A/N: Big spoilers for The Final Problem. There are very bigly spoilers indeed. Also, it's 3.27AM, I will proofread this in the morning (in five hours) on the train, but I wanted to get it up now. Enjoy friends.
Cigarettes and Splinters
He smokes at least half a dozen cigarettes in the car. His hands shake every time he raises his lighter to the tip of a new one, and his thumb flicks over the spark wheel several times before he manages to get a proper flame.
John doesn't say anything, but he gives him a look, when they drop him home.
Sherlock lights another cigarette, and John nods. He must have a free pass tonight.
"Baker Street, sir?" the driver asks, looking at Sherlock in his rearview mirror.
Sherlock shakes his head. The place is in ashes now.
Still, he supposes he could smoke inside. For once.
"Cavendish Avenue," he says. "Northwest of Regent's Park."
The driver nods, and the stop start engine hums into life before they pull away smoothly.
Sherlock's jaw shudders as he takes another drag on his cigarette, and all the nicotine in the world would never be able to calm him. Not now, not tonight. It feels as though someone is scraping their nails against the chalkboard of his mind, and it just keeps on going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and going and -
"I'll walk from here," he says, eyes snapping open, the ash on the end of his cigarette dangerously close to falling into his lap. He flicks it into the cupholder - modern cars are such a nuisance in this respect - and waits while the indicator ticks - tick tock tick tock tick tock tick tock - and the car slows to a halt on St John's Wood High Street.
Sherlock swings open the door, and staggers out onto the pavement, cigarette hanging from his mouth.
The driver's window rolls down with an electronic whir.
"Are you all right sir? Is there somewhere else I can take you?"
Sherlock waves him away, and heads for the newsagent, the cramped beacon of light in the middle of every dark and gloomy London night.
He needs more cigarettes.
He rings the bell twice, and eventually the hallway light illuminates, and Sherlock presses his trembling fingers against the glass, because his words are stuck in his throat and he wants her to know that it's him. That it's all right.
She opens the door a fraction, and the sight of her, of her brown eyes twinkling in the lamp light, her nose red and her skin dry from whatever it is that's going round at the moment, all of it, it overwhelms him and he can't say a single thing. His breath evaporates and he cannot process one thought, because there she is, in her polka dot pyjamas, wondering why the hell he did what he did.
But she's alive, and he can work with that.
"Are you okay?" she asks, her voice small, and cracked with a seasonal virus.
"I've got drugs," he says, the words choking out of him. Her eyes widen, and so he rushes to clarify, lifting the blue plastic bag which dangles from his wrist into her line of sight.
"You're sick, aren't you?" he says. "I could hear that, on the phone." He pulls the bag off of his wrist and begins to sort through it. "I've got Lemsip and Beecham's - " he thrusts the boxes towards her, then plunges his hand back into the bag. "And Lockets - I don't know if you've got a sore throat but you might have a sore throat, you sound like you might." His words fall out of his mouth without any sense of control or logic, and he stacks her arms with every known lozenge, tablet, and capsule that money can buy at four o'clock in the morning.
"I bought you crisps," he says, pulling a couple of bags Wotsits out. "And chocolate - that might make you feel a bit better." He balances the slab of Dairy Milk on top of the leaning tower of cold remedies, and then goes back for more. "And there's honey, and lemon," he pulls them out of the bag, and she's running out of space, her hands spread wide in an effort to hold onto everything.
He can't look her in the eye. Not after what he did.
"And tissues as well..." Out comes the box of Kleenex, the pricier ones, with the aloe vera, to keep her nose from becoming too raw.
She drops everything onto the doormat, the jar of honey bouncing, the lemon rolling away towards the bathroom door. Her feet are surrounded by drugs and junk food, and it's only when her thumb brushes against his cheek, that he realises there are hot tears spilling down his face.
He's lost every last bit of control.
"Come inside," she whispers, and her hand leaves his face, that trace of comfort vanishing in a breath, but then she finds his hand and guides him over the threshold. He trips on a packet of Lockets, which rolls under the sole of his shoe, but she keeps a firm grip on him, and guides him home.
"What happened to your hands?" she asks, looking down at them. He follows her gaze to see splinters littering his palms, the skin puffy and sore. She turns his hands over to inspect the back and it's not much better there - grazed knuckles, peeling skin, and dozens of tiny shreds of wood.
"She made a coffin for you."
The words sound like they're being uttered by a different person; he can't remember thinking them, can't associate them with his own mouth, but they're his. He knows that they're his.
