Title: The Diplomatic Outing
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 4,994
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to way more powerful and wealthy people than me.
Warnings: Minor bit of Sherlockian angst post-Reichenbach, but otherwise nothing but humour, crack, some romance and (hopefully) Molly being adorable. For those who hate such things, it really isn’t MollLock!
Summary: Getting over her crush on Sherlock is an ongoing challenge for Molly. So there’s no way she’s going to agree to go out with him, even if it is just for a case – is there?
Note: I’m not sure whether blatantly stealing a line from a friend’s story and adapting it into my own fic counts as a ‘birthday present’, but it’s the best I could do. Happy birthday mirith! The Diplomatic Outing
“I need a distraction,” Sherlock announced as he came charging into the lab and fixed Molly with his most intense stare.
Molly’s insides promptly liquefied. Just stop it! she thought sternly to her inner fangirl. We talked about this – you know he’s not interested! But when Sherlock Holmes turned that particular gaze onto her it was still impossible to prevent a stab of hope and longing that caused her legs to clench involuntarily. She mentally shook herself as she realised that it wasn’t her body that he wanted.
“I don’t have any cadavers for you ...” she began nervously but he held up an imperious hand to stop her.
“That’s not the distraction I’m talking about,” he told her impatiently. “I have to go to an ambassadorial reception tomorrow night and I need to take a partner with me.”
“Why?” Molly enquired, then quailed as he turned an irritated look towards her. “I mean, why are you going to a reception?”
Sherlock let out an exasperated sigh. “It wasn’t my idea,” he grumbled, “but I still owe my brother some favours from when he helped me to ‘disappear’.”
His expression was a combination of annoyance and resignation. “Mycroft needs me to circulate amongst the diplomats attending the reception,” he said. “One of the wives is having an affair. Since the lover has turned out to be a spy, Mycroft needs to know exactly whose wife it is – which of course his people have been unable to establish ...” he sniffed disparagingly, “... and that’s where I come in.”
He straightened his shoulders. “But if I start talking to people on my own they’ll be paying too much attention to me and might suspect my motives. So I need a distracting partner.”
He turned away and began pacing around the lab. “I need to be accompanied by someone who looks so stunning that every straight man won’t be able to take his eyes off her, and every married woman will be busy planning her murder because her husband hasn’t looked at her like that in years.”
He stopped and looked at her intensely. Molly’s heart stuttered, but then she realised his implication and stared up at him as sternly as she could.
“Your next question had better not be, ‘Do you know anyone like that?’” she told him fiercely.
Sherlock looked startled. Their relationship had altered since his ‘death’ and although he could still reduce her to a puddle of goo when he caught her by surprise or gave her that look, she had a better understanding of him nowadays and was even able to stand up to him occasionally. After his fall from the roof he had been brought into a little-used lab in the hospital, and she had been surprised at his behaviour while she was cleaning the fake blood from his face and hair. His eyes had been haunted and he hadn’t seemed to be able to stop talking, although his sentences had been disjointed, just words and short phrases; anguished and bewildered declarations about having to watch John go to pieces in front of him without being able to react or to reassure him. When he had finally buried his head in his hands, murmuring, “I don’t understand,” her heart had gone out to him and she had yearned to put her arms around him and comfort him but she had held back, uncertain if it would help or make things worse.
When he had come to her the night before that and she had asked him, “What do you need?” she had thought she was lost forever when he had stared intently into her eyes and told her, “You.” For a brief glorious moment she had thought that all her Christmases had come at once and if he hadn’t quickly gone on to explain exactly what he needed, she would probably have either thrown herself into his arms or – more likely – swooned at his feet. The shock of his real needs had kept her mind concentrated for the next few hours, but while she had been waiting in the basement lab for his ‘body’ to be brought in she had finally begun to accept that her feelings for him would never be reciprocated; and when he had been so distressed about his friend’s grief, it had only confirmed her thought. It had been then that she had finally let go of her hopeless love for him. If Sherlock Holmes was ever going to have emotional feelings about any person, it most definitely wouldn’t be her.
