A/N: Part one of two - second part hopefully posted tomorrow, or on New Year's Day. Based on a prompt sent by an anon on tumblr, though I've tweaked it just a bit.
She pulls the short straw.
Well, actually, it's a tongue press with one end snapped off, the wood splintered and jagged. A voice in her head whispers that she could probably use it as a weapon, if she really wanted to get out of this.
"I'm sorry Molly," Meera says, clutching her own, whole, tongue press. She's trying not to look too triumphant, but Molly can hardly blame her.
"We'll bid for you," Esther says, nodding in an encouraging sort of way.
Molly's stomach churns. If she'd had time for a lunch break today, she might have been sick on the spot. As it is, there's not much to bring up, and she's safe, for the moment.
"It's for a good cause," Ali adds, which is all well and good of her to say when she's not making any sacrifices for said good cause.
"We won't make you draw a straw next year. One of us will do it instead." Esther is trying to look on the bright side, but even though it's a nice gesture, it's still far too far into the future for it to really count for much right now.
She won't even be able to call in sick. It's for charity.
"I'm going to die of embarrassment," Molly says at last, breaking her silence. "And then I'm going to come back and haunt every single one of you."
"You nearly ready?" she asks, standing in the doorway of the lab. She feels a bit self conscious in her dress, and she begrudges the surge in confidence she'd had last night when she'd rolled it neatly so she could fit it in her duffle bag. The good cause aspect had swayed her just a little too much, and now the reality is here, all she can feel is the bile in her throat.
"Five minutes," he mumbles, readjusting the microscope.
"You said that ten minutes ago," she replies. She walks over to him, her low heels clicking on the floor in a way that her worn brogues do not. His brow contorts at the sound, and he sits up, turning around to get a look at her.
"Where are you going?" he demands.
"Work do," she says. "New Years thing." She tries to keep the information sparse, make it sound even more boring than it is to try and get him to lose interest, but his frown only deepens.
"New Year's eve is tomorrow," he says. "Why are you going out tonight?"
"Because people tend to have better things to do on actual New Year's eve than hang out with their colleagues?" She laughs, but he doesn't look convinced. She's not even lying to him, but she still feels as though he's mentally dissecting every word she says, searching for the truth amongst the chaff.
"Why are you dressed up?" he asks, returning to his microscope. It's a relief to no longer be under his sharp gaze, but he's still digging.
"Because we're going out," she says. "People tend to look a bit smarter when they go out."
"Are you being auctioned?"
Molly lets out a heavy sigh, her shoulders sagging. He must have seen the poster in the staffroom.
"I'll take that as a yes," Sherlock says, glancing back at her before he changes his slides. "Isn't auctioning people slightly illegal?"
"It's just a charity thing," Molly says. She leans against the workbench and looks up to the ceiling, wondering how long she can loiter in the lab before it becomes bad manners. "Just to raise a few quid for the hospital."
"By taking money back from its employees," Sherlock retorts. "How charming."
"We raised enough to build a sensory room for the neurology ward last year," she says, defensiveness springing up from the pit of her stomach. "It's nice when it becomes something tangible."
Sherlock doesn't reply, but he switches his slide out for the first one again, zooming right in to take a good look.
"It's always a good laugh as well," she adds. She's trying to convince herself more than him, and she's not doing a very good job; her stomach is still twisting itself into knots, leaping about anxiously, unsettling her from head to toe.
"Except for when you're the one who's being auctioned."
He has a point.
"Well," she says with a shrug. "Everyone's got to do their bit."
"Compulsory auction of humans...yes, definitely sounding very illegal."
She smiles, but it does nothing to ease her anxiety. She'd be willing to donate a couple of hundred quid just to get out of it, to sit in the darkened lab with Sherlock, enjoying the peace quiet and taking a moment to breathe during the busy festive season.
But that's not going to happen. And it wouldn't be fair to the others. She pulled the short straw, so she can't back out now. She won't be a bad sport.
"What are you working on?" she asks. He has a page of scribbled notes next to his microscope, but it's written in a short hand that she can just about decode given a few minutes. At a glance, it's gobbledegook, and she suspects that's just the way he likes it.
