Disclaimer: This fanfiction is not written for profit and no infringement of copyright is intended. Beta read by the lovely OhAine, but all mistakes are mine. Suggested by Moffat saying that Sherlock does love Molly, just not in the way she wants him to. Suggested also by what might happen if Sherlock were a bit more Grey Romantic or Ace than we usually portray him. Loosely based on CS Lewis’ concept of The Four Loves: Storge (familiar love), Philia (true friendship), Eros (romantic and sexual love) and Agape (selfless love). Enjoy.
A SIGN OF FOUR
“I love you.”
Said, even if under pressure.
Meant, even if not as everyone assumed.
Sherlock broods on it, all the way home. In the government car with John. With Mycroft. In his bed, finally found and dreadfully needed, staring into the night.
I love you.
He’d said those words to Molly and he’d meant them, oh he’d meant them. Not, perhaps, in the way she wished he might but truly. Truly. Truly.
Love for him is not, perhaps, the same as love is for others, but it is still love .
He remembers the break and tear of that coffin under his hands and curls into himself in the dark.
He goes to see her the next day, rather later than he wanted to but he couldn’t last night, he just couldn’t-
He closes his eyes, breathes through his nose. He has to do this, he tells himself.
She deserves at least this much.
It’s nearly four in the afternoon when he raps lightly on her door. He’d checked with her security detail- he knows she’s in but he’s not sure of the reception he’ll get. She opens on the first knock and he wonders whether the agent outside had texted up to warn her. To let her compose herself. Mykey’s boys wouldn’t have but Anthea’s might.
The door opens a sliver: he sees wide dark eyes behind it. Long brown hair, down and messy. Big socks, pyjama bottoms and a jumper. She looks small. Vulnerable.
It causes the most awkward, lovely, unwanted twisting in his heart.
He clears his throat. Tries to smile. It doesn’t quite work. “Hello Molly,” he says and the words come out jarring. Jolly. He knows he’s trying too hard but what else can he do? “I was wondering whether I might come in for a mome-“
“Now’s not a good time.” The words are directed to his shoes, as is her gaze.
Oh. “I assure you,” he says, stiffening, “it will only take a minute…”
“If it’s about yesterday then John called.” The words are clipped. Tight. Her knuckles whiten against the edge of the door as her grip twists, twists, twists. Sherlock is overcome, almost, with the desire to take that cramped, curled-in little hand and straighten its fingers. Soften them. Soothe them. He wants to smooth this awkwardness out of her, this awkwardness he caused.
He may not love her as she wishes he did, but he loves her nonetheless. So-
“Did John tell you about Eurus?” He asks softly and she nods.
“Oh.” That bloody syllable, how he wishes he could come up with something else. “And he told you about-“
“Bombs in my flat?” The eyes flash up to his for a second and then skitter away. “Yes,” she says. “It was a trick,” she says, “a test-“
“Did he tell you about the coffin?”
For the life of him, Sherlock doesn’t know why he said that. It's not like it will really make things better. What does he suppose he’s trying to tell her? He thinks. That he fell apart for a moment so she should pity him? That he would bloody his knuckles for her in a way he’d never bloody his heart?
He doesn’t know.
He doesn’t think he wants to.
She frowns up at him though. Clearly, John hadn’t mentioned that and Sherlock isn’t sure whether to be annoyed or relieved. “What coffin?” She asks and at this prompting the words just pour out of him, raindrops against pavement and glass, streaming down gutters. A brook. A river.
She listens to them all. She doesn’t interrupt.
Somehow he knew she wouldn’t.
By the time he’s finished she’s holding the door open, that little hand which had been clutching the door frame now clutching his sleeve. Tugging him towards her. Eyes wide and dark and lovely, staring up into his.
“Come in,” she says, as she always does. He knows her now. He knows her well and that’s what his love is made from even if she doesn’t know it. Even if he wishes it were made from something else.
So he comes in.
He passes close to her as he enters. He smells sweat and laundry detergent and the scent of her shampoo. She looks as tired as he feels. Tea is poured. Seats taken. She gazes at him over the rim of her teacup.
“I meant it,” he blurts out suddenly, suddenly, but she only nods.
She knows exactly what he’s talking about, just as she knows the limits of its meaning.
She’s always known his limits, whether she verbalises them or not.
“I know you did,” she says simply. And then she sips her tea.
Sherlock has no idea what to do with that , so he follows suit.
Days pass into weeks and still things don’t return to normal.
