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Launch off (4/4)

BBC Sherlock

Rating 15 (femslash, alcoholic and non-alcoholic historians)

Spoilers: none

Summary: Harry's book has been launched, but can she now get herself and Molly out of the Institute of Historical Research unscathed? Especially when Molly's just met a pirate historian.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Molly was a really good listener, though Harry, as she slipped away from the conversation five minutes later. She could make you feel that what you said was important, fascinating. She'd almost been envious of Scott, as he started to explain to Molly how a labourer from Anglesey had ended up terrorising the coasts of Haiti. But Scott was happily married and...she mustn't start getting possessive about Molly. Certainly not when she didn't even possess her. She should, she didn't know what she should do. She should probably play it cool, but cool and sober was a surprisingly difficult combination. Meanwhile, she could see OUP's marketing person fixing a beady eye on her, she'd have to bite the bullet and go and talk to her.


When she eventually extricated herself – how could you segment a student market, and how painful was it? – she looked round automatically for Molly. She knew she ought to go and talk to Simon Dangerfield, but she couldn't face it yet. She stared around ineffectively for a while – why was everyone here so damn tall? – and at last spotted Molly, sitting in a corner, reading. I really have bored her, she thought miserably. She went over, and Molly looked up.

"Hi," Molly said, "Are you OK?"

Harry sat down beside her. "I've just had to explain to someone from OUP that I can't go on 'Woman's Hour' to p-promote the book. I said I was p-probably banned from appearing on it again."

"You've been banned from appearing on 'Woman's Hour'?" Molly asked, and Harry wasn't quite sure if she sounded stunned or impressed.

"I don't kn-know officially," said Harry, "but I suspect they wouldn't want to invite me after what I said last time."

"John said you found radio a bit difficult because of your stammer," Molly said cautiously. "And that you sometimes, um, tried to boost your confidence..." Her voice tailed off.

Never mind Georgian women killing their husbands, thought Harry, why didn't a few more of them murder their brothers? It would be entirely justified.

"I was sober!" she almost shouted. "Completely. I'd edited this book on women in prison through the ages, and they wanted me for a discussion with some government minister on p-prison policy. Only I was trying to avoid words starting with m-m-m-certain letters, so rather than saying that their p-policy was 'moronic and p-populist', I said it was 'cretinous and quasi-fascist', and things rather went downhill from there."

"Did they ever broadcast that?" Molly asked, gasping.

"No. It's p-probably in some BBC archive as an awful warning of who n-not to get on your p-p-programme."

"You are incredible, Harry," said Molly, smiling. "I'd never have the nerve to do something like that."

Not kissing her, not kissing her, not kissing her, Harry told herself firmly, and to distract herself asked, "So what are you reading?" She looked down, and then at last, it registered. "Oh God, it's my book, isn't it?"

"It was all getting a bit loud," said Molly, "I'm sorry, I'm used to the mortuary. And so I thought if I sat here and started reading, it'd make a nice change. And maybe I'd understand some of the conversations a bit better."

"You're reading chapter 1," Harry said, with sudden dread. "P-please don't read that, it's the boring theoretical bit, even I realise it's boring. Chapter 2 is m-m-much better."

"It's not boring," said Molly. Her hand reached out for Harry's, and then suddenly pulled away. "It's really not. It's, it's well written, I understood it, not like a lot of the feminist stuff I've read. You connect it up to real people, ordinary people, not just all these abstract terms, sexuality, and gender, and identities and so on."

"But it's still just words," Harry burst out, "And that's not enough. I talk about m-m-masculine and feminine, and gay and straight, and I use those words because I want to try and explain things clearly, but they're still just labels. They're too simplistic. Because it's really about p-people and people are so complex and mysterious, and uncapturable, and I don't know how to say the things I want!"

Molly was looking at her with a slight wariness now, a nervousness to her smile, and suddenly Harry knew that she thought Harry's speech was a prelude to making a move on her, and Molly wasn't quite sure if she wanted that, at least not right now. Back off, she told herself, and she gasped out: 'But I suppose a history book without words would be a bit strange, wouldn't it?"

"Definitely," Molly replied with relief, "and words are very...interesting."

"Yes," said Harry, "because their m-meanings change, and the same phenomena have historically been categorised in such different ways."  Help, she was getting boringly theoretical again. "I m-mean the eighteenth century has all these ways of thinking about what we'd call sexual identity, tribades, and tommies, and mollies-"


Oh shit. "Well, a m-m-m-molly in eighteenth century slang is an effeminate m-man." It was one meaning of the word.