"Just a little passion project," he murmurs. "Nothing life or death." He's thoroughly engrossed, and she can't bring herself to drag him out of the lab now. She reaches into her coat pocket, closes her hand around her keys, and then sets them on the bench next to him.
"Lock up when you're finished, all right?" she says. "And drop them off when you're done."
He pulls himself away from the microscope, looks at the keys, then raises his gaze to Molly.
"Thanks," he says, and there's a slight change in his tone. She's never let him roam free in the lab before, has always waited around until he's finished, or until her patience has worn too thin.
"I need them back tonight," she tells him. "I'm on the morning shift tomorrow. Don't forget."
"Where will you be?" he asks. His hand closes around the set of keys and he drops them into his inside breast pocket. "I'll only be another hour or so."
She had hoped he would have gone via her flat on the way home, would have let himself in and deposited the keys on the kitchen counter, helped himself to something from the fridge, before heading back to Baker Street. She doesn't need him to see her hammered and auctioned -she fully intends to down at least five Sambuca shots before she steps onto the stage.
She needs to get a move on if she wants to pace herself responsibly, if there is a responsible way to do such a thing.
"West Smithfield," she tells him. "There's a pub on the roundy bit."
He considers the information for a moment, then says, "Near Carluccio's?"
Molly nods. "Yeah, that's the one." He's better than Google maps, sometimes. "I'll see you later," she says. "Don't forget the - "
"Top lock. I know."
"All right," she says, and she pushes herself away from the workbench, and forces her feet to move her towards the door. The sooner she goes, the sooner she'll be drunk, and the sooner it'll fly by.
"You look nice by the way," he says.
Molly pauses and looks back at him, though he is hunched over his microscope. For all she knows, the words could be directed towards his slide.
"I think you'll fetch a decent price."
She laughs, and looks down at her feet; already there's a dull ache from the minor incline that her heels have forced her into. "Are you just saying that because I gave you my keys?"
"Probably," he replies. She can hear the teasing edge to his voice, the slight change in tone that tells her his lips are curved at the edges. "Have fun."
Molly thinks that she'll be lucky to get within a mile of fun this evening, but she drops the blind on the pane of glass in the door, steps outside, and closes the door behind her.
Her legs feel like jelly as she walks into the pub, and her skin instantly prickles at the heat coming from so many bodies packed into the same space. A high pitched whistle catches her attention, and she looks across the room to see Meera waving her over.
Molly slips off her coat and negotiates her way through the tables with too many chairs crowded round them, uttering her hellos when she sees familiar faces.
She slumps onto the bench next to Ali, who takes her coat and shoves it in the corner with the others.
"We thought you weren't coming!" she says, her rosy cheeks most likely connected to the discarded tonic bottles, which had, in life, been paired with copious amounts of gin.
"Well I made it," Molly replies, eyeing the stage where she'll have to stand once everyone is drunk enough to open their wallets and have a good laugh.
Esther arrives back at the table with a tray full of drinks - a tall gin and tonic for Ali, a glass of white for Meera, a vodka and coke for herself, and six shot glasses filled with clear liquid, which she lines up in front of Molly.
"Don't you think that's a bit excessive?" Molly asks, eyeing them up suspiciously.
"Beamish is here," Esther mutters. "I think you're going to need them."
"Or I can just leave," Molly says, and she goes to stand up, but is hauled back into her seat by Ali.
"They've decided to start saving for a new MRI scanner," she says. "So we'll need every single penny we can scrounge out of people, including Beamish."
Molly sighs, and tries to focus on the fact that this time next year, it'll be her sitting at a table and laughing at the misfortune of whoever else is up for auction. The year after that, when her carte blanche expires, she can volunteer for the night shift, and be oh so terribly disappointed that she is unable to take part in this drunken circus.
"Come on," Esther says. "Just get these down your neck. Bang bang bang."
"Don't you mean bang bang, bang bang, bang bang?" Molly asks, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, only if you want to be pedantic about it," she replies with a roll of her eyes.
"I think when it's six shots of Sambuca, I do want to be a bit pedantic, yeah," Molly shoots back.
