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Histories (Part 9 & 10/17)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (alcoholism, drug-taking, explicit femslash and slash, homophobia, swearing, vomiting)

Sequel to Birthday Surprise and Launch Off in which Molly gets together with Dr Harriet Watson, historian of eighteenth-century women and recovering alcoholic

Huge thanks to my beta Blooms84 for tackling this monster and making extremely helpful suggestions

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Parts 5 & 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17

Summary: When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. The less tough get hysterical in the British Library.

9) Saturday: Molly

She'd go shopping, Molly decided, a bit of retail therapy would cheer her up. Spend a day looking at clothes, make-up, shoes. The sort of girly thing Harry really didn't enjoy.

The problem was that while everything reminded Molly of Harry, the thing that reminded her most about her was London itself. Harry knew London. Not in the same way Sherlock did, every alleyway mapped and logged; to Harry, London was an old friend. She'd see a street name, a tube station and the stories would start pouring out. When Molly had told her she lived in Colliers Wood, Harry had promptly started discussing the Surrey Iron Railway and its horse-powered trains. Harry's voice was there in Molly's head at the Tube stations: Tooting Bec (the Norman abbey); Stockwell ("I got a tour of the  archives in the old air-raid shelter there once. M-miles of tunnels"; Charing Cross (Queen Eleanor and that anti-Semitic bastard Edward I); Oxford Circus (John N-Nash's dream of London vistas). Molly couldn't get away from Harry. She wasn't sure yet if she wanted to. Harry had changed everything.

***

Molly and Harry (August 2010)

The first time Molly had met Harry, she'd been talking about London. Arguing about it, with Sherlock. And it had been wonderful, someone finally calling Sherlock's bluff, showing he didn't know everything after all. She'd probably fallen in love with Harry right then. Dr Harriet Watson, a kitten with the heart of a lion and the brains of...an extremely bright kitten. She was funny and wonderful and hopeless, and she'd gone after Molly with the desperate romantic lust that Molly had previously associated with sensitive fifteen year-old boys. She clearly wasn't an unsuitable man, and after their first time in bed Molly had almost been willing to put her top of her first ever list of suitable women. She'd taken Harry back to 221B, and Sherlock had been there, and she'd grinned at him, because he hadn't expected her and Harry to get together, had he?

Except that they weren't going to get together, not properly, because Harry was an alcoholic. Molly hadn't been able to stop thinking about Harry after that night, but she'd stayed clear of her. She'd learnt her lesson about making the wrong choices.

***

The problem, Molly realised after a hot and noisy hour and a half in the crush of Oxford Street, was that she was the sort of woman who didn't just make mistakes, but made the same mistake over and over again. Like wanting to wear stiletto heels, even when she knew they'd just end up making her back ache. But they looked so good and they stopped men towering over her. (It was oddly satisfying that Harry was even shorter than her, but she wasn't thinking about Harry, was she?) She'd found the perfect pair of black ankle strap pumps, but after she'd walked around the shop for a bit, she ended up telling the shop assistant no. They did make her legs look longer, but they really weren't practical. And she was practical about things, wasn't she? She needed to be. 

10) Saturday: Harry

Even though the British Library wasn't Harry's all-time favourite – she was still a Radcliffe Camera girl at heart – its solidity was always reassuring, that feeling that it would be there for her unchanged for the next hundred years if she needed it. But even that didn't help at the moment. She had to get out of the reading room, she decided abruptly. You got muttered comments if your phone so much as rang in there; she didn't dare imagine the complaints there'd be if you had a full-blown nervous breakdown. And if she got tears on the books she'd reserved, she'd probably be barred for life.

She ended up sitting in a toilet cubicle, weeping, which at least meant she had enough tissues. And if she went outside, she'd end up in the restaurant, with some wine. She'd always found that helped her get over a messy break up. What was that old joke? She tried to drown her sorrows and found they could swim. She could barely remember the week in November after she'd left Clara. She'd even missed giving a lecture, which she'd never done before. She didn't dare start again. Because if drinking made her feel better about Molly having gone, why should she ever sober up?

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Other people could drink and not lose control, know when to stop. She'd been able to do so once, before she and Clara had got together. Before Clara had turned Harry into...no, stop. It was not Clara's fault that Harry was an alcoholic. It was her own fault that she had made the wrong decisions. Time after time. Starting with getting together with Clara.

If you looked at the longue durée, you could say that her sleeping with Clara hadn’t been so significant. Yes, it had broken up John’s engagement, but it would probably have ended in disaster anyway, given Clara’s hang-ups. And it had wrecked Harry and John’s relationship, but not irreparably. In the scale of stupid things she’d done, it couldn’t therefore take pride of place. The irretrievably stupid thing she’d done was get together with Clara five years later.

***

2002

There was a whole historical debate on the extent to which events were best attributable to cock-ups rather than conspiracies. Certainly Harry’s biggest disasters had all occurred when she'd had good intentions. Like going off on a research trip to see a historical document in Buckinghamshire.

