A/N: Not proofread, because I need to go open my presents and have some breakfast and I want to get this fic out of my life right this second. Happy holidays everybody. Enjoy.
Upping the Game
She opens her eyes, and the world is pitch black.
Her heart is pounding in her chest, and she's certain something disturbed her, certain something penetrated her mind with enough force to drag her into consciousness.
She bites down on her lower lip, fighting to keep her breathing steady so she can listen out for the faintest noise.
But there's nothing.
She wonders whether the noise has come from upstairs, but even when she focuses, the silence blaring in her ears, there's still nothing.
She rolls over and after a short while of tossing and turning, she manages to fall back to sleep.
Mum phones while Molly's still in bed, and she chats to her for a good hour or so before she convinces herself to get out of bed.
She pulls on her dressing gown, pulling the cord tight around her waist, and pops her slippers on, curling her toes in the soft shearling lining before she heads out into the lounge.
The first order of the day is to switch on her Christmas tree lights, and she gazes at them for a moment before turning and making a beeline for the kitchen in order to make some tea.
It's not until a good ten minutes later, when she's sitting on her sofa, unwrapping the dress that her mum has sent her, that she looks up and sees the poinsettia on the coffee table.
She frowns, and puts the dress to one side, and leans forward, brushing the discarded wrapping paper onto the floor.
The poinsettia is sitting in a pretty white pot with red festive patterns painted onto it by a skilled hand. There is a small card, resting against the stem of the plant, and Molly reaches between the leaves to close her fingers around it.
She opens it up and reads.
Thanks for all your help this year.
Good to have someone reliable around.
Molly folds the card shut again, and presses her lips together to try and rein in her smile.
It doesn't mean anything.
It doesn't mean anything at all.
She holds it against her heart for a few moments, before propping it up against the plant pot. Despite spending the rest of the day alone, she has a very happy Christmas.
She forces herself to go to bed at one o'clock on Christmas morning. She had been waiting up, watching TV, and muting it whenever she heard (or thought she heard) footsteps outside, or the grinding of the lift at the end of the corridor.
She supposes that he's not going to make an appearance while she's still awake and sitting in her lounge.
He likes to be dramatic, she knows that much.
As she changes into her pyjamas (red, with white snowflakes, taken from the back of the cupboard every December) she tries to reason with herself. She shouldn't get her hopes up - he's very busy after all, has an enormous number of cases, and when John had invited her over on Christmas Day, Sherlock's eyebrows had drawn together while he was eyeing something under the microscope.
She'd bet half her savings account he hadn't even realised that Christmas was around the corner.
He gets caught up in himself.
Molly switches out the light, and climbs into bed, snuggling under the duvet and closing her eyes.
At around half past three, the door to her flat opens silently. A pair of black leather oxfords are left in the corridor, while their owner steps quietly across the floorboards in sock clad feet.
Molly tries to swallow her excitement, but on Christmas morning, she rolls out of bed, and pulls on her dressing gown, tucking the phone into her pocket for when Mum calls.
She opens her bedroom door and immediately, she spies the neatly wrapped box sitting on the coffee table. As she draws nearer, she can tell that's been wrapped in a shop. It's not the sort of thing that he would go to the trouble to do, and something about the folds suggest that this same box has been wrapped a thousand times this month by the same patient hands.
Molly sits down and picks up the box. She doesn't care what else happens today, this has made her Christmas. He's done it twice now, which makes it a habit.
It's one she could get used to.
She tugs at the paper with her index finger, hooking it under the end fold and easing it open, the thick shiny paper making a satisfying sound as it tears.
She slides the rest of the paper away, and her heart doubles in size when she sees the contents.
Raspberry truffles are her favourites; she'd given him one on her birthday, when she'd bought a small packet to treat herself.
She's surprised he hadn't deleted this fact. There must be more important things that require his brain space.
Molly spends an enjoyable day lying on the sofa, watching films, and eating chocolate. She gets to spend the evening with him this year, but it's not a very merry Christmas at all.
He hasn't texted her since before the fall.
It's still fresh. She's still supposed to be grieving.
She had invited John and the others over to her place, had thought she could manage to pull a bit of a buffet out the bag (with some much needed help from Mrs Hudson) but John had politely declined, and the whole idea had rather fallen apart.