Despite its disappointing nature, the revelation had made life easier for her in the long run. She still had a stupid crush, but without the wistful hope that had always gone with it she no longer disintegrated into a gibbering wreck when he turned the full force of his gaze onto her – well, not always, she admitted to herself – and since his return she was better able to stand up to him when he tried to coerce her into giving him access to the morgue. He had been surprised at how she stubbornly turned down his requests even when he tried to flirt with her, but after a while he had recognised the new strength in her and had treated her with more respect. It made their relationship more comfortable and he even occasionally requested her assistance when she did give in to his demands rather than just ignoring her or ordering her about, and she generally found herself more relaxed in his company despite the occasional fangirly wibble when he turned those eyes on her.
But if he was now asking her to find him a ‘date’ for the forthcoming reception, she really was not going to be insulted in that way, and so she kept her best ferocious look on her face even though she realised that she would probably have difficulty scaring a kitten.
Sherlock blinked. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he told her. “You’ll do fine.”
Molly’s determination promptly failed. “Me?” she said tremulously. “I can’t go to a reception with you!”
“Of course you can,” Sherlock said, waving a hand dismissively. “You’re attractive enough, and with the right make-up and hair and clothing I’m sure you can masquerade as someone beautiful.”
Molly opened her mouth, then closed it again. It wasn’t worth it – anything she said would only sound arrogant and she didn’t have the confidence to argue that she was prettier than Sherlock thought, especially when she didn’t believe it herself.
“Anyway,” she said instead, “I don’t have anything as glamorous as I’d need for a posh reception.”
“My brother will take care of that,” Sherlock told her. “Someone will take you shopping and Mycroft will pay for all the clothing and hair styling you need.”
Molly hesitated. It was really tempting, and she had never been to anything fancy enough to require such effort. The thought of being dressed up to the nines and going to a party on the arm of Sherlock Holmes was reawakening her mostly suppressed feelings, but then that was probably as good a reason as any not to agree to his request.
Besides, she didn’t want to go to this party anyway. In order to be Sherlock’s ‘distraction’ she would have to do more than just look beautiful, if that was even possible; she would have to talk to people and she wasn’t good at holding conversations with strangers. There had to be another option, and a suggestion struck her immediately.
“Take John,” she told him.
Sherlock stared at her as if she had gone mad.
“I mean it,” she insisted. “Take John as your ‘plus one’. Get him in a really good suit and play the role of partners and you’ll have everyone staring at you but for the wrong reasons.” She cringed at the implication but persisted. “I’m not saying it’s wrong for two men to be partners but a lot of people still find it awkward to cope with the concept of gay couples. I imagine that most of the diplomats are older and set in their ways and many of them would be uncomfortable. So if you and John start talking to them, they’re going to be embarrassed and distracted and might not be on their guard so much.”
Sherlock looked at her thoughtfully. “You’re a clever woman, Molly Hooper,” he murmured after a few seconds, and again Molly had to suppress an internal flail. Then he shook his head. “No, it wouldn’t work. It’s an interesting idea, but we would be getting too much attention. I need people looking at my partner, not at both of us.”
“John can do that,” Molly asserted. “He’s friendly and people automatically like him. You can tell him what to say in advance and he can do all the talking while you just stand there looking nervous, or admiring of your partner, or whatever. He can do it, Sherlock – he can distract people.” She smiled. “You’re not the easiest person to draw attention away from, but I’m sure he can talk enough that people will be looking at him rather than you and you can watch them while he’s chatting.”
Sherlock turned away with a pensive look and Molly felt a pang of regret. Even though she really didn’t want to go, the thought was still a lovely one and she knew that she would be spending far too many hours in her flat wondering what it would have been like if she had gone.
The next few days were going to be difficult for her.
Standing in Sherlock’s bedroom the following evening, Molly wondered how on earth she had allowed him to talk her into this. She looked down the length of her body and wished again that the mirror on his wardrobe wasn’t broken. The deep purple dress she was wearing was the most magnificent thing she had ever had, and as she bent her head her ornately coiffured hair brushed against her cheek. She’d seen herself in the mirrors at the dress designers’ and at the hair stylists’, of course, but she still wished she could see what she looked like now that she was in the full ensemble.
