A/N: A little bit of fun. Well, it does have a bit of a serious side, but I wrote it for fun. This is set maybe six months after Watson's marriage; I've decided to skip over/ignore the whole Professor Moriarty arc, because it complicates matters and I'm lazy. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: Guy Ritchie owns the film, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle owns the characters. (Although I wouldn't mind owning Jude Law... someday. :wink:)
Please don't forget to review!
I. A Slip of the Tongue
At first, as Holmes unfalteringly insisted, it was "for the sake of old times" – casual little drop-in visits, always en route to someplace else or other; to meet with a client over a new case perhaps, or to one of the leading art museums in London, or to an associate whose knowledge in some obscure minutiae demanded Sherlock's immediate attention.
Watson, who knew Holmes to be one who never budged from 221b Baker Street short of a new case or an international disaster (and who also happened to know that the Bond Street galleries were in the opposite direction to his own new apartments), nonetheless never commented on these petty excuses. To both him and Holmes, these excuses were socially expected but ultimately unimportant – which was why the latter never bothered with their plausibility. Watson's housekeeper was not a very bright sort and the slightest explanation, no matter how ridiculous, was enough to satisfy her curiosity. In time, she grew accustomed to Holmes' eccentric form on the apartment steps and knew to let him in to the parlour or sitting room, regardless of the time or his pretext-of-the-moment.
And there, in said parlour or sitting room, Watson would inevitably be. Sometimes writing, sometimes smoking, sometimes half-asleep with a newspaper open on his chest.
But always there.
And Mary Watson always was not.
The first few visits, Watson hadn't noticed this fact. He'd been too delighted (a little relieved, as well) that his close companion of three years or so had finally resolved to acknowledge his marriage. It was only after the third or fourth visit, after Mary had asked him in that sweet voice of hers at breakfast how his detective friend was getting along, that he'd realised Sherlock's impeccable timing.
It wasn't that the length of his visits were consistent. Sometimes he stayed for the better half of an afternoon; other times he stayed only long enough to down a cup of tea and rearrange some of Watson's furniture to suit his own tastes when the younger man wasn't looking.
("I do wish you'd stop that," Watson had told him once on such an occasion, upon which Holmes' reply had been a "Yes, my boy, of course" followed by the repositioning of Watson's writing desk.)
No, it was rather the meticulous timing of each of his visits which, at first, gave Watson a sense of amusement but which eventually petered out into a nagging annoyance. Sherlock somehow always contrived to arrive exactly five minutes after Mary had left, or leave exactly five minutes before Mary arrived; such consistency could only point to design. Having reconciled himself to the idea that Holmes no longer opposed his marriage with Mary, such a blatant unwillingness to meet the household's mistress stuck like a splinter in John Watson's mind.
Sandwiched firmly between his wife and his immature best friend was not a pleasant place to be.
And so, on that afternoon in 1892, upon catching a glimpse of Holmes' battered hat in the street below from an upstairs window, Dr John H. Watson, M.D., decided to settle the damned matter once and for all.
The stormy expression on Watson's face as he entered was enough to warn Holmes of what was coming.
"Halloa, old chap," the latter said, deciding not to comment on it and draping his overcoat over a chair instead. "Dreadful weather. I was headed for the station, but the train comes at three and it being only twelve o'clock, I thought I had time enough to drop in and – "
Watson, Holmes noted aimlessly to himself, had a really telling habit whenever he was truly irritated, and that was one of purpose. Squared shoulders, set jaw, folded arms on the strong chest. A gaze that could have dispensed lead bullets.
Holmes sank into the armchair nearest the window with an unconcerned sigh. He'd felt those bullets before; they didn't bother him unduly.
"What is it, Watson?"
"It's about Mary."
"Of course it is. Pray continue. Ah, and here comes Ms Turner with the tea; immaculate timing, as always. Would you be kind enough to bring up some sandwiches, Ms Turner? The cold ham and Cheshire cheese currently in your kitchen would suffice. I haven't yet had lunch, and your sandwiches are divine. Oh, and there will be no need to knock when you come up, we'll be expecting you. Thank-you."