Esther smirks and takes a sip of her drink, her cheeks hollowing as she sucks on the straw. Molly releases a sigh, knowing that there's only one way to get through the evening ahead.
She picks up the first shot, and it's gone within seconds, the alcohol burning her throat, the sticky, aniseed flavour clinging to the inside of her mouth. She knocks back the second shot, which earns a whoop from Meera, who has put down her wine glass to focus on Molly's assault on her liver. She blurs her way through the third and fourth ones, and pauses before the fifth, before steeling herself and sending that one on its way too. She's feeling a bit queasy by the time she reaches for number six, and her mouth feels numb, lips tacky from the syrupy liquid. Her stomach gurgles, and she wonders if she'll get let off if she throws up all over the table.
The sixth shot disappears, and the empty glass slams back down on the table. Molly slumps against the wall, her arms folded over her stomach.
Meera rubs her forearm in reassurance, and takes a measured sip of her wine as Molly's head starts to cloud. She can feel the alcohol behind her eyes, and it's as though she is operating in slow motion while the rest of the world is whirring ahead at full speed.
Maybe she should have had something more substantial for lunch than a bag of Discos.
"Can you get me some cashew nuts?" She jabs Ali in the side, who takes one look at her, then heads up to the bar, returning a few minutes later with an armful of snacks.
Molly flicks the pork scratchings towards Esther, who opens them up and starts munching away, while Molly begins to slowly make her way through three types of nuts, a bag of salt and vinegar crisps, and a bowl of olives. By the time she finishes, Gordon is getting up on stage, microphone in hand, ready to start the auction.
"All right everyone, thanks for coming this evening," says, his eyebrows rising high on his forehead when there is a screech of feedback from the tannoy. "As you all know, this government is made up of absolute bastards - " There is a hearty cheer at this statement. "And as a result we need to try and raise our own funds. This auction, now in its eighth year, has raised nearly a hundred thousand pounds to date." Another cheers fills the room, and Gordon pauses for a moment to allow the merriment to subside. "I think we should start off by giving all of our lots for this evening a big round of applause..."
Molly presses her hands to her face as the room erupts into a cacophony of clapping and whistles and foot stamping. There's still time for her to duck out.
"And for those of you who have escaped that particular horror, the least you can do is chuck in a few bids, or throw some coins into the buckets by the door at the end of the night."
Another cheer erupts across the crowd, but Molly can't for the life of her work out what the reason for it is.
"We're going to start tonight's proceedings with Simon," Gordon continues, and a middle aged, suited man who will undoubtedly be taking early retirement before another one of these rolls around steps up onto the stage. He gives a jovial wave, and there are a few scattered whoops throughout the crowd.
"He's the smooth talking ENT consultant with the red Porsche, and I'm assured that his choice of vehicle has nothing to do with a midlife crisis..."
The crowd reward Gordon with a decent chuckle, and Simon shakes his head with good humour, playing along with the banter.
"Any bidders for Simon?" Gordon asks. "Let's get ourselves warmed up with a decent bid - that MRI won't buy itself ladies and gents."
"I'll give you a quid," one of the nurses shouts out, and the rest of her group cackles loudly.
"Better than nothing!" Simon says cheerfully.
The bidding continues, and in the end, one of the administrators coughs up ninety pounds.
"Excellent stuff, excellent stuff," Gordon says. "A very generous start from Marjorie there."
By the time Molly's turn rolls around, most of the candidates are fetching a price around the one fifty mark. Even the newer staff are doing all right, with some compassionate soul drudging up some cash to save them from any embarrassment.
"And now," Gordon says, and Molly's legs tremble as she steps up onto the stage. "We've got Molly, the drop dead gorgeous pathologist from downstairs! She's made the effort to come up and join the land of the living tonight, so how about starting at a round hundred? Anybody?"
Molly's stomach lurches as she recognises Beamish's voice. She squints into the crowd, but she can't pick him out. She's sure he's somewhere towards the loos, but the lights on the stage are too bright.
"One fifty!" Esther yells, and Molly hears the clatter of coins on the table. She can't help but laugh, and everyone else laughs too.