Sherlock is aware that his definition of that state is not everyone’s but as far as he’s concerned the observation still stands.
John takes some time off, brings Rosie to visit his mother in Marbella. He needs a break to deal with losing Mary, Sherlock knows that and he loves his friend enough to accept that on this one journey John needs to travel alone. Besides, he’s busy with his own family, trying to help Mycroft. Trying to help Eurus.
When he looks at his sister, he finds it useful to imagine that little girl he’s slowly starting to glimpse in his earliest memories.
If he pictures her as she is now then he thinks of what she did to Molly and that… That is not compatible with building bridges.
When he says as much to his mother- quietly, softly- she nods at him. She understands though she can’t share in his anger, not when she’s gotten her daughter back. It’s a complicated joy and one that’s hers and Daddy’s alone, the pieces theirs to gather.
This is how their love works and Sherlock respects that.
So he tries his best to leave them to it. He stays away from St Bart’s too, gives Molly some space. He tells himself that it’s for her own good, that that’s what you do for the ones you love.
He can’t shake the feeling that were she here, Mary would be telling him he’s full of it.
But Mary’s not here and neither is John. Neither is Mycroft. For the first time in nearly seven years Sherlock is well and truly on his own. To his surprise he finds he doesn’t like it anymore, not like he used to. Not like the old days.
Alone doesn’t feel like it’s keeping him safe anymore, it feels like it’s keeping him bereft.
So one night he screws his courage to the sticking place and picks up his phone. Pulls up a familiar number. She doesn’t pick up on the first ring- as she would once have done- and that both peeves and relieves him in equal measure.
“Hello, Sherlock,” Molly says and when he hears her voice despite himself he smiles.
He tells himself he must look like an idiot.
“Oh, hello,” he says and then winces to himself because those words are asinine and he doesn’t wish to be anything less than clever and fascinating and brilliant with her. (He never has).
“Listen, Molly,” he says haltingly, “I was wondering… I was wondering whether you might like to meet up during the week?” He can practically see her eyes narrowing down the phone line because that sounds smooth and smoothness is something he only trots out when he wants something from her- Or at least, it used to be.
“I just… Um, I just…” From asininity to suaveness and back again, he thinks. Well done, old bean. But he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Calms himself. “It doesn’t have to be much,” he says, “and I know you’re busy but I haven’t seen you in ages. I…” He clears his throat, forces himself to say the difficult words. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
The words are simple and to the point. Soothing as a cup of tea. They shouldn’t really move Sherlock as they do. They shouldn’t feel like the shaft of an arrow, lodged inside him and still shivering from its flight, and yet... And yet…
He can’t help his smile widening.
“Well then,” he says, “what day suits you?”
“I’m off on Thursday.” A slight pause and he can imagine her biting her lip. “I could… I could come up to Baker Street, if you want?”
“Excellent.” He nods to himself, bounces on his heels. He's rather glad that nobody is here to see him like this. “I’ll bring in take away, if you want? I seem to remember you like Indian.” A wry smile. “After all…”
“Your kitchen is a death trap.” A trill of lovely laughter. “I remember, Sherlock.”
“Excellent.” There’s that word again. They agree on a time and then he hangs up. Smiles to himself. He steps out into the brisk air of the London night and for the first time in a long time, he permits himself the luxury of a walk. A long walk.
He falls into the arms of the city as another man might fall into the arms of a lover.
He does not love as others love, but he loves nonetheless.
She arrives at the appointed time, on the appointed day, and Sherlock is delighted to see her.
Sharp suited, clean shaven, he’s been pacing, watching the pavement outside as he waits for her to arrive.
He’s been looking forward to it all day.
When she enters 221B he folds her into his arms in a way he never would have attempted before Sherrinford and holds her close. She feels good and small and warm against him. She feels… right . She’s surprised, he can see it, but not uncomfortable; she wraps her arms around him and holds him too. He feels her breathe him in, something she has always done but which she had previously always tried to hide from him.
It’s visceral, surprising, seeing the pleasure she takes from the physicality of his body.
He may not have it in him to do as much to her but he appreciates it all the same.
“It’s good to see you,” she says, ever generous, when she pulls back to look at him. This close he can tell that she’s showered, put on fresh clothes. He likes it, that she took the time to do that for him even on her day off. She’s not wearing makeup and he can count her lashes, her freckles. A couple of might be grey, might be blond hairs at her temples. She looks a lot better rested than the last time he saw her. She looks… She looks utterly herself and that is beautiful.
