy, and he can irritable, and she, undeservedly, feels the repercussions of that more than others. Surely some time away from him would be a godsend?
Mary surveys him, her eyes narrowed, as though he is a cryptic crossword clue that she's trying to unravel. There is a flash of something that looks like pity in her eyes, but it doesn't linger.
It makes his skin prickle with discomfort.
"If she wanted a break from you, you'd spend more than two nights a week at Baker Street," Mary tells him, her voice soft, but firm. "She doesn't want, or need a break from you. She cares about you. A lot."
"Yes but - "
Mary doesn't give him the chance to protest. "She likes having you around. I can't believe you don't realise that." She bites her lip, her eyebrows drawn together as she shakes her head minutely, disbelief clouding their conversation.
"But she knows me," Sherlock replies. "She knows everything about me." He looks down at his hands, and runs his index finger over the veins on the back of his left hand. "She knows about all of the terrible things I've done. She knows when I lie, and, by extension, just how often I lie... She knows about the drugs..."
"But you're clean at the moment, aren't you?"
'At the moment' stings more than it has any right to. He's a relapse machine after all.
"Of course I'm clean," he snaps. "But all the same, don't you think that if you were her, you'd find caring about me to be a bit..."
"What?" Mary asks. There's that look again, in her eyes, as though she's chipping away at his facade and catching a glimpse of what lies beneath.
"Well, exhausting." He shrugs his shoulders, glancing towards Mary before he decides to focus on the bookcase instead. He counts the books, leaping across the spines in groups of five. It's not a good enough distraction however, and he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a nicotine patch.
"You have a good heart," Mary tells him, leaning forward, her eyes fixed on him. "And it doesn't always communicate very effectively with your brain, or your mouth, but you do have a good heart. And we can all see that."
He sticks the patch to his arm, running his thumb over it to smooth it down. He holds his breath, trying to feel the difference, but there's nothing yet.
"She's always seen it, and she's always cared about you. And that's made all the difference. I mean, look at you."
Sherlock scrunches his nose and turns to face her. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You're not even smoking," Mary tells him, and she tries (and fails) to keep a grin at bay.
"Well I want to be," he sulks, and he brushes his thumb over his patch again, as though this will give him a much needed blast of nicotine.
"But you're not," Mary says. "If you want to smoke that much, then why don't you? It's not illegal."
She's goading him, he knows it. There's a reason for him sticking with the patches, even when Christmas shopping, even when at Baker Street and there's no chance of discovery, and he won't be getting the smell of tobacco onto her sofa or her bed. The reason is simple, but he's not sure it's his to tell. Not even Molly knows why he pulls himself back from the cliff edge, every time he wants take a long drag and feel that burn at the back of his throat.
"Did you know her dad died of emphysema?" he asks. He looks across again, but there's still something in her eyes that unsettles him.
He wonders if this is what having a therapist is like.
"I didn't," she says softly.
Sherlock nods. "Wheezed his way into an early grave. Smoked thirty a day for thirty-five years."
"So that's why you - "
"He was diagnosed just before she went to university," he continues. "He never saw her graduate."
Mary lets out a sigh, sinking back into the sofa cushions. Rosie shifts against her chest, her tiny hands curled into fists as she emits soft, purring snores.
"So you don't smoke, for her sake."
Sherlock shrugs. Molly has no idea that she has anything to do with his attempt to stay smoke-free.
"There are better ways to die."
"Well this is an improvement," John says, holding up the decanter to have a good look at it. "Very nice indeed. Thanks mate."
"There's a bottle under there too," Sherlock says, nodding towards the tree. "So you can give it a test drive, as it were."
John crouches down and reaches for the bottle bag, baubles wobbling as their glitter catches against his jumper. He pulls the bottle from the bag and stands up, reading the label before he gives a nod of approval and unscrews the cap. He pours it into the decanter, the amber liquid chugging as it makes its way out of the narrow bottle neck, and splashing against the crystal.
Mrs Hudson is delighted with her scarf and her chocolates; even more so when Sherlock doesn't resist her extraordinarily forceful hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Mary opens the spa voucher first, and her eyes widen with delight. She looks to Sherlock, and then to Molly (it must be blindingly obvious that she was on his advisory committee) a broad grin on her face.
"Thank you," she says, and she slots the voucher back into its envelope then tucks it into her handbag. "That's great, thanks."
"So you are a spa person then?" Molly asks. She glances towards Sherlock, a mischievous smile dancing about on her lips.
"I'll take any form of relaxation," Mary replies. "And that sounds utterly perfect." She closes her eyes and inhales deeply. Sherlock supposes she's imagining the quiet tranquility of the spa, the rich, warm air, and the scent of expensive moisturisers, masks, and oils.
"You've got another present though," Sherlock tells her. "One that I chose." He pauses, before adding, "One that Molly doesn't like."
Molly gives him a look, which he studiously ignores while Mary begins to unwrap the sleek black box. She looks up at Sherlock, suspicion written all over her features, then eases the lid open.