The day had been a mad whirl of travelling around London in the back of a car sent for her early that morning. A pleasant lady had accompanied her, and Molly had had to fight not to burst into tears on occasions when the car had pulled up outside shops and salons that she wouldn’t have dreamed of ever stepping foot in. At each venue she had been treated like royalty by the managers who had fawned over her as they followed their instructions and found her the perfect dress and shoes, and did her hair and make-up. On arrival at Baker Street, Mycroft’s assistant had insisted that the men stay out of the way while she escorted Molly to the bedroom to get dressed, and had then left her there. She had nervously stripped off and got into the dress and now she felt like a queen – an absolutely terrified queen, admittedly, but she knew that she must look utterly gorgeous.
As she bent to do up the straps on her shoes there was a knock on the bedroom door and John spoke from the other side.
“Um, sorry, Molly,” he said apologetically, “but Sherlock’s asking if you’re ready.”
Before she could answer, Sherlock’s voice sounded loudly from the living room. Even through the closed door she could hear his irritation.
“I told her she had to be ready in ten minutes!” he shouted.
Molly’s temper rose a little. “And it’s been eight minutes and I am ready!” she yelled back.
The door opened. Still bent over and fiddling with her shoe strap, she glanced out of the corner of her eye and saw John peer into the room and then come inside, followed by Greg Lestrade who had already been at the flat when she arrived although he too had been ordered out of sight while she had been brought in. She trembled a little at the thought of actually being seen by them, but then took a deep breath and slowly straightened up.
John’s and Greg’s mouths dropped open.
Molly suppressed a giggle as their eyes filled with admiration. She had never experienced such attention before and it made her feel powerful ... and a little mischievous. Daringly, she arched an eyebrow at them and simply waited.
John tried to speak but seemed to be having trouble making his mouth work. Greg simply continued to stare. Finally John coughed.
“Um ... I’ll get a camera,” he said. “That’s ... um, if you’d ... Would you like me to take some pictures of you?”
“Oh, yes please!” she said excitedly. She hadn’t even thought about the possibility but she was sure she would never look this good again and it would be lovely to have photographic evidence.
John nodded vaguely and turned and left the room, bumping into the door jamb and grunting in pain as he went. Again, Molly struggled not to giggle as she picked up her clutch bag. She turned back to face Greg who was still staring at her blankly.
“Uh ...” he said vaguely, then blinked and shook his head. “Sorry, Molly.” He grinned at her. “You look fabulous.”
“Thank you,” she said, smiling shyly. Again he shook his head a little, then offered his arm to her. She took it, and he escorted her into the lounge where Sherlock was pacing in front of one of the windows, frequently glancing out of it with an impatient look. She quailed at the sight of him, dressed in a gorgeous tailored suit, wearing a shirt whose colour matched her dress and generally looking even more stunning than usual.
Nearby, John was fiddling with his camera but now he directed a pointed cough in Sherlock’s direction. Sherlock turned to look at him and John nodded towards Molly, who steeled herself as Sherlock’s gaze drifted over to her. His eyes widened slightly.
“Will I do?” she asked him nervously.
Sherlock looked at her for a long moment, then stalked slowly towards her. Greg slipped his arm free of hers and stepped aside as Sherlock paced around her a couple of times, looking her up and down before eventually stopping behind her. Molly held her breath as he leaned in and put his head close to hers.
“Oh, you’ll do, Molly Hooper,” he purred in her ear.
Molly concentrated on not fainting.
She wasn’t a vain person, but Molly couldn’t resist taking the photographs to work on Monday and showing them to her colleague with whom she had worked for several years. She and Alice sat at a bench in the lab and Molly nervously took out the photos which John had printed onto large glossy paper and had delivered to her flat the previous afternoon. Alice took the first one and gasped.
“Oh. My. Good. God,” she said as she stared at it. “Molly! You look amazing!”
Molly smiled. “I know,” she said shyly. “I still can’t believe it. And John’s a really good photographer – he knew exactly how he wanted me to pose; said I shouldn’t smile too much but should try and look sultry ...” She snorted. “I’m not really the ‘sultry’ type but I did my best and he took loads of pictures until he was happy. Sherlock wasn’t best pleased but our lift hadn’t arrived yet so he had to put up with it.”
“That dress!” Alice said dreamily. “Is it ...?”