“Food here yet?” She asks and that’s when he realises he’s still holding her.
How peculiar, that he hadn’t thought to let go.
“Not yet,” he says, stepping away. He straightens his shirt, his cuffs. “I thought I should wait before I ordered: The Empress of India’s only around the corner-”
Her eyes twinkle. “You mean you’ll let me order my own takeaway for once?”
“I’m feeling generous.” He smiles: normally he would indeed have ordered for her, confident that he could deduce her favourites, but not tonight. He’s been doing that a lot lately, thinking about things and then asking about them. Not assuming. It’s new and it’s scary but he finds that it gets better results than he might have imagined.
He is certain that it's the best way to engage with her.
“Want to make the call?” He asks playfully, holding out his phone. The number of the restaurant is already pulled up but she shakes her head.
“Oh no,” she says. “I’m not getting stuck between you and Abdul again: order yourself. I’m just popping to the loo.” And off she goes, leaving him to navigate his delicate detente with the Empress of India chef.
At least neither of them end up swearing in Punjabi- this time .
By the time she comes back he’s poured her a glass of wine, set the table. No candles, but the lamps are low. The curtains pulled, windows open. He’s cleaned the house and it’s obvious: she notices, looking at him with raised eyebrows.
He shrugs. “Seemed like a good idea.” He turns his back to her. “Summer evening, and all that.”
Her gaze remains on him and he must fight the urge to fidget. It’s like a warm hand, spread across his shoulder blades. Really, he doesn’t know what’s wrong with him tonight. Rather than think on it he takes a sip of his wine and turns away again, busying himself placing the knives and forks and plates just so . He feels her come up behind him, heat reaching out to his.
“Is everything ok?” She asks quietly.
He turns to her, looks at her. Her face is sharp with shadows. A step closer. She leans in. “What do you need?” She asks when he doesn’t answer. So quiet. So gentle. So fierce.
The thereness of her is a burning, joyous, palpable thing.
I love you, the words come to him suddenly, a rabbit-jab of memory he doesn’t have time to dodge. It knocks the breath from him. Squeezes his chest. Her hand is on his sleeve and she’s looking up at him, all warm brown eyes and soft hair and clean clothes and he doesn’t know, he doesn’t want to know-
But still, he reaches down. Still, he kisses her.
It’s warm and sweet and lovely. Like her.
His lips burn with the taste of it. Of her. Of his Molly .
His, his, his- Oh but he wishes he could be hers.
He knows with every fibre of his being though that he can’t.
She pulls back. Stares up at him. Fingers flutter to her mouth, lashes feathering against her cheeks as she blinks. Red swarms in the apples of her cheeks. “What..?” That’s all she can say and it’s strange, it’s ridiculous but Sherlock kisses her again.
This time he pulls her tight against him.
The pleasure of the kiss runs through him like a river.
When he has to breathe he buries his nose in her hair. Tightens his grip on her. There should be words, he thinks, he should have words for this and yet he doesn’t. “I wanted to,” he mutters into the juncture of her shoulder and throat. Hands tighten against her shirt and she moulds herself more closely to him. Holds him. Her fingers are in his hair, her thighs pressed against his. “I wanted to, I wanted to…”
His heart is hammering in his chest.
“I wanted to too.” The words are whispered to his sternum, forehead laid against his heart. She’s trembling. “I’ve wanted to forever.” And she sighs into him, there against his chest. He pulls back. Looks at her. His hands come up to bracket her cheeks, to make her real beneath his palms. It comes to him again, I love you, but he knows now, he knows more than ever that it’s true and still it’s not right, it’s not enough.
He can’t love her the way she wants to be loved, no matter how her kisses feel…
“I can’t,” he whispers then, and the words are painful. He should let her go but he doesn’t. He won't. Instead he pulls her closer and oh, he knows he’s being unfair but he can’t bear to let her go. Not yet. “I can’t do this,” he says it again, “I love you but I can’t- I don’t- I would if I could but it’s not the way you want, I’m not the way you want-“
“What is it you think I want?”
She says the words so softly, so matter-of-factly, that for a moment they don’t make sense.
Sherlock blinks down at her. Frowns.
The silence between them seems suddenly, awfully loud.
“What do you think I want?” she repeats.
She’s looking at him now, very, very carefully. Eyes warm, head cocked. “What way do you think I want you to love me, Sherlock?”