"Who did?" Molly asks, and she reaches behind him to close the door. She inhales, and he knows she can smell the cigarettes, but she doesn't call him out on it.
Another free pass.
His head is plagued with the images of her, standing alone in her kitchen, and he can feel the stomach acid burning his throat as he relives every single awful second.
He strides past her, into the kitchen, and he looks around, needing a sense of purpose, needing to get rid of every trace of intrusion.
He wonders how long the cameras have been there, if Moriarty himself had put them there, all those lifetimes ago. Back when things were fun.
He wonders how much Eurus has seen. How many times has she seen him, sprawled across Molly's sofa, taking up more space than he has any right to? How many times has she seen him raid Molly's fridge, or pester her when she's cooking? How many times has she seen him crawl into Molly's bed in the early hours, because he claims that it's too late to go back to Baker Street, when in actual fact he stays when he needs to be reminded that there is a night and a day, because those are things that he loses track of, if he shuts himself away in the flat?
How many times has she seen him need her?
And how many times has she seen him break her?
He rips the first camera from the shelf which houses her small collection of cookery books, then thinks back to the other angles he saw. He tears each and every camera from the wall, slamming them down onto the kitchen counter, before he moves to the lounge and examines her bookshelves, the curtain track, and the dark abyss beyond the DVD player, where tangled wires house another spy device.
Molly follows him into the bedroom, and it's harder in here. Things change the most in here - clothes discarded here and there, trinkets and toiletries and pieces of jewellery shifting about the room, with no permanent home.
His own belongings add to the confusion, and he can't believe he never spotted it before, a camera in the back of the wardrobe, just visible above the rail where he leaves a handful of shirts.
Just in case.
His flat has been burned to a crisp, so it was clearly a sensible precaution.
But there's more than that, because he is everywhere in this flat. His toothbrush is in the bathroom, his razor in the mirrored cabinet above the sink. He has two coats hanging on the hooks by the door, and a spare pair of shoes sitting in amongst Molly's collection of brogues and ballet shoes.
He is everywhere here, and she allows it.
But more than that, he's made it so.
She is quietly accepting of the intolerable, humiliating violation of privacy that she has suffered because of him. Once again, she is collateral damage, because she has committed the sin of loving him. She's tired, and sick, and she deserves an explanation, to everything, but she's holding it together because she can see he's falling apart.
Maybe that's why it came so easily the second time. Because she is who she is, and who she is, is...Molly.
There are thirty cameras altogether. A comprehensive view of her life, to say the least.
Maybe she'll find more, later, as time goes on, but he's exhausted, and the last few minutes of his search have proved fruitless. He covers his face with his hands, leaning back against the kitchen counter.
He needs another cigarette.
"Sherlock." Her voice is so soft, so uncertain, and maybe he's scaring her, maybe this is worse than the drugs, worse than the highs and the lows.
Worse than 'I think I'm going to die'.
"I'm sorry," he says, hands falling away, splinters catching at his cheeks. He finds her eyes, because he needs to know just how much she hates him for what he's put her through, but she's standing right in front of him, chewing at her lower lip,
She's worried about him.
But she doesn't hate him.
The world feels as though it's been turned on its head, and he slides against the kitchen cupboards, sinking to the floor, his shoulders shaking as he tries and fails to control his emotions, and great, racking sobs rip through him.
He can't stop thinking about the coffin.
"What happened?" Her voice is close. She's brought herself down to his level.
The words won't come, and so he reaches blindly for her, pulling her close, and burying his head against her shoulder. He holds her tightly, the soft brushed cotton of her pyjamas warm and soothing, the swell of her chest with every shallow breath a reminder that she's alive, that she's made it, that it's not beyond repair.
"I'm sorry," he says again, because he knows, he knows how sick she must have felt, how humiliated. He knows that she must have regretted every single second of him during that phone call. Every second ever spent with him, or spent thinking about him. All of it. All a terrible error of her heart.
And yet, her hand is resting against his heart. She's more resilient than he gives her credit for.
She deserves to know, and he so he swallows down the lump in his throat, that huge great knot of everything that's happened to him this evening. Every death he's witnessed, every single bit of emotional and mental torture. He drags it down to the pit of his stomach, because he needs to pull himself together and tell her the truth.
"I have a sister," he says, his voice scratchy and broken.
"A sister?" Molly repeats, pulling back just a little to get a good look at him, to read his expression.
"It was news to me too," he says, though he doesn't smile. He's not quite there yet.
Maybe in a week or two.
"She's..." The words are still tricky, and so his hands find Molly's shoulders, trailing down her arms, reassuring him that she is just as real and solid as she was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.