“Ralph Lauren,” Molly confirmed, and Alice squealed with delight. “Cost more than I earn in months. I looked it up on the internet yesterday and nearly fainted when I saw how much it and the shoes were. And, oh,” she added nonchalantly, “did I mention that my hair was done at Stuart Phillips?”
“Shut up!” Alice said in disbelief as she continued looking through the photos. She stopped and pointed at one which showed Molly in close-up where the various pieces of white gold and diamond jewellery she was wearing were prominent. Alice’s eyes were wide and envious as she looked up at her friend.
Molly giggled. “After the hair and make-up was done, I thought we were going back to Sherlock’s but we stopped outside Harrods and a man came out and gave us a box which had loads of jewellery in it. My escort told me that it was only on loan and that I should just pick a few items, and those were the three things I chose. Want to guess how much they cost?”
“I dread to think,” Alice said.
“The earrings are forty-eight thousand pounds,” Molly said, her voice shaking a little as she re-lived her shock when she had looked up H. Stern’s catalogue the following day. Alice gasped, and Molly continued, trying and failing to sound nonchalant. “The ring – well, that was a piece of tat. Nineteen thousand.”
“My God,” Alice murmured.
“And the wristband ... want to guess?” Molly asked.
“Six figures?” Alice hazarded.
“Don’t be silly,” Molly said scornfully, pausing before dropping the bombshell. “Ninety-six thousand.”
“I was terrified of breaking them or losing them,” Molly told her. “It was almost a relief to take them off afterwards and hand them back to Sherlock for safe keeping until Mycroft’s people picked them up the next morning.”
Alice nodded, then moved to the next photograph and goggled as she saw the man standing beside Molly. “Oh my God, he scrubs up well, doesn’t he?!” she said, staring at the photo in admiration. “You lucky, lucky girl!”
Molly nodded. “I know,” she said, then giggled. “And I nearly killed him in the back of the limo ...”
As the limousine turned into the drive of the stately home at which the reception was being held, Molly’s nerves began to rise and she squirmed anxiously on the seat.
“You’ll be fine,” the low, steady voice murmured beside her. “Just remember: talk to the women and ignore their husbands, especially if they’re trying to flirt with you. You need to get the women to see that you’re not a threat so that they’ll relax, then they’ll be easier to read.”
Molly let out a long breath. “That’s not going to be easy if they hate me because I’m wearing more expensive stuff than them,” she said.
“Flatter them,” he said. “Don’t be dismissive about your own appearance – thank them for any compliments they make, no matter how insincere they’re being, but turn the conversation around to how good they look. Get them talking about their own outfits, or jewellery, or the shade of their lipstick. The more you make them feel comfortable, the more they’ll lower their defences.”
“Okay,” she said, then whimpered as the car drew to a halt at the front of the house.
“You will be fine,” he assured her again. “But remember that once we’re inside, I’ll be steering you towards particular people and concentrating on the work. I won’t be able to pay attention to you.”
She stared nervously out of the window, bracing herself as she prepared to get out. ‘I wonder if he’ll even realise that this skirt is so sheer and clingy that I’ve had no choice but to go commando,’ she thought to herself as she rose from her seat and bent forward to step out of the car.
A startled grunt came from behind her. ‘Yep, he’s noticed,’ she thought with an internal giggle, then straightened up and looked towards the front entrance of the house. A smile began to form on her face. She was ready.
Alice shrieked with laughter as Molly finished telling her tale, then shook her head admiringly. “I still can’t believe it,” she said, looking at the photos again. “Little Molly Hooper, all dressed up like that.”
Molly giggled. “D’you know, I worked out how much everything I was wearing was worth. With the jewellery, the hair and the make-up, I was wearing about a hundred and eighty thousand pounds’ worth of stuff ...” She paused for a second, then added, “... and no knickers.”
The girls disintegrated into laughter again, then Alice’s smile dropped and she looked at her friend suspiciously. “Why are you wearing a scarf?” she asked as her gaze fell to Molly’s neck.
Molly cringed and instinctively tucked her chin down. “What do you mean?” she asked nervously.
“You never wear scarves,” Alice said.