Sherlock is befuddled. He hadn’t expected this. “Like, like…” He is tempted to say like everyone else but he would never utter anything so gauche as that, and certainly not about himself. He’s Sherlock Holmes, for heaven’s sake. And yet-
Still holding her hand he moves towards his chair; because he doesn’t let her go he tows her with him, blinking as she comes to a halt in front of him. She’s standing between his knees.
“You can sit,” he says, somewhat stupidly because he hasn’t let go of her hand.
“I know.” For a moment she doesn’t move but something in his expression must convince her: she perches on the arm of his chair. Squeezes his hand in her own. His thumb, quite without his permission, starts trailing its way across her knuckles, over and over again. It feels so good . He opens his mouth once, twice, but nothing comes out and God, he hates feeling like this. He hates feeling like an idiot. But-
“I don’t…” He stops. Drags in breath and tries again. He can do better than this. He will do better than this .
She tightens her grip on his hand and something in him loosens.
It feels, in that moment, like a gift.
“You want to be loved as… as a woman, Molly,” he says then. “You want… You want me to want you. You want me to lust after you. To desire you. To love you as, as-“
And he gestures, unable to get the words out. Not even sure what the words are. Like a what? A girlfriend? A bonk? A shag? A fuck?
Just what are the words one might use to describe what she wants from him?
“Sherlock,” she says softly, “are you trying to tell me that you don’t love me because you don’t want to shag me?”
When she puts it like that it sounds so simple, but it’s not. He knows it’s not, it can’t be. Not for him. “It’s not that I- I mean, I do… I do… desire you,” he says because that is absolutely true. He wouldn’t have kissed her if he didn’t, he can admit that to himself.
It feels surprisingly… freeing to do so.
“Then what is it?” She asks. “Do you think I expect-“
“I think you expect romance,” he bites out. “I think you expect sex, and lust, and babies, and, and…” And everything, he thinks but doesn’t say, that I can’t give you.
The admission of this out loud feels as close to a sin as Sherlock Holmes has ever allowed himself.
She frowns though, not put off. Not horrified. Not looking at him like he’s a freak which, if he’s being honest with himself, he rather thought she might have done. Immediately he feels a dart of guilt for having thought so little of her and yet the fear persists. It pulses in his chest like thorns. “You are beautiful,” he says quietly, “and you are lovely. Intelligent, kind, generous. Funny, fierce. Loyal and good.”
Molly inclines her head. “Thank you,” she says. “But might I ask what any of that has to do with your assumptions about what I want from you?”
Frustration flares. She isn’t getting this. “It’s about the fact that you could have someone else, anyone else,” he says sharply. He feels his lips draw back from his teeth in a scowl. “It’s about the fact that you like love, and sex, and having someone to come home to-“
“And you’re saying I couldn’t have all that with you?”
“Yes!” He says it so loudly he winces. Suddenly he’s out of his chair, his hands pulled from hers. They itch with the loss of her and he drags them through his hair, trying to make the sensation go away. “I want to love you,” he says, the words sharp and fast and angry. “I want to want you, to be like everyone else. I want to need a warm bed and a good fuck but the truth is, the truth is-“
“Sherlock,” she says, “Sherlock, do you love me or not?”
He turns sharply to look at her but she’s not angry, she’s merely expectant. Curious.
She looks as calm as if she had just asked him for a cause of death for a body on her slab.
“Yes!” He says without hesitation. That much, he knows, is true. “I love you. I love you very much. But I would never be able to be the sort of partner you would need,” he says, more softly. He has to make her see that. “I would never be able to give you all you need-“
“Then give me all you have.”
The words are said calmly, matter of fact in their succinctness.
They even sound a little greedy but Sherlock isn’t surprised to find that he actually likes that.
“What did you say?”
She shrugs. Stands. Moves so that she is once again in front of him. She takes his hands between hers, warming them with her palms. "In all this, did it never occur to you to ask what I wanted?" she asks. His cheeks start to colour as he realises that he had not. "You don't need to worry about what you think I want,” she says calmly. “I promise I will tell you- If you actually bother to bloody ask.” He opens his mouth but she puts a finger to his lips. Speaks over him. Her eyes are warm and serious. “I love you too, Sherlock,” she says. “I’ve loved you for a long time. I’ll love you, I suspect, for the rest of my life, and I made my peace with that long ago.
"So don’t tell me I can’t have you because of what you think you can’t give me. That's nothing but an excuse not to try. You love me. I love you. It will be enough.” And she nods to herself, certain.
He feels bewildered. “How can you be so sure?”