She has the sympathy vote it seems. Maybe there'll be a way out after all.
"Two hundred!" Beamish yells, his voice cracking as he tries to make himself heard.
Gordon glances across to Molly.
"Two...twenty!" Meera calls.
"Two twenty," Gordon repeats, then continues quickly, "Going once, going twice - "
Molly's stomach plummets. She has the feeling that Beamish may have been saving up all year for this night. She has a good mind to call the whole thing off, good cause be damned.
"Two six five!" It's Esther again, but the increments are getting smaller and smaller. Beamish will outbid them any second now.
"Five hundred!" He sounds triumphant, and she can picture the smug look on his oily face, can picture him puffing out his chest, like he thinks he's really something.
"Sorry Molls," comes the call from her table, and it's followed by a sympathetic chuckle.
"We'll buy you shots instead!"
There's more laughter at this, but Molly doesn't share in the humour. Beamish is on a lower grade than she is; he has a small flat with a big mortgage. For him to just chuck five hundred pounds around like it's nothing is...well, frankly it's a bit too much.
"Six hundred," she says, and she looks to Gordon. "Six hundred, for myself."
The corner of his mouth curves. "Six hundred to Miss Hooper! Going once - "
"Seven hundred!" Beamish shouts, rushing forward with a clattering of chairs. "And that's breaking the rules! She can't bid on herself."
"It's the twenty-first century, Beamish, Dr Hooper can do as she pleases."
Molly feels a wave of relief wash over her. Whatever the cost, she'll dig the money out of her savings account. Although, she wouldn't put it past Gordon to call it two hundred on the sly and be done with it.
"Seven hundred," Beamish says again, scowling at Gordon, his lower lip shiny with spittle.
"Eight hundred," Molly says, shrugging. There's a cheer at this, and she's not sure whether she's won them over with her bending of the rules, or whether they all just can't stand Beamish. Perhaps seeing him not get what he wants will be the cherry to top all of their evenings.
"Nine hundred," he snaps, and he's glaring at Molly now too. If he's that angry with her, why on Earth should he want to spend nine hundred pounds on a few hours of her company?
Beamish looks towards the door, his displeasure deepening. The new bid has come from a different voice, one that Molly recognises, one that washes away every ounce of anxiety.
A grin spreads across her face, and she thinks she can see him, leaning against the door jamb, casually watching proceedings unfold.
"He doesn't work here," Beamish complains. "That's the detective, he doesn't work for the NHS. He can't bid!"
"Auctioneer, do you want my money or not? One thousand pounds, take it or leave it."
"Well..." Gordon says, his tone casual. "I see him around the hospital all the time, so yes, Beamish, his bids do count."
Molly wants to send a smile of gratitude in Gordon's direction, but she cannot tear her eyes away from Sherlock's silhouette. She has no idea if he realises what a life saver he's being right now, but she'll give him as many livers as he likes for the next year. She'll cut him a set of keys for the lab. She'll give him first access to all her autopsy reports. She'll do anything he wants in return, just so long as he gets her out of this mess.
"Twelve hundred," Beamish says quietly. "I'll do twelve hundred."
"Twelve hundred?" Gordon says, looking towards Sherlock. Through the flare of the lights, Molly can see a hundred heads turn to look at him, the silence heavy with anticipation as they await his answer.
"Two thousand," he says, and Molly can just about make out a shrug of his left shoulder.
Beamish splutters, his face turning an apoplectic shade of red. "Two and a half!"
"Five." Sherlock sounds bored now. Molly can picture the roll of his eyes. Nevertheless, his bid results in a sharp intake of breath from the rest of the room, with Gordon muttering a quiet Jesus Christ just out of range of the microphone.
"Six." Beamish is sweating now, his lower lip trembling with indignation.
"Are you really going to remortgage your flat for this?" Sherlock sighs, stepping forward into the light. "Ten thousand pounds," he says to Gordon, and he takes his phone from his pocket, brandishing it in his hand. "And I'll do a bank transfer immediately."
Gordon opens and closes his mouth a few times, while the colour vanishes completely from Beamish's face.