“It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t,” Molly replied defensively, but she couldn’t stop her hand rising and fingering the silky scarf around her neck.
“It’s too hot in here to wear a scarf,” Alice said, her face full of suspicion. Then her eyes widened. “Molly Hooper! What are you hiding?!”
“It’s just a scarf!” Molly protested, but she could feel the blush rising in her cheeks. Alice looked triumphant.
“Show me,” she demanded. “Show me, show me, show me, show me!”
Molly hesitated, then grimaced in embarrassment as she pulled down the right side of the scarf. Alice whooped delightedly at the sight of the bruise on her neck.
“You dark horse!” she yelped. “You go out to a fancy party in nearly two hundred thousand pounds’ worth of bling and no underwear, and come home with a love bite! Tell me everything!”
Molly hesitated, not sure whether she was ready to talk about it or not, and she momentarily thought she had been saved from making a decision when the door banged open. Her relief was short-lived, however, when Sherlock swanned into the lab, closely followed by John. Yanking her scarf back up, she kept her face turned away as the footsteps drew closer. Alice reacted like most people did when Sherlock Holmes arrived in a room and mumbled her excuses before darting to the furthest corner and making herself look busy. Molly swept all the photographs together and put them back into the envelope as Sherlock stopped behind her. He paused for a couple of seconds, then murmured, “Molly,” in a deep tone that instantly melted her insides.
“Sherlock,” she said, trying to keep her voice calm as she swivelled around on her chair to face him. His eyes raked over her and hesitated for a while on her scarf-wrapped throat, but his mouth simply twitched a small knowing smile before he turned away without speaking further. John, on the other hand, grinned at her so broadly and for so long that she began to blush before she realised that that was exactly what he had been aiming for. She tried to scowl at him but his grin was so infectious that she couldn’t even begin to form a frown, so settled for poking her tongue out at him instead. He giggled silently, gave her an approving nod and then joined his friend at a nearby bench.
Everyone was quiet for the next half hour or so, the girls each doing their own work while Sherlock and John talked quietly as the detective busied himself with lab equipment. Molly kept finding herself fingering her scarf and reflecting on the amazing evening she had had on Saturday. She had surprised herself over and over again as she had allowed herself to be steered around the room and introduced to various couples and groups, and had managed to hold her own during even the more awkward conversations when some of the diplomats’ wives had demonstrated their expertise in making catty comments disguised as pleasantries. Whenever she had started to buckle under their cleverly-phrased insults, the quiet presence at her side had stepped closer to her, sometimes putting a calming hand on her back as he sensed her control slipping, and his strength had bolstered her own and allowed her to draw a breath and rise above the abuse, deflecting their spitefulness by pretending she hadn’t noticed and simply smiling and continuing the conversation with an air of oblivious ignorance. After a while she had realised how frustrating this was for the women and she had revelled in the sense of power it gave her.
It still hadn’t prepared her for the moment when they stood on the steps outside the house late that night, waiting for the limousine to come back and take them home. She had begun to shiver even though it was a warm night – a delayed reaction to the events of the evening – and he had immediately taken off his jacket and put it around her shoulders. Still holding onto the lapels of the coat, he had looked intensely into her eyes and said, “You were bloody marvellous tonight.” Then, leaning closer, he had added, “And unless you have any objections, Miss Hooper, I fully intend to ravish you on the back seat of the limo all the way home.”
She had just about managed to lock her knees and stop herself from ruining the moment by crumpling to the ground. Instead, she had raised her head, looked straight into his eyes, smiled prettily and told him softly, “That would be most acceptable, Detective Inspector.”
Molly gave up all attempts to concentrate on her work and became lost in thought. She was beginning to realise that, by taking John to the reception as his partner as she had suggested, Sherlock hadn’t actually needed her there as well, and his declaration that two couples could cover more people didn’t make sense when he couldn’t possibly trust Greg Lestrade to be as perceptive as himself. The fact that it was Greg who had pointed Sherlock towards a couple who he and Molly had been talking with, and that Sherlock had quickly ascertained – after taking John over for a chat with them – that the wife was indeed the secret lover, had been sheer good fortune and one which Sherlock was probably still sulking about. But it was becoming clear to her that Sherlock had asked her – and Greg – to go to the reception as his way of thanking her for her assistance with his disappearance and her help afterwards. She realised that Sherlock wasn’t the sort of person to buy presents, but by making it look like casework he had had a valid excuse to arrange for her to be dressed up like a million dollars at someone else’s expense.