“I can’t.” She smiles at him again. A soft, warm, wan thing. And then she reaches up. Presses a kiss to his lips.
When she pulls back his arms are clamped around her waist, everything in him insisting that he never wants to let her go.
“I can’t be certain,” she tells him. “Nobody can. That’s not the way the world works, that’s not the way people are. But still, we try.” Another small, trilling laugh but this time there’s a touch of… wonder? in it. “Welcome to relationships, Sherlock,” she tells him. And then she kisses him again. A promise. A dare.
“Bloody hell,” he says when she releases him, and then he kisses her back.
A dare. A promise.
He feels it down to his toes.
“We can stop any time you want,” she says when they pull apart and he knows, he knows that she means it. Somehow he’s always known that she would mean it, he’d just been too terrified to admit it to himself.
Their food comes, the night passes and still they don’t stop kissing. Touching. Whispering. It feels very new and very good and very, very fragile.
What it never once feels, at least for Sherlock, is unwanted.
He holds the realisation to himself, a spark of warmth in his chest.
There are rules, of course there are rules.
He insisted and Molly was gracious and really it's not that odd, not when it's them.
There are things he will do and things he won’t. Things she can ask of him and things she can’t. Most of these rules are mutual but there are some that affect him more than her, and vice versa.
It’s all very civilised, much to his surprise.
From that first night in Baker Street, however, Sherlock never lets his doubts gets the better of him. (Well, almost). He allows himself to trust, to try- Because that’s what he's realised it means, when he says he loves her. Not babies or shagging or promises he can’t keep, desires he can’t find within himself.
Love, for them at least, means promising to try. Not even to succeed, just to make the attempt .
“I’ll try,” he tells her that first night, over wine and chicken madras.
"I'll try too," she says and that is how this reckoning of their love begins.
They start seeing one another. Courting one another, that’s what his mother calls it when she finds out (and of course she finds out. There’s probably some sort of file on he and Molly's dalliance slithering around Whitehall.) But Sherlock studiedly, earnestly ignores that, for there’s dates to be had and evenings in to be enjoyed and sometimes there are even gifts, little silly things that Sherlock adores though he would never admit it-
Molly buys him a rubber ducky with a little deer-stalker from Camden Market the first time they spend an entire weekend together.
He brings her back some butterscotch from a case in Luxembourg the first time he’s away for more than two days.
John teases him about his new relationship; he is, fortunately, a little too wise to ask for many details however. In fact, for a womaniser Three Continents Watson seems somewhat prudish when it comes to his best friend and Molly Hooper.
Said best friend is rather grateful for this.
As difficult as explaining himself to Molly was, he dreads the notion of explaining himself to John.
And so they kiss, he and Molly. They caress. They love one another. They sleep together and spend time together and sometimes, sometimes… Sometimes they make love. Not very often- Sherlock hasn’t much of a need for it and Molly accepts that. But sometimes… Well, that’s just what they want to do. Of course most of the time if they’re in bed together he just holds her, whispering in her ear as she makes herself come. Caressing her breasts, her belly, and marvelling at the loveliness which lives within her skin. In those moments she is so beautiful to him that it’s an actual, physical ache.
He is blazingly aware of how lucky he is to have her.
When she needs more- as sometimes she does- and when he can’t provide it- as sometimes he can’t- he sends her to one of his more carefully vetted acquaintances. Someone with skills and discretion and the ability to provide pleasure in all its forms. It’s not an easy thing for him but it is a necessity… And a professional who owes him a favour is, after all, far more to be trusted with Molly’s safety than some random idiot picked up in a bar. She’s more likely to get what she needs from it, too, and that , he tells himself, is the point. Whenever she comes home from those appointments she seeks him out. Cuddles into him. Kisses him. She figured it out early, how to reassure him. How to show him that her love- all of her love- is his.
Love can take many forms and this is one of hers.
The same way finding her a partner is Sherlock’s way of showing her his.
And so the days pass, and they weave a life together.
The nights pass and they spend them in one another's arms.
“I love you,” he tells her, every day. In some way or other. With some action or gesture or word or other.
It's important, he thinks, that he say it.
“I love you too,” she whispers back and Sherlock is delighted to know that they’re each saying their own version of the same sacred thing.
I love you.
I love you.
"I love you."
Said, even if under pressure (the first time).
Meant, even if not as everyone assumed (every time thereafter).
Love for him is not, perhaps, the same as love is for others, but it is still love .
When he whispers this in the dark Molly holds him tight and tells him she feels the same.