Watson watched, almost impatiently, as the old housekeeper reddened under Sherlock's praise and bobbed a few clumsy, unnecessary curtsies before backing herself out of the door again.
"Holmes," he started as soon as she was gone, "I need to know the meaning of this immediately. You've visited me no less than fifteen times now since my marriage."
"Seventeen, actually, if you count today."
"The exact number is beside the point. You have visited me quite a few times after my marriage, and each time you have made sure to avoid meeting Mary. She has been very keen to renew her acquaintance with you, and you have steadfastly refused to see her. I demand an explanation."
"The laws of probability, my dear Watson, give no explanations."
"When you're involved, Holmes, probability doesn't come into the equation. I know you have been avoiding her on purpose."
"Oh?" Holmes gave a noncommittal sniff and patted his pockets for his pipe. "How so?"
"How so?" Watson repeated, incredulous. Holmes was looking at him with a bland, feigned interest on his face, a look which he took care to be transparent enough for the doctor to notice. Watson felt his eye twitch. "You know exactly how so! You never visit me whenever Mary is at home. Do you remember that time when you didn't visit for a week – because Mary stayed home all that week, in the hope she would meet you? And the very week after that, she left for her brother's for five days and you visited every one of those days. When she returned, you kept your distance again. Surely you remember the incident."
"Correlation, dear Watson, does not equate to causation."
"No, but it definitely makes a strong case for it!"
"Ah, there you err. Let me put a hypothetical situation to you, Watson, to make my point."
"I don't need – "
Holmes cut him off, waving his lit pipe about dismissively. "I wish to make clear my point, Watson. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that I walked out of this door at this very moment and picked seventeen women off the street. No, Watson, don't interrupt, that shows terrible manners. Now," he continued, as Watson clamped his mouth shut with a glare, "let us also assume that of these seventeen women, all seventeen were six foot tall and wearing exactly the same brand of gloves. Do I then automatically and logically assume that, because of this data, all tall women wear Harrods gloves? Here you may interrupt, Watson, with an appropriate answer. Is such a deduction logical?"
"No," Watson muttered irritably through clenched teeth. "Of course not. That wasn't what I – "
"Is it likewise logical to deduce that all women who wear Harrods gloves must be tall?"
"No, Holmes, and I didn't say – "
"Naturally, then, we may extend such a hypothetical scenario to the present one of which we are discussing – that of my visits, and of Mary's absence during them. It must therefore follow that there is no evidence at all that I time my visits to your home in direct purpose to avoid meeting Mary here. It is merely coincidence. Quod erat demonstrandum."
"You can tangle me in rhetoric as much as you like," Watson interjected angrily, "but we both know what you're doing. Each of the seventeen times – including today, might I add – "
"I would if you'd stop interrupting me!"
A self-satisfied smirk had begun to creep across Sherlock's face, which only managed to make things worse. Watson had to physically restrain himself from taking the five steps across the sitting room floor to punch the amusement off his friend's face.
"I have ceased to interrupt you, my dear doctor. Do continue."
"Each of the seventeen times you have visited, Mary has not been home. I'd say that was more than coincidence."
"If you insist on such a notion, then – if it indeed is more than coincidence – how can you prove that it has not been Mary avoiding me?"
"Don't be absurd."
"I am being perfectly reasonable."
"What reason would Mary have for avoiding you? She has wanted to meet you ever since your first visit."
"What reason would I have for avoiding Mary? If I call upon your house, doctor, I must naturally be wishing to call upon its occupants. Including Miss Morstan, as I see it, since she also resides here."
"She is Mrs Watson now, Holmes."
For a moment, that seemed to unsettle the previously imperturbable detective. The smoke from his pipe paused halfway through his lips. He recovered quickly, however, and flashed Watson a disarming smile.