An eyebrow arches.
"Is it stolen?"
"Not by me," he says indignantly.
Mary takes the knife out of the box and weighs it in her hand, testing it in her grip.
"Oh that's great," John says, watching the knife as Mary passes it quickly between each hand. "What a brilliant thing to have in the house when there's a baby around."
"And where's your gun, exactly?" Sherlock asks.
"Locked away," John retorts. He spares a fleeting glance for Lestrade, who appears to have gone both temporarily deaf and blind.
"Well there's no reason you can't take the same sensible precautions with this," Sherlock says, flashing a brief smile towards John. Between the two of them, he'd wager that John and Mary have one of the biggest weapons arsenals in the whole of London, bar drug dealers and other such unsavoury characters.
"Is this ivory?" Mary asks, pulling a face as she looks towards Sherlock.
"No," he says, with one definite shake of his head. Even he would draw the line at that.
Unless it was really interesting.
The answer appears to ease Mary's conscience, and she flicks the blade out, which has been sharpened and had a good clean since Sherlock liberated it from the pawn shop.
"It's quite...handy, isn't it?" Mary says. "Nice and dinky," she adds. "And the bloodstain's a nice touch."
"So you...like it?" Sherlock asks. He's fishing, and he can feel Molly's eyes on him.
"Yeah," Mary replies, nodding slowly. "Yeah I think I do. Thanks Sherlock."
He grins, triumphant, then heads over to the tree to pull a present out from under it. It's wrapped impeccably (naturally) and the tag has Molly's name written on it. He passes it to her, and she blinks, surprised.
"For me?" she asks. "Another one?"
Sherlock nods, and presses the gift into her hands.
"Hang on, what was the first one?" Lestrade asks. "Did you open presents without the rest of us?"
"I just gave her one this morning," Sherlock says, then adds hastily, "A book. I gave her a book."
A hint of a smirk flashes across Mary's lips, but she doesn't say anything.
"What kind of book?" Lestrade presses.
"Travel guide," Sherlock says, in a clipped tone. He looks around for his glass of wine, but he can't see it and he needs something, he needs a distraction, before all of this explodes and it becomes the only thing they talk about.
"Oh, are you going on holiday?" John asks Molly. Things have veered into pleasant conversation, which he can deal with, depending on how Molly chooses to respond. He can't ask her to lie, he'd never ask her to do that, but equally, dinner is nowhere near ready yet, so he can't leave, he can't escape from this at all.
"Yeah," Molly says, "I'm going to Florence in the spring." Her cheeks have attained a pinkish hue in the last couple of minutes, and Sherlock's rapidly pounding heart takes a tentative step down on the panic scale.
"Oh that'll be lovely," Mary says, beaming. "It's beautiful out there."
"Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it," Molly says. She sounds a little sheepish, but she is, once again, an angel sent from the heavens above. Discretion is her forte, along with a number of other things, and she's managed to achieve it without being a barefaced liar.
She's better at this than he is.
She diverts attention by opening her second present - just something he'd seen in a shop window on Christmas eve, and had had to battle through hoards of last minute shoppers to get.
Never mind a cigarette, he'd needed half a pound of heroin after that.
The true Christmas miracle is the fact that he'd abstained.
Molly takes the jumper out of the wrapping paper and holds it up. She smiles as she takes in the pastel colour block design.
"It's very you," Mary comments. Her eyes flick over to Sherlock, but he doesn't acknowledge that particular fact.
"Yeah," Molly replies, her smile spreading wider. "It's very me."
It's the first time she's stayed at Baker Street. Apart from during his high times (or low times, as she might refer to them). At any rate, it's the first time she's slept in his bed as Molly, rather than as Dr Hooper, on hand to clear his airway should he start choking on his own vomit.
"Are you really coming to Florence?" she asks, her voice quiet in the heavy silence.
"If you'd like me to." He looks up at the ceiling, arms folded across his chest.
"Only if you want to," Molly tells him. "You don't have to if you've got better things to - "
"I don't," he says quickly.
"I don't have better things to do," he clarifies. "I'd like to come along, if you'll have me."
Molly shifts closer, and her arm comes out from under the duvet, her hand finding his and lacing their fingers together.
"Always," she breathes.
He rolls onto his side, and he can just about make out her brown eyes, glinting in the dark.
His heart feels too big for his chest, and he knows, he knows now that he could never be with anyone else, nor could he ever be content on his own.
His hand moves to her face, his thumb stroking gently against her jaw while he attempts to build up the courage for what comes next.
He inhales, and he can smell her new perfume (from John and Mary); her shampoo, which he has, at times, used himself; her body wash, cherry; her moisturiser, amber, apparently; and that smell that is distinctly her, the scent that would separate her from the other people who just happen to use the exact same collection of products that she does.
He moves closer to her, his face barely an inch from hers. He can feel her breath on his skin, a soft fluttering of anticipation.
He takes a leap of faith.
As always, she is there to catch him.