She's not feeling very festive, truth be told. She's been out on at least half a dozen 'work drinks' in the past two weeks, and she's met up with her uni pals as well. Despite the Christmas lights, despite the relentless music, and more booze than is honestly advisable, she still can't stop thinking about him.
He's not even dead, and she's grieving for him.
This Christmas eve is slow moving, and she has checked the time on her phone so frequently that she has worn the battery down to the thirteen percent mark.
It's not even eight o'clock.
She opens a bottle of prosecco and pours herself a glass, taking the bottle back over to the sofa with her. There's nothing else to do after all.
She watches The Best of Morecambe and Wise for half an hour, then flicks over to the latter half of Home Alone 2.
A knock at the door interrupts the rather sentimental exchange of turtle doves, and Molly pushes herself up off of the sofa and shuffles over to the door, her slippers scuffing against the floorboards.
She takes off the safety chain, (although she doesn't know why she has it, when Moriarty's dead - really dead as well) and unlocks the door.
Mycroft is standing in the corridor, the collar of his dark coat turned up against the drizzle, his hair a little damp from the two steps from his car to the door of her building.
He has two gift bags - one a bottle bag - and the other a neat square one, its contents hidden by carefully arranged tissue paper.
"May I come in for a moment?" he asks.
Molly nods and steps aside, allowing him to enter. He steps into the lounge, and Molly closes the front door, conscious of the fact that a children's film is blaring out of the TV while a half empty bottle of prosecco sits on the coffee table.
"From myself," Mycroft says, handing her the bottle bag. "As a thank you for your discretion."
"Thanks," Molly says. She doesn't take the bottle out to have a look and comment on how nice she thinks it will be. She's certain Mycroft doesn't have the patience for that, even if he is better at hiding irritation than his little brother is.
"And from my brother," he says, proffering the other bag. "With his best wishes."
Molly takes the bag, and tries hard to swallow the lump in her throat. He's only been gone for a month or so, but she has missed him terribly.
The morgue is so quiet these days.
She manages to force out a quiet thank you, and Mycroft nods, then turns on his heel.
Molly remains in the lounge as Mycroft strides towards the door and pulls it open. The light from the corridor outside floods into the darkened hallway. At the last moment, just as Mycroft steps out of the flat, Molly cannot hold it in any longer.
"How is he?" she blurts out.
Mycroft stops, and he turns, his eyes meeting Molly's.
"Still dead," he says softly. "Merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Mycroft."
There is the twitch of a faint smile, and he disappears from view, the door clicking shut behind him.
Molly returns to the sofa and sits down. She pulls the bottle from the bag; it's an elderflower liqueur, which is a touch more thoughtful than she might have expected of Mycroft.
She's not sure how he knows she likes elderflower, and she's also not sure she wants to find out.
She tells herself that she ought to wait until Christmas Day to open the gift from Sherlock, but five minutes later, she is pulling the paper off of it.
He's branched out this year, and she wonders if his ideas might be exhausted by next Christmas. There are all sorts of powders and potions in her bath set; salts and melts and oils and goodness knows what else.
She glances over to the bathroom door - the same bathroom which she finally had refitted six months ago, into which she finally managed to squeeze a corner bath, after making do with showers for far too long.
It's also the same bathroom where Sherlock has sat on the toilet lid, multiple times, while she has cleaned and stitched his battle wounds, reset a broken nose, and applied arnica to heavy bruising from sources about which she knows not to ask.
She tucks her bath set under her arm, clutches her wine glass and the half empty bottle between her fingers, and heads to the bathroom to make good use of his present.
Wherever he is, she hopes he's warm and safe, on tonight, of all nights.
She only asks for that much.
Tom has gone to his parents' place, and Molly has elected to stay behind. She's working on Boxing Day, and doesn't have the energy to travel such a distance only to be back in Bart's for eight o'clock in the morning.
The Christmas eve TV selection is dire this year. There's a Pixar film that she saw about four years ago, and The Snowman is doing its usual rounds. Channel 4 has wheeled out an old Peter Kay stand up show, but she carries on flicking, past various levels of fake snow and twinkling lights. The further into the depths of her Freeview box she goes, the more repeats there are, sentimental episodes that have been aired dozens of times before.