"Of course. A slip of the tongue, nothing more."
Watson sighed, shaking his head. He knew, more than anyone else alive, how stubborn Sherlock Holmes could be once he'd made his mind up about something or other; more than once they'd bickered about the position of some ornament in the sitting room of Baker Street, Watson shifting it to his favoured position one day and Holmes shifting it back to his the next, resulting in a silent war in which the poor ornament was transferred from one site to the other, back and forth, on a daily basis for up to months on end.
And now the ornament in question was Mrs Mary Watson – and Holmes' favoured position for her was out of Watson's life entirely.
Well, Watson was having none of that.
"She's my wife now, Holmes. I married her. I love her."
Slight irritation moved across Sherlock's face like a spasm. "Now you're the one who's being absurd."
"Absurd! How dare you – "
"You know very well, Watson, that you don't love her at all."
Watson was in front of Holmes' armchair in a second, his fist rising up to collide harshly with the seated man's jaw. Sherlock's head snapped to one side, his lips making a slight moue of surprise. The second blow he blocked with a forearm, before leaning back with a placating hand on Watson's wrist and a half-smile on his mouth. Watson glared, but didn't try to hit him again.
"Why, I'd forgotten how fast you are when you're angry, old boy," Holmes said then, with a light laugh. "Well, you've knocked my pipe well away. I hope it doesn't set anything on fire. It was lit, you know."
"On fire!" came a sudden shrill voice from outside the room, followed by a loud clatter. Watson started sharply, although Holmes did not. The door to the sitting room opened, and there stood Ms Turner, hands wringing in her apron, her simple face obviously horrified. "On fire! You must excuse me, sirs – I really must – I can't let – you know – "
Watson wrenched his wrist away, breathing hard.
"I think it is somewhere over there," Holmes gestured vaguely, giving Watson an indulgent smile as Ms Turner immediately hurried to the corner in question and began patting around on the floor. "Not there? Well. Perhaps it is underneath that bookcase. I do beg your pardon, Ms Turner. I wouldn't have dropped it, had not the good doctor surprised me so."
The rascal, Watson thought, fuming. He knew she was there. He knows very well I can't hit him again with her watching. What a typical thing for Holmes to do to get himself out of trouble.
Followed quickly by, And now my housekeeper thinks I'm a violent thug, which is always a bonus for Holmes, I guess.
He shifted irritably, moving to the settee opposite to avoid the temptation to hit Sherlock Holmes again. And then he saw the black object on Holmes' stomach.
"Oh, for God's sake, Holmes, let the poor woman alone. The pipe is in your lap. I can see it, just above your belt."
"Why, yes, here it is. Never mind, Ms Turner. The pipe is here. And it has gone out, too."
"Oh, thank God – the Lord – never would have done – on fire – upon my word – "
"You may leave now, Ms Turner, thank-you," Watson interrupted, a little ungraciously.
The little woman drew herself up with a huff, and with no good feeling towards the master of the house, left the room, no doubt to clean up the ham and cheese sandwiches that she'd dropped in the corridor in her haste.
As the door closed behind her, Holmes stood up.
"My, it's one-thirty already. How quickly time flies when you're agreeably engaged. Well, I suppose I must be off now, old boy. No need to see me out. I know my way by now."
And then he was gone before Watson had time to react, his overcoat thrown crisply over his shoulders and his voice in the corridor, obviously pleased with himself: "Good-bye, Ms Turner. No, I'm quite alright. And, I must say, I'm awfully sorry about the sandwiches."
Said landlady paused, visibly stunned, an empty silver tray in her hand. Sherlock Holmes very rarely called her by her name. Of course, now that Watson was no longer in residence at Baker Street, his attitude to her had grudgingly improved – out of sheer necessity. Holmes didn't know how to press his own shirts.
"You called, sir?"
"I – er – yes, I need your advice on a very delicate matter."