"She's...not safe." He doesn't know how best to say it. Even after all this, he won't insult Eurus with throwaway words designed to sting every time they're discarded by a careless mouth.
"She put the cameras in?" Molly asks, glancing over to the counter with the small mountain of devices piled on top of it.
"She had the live feed, in her...prison."
Molly's worried frown deepens, and Sherlock will forgive her if she asks him what the hell is wrong with his family.
"She told me she'd..." the words stick, they cling to his throat, determined not to make it into the air. He ignores the protest and forges on. "She told me she'd rigged the flat with explosives," he says, and he stares at the flashing LEDs on the oven clock. It's something regular, something normal, and something that helps him breathe a little easier.
"And?" Molly asks, awaiting the rest of his story.
"She said she'd kill you," he has to force those ones out, has send them out into the world with a battering ram. "Unless I got you to say..."
He doesn't need to explain any further, because there is a flicker of understanding in her eyes.
"I'd never make fun of you." His words are strong now, and he cups her face, bringing her gaze to meet his. "Not for that, never that," he sniffs, and is painfully aware of his dry throat and snotty nose. His eyes are itching from involuntary tears, but none of that matters. Not right now.
"I'd make fun of you for your bad jokes," he tells her. "And for liking Take That - " he earns himself the brief tug of a smile with that. "But never for this," he says. "Never for loving me, not when it's the hardest thing in the world to do."
There are tears brewing in her eyes now, and she's going to chew a hole in her bottom lip if she doesn't stop worrying, but he ploughs on, because the sooner he tells her everything, the sooner she can understand.
"Every day, always, you always always..." he trails off when he remembers every telling smile, every held breath whenever he got too close, and, of course, how she had offered her unconditional help when he had needed it most.
To love as bravely, and as thanklessly as Molly Hooper does requires a courage that he could never possess.
"I meant it," he says, but he can't look at her now. It's too much. And he can't say it out loud because...because it's true.
"What?" The word comes out in a breath, tinged with disbelief.
"I meant it," he says. "And yes it was a game of hers, and yes it was horrible but it doesn't change the facts. I meant it."
She pauses, processing the information, and then she closes her hand around his, pulling it gently away from her face.
"What happened to your hands?"
"I thought she was going to put you in it," he mumbles, trying to erase the image from his head. The fresh white satin, the simple finish, the brass handles, the small and slender shape.
"The coffin," he tells her, and he closes his eyes. "She had one made for you, and I thought she was going to put you in it." He squeezes his eyes tight, but he still can't eradicate the memory. "So I smashed it," he continues. "I smashed it and smashed it and smashed it," he rams the heel of his palm into his temple with every repetition, but she pulls his hands away, keeping a strong grip on his wrists.
"Don't do that," she breathes. "Don't hurt yourself."
He opens his eyes, and lets his head droop forward so he can rest his forehead against Molly's. After everything he has been through tonight, after every pointless loss of life, every last puppet string yanked and toyed with, he has, at least, managed to gain something.
"I love you," he says, and the words come easily now, far too easily. Maybe it's the way she soothes him, maybe it's the fact that he doesn't have an audience, or maybe because the cold tiles of her kitchen floor create the ideal arena in which he can say it.
Her eyes search his for any hint of a lie, to detect the faintest trace of mockery, or deception. She keeps looking, perhaps for a glimmer of placation, but he doesn't give it to her. He can't.
For the first time, he can only give her what she wants.
"Really?" she asks, her suspicions not abating yet.
"Really," he repeats. "I just...I just don't know what to do with it."
She laughs at this, and he feels foolish.
"You don't do anything with it, Sherlock," she says, a smile creeping across her face. "You live with it." She reaches into his pocket and pulls out his depleted packet of cigarettes.
"Go on," she says. "I think I can let you off, just this once."
He reaches for one, but at the last minute he places his hand on top of hers, pushing the cigarettes away. She has a cold; the last thing she needs is second hand smoke. Opening a window will only make things worse.
"I don't need one," he says, and it's a lie, because he's itching for one. But maybe this is love, little things like this. Maybe these tiny complicated emotions shooting through him add up to one big truth.
As the sun creeps over the rooftops of Cavendish Avenue, Sherlock Holmes sits at the breakfast bar, while Molly Hooper eases out his splinters with a pair of tweezers.
When she has extracted every last fragment, every shard and sliver, she stifles a yawn with the back of her hand. When she heads back to bed, he follows without question, and his hand manages to link with hers on the short walk between the kitchen and the bedroom.