There was certainly no reason why she and Greg had had a limousine to themselves while John and Sherlock had travelled in another one, but she suspected that Sherlock had insisted on two cars so that she wouldn’t feel intimidated riding with so many other people. In fact, now that she thought about it some more, she was beginning to wonder just which of the Holmes brothers had actually paid for everything ...
She suddenly realised that Alice was waving at her and trying to get her attention. She looked across to her friend who immediately began to mime at her, raising her hand to her own neck and then looking pointedly across to Sherlock’s back. Molly frowned in confusion and Alice laid her hand flat against her throat before pointing at Molly and then pantomiming wrapping a scarf around her neck. She finished by jabbing her fingers into the right side of her throat and then deliberately looked across to Sherlock again while jabbing those same fingers in his direction.
And suddenly Molly understood what Alice was trying to tell her.
And she couldn’t resist.
“Sherlock?” she asked.
He turned to look at her. She put on her best wide-eyed look.
“Isn’t it a bit hot to be wearing a scarf in here today?” she asked innocently.
John choked on his coffee.
Sherlock’s eyes narrowed and he tucked his chin down into the scarf around his neck and glared at her accusingly while John continued to cough. Holding Sherlock’s gaze, she raised her hand and deliberately stroked her fingers down her own scarf, right over the bruise that marked her neck.
And oh, good grief, was Sherlock Holmes starting to blush?
She batted her eyelashes at him. “It looks like I’m not the only one who had an interesting ride home on Saturday night,” she said.
Sherlock opened his mouth but John was the one who spoke first.
“Blimey, that took less time than I thought,” he said, still wiping coffee off his chin. He looked at her ruefully. “I assumed it’d be someone like Sergeant Donovan who would notice first, and then she would inevitably have made really snide comments about it.” He smiled. “It’s much nicer being outed by someone who’s about as spiteful as a panda.”
“Pandas are fat!” she protested indignantly. “I’m not fat!”
“No, but you are cute and totally adorable,” he said as he slid off his stool, walked across the lab and pulled her into a hug.
“Greg’s a lucky man,” he said softly into her ear.
“So’s Sherlock,” she said, squeezing him tightly. “And it’s about time too. I’ve known for ages how he felt about you but I thought you two would never sort it out. I’m really happy for you.”
He wrapped his arms even tighter around her, then stepped back and turned towards Sherlock. She followed John’s gaze and smiled at the slightly flustered-looking detective who then pulled himself together, straightened up on his stool and gave her an approving nod. She suppressed a giggle. Getting her and Greg together couldn’t possibly have been part of his plan for Saturday night, but no doubt he was already starting to take credit for it in his own mind.
As John walked back across the lab, Alice was bouncing on her stool and making various victorious gestures with her arms. Molly grinned at her even as her fingers automatically strayed downwards to where the text message she had received on her way to work still seemed to be burning a hole in her pocket.
Author’s Note: If you haven’t yet read Mirith Griffin’s amazing XO, then please do run, not walk, to read it. It’s the wackiest, most hilarious and imaginative Sherlock fic I’ve ever read. Not to mention that it’s brain-meltingly sexy, but what else would you expect from Mirith? You’ll have to wait until you get to chapter 6 to find the line that I pinched to include in the above story but trust me, you’ll enjoy the journey! Happy birthday, Mirith – and please never stop writing awesome Sherlock fic.
Meanwhile, over in France, I’m hopeful that chocolamousse’s carpets have survived. I did give her advance warning that this story might have her chewing the carpets when it looked like it was going het, but she does get awfully upset whenever I drift anywhere near the dreaded ‘h’-word!
Thanks to verityburns, who as always did a great beta job and also fiercely knocked my Mary-Sue tendencies into submission. And without her help this story would have been entitled “Insert your own title here”. I just could not come up with a suitable title for it for ages! Well, actually, there was an obvious title, but some blithering idiot had already called a fic “Distraction”. Oh, wait ... that was me.