The knock at the door comes at a quarter past seven, and Molly vaguely recognises the sharp rap of the knuckles. When she opens the door, Mycroft is standing there, gift bag in hand, much the same as the previous year. He's a little more lined, and his hair line is a shade further back, but nevertheless, a feeling of deja vu sweeps over her.
"Come in," she says, stepping aside.
Mycroft shakes his head. "I've got a car waiting. Going to my parents' this year," he tells her.
"Oh," she says. She wonders what their parents would be like, whether Mycroft and Sherlock take after them.
"He wanted me to give you this, however. He had internet access the week before last, so was able to pick it himself." He holds out the bag and Molly takes it, not sparing it a glance.
"Is he all right?"
Mycroft pauses, and Molly thinks she might be brushed off with another non-answer, much the same as last year.
"He's getting there," Mycroft says. "I expect he'll be back before next Christmas."
Molly nods. Next Christmas feels like an awfully long time away.
"Merry Christmas," Molly says at last. "And thanks for..." she raises the gift bag. "Whatever this is."
"You're welcome," he replies, and again there is that small tug of a smile, just a hint of fondness. "Merry Christmas."
He turns, and after a few seconds, he disappears into the lift.
Molly closes the door and skulks back into the lounge. Next Christmas. This Christmas hasn't even happened yet, it's still a few hours away.
That small fact doesn't bother her, and she pulls the present - squishy, in a nice way - from the bag and tears off the paper. She smiles as soon as she realises what it is, and drops the paper onto the sofa, so she can admire the full length of her pink and black striped scarf. It must be about eight feet long, and she's sure she'll trip over it at least once in the near future.
She likes it though, and she puts it round her neck, and drags the left side down a little more to even out the distribution. The scarf stops just short of her ankles, and the thick wool is nice and cosy, providing a comfortable weight around her shoulders.
She lays down on the sofa once more, bundling up the scarf in her arms so she can hug it against her chest.
She misses him.
She misses him so, so much.
She lays on the sofa with a pizza box on her lap, occasionally taking a slice and slowly munching her way through it, while Michael McIntyre skips about on BBC One.
Work was hard today, and she can't shake the image of the patient in his early thirties, who had hanged himself in his bedsit.
She'd estimated his time of death at around six days ago.
It isn't fair, not at this time of year.
She pushes the image of his grey flesh and bloodshot eyes to the back of her mind, and tries to focus on the TV. It must work, because eventually she falls into unconsciousness, and Christmas eve becomes Christmas day.
She wakes in bed, but she doesn't remember getting there. She's still in her clothes from the day before, though her cardigan and her socks have migrated to the wicker chair on the far side of her room.
Confusion addles her judgement, and she can barely put together the pieces of the world, but then she realises her arms are wrapped around a present.
A large present.
She wonders if Tom came round in the night, but there's no sign of him, and she can usually hear him if he's in the lounge. He's not mastered the art of doing things quietly, but that's fine. It means there are no nasty surprises.
She wipes the grit from her eyes and sits up in bed, pulling the box onto her lap. She turns the tag over, squinting in the low light, to make out the neat cursive script.
Merry Christmas - SH
She grins, and then feels a little guilty for being so pleased, but she tears the paper off regardless. At the sight of the Dune logo, she bites into her lower lip in anticipation.
Molly lifts the lid carefully, places it on top of the duvet, and then pulls back the tissue paper. She inhales deeply, and can smell the leather, even from this distance.
She pulls one brogue out of the box and holds it before her eyes so she can thoroughly appreciate its beauty. The leather is a gunmetal colour, with a soft matt shimmer that makes them feel just a little bit special without being too garish.
She reaches across to her bedside table for her phone, which is plugged in and fully charged. She disconnects the wire, and opens up her messages, trying to think what to say.
She writes and rewrites the text half a dozen times, but eventually settles on something simple.
Love them! Thank you xx
The reply comes shortly after.
You're welcome. Merry Christmas.
She wears them to Tom's later on, and she feels a twinge of guilt, which she swallows down by convincing her that they're a gift from a friend and she has every right to wear them on Christmas day.
He texts her sporadically throughout the day - even invites her over for drinks in the evening at one point, but she's tied up with Tom's do, which will go on until the early hours if his friends are anything to go by. She can't exactly make excuses when she's engaged to the host.