She’d studied the letter she’d received with interest  – an eighteenth-century manuscript in someone’s private collection - but as she read on, it sounded less promising. The diary of a young lady living in late Georgian Buckinghamshire might have useful material for local history, but it was a long way from her own interests. Eighteenth-century women were not all the same.  She wondered if she should agree to go down and see the manuscript, or if there was someone better to suggest. And then she saw the signature, and knew that she had to find out how Clara Wickham was getting on now.

Five years on from being a clumsy, nerdy PhD student, Harry was a clumsy, nerdy lecturer. Clara had grown up in five years. She was officially a PA, but Harry suspected she was really running the reinsurance brokers she was working for. Harry had remembered Clara vaguely as big and dark-haired and worried, but there was a new poise and grace in her subtly-slimmed down beauty now. And she had clearly come out with style.

Harry had looked through the manuscript with as much enthusiasm as possible, but it had become evident to her very quickly that Maria Wickham had been a deeply dull woman leading a deeply dull life, no hidden genius forced to flower unseen. Harry had come primed, though, able to explain clearly to Clara who would be interested, and how to contact them.

"I’m sorry," Clara had said, "I probably shouldn’t have asked you, but I don’t know much about history. And when I was looking up possible people on the internet, I saw your name and I...," Clara’s confident tone had lost a little of its sheen, "I wanted to find out how you were getting on."

"Still a historian," Harry said, "But not Oxford anymore. I’ve just started as a lecturer at King’s College London. Hard work, but very interesting."

"Dr Harriet Watson, that’s very impressive."

"Yeah, but I’m n-not a real doctor. N-not like-," Harry broke off abruptly, but Clara’s voice was smooth as she replied:

"How is John? Tom decided he wasn’t cut out for army life very early on, but did John stick it out?" Tom had been the brother, hadn't he, Harry remembered, who had encouraged John to join the army in the first place. Why the hell wasn't he fighting when John was?

"He’s in the Royal Army M-M-Medical Corps. He’s deployed out in Afghanistan at the m-moment."

"You must be very proud," said Clara. "And a bit worried as well."

"M-mostly worried," said Harry, "He’s not on the front line, but even so..."

"Some of my friends are out there as well. They’ve told me quite a lot. They know what they’re doing, they know it’s important. If you ever want someone to talk about things, or if I can help in any way, please let me know."

"I wouldn’t want to bother you," she replied hastily. "You must be very busy."

"I’ve always got time for you. In fact," Clara said, smiling graciously, "I really ought to be thanking you for the difference you made to my life."

"I m-m-made a difference?" said Harry. "You m-mean breaking up your engagement?"

"Showing me what a mistake I was making. Listening to me, treating me like I mattered. I realised that weekend that I couldn't just drift through life, doing what other people wanted. The first thing I did that was me thinking about what I wanted, was sleeping with you."

"I shouldn’t have done it," said Harry, "It was a horribly m-messy way for you to break up."

"I didn’t mean to hurt John," Clara said, and there was a sadness to her sweetness now, that reminded Harry abruptly of five years ago. "But I didn’t know how to explain what had happened. And I still wasn’t sure whether I was a lesbian or not. I just knew, absolutely knew, that John couldn’t make me happy, and I couldn’t make him happy. So I had to break up with him, and I had to do it quickly, before I lost my nerve. I just said something silly about realising we were incompatible, I didn’t say about...you didn’t tell him, did you?"

"No," said Harry, "but he guessed." John had put two and two together after Clara broke off the engagement and got 3.999 recurring.  Given he was right about what Harry had done, trying to explain why she'd done it wouldn't have helped, would have seemed like a pathetic excuse. Even once he'd started speaking to her again, it had been too much of a risk to try and talk about that night.

"I’m sorry about that," said Clara, "It must have been awkward for you. But I’m sure he found somebody else. Is he married yet? I always thought John would settle down early, he’s that type."

"N-no," said Harry, "He doesn’t seem to have m-much luck with women." Really not the time to say maybe he'd be better going back to men.

"I know the feeling," said Clara cheerily. "I came out properly a few years ago, but I don't seem to have had any luck finding someone, something that will last. The girls I mostly know either just want to party, or end up coming out as bisexual, and then going off with City boys.  I just broke up with someone, in fact. I thought she was going to be the one, and then she fell for an Australian barmaid. Now I’m not quite sure what to do: find someone quickly to cheer me up, or keep looking for that grand romance."

"What happened?" said Harry, even though she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know.

***   

Feminist ethics elementary examination

You are a lesbian and you meet a beautiful woman you had a one-night stand with five years ago. She reveals that she recently split up with her girlfriend. Do you:

a) Make polite conversation and then leave.

b) Let her pour out the details of her past love to you, make soothing noises and then get out of her life.

c) Let her pour out the details of her past love to you, make soothing noises, offer her comfort sex, and then get out of her life.

d) Let her pour out the details of her past love to you, make soothing noises, offer her comfort sex, and then get together with her for a quick and cheery affair.

e) Let her pour out the details of her past love to you, make soothing noises, offer her comfort sex, and then somehow end up convincing both of you that you were made for each other.