"Sold, to the rich detective!" Gordon calls out, and the room erupts with cheers, while Beamish slinks back to the bar, a dark glower clouding his features.
Sherlock approaches the stage and holds out a hand to help Molly down to the floor. She wobbles a bit, but his grip is firm, and she manages to escape the stage without going arse over head. Her steps are uneven as he leads her back towards the door, away from prying eyes.
"Thank you," Molly says, swaying a little as she tries to remain upright. The Sambuca is well and truly in her bloodstream now. Sherlock takes her by the shoulder, steadying her, and Molly rises onto her tiptoes to press a kiss against his cheek. "You're a life saver-er," she says, holding his gaze for a minute before she feels her balance going, and drops back down onto her heels.
"I've got your keys," Sherlock says, and Molly lets out a hushed laugh, bowing her head forward, her hair brushing against the fabric of his coat. If he wants to just move past the fact that he's pulled ten thousand pounds out of the bag to save her from a dreary few hours with Beamish, then so be it. She won't bite the hand that feeds.
Her laughter fades as her stomach churns, and then gives an unpleasant lurch.
"I think I'm gonna be sick."
Before she knows it, she's in the bathroom, and Sherlock shoulders open one of the doors, just in time for Molly to empty her stomach into the toilet bowl, the contents splashing against the porcelain. He holds back her hair, just before the second wave hits her, but she doesn't have time to be embarrassed about the awful retching noises issuing from her. Her throat burns, and the mixture of Sambuca and bile clings to her lips, trailing in a long drip before she wipes it away with her hand. She looks down, and sees the mulch of half digested nuts, and mushy salt and vinegar crisps.
"What the hell have you been drinking?" Sherlock asks. He grabs a wad of tissue from the dispenser and passes it to her. She wipes her mouth and closes her eyes, trying to calm her body down. After half a minute or so, she reaches out, and Sherlock pulls her up, allowing her to lean against him while she waits for her head to stop spinning.
He leans across and pulls the chain, and the evidence of Molly's desperation disappears in a whirlpool.
"D'you want me to take you home?" His voice is soft and gentle, and he puts an arm around her as he leads her from the cubicle and out to the sinks.
"I think I'll be all right," she says, and she pulls a face. The horrible, acidic taste lingers in her throat, and her tongue is gritty from remnants of peanut. She washes her hands first, then leans over the sink and splashes cold water over her face. She cups some in her hands and rinses her mouth out, and repeats this a few more times until she can no longer taste the sickly heat at the back of her throat.
Sherlock hands her a paper towel, and she pats her face dry, careful not to smear her make up. Sobriety hits her like a ton of bricks, reality settling in.
"I'm sorry," she says, her voice croaky, throat sore. "That was a bit more than you signed up for, wasn't it?"
Sherlock shrugs. "It happens to the best of us."
A small smile tugs at her lips as she casts her mind back to the picture message Greg had sent her - Sherlock and John, sleeping off the stag night in a cell - with half a dozen crying laughing emojis tagged underneath it for good measure.
"Are you sure you'll be all right?" he asks, looking her up and down, likely calculating how many steps she'll be able to take before she trips up and makes an idiot of herself.
"Yeah, I'll be fine," she replies. "Worst is over now."
Sherlock smiles briefly, and extracts Molly's keys from his pocket. He places them in her hand, and closes her fingers around them.
"Put these in your bag," he says. "I'd better go and settle up."
Molly nods, and folds her arms, the ends of her keys digging into her flesh.
"I'll see you in the morning," he tells her, and he takes one last look at her before he turns on his heel and sweeps from the bathroom. "Text me when you get home," he calls over his shoulder, and Molly smiles.
"Will do," she says, ignoring the little leap in her chest that is now habit for her, whenever he makes that particular request.
She spends another few minutes leaning against the tiles, enjoying the chilly breeze filtering in through the small crack in the window.
Once she's certain she won't be sick again, and certain that she'll be able to navigate the narrow gaps between the tables, she heads out to join the others once more.
She's in a much better mood for the rest of the night, though she stubbornly sticks to the ginger ale, despite Esther's best efforts.