Sherlock's words fill her messages, and she relishes in them, drinking them up as though she has spent the last two years in the desert, suffering from relentless dehydration.
She's so glad he's back.
It's a quiet night, thank God.
There's one who's been hit by a drink driver, but she first needs to store her so the family can come and identify them in the morning. She'll be someone else's Christmas present.
She takes the opportunity to catch up on paperwork, sitting in the lab under the cool, clinical lights, pen in hand as she adds some additional notes to her recent pieces of work.
The slowly ticks its way round to eight o'clock, and once it hits its mark, she jumps up from her stool, dumps her folders back into the trolley, and rushes out into the corridor.
She walks swiftly along, shoes clicking on the linoleum floor, and as soon as she's over the threshold of the locker room, she's pulling off her white coat.
When she opens her locker, she stops, stunned.
There is a present there.
She had thought her flat would be an easy target tonight, with her out of it altogether, but he's been here, at some point since last night.
She's annoyed he didn't come and say hello, or help her pass the time, but she has a vague recollection that he was heading over to his parents' place with John and Mary, and Mycroft. She can't remember if they were driving up last night, so perhaps it was a flying visit out of necessity, as opposed to creating an air of mystery.
She takes the present from the shelf in her locker, and turns it over in her palms, looking for some sort of clue as to the contents of the wrapping paper. She's fairly sure it's a book, but knowing him it could be anything at all.
She takes the paper off carefully, and a soft leather notebook is revealed. She opens it up, to see page upon page of familiar, delicate handwriting, then closes it again, holding it against her chest.
There's a tag on the wrapping paper, and she flips it over to read it.
Sorry you're working this year.
This is the original, made a copy for myself.
She opens up the notebook again, and flicks through the pages. It's a scrapbook of bruising after death, complete with careful illustrations, annotated diagrams, and photos stuck in with sellotape.
He's been working on this for years.
When she gets home, she reads the notebook from cover to cover. Every time she sees a scribbled note or addition with her initials next to it, indicating her as the source of the information, she smiles to herself.
He doesn't feel as far away this Christmas.
When she wakes on Christmas morning, she is warm and content. She can hear the whirring of the radiators as they flood the flat with heat.
Molly opens her eyes.
The back of his head is all she can see, his dark curls splaying on the pillow. He's managed to curl up against her without waking her, and she wraps an arm around him, shifting herself a little closer.
There's something pleasing about him when he's sleeping. Something that's hard to find when he's awake. Maybe it's the way he breathes, slow and steady, the hectic nature of his life unable to touch him while he recharges.
He grumbles in his sleep, and Molly smiles against the fabric of his t-shirt. It's only a few more minutes before he wakes himself up, and Molly can feel the change in his breathing, despite the fact that he's not ready to open his eyes yet.
"What time did you get in?" she whispers.
"Late," comes the groggy reply.
His hand finds hers, tucked between his chest and a bulky section of duvet he has accrued during the night. He laces their fingers together, his hand warm, and just a little chapped from the cold weather. He's yet to buy a new pair of gloves, since he lost one of his old set during a sprint across Blackfriars bridge.
He'll get through a good portion of her Kiehl's hand salve on the sly today. He labours under the delusion that she doesn't know, but she uses it three times a day (a pathologist's routine) and she knows when he's been at it.
She doesn't mind, but that hasn't stopped her getting him his own for Christmas.
"Where's my present?" she asks, giving him a gentle nudge. "I woke up with it last year."
"I'm your present," he mumbles. "Go back to sleep."
She glances across at the clock - a quarter to eight. She'll give him another hour. Her shimmery brogues are sitting by the wardrobe, laces tucked neatly inside, leather broken in from constant use. Her scarf hangs from a hook on the back of her door, and the notebook? Well, the notebook is kept inside her bedside cabinet, for late night reading, or as a comfort whenever she misses him.
She doesn't need it this morning.
He's been upping his game year on year, and she can't keep herself from wondering what treat is wrapped up in the lounge this year.
He's snoring softly now, having slipped back into the land of nod. Molly closes her eyes too, more than happy to allow his lie in, even on Christmas day.
She would never say it to his face, would never say it aloud to anyone, but after everything, after every single trial and tribulation, this moment of peace with him is the best gift she could hope to receive.
She snuggles closer to him, and presses a soft kiss against his shoulder.
Presents can wait.