Answer: f) Don’t get yourself into this situation. And remember that you can do stupidly impulsive things even when you’re not hungry, angry, lonely, or tired.

***

The problem was that the sex had been good: they’d both learned things in the previous five years. No, the problem had been that, and the fact that beneath her new-found poise and confidence, Clara hadn’t changed that much. What she still really wanted was to be someone’s wife, look after them. No, the problem was the sex, and Clara wanting to be a wife, and Harry’s temporary and mistaken belief, amid the strain of being a newly appointed lecturer, that she could do with a wife.

No, the problem really was that Clara not only didn’t know much about history, she didn’t know much about historians. And it hadn’t occurred to Harry until long after they’d got together that she needed to explain about them.

***

Clara had expected that a history lecturer would earn enough money to allow her to give up her own job, and was disappointed to realise Harry’s prospects wouldn't allow that. And what with Clara being expected to do overtime and Harry’s evening seminars, they never seemed to have enough time together. Clara hadn’t realised that Harry’s teaching would leave her frazzled and distracted during term time. Clara dreamed of them moving, so Harry could take up a professorship somewhere nice: she mentioned Oxford and Durham and St Andrew’s, but was hostile when Harry applied for a post in Liverpool.  Above all, Clara hadn’t realised that Harry being a historian involved her spending so much of her life thinking about history.

Clara was mildly interested in history, in a prettified queens and country houses way. Harry wasn’t interested at all in reinsurance, despite her attempts to convince herself otherwise. They didn’t have much in common apart from the sex, she realised when she thought about it logically. Even their patterns of alcohol consumption were different, dangerously different.

Harry had no natural taste for alcohol, but with her usual determination, she’d trained herself to like it, used it to boost her confidence, help her fit in at conferences and seminars, help her get laid. Clara drank as a routine, not heavily, but as an automatic lubricant for her social and work life. She invited her friends round for drinks parties, she had a bottle or two of nice wine at the weekend, because that was what you did. Harry drank to persuade herself she liked Clara’s friends and was interested in hearing about reinsurance office politics. And because she was editing a book on women in prison with authors who appeared incapable of realising that handing in a chapter 15,000 words long at the end of July was not the equivalent of handing in a chapter 8,000 words long the previous October. And because Clara didn't like hearing Harry talk about female prisoners, and made that clear, but did still like having sex with Harry, especially if they were both slightly relaxed with alcohol. Enough alcohol.

You couldn’t pinpoint when you became an alcoholic, though Harry of course, had subsequently tried. She’d realised she had a problem when her contact details got removed from the Old Bailey Proceedings online, after one too many over-intense discussions with a user. She couldn’t remember now if that had been the corporal punishment categorisation debate or something to do with version 4 of the database. Version 4 had definitely not helped her drinking.

Clara had realised about Harry’s drinking at least a year before Harry had, and promptly done all the wrong things, been alternatively too critical and too indulgent. Once Harry had finally admitted she had a drink problem, and read a few relevant books, she’d pointed out, as tactfully as she could, some of Clara’s mistakes. Because she was now an expert on how to stop drinking. Well, an expert in theory. Harry’s other problem had been assuming that knowing what she ought to do, and doing it had any necessary connection. That self-knowledge was enough, rather than self-knowledge combined with common sense, and help from people who were prepared to stand up to her. Clara’s big mistake had been not leaving Harry.

It was Phoebe Phillips who saved Harry, and ended their marriage. Harry researched her intensely for a year and a half, and stayed sober almost all the time. It helped that she spent so little time with Clara. Well, it helped the drinking. It was probably a really bad move in every other way to show that you were more interested in another woman than your own wife. Even if that other woman was a long dead prostitute. Perhaps particularly if the other woman was a long dead prostitute. Harry barely made it through writing up the book and she was surprised that Clara didn’t leave her then. Clara didn’t leave even when Harry explained she was moving on to write about a cross-dressing highwayman. Clara was doggedly, persistently, staying in the marriage, which was sucking them both down into despair and disaster. Harry wasn’t sure she could save herself, but she had to save Clara. So she left her. It was, she thought afterwards, the one sensible decision she'd ever made about Clara, so of course John disapproved.

***

I made Clara unhappy and I turned myself into an alcoholic, thought Harry, as she stared in the mirror in the BL toilets, and tried to find an expression that made her look more like a competent researcher, and less like a despairing teenager. And I'm still an alcoholic and now I'm making Molly unhappy instead. Not exactly progress, is it?

But no, she wasn't an alcoholic, she was a recovering alcoholic.  Which meant not drinking today, just like yesterday, and the day before, and last week, when she had Molly. She could get through this day too. But she might as well head home, because she could at least be miserable in more comfort if she was in her own flat.