She looked at him, puzzled. "What matter, sir? You know I am not familiar with crime and cases. You had best consult Dr Watson, or Inspector Lestrade, on that."
"I had rather consult you than Inspector Lestrade on any case," Holmes commented dryly. "No, it has nothing to do with – er, crime. Well, strictly speaking, it doesn't. It has to do with Dr Watson."
"What about him, sir?"
"You've been a housekeeper for this residence for many years, correct?"
"And you've been housekeeper for Watson and I for three."
"Would it be fair to say, then, that you know Watson's habits – well, intimately, so to speak? After being a landlady for over twenty years, you must have extensive experience in human observation. I am merely wondering how firm a grasp you have on his character."
Mrs Hudson blinked at him, her mind not trained to think in the elaborate circles that Holmes' presence demanded. She sat down in confusion.
"Well, I suppose I understand him reasonably well," she managed.
"Excellent! Excellent. Now, Mrs Hudson, I want you to consider very carefully, a certain – scenario. Imagine a man, very, very similar to Watson – not Watson, of course. But very similar."
"Very good. Now, how would you describe this man? His likes, his dislikes, and so on."
"I'm not sure what – "
"Would he be a man of action, or of languor?"
"Er, I – "
"Action, correct? That is what I believed also. How very good of you to concur with me, Mrs Hudson. Now – being a man of action, he must necessarily be restless. Such a man would not easily adapt to domesticity, would he?"
"I don't think – "
"Of course he wouldn't. I'm glad we agree on that point. Now, if we proceed in this hypothetical strain, we may extend our analysis to wedlock. Wedlock is an extreme form of domesticity, yes?"
"Well, sir, I – "
"And wedlock must thus be very restraining to such a man necessarily opposed to domesticity."
"I'm not – "
"Such a man would hence, given the opportunity to realise how his very nature strains against the concept of wedlock, rebel against it – this would logically follow, would it not?"
Mrs Hudson gave him a flustered look. "Mr Holmes, I really do not think – "
"We are not, of course, referring directly to Dr Watson."
"Mr Holmes," the poor landlady cried, speaking very fast to prevent another interruption, "I must confess I have no idea what you are trying to say!"
Sherlock Holmes merely waved her protest aside. "A close friend to such a man trapped in wedlock would therefore be perfectly justified in making him realise his predicament, yes? Of course. You do not need to say anything more, Mrs Hudson – I understand your sentiments exactly. It is always such a great relief to have one's intimate thoughts echoed in another's mind. You have been invaluable, Mrs Hudson. You may return to your work."
"Ah, good morning, my dear fellow. You're up early today."
Watson blinked at the figure lounging comfortably on the settee, feet propped up carelessly on the seat's right arm. The frown which formed naturally beneath his moustache quickly gave way to a triumphant smirk.
"You've overreached yourself, Holmes. Mary is in the house. In fact, she will probably be coming down in little more than an hour or so."
To his surprise, Holmes smiled. "That's perfectly well."
"Will you be off soon, then?"
"No, I don't think I will."
"You'll stay? And see Mary?"
Holmes sat up a little to shoot an indignant look at his friend. "Have I ever made any verbal indication that I did not wish to see Miss Mors – Mrs Watson? You do me an injustice, dear doctor. I have nothing against the good lady." He paused, reconsidering. "Except, perhaps, that her voice is too shrill. And her manner is too affected. And her charms are all unforgivably domestic."
"You," said Watson dryly, "of all individuals, are accusing my wife of having an affected manner."
"With good reason, old boy, with good reason."
Watson scoffed and reached for the teapot, pouring himself a cup of Earl Grey. The cold morning air, entering from an open window, brushed over his bare forearms as he rolled up his shirt sleeves. From the open door came the smell of fresh toast and eggs as Ms Turner prepared the usual breakfast.
"I see you've thought about our conversation yesterday," Sherlock said to his back.
"On the contrary, Holmes, I haven't given it a moment's reflection."