"When I was still at medical school," said Molly, "there was a play on at the National Theatre called 'Mother Clap's Molly House'. Some of my friends thought it was funny to give me flyers for that."

"Right," said Harry cautiously.

"So I went along to see it," said Molly. "It was...interesting. Unexpected."

"N-not very historically accurate," Harry said," But that's probably n-not the p-p-point, is it?"

"So you don't like historical plays?" said Molly, smiling.

"I once threw a book at the TV during the dramatisation of M-Moll Flanders. Did you see that? The one with that red-headed actress from ER?"

"I could never bear to watch ER," Molly replied. "Not even for the sake of George Clooney."

Probably not a good move to get into discussions of which TV stars we fancy, thought Harry, if I'm arguing that gay and straight are just arbitrary labels. Anyhow, she actually had a cue.

"Do you like going to the theatre?" she asked.

"Yes," said Molly, "Maybe we could go and see a show together?"

"Is there anything on at the moment you fancy?"

"Well, I do like musicals," said Molly, "and there is, I haven't seen it yet, and I'd quite like to...'Love Never Dies', the sequel to 'Phantom of the Opera', it's on at the Adelphi."

I love her enough even for Andrew Lloyd Webber, thought Harry. "If you can get tickets, I'll be happy to come," she said. "or have you seen 'Chicago'?"

"I went ages ago," said Molly, "but we could go again, it was fun. But I did feel so sorry for Amos, especially when he was singing 'Mr Cellophane'."

When I saw it, I wanted  to be Billy Flynn, because he wowed all the girls, thought Harry, and hastily said: "If you want to find out about tickets for 'Love Never Dies', I'm free m-m-most evenings."

"That's, that's good," said Molly. "Harry, I think there's someone over there trying to get your attention."

"Oh help," said Harry, as she reluctantly looked away from Molly, "It's Professor Dangerfield from Oxford.  I've got to talk to him, and I really don't want to. He doesn't believe in sex."


"I m-mean, he doesn't think that historians should write about sex, it's n-not important enough."

"Could you say you're researching murder now?" Molly asked. "Or is that not important enough either?"

"You're wonderful, M-M-Molly, thank you so much. I'll go and talk to him about m-murder."


She didn't know why, but after that it suddenly gelled. She explained to Simon Dangerfield what he needed to do to sort out his database, and he told her about an interesting uxoricide in Twickenham. And then Ruth Isaacs was saying that she was organising a conference in New York and would Harry be able to come and speak. And someone mentioned something about the York Cause Papers that had her rapidly scribbling down ideas about continuity and change of women's experience on the back of an order form. If that was right, then her chronology would actually work, and she knew someone who could tell her the canon law stuff she'd need to check...

She finished her writing, decided her notes would be legible and comprehensible in the morning, since she'd written then when  sober, and felt a sudden emptiness. An almost literal emptiness. Her bloody brother had been right, she should have eaten something beforehand. And the nibbles were probably long since gone.  She looked around, realised that no-one else was queuing up to speak to her, and tried to work out what to do next.

She was beginning to feel tired, the noise, and the heat, and the nervous tension getting to her. It suddenly felt like hard work. But Jo Rider, and Anna, and Chris and the others from the long eighteenth century seminar gang were over in the corner, roaring with laughter. They were probably discussing films by now, and Chris would be giving his scathing denunciation of the latest blockbuster. You didn't need to see most films, once you'd heard Chris on them. She'd go over, and have a laugh with Chris and the others, and maybe some wine to unwind, because she'd earned it. Just one glass. She turned, and headed for the table with the drinks on at the back of the room, and suddenly there was Molly, sweet and creamy in her cream dress, with a glass in her hand. A glass in each hand, orange juice in both.

"I saw you and I thought you might be getting thirsty," Molly said, and her voice was soft. "It's...it's very hot in here. Or they said they could possibly do coffee, if you'd prefer that. If that'd...help."

"Thank you so m-much," Harry said, and as she gulped down the juice, she thought, to hell with Chris and the rest, not this time, not yet. She looked across at Molly, and opened her mouth to say: I want to spend my entire life with you, and despite me being an alcoholic, with your love I will overcome that, and we will live happily ever after that, even though you still think you're mostly straight. And then she realised that was a bit much, no far, far too much, for what was, on the most generous reckoning, their second date.