"You're lying. Your shoulders always tense up when you lie, it is quite a bad habit. You really should endeavour to give it up."
Watson sighed, deciding it was better to just get it over with.
"What are you trying to do, Holmes? I'm afraid I don't understand you. I don't understand for a moment what you're trying to do."
"There go your shoulders again; you're lying. Really, Watson. Look. You should see your shoulders. I never saw anything more transparent."
"Just answer the question, Holmes."
"Very well." The settee groaned as the detective redistributed his weight – no doubt to get a better view of Watson's reaction. "I shall be perfectly frank with you, doctor. I should have made this point clearer before you were married, but of course there is nothing to be done about spilt milk. It is my firm belief, upon clear observation of both your character and that of Miss Mary's, that you will not be happy in marriage with her."
"Upon what grounds?" Watson said, finding his own voice surprisingly calm.
"Firstly, that she cannot possibly understand you. She, as a governess, sheltered her entire life in London – what could she know of your suffering in Afghanistan? She – who would faint at the slightest drop of blood – what could she understand of the carnage of those brutal war years, except to fear them, pity them, perhaps? I know you, Watson. You wouldn't want her pity; you wouldn't know what to do with her fear. Do you intend to spend the rest of your married life bottling up those years deep inside you, afraid to show her that part of yourself with which she, and everything she stands for, would be incongruous?"
"You are mistaken." Watson fought to keep his shoulders relaxed. "She knows all about my time in Afghanistan. She asked me about it herself."
"It won't do, Watson. You give yourself away."
"She is a woman, Holmes! No woman would understand a war. Your argument cannot hold, unless you expect me to believe that all war veterans are incapable of marrying happily."
"Others may be happy – but not you, I think. Domesticity doesn't suit you. You'll grow weary of it, soon."
"It suits me damn fine!"
"Give it a year or so, then." Holmes shrugged, easing himself off the settee. "In the meantime, I am going to get myself a cup of tea."
Watson turned to watch as Holmes poured out the hot liquid (no sugar – Watson knew this without looking) and sank haphazardly into a chair closer to him. Watson, for his part, chose to remain standing by the open window.
"I hope that was not your sole argument against my marriage, Holmes."
"Oh, it wasn't, I assure you." Sherlock paused to take a sip of tea before continuing. "You see, the second issue is a more serious extension of the first. You are, Watson, by nature a gambler, a heavy drinker, and rather loose with your money, if I may say so myself. Now don't be offended, old boy," he said quickly, catching the look in Watson's eye, "I have no desire to be punched again. I am merely summarising your greatest faults as I have observed them in the time that we have lived together. Being a frequenter of underground boxing rings myself, and also being rather fond of my liquor, I am not assuming a stance of moral superiority."
"You are alluding, perhaps, to your belief that Mary does have such a superiority."
"Precisely, dear Watson."
"Then you are mistaken again. Mary has never – "
"Of course not," Holmes interrupted impatiently. "You've given up those things, haven't you? A nightcap before bed is your limit, etcetera. But how long will that last? Knowing you, my money is on just under a year."
"Holmes, what are you trying to say?"
"That you need someone who can accept your faults, rather than singularly condemning them."
Watson laughed. He couldn't help himself.
"You want me to marry a woman who'd encourage me to be immoral?"
"Morality is merely a relative scale," Holmes offered mildly. "It has no precise definition."
"The same thing could be said about your cases, then," Watson pointed out angrily. "You have no moral obligation to solve them, if morality is relative."
"Of course not. But I do have an intellectual obligation."
Watson gaped at him, hardly believing his ears. "Do you mean to say – "
"We are off-topic," Holmes interposed. "The focus is on you, not on my crime-solving motivation. Your marriage to Mary Morstan – "
"Must what? End?" Watson placed his teacup down a little harder than necessary. "All your reasons mean nothing now that I'm actually married."
"They are valid reasons though, you must admit."
"I don't have to admit anything, Holmes!"
"Then you're in denial."
"I am not in – "
Both men jumped at the unexpected voice. Holmes – still with teacup in hand – managed to spill a large quantity of Earl Grey on his waistcoat, though he didn't seem to notice. Watson snatched the cup from him and put it back in its saucer on the table, more out of consideration for the upholstery than for the detective himself.
"Mrs Watson," Holmes murmured, giving her a wide smile. "You surprised us."
"I am glad John was up early today, or we might have missed you completely. I know I've missed you often enough, Mr Holmes."
Holmes stood calmly, pressing his lips to Mary's knuckles. "Watson was just telling me about how well married life is suiting him."
"Yes, I was," Watson said harshly, ignoring the amused glint in Sherlock's eye. At the obvious sincerity in his best friend's voice, the confidence on Holmes' face faltered for the very first time.
That night, in bed with Mary's sleeping head on his shoulder, Watson thought about what Sherlock Holmes had said.
This had, of course, not been the first time Holmes had played saboteur in regard to Watson's marriage. Upon reflection, it had probably not even been the tenth. But it had been the first time Holmes had been direct about his opinion, about his reading of Watson's attitude to his bride. Previously content to manipulate behind-the-scenes, palming off gypsy girls and the sort, Holmes was apparently no longer satisfied with such subtlety – especially when said subtlety had proved no deterrent whatsoever to Watson's attentions to Miss Mary Morstan.
Watson shifted uneasily at the thought, curling an arm around Mary's waist. When Sherlock Holmes solved a case, he did so with a clear objective in mind, never swerving from his vision of said objective no matter what his opponents (or Scotland Yard) threw at him. He never stopped until he had what he wanted.
So what did Sherlock Holmes want, in this case?
A divorce between Watson and his bride of six months?
But Watson knew – and so must Sherlock Holmes – that by law, the only ground for divorce was marital crime. Adultery by one of the two parties involved. Mary, in her sweet and innocent loyalty, could never be prevailed upon to do such a thing.
Watson shivered as the parts clicked themselves into place. This reached beyond a simple, childish jealousy to have a favourite companion at one's side indefinitely.
When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains – however improbable – must be the truth.
For the next few days, Watson threw himself into work. His practice – although not very illustrious – was nonetheless a very welcome distraction. For nine days, he left his home and his wife early in the morning and returned very late at night. He immersed himself in cases of cramp and ague, of influenza and consumption, of strep throat and pneumonia.
Anything but Sherlock Holmes.
Mary fretted, rather predictably, that he was wearing himself out. This fretting he found most irritating. And then, as soon as he'd thought this, he'd been appalled with himself and had apologised to her, much to her surprise. A wife certainly had a right to be concerned over her husband. He had not grounds to be impatient with her.
"You are being most strange, my dear," Mary had commented afterwards. "Are you feeling quite well?"
"Yes, sweetheart. I am fine."
But he'd not been. Despite his attempt at self-distraction, the uneasiness had been planted firmly there. Sherlock Holmes – in his remarkable way of getting under the skin of everybody he knew – had made him restless, had made him doubt himself.
And then – what had it been, that he'd said?
You need someone who can accept your faults, rather than singularly condemning them.
On the tenth night, determined to prove to himself that Holmes' comments were completely unfounded, Watson had deliberately gotten himself in a fight and come home smelling distinctly of gin. The ashen look on Mary Watson's face – concern, but predominantly one of hurt indignation – had shaken him. She'd admonished him in her gentle but serious manner, preached to him of his reputation and hers. He was a doctor now. He'd told her he'd left such vulgar habits behind – what would others think of him, if he relapsed into them once more?
"What do you think of me, Mary?" he'd asked her that night.
"Go to bed, John," had been the measured reply.
And the uncertainty that Holmes had predicted would surface had done so, and for the first time since his marriage, John Watson had wondered if he'd made a mistake.
A/N: Part II: A Very Valid Assumption will be up sometime next week.
Please don't forget to review!!