"Are you OK?" asked Molly. "You look a bit...overwhelmed."

"I'm fine," she said. "But I'm sorry, this is all probably a bit m-much for you. All these historians."

"No, I'm fine," said Molly. "What would you like to do now? I suppose we can't really leave yet, it would be a bit rude."

Harry's brain, distracted by the 'we', fumbled for the correct answer, because 'get you in a corner and snog you till they throw us out' was obviously not appropriate. And then she heard her own voice, from some stupidly disconnected part of her brain, say: "Plague pits."

Why was she allowed out alone? Except Molly was smiling, and saying: "Bubonic plague?"

"Black Death, 1349, they uncovered burial p-pits recently in Smithfield, P-Pauline Carr over there in the corner kn-knows all about it, was on the dig." It was barely coherent, but somehow Molly understood.

"I read something once that said the Black Death possibly wasn't caused by bubonic plague," she replied. "Is that true?"

"I don't know," said Harry, "not my period. Pauline's the p-p-person to ask."

"Then let's go and find out about plague pits," said Molly, still smiling, and together they started to make their way through the crowd.


Historical note: Several editions of  'Authentic memoirs of Phebe Phillips: otherwise Maria Maitland; well known in the vicinity of Covent Garden' were really published, and are available (for example, via the Eighteenth Century Collections Online database and in a recent collection of whore biographies). The rest, however, is not history.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 22nd, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)

(Sorry - I would love to offer some more eloquent and pertinent feedback but: awwww...)
Dec. 27th, 2010 03:27 pm (UTC)
There's nothing like discussing plague pits for a truly soppy romance. (And I'm sure it says something about Harry that she can actually say 'plague pits' without stammering).
Dec. 22nd, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
Phew, they got through without any really significant cock-ups, and Molly liked Chapter 1, and was still watching Harry closely enough to head her off from the wine...

I hope there's going to be more of this.

Nothing particularly significant inserted by Mycroft here, unless it's Woman's Hour - which has only one Woman in it, incidentally, though as the references are both in direct speech it may be Harry and Molly getting it wrong.
Dec. 27th, 2010 03:32 pm (UTC)
I try and remember to do the research, but there's always something. Thanks for pointing out the errant 'women', as opposed to the errant women. There is going to be more of Harry at some point, because she's so fun to write.
Dec. 23rd, 2010 12:13 am (UTC)
you're a devil! I want the snog as much as Harry . . . but yes, okay, inappropriate for the setting . . .
ending on the plague pits--delicious--and something Sherlock would approve of, I think. This ep is a great character study and transformation for Harry--like the struggles she goes through with her own impulses--both toward Molly and the drinking--and she is able to stay in control on both counts. Truly enjoyed this series . . . um . . . sorry to be so greedy, but hoping for a little M/H date at the theater soon.
Dec. 27th, 2010 03:39 pm (UTC)
A lot of dodgy things get discussed at the IHR, but they tend to frown on actual petting. However I hold no brief for what Harry may get up to once outside Senate House...

I don't think the theater (or even the theatre) will be involved, but a mega-Harry fic is crawling its way out of my pen currently. But it is so long and angsty and confusing that it will take a long time, and possibly discussion, before it appears. And it's as Lestradeless as usual, I'm afraid.
Dec. 27th, 2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
wonderful--a long angsty Harry fic sounds intriguing--and I'll look forward to it. Always eager to read more. If she'd ever like to go to the Huntington archives in Pasadena, I'll join her there for a chat in the garden. BTW, I bravely accept the lack of Lestrade in Harry's world. I know he's busy fighting crimes and charming Holmeses elsewhere.
Dec. 29th, 2010 07:19 pm (UTC)
so glad this one ends happily for the time being - I never expected to be cheering for Harry, but you've made me do that with this fic. very pleased to hear there will be more of her from you...
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:22 am (UTC)
Only I was trying to avoid words starting with m-m-m-certain letters, so rather than saying that their p-policy was 'moronic and p-populist', I said it was 'cretinous and quasi-fascist', and things rather went downhill from there."

Your Harry is awesome, I'll probably never tire of saying that.
Jan. 24th, 2012 12:47 am (UTC)
Oh, dude, I really wanted to go with them to the theatre! They work out okay, right? : ) totally enthralled by this lovely little fic. Quite a portion of new headcanon I've ended up with : )
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )