Author's note: I'm still nuts for the bromance. I don't think getting rid of Mary is needed in order to nurture a healthy bromance. I was intrigued by the idea of a story focused on Watson's expertise rather than Holmes'.
She surveyed the room with a critical eye. It wasn't just the dust but the clutter and the smells: exotic and unnatural. She shook her head slightly. Then she remembered the cup of tea in her hand and she delicately raised it for a sip.
"I see how eyeing you're my digs," he growled.
Her mouth curled up. "I am thinking that one day you'll be out and I'll be here alone with nothing to do, and the thought of bringing some order to this room is quite compelling."
"Balderdash! A place for everything and everything in its place. It must not be touched!" His brows furrowed at her.
She sighed. "Well, you can hardly blame me. I mean, my fiancée was just newly packed into new quarters when a mysterious fire burned his rooms forcing him to return here to Baker Street. It's natural that one might find me wherever my beloved is, and if I become bored and the smell of this room overwhelms me, I can't say what I shall be forced to do."
Holmes shifted in his chair. "It remains a mystery to me how you are here now when your "beloved" is not."
Mary smiled. "It's a lovely day and my student has left with his family for the country, and I thought that perhaps, John and I could take a walk."
"You're aware of his limp, My Dear. Old war wound. For Watson, walking is for necessity, not pleasure."
She frowned. "I hadn't thought of that. Well, perhaps, we would take a short walk and sit at the park. John could read to me from my Emily Dickinson."
Holmes guffawed rudely.
She blushed. "What is it?"
"Oh, he loves poetry. Absolutely adores it. I say that reading poetry is just the ticket for old Watson."
"Well, I didn't know that, did I? I haven't known him as long as you have. Some men like poetry." She awkwardly smoothed her skirts.
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "I'm a bore. Always seem to be when we're in company together. My apologies. Truly, this time."
She shook her head. "You're incorrigible. You have me convinced that we'll always be at loggerheads."
Holmes sighed. "Well, you did just come out of nowhere. We were doing quite well, thank you."
"You were doing well. Watson was doing all he could to keep you in check, but his own work was suffering. It was all about your needs. You can't be surprised that he would break away. If it hadn't been me, it would have been someone or something else."
Holmes stared down into his cup. She was maddeningly frank…and correct.
"Your problem, Holmes, is that you do not know how to share."
He looked up sharply.
She chuckled. "To exorcise you from his life would be like taking his heart, his soul. He needs you. I'm not interesting in doing that to him."
"You're capitulating?" He frowned.
She put her cup down and looked at him. "I want a husband, a man I can admire, a man I can love. I don't want to change him. You are part of what makes him who he is. I don't want to crush that."
"I almost believe you," he narrowed his eyes at her.
"Holmes!" The door swung open, Watson standing there, red in the face, brandishing his cane. "Mary's in trouble. I need your help!"
"I'm not worried about her. Are you worried about you, Mary?"
Watson saw her and his body deflated. "You're here."
She stood up, surprised when he then stumbled over and hugged her roughly. "Thank God! What are you doing here, Mary? You were supposed to be at your lodgings."
"I came to see you," she grunted from within his grasp.
Holmes frowned. "Whatever has come over you, Watson?"
Watson broke away, blinking madly. "There's an epidemic. Smallpox. Half of West London is quarantined, Mary's lodgings included. I was sure she were caught in the net."
Mary pushed away. "That's horrible! My landlady. My neighbors. Is everyone okay? I should see to them." She scurried for her hat and bag.
Watson held her arm. "It's impossible, My Dear. No one in and no one out. They've barricaded the streets. You'll have to stay here."
Holmes leapt to his feet. "Now see here, Watson. That won't do. That won't do at all."
"Calm down, Holmes. I had no idea you would be so bunched up about a young lady's reputation."
Mary rolled her eyes. "He's not worried about my reputation, John. I threatened to clean his rooms. I suspect that he sees himself under siege now that I am interned here."
Holmes cleared his throat. "Neither of you is correct. I mean…there isn't room. When you're seeing patients, she'll have to be in my quarters. Nothing personal, My Dear, I assure you, but I must work."
Watson nodded. "Yes, you're right, Holmes, but I have just the solution. Mary will stay in my rooms."
"That's awfully bold."
Watson saw Mary's eyes grow wide. "It's not what you think. You will stay in my rooms instead of me. I'll be otherwise engaged."
"I don't like the sound of that." Holmes growled.
"It's my duty, Holmes."
"What are the two of you talking about?"
"Tell her, Watson. Tell her your plans."
Watson took Mary's hands. "Nothing to worry about, really, but as a former military officer, I have a responsibility to her majesty to help out at a time of epidemic."
"I thought that the cholera epidemic of 1887 was going to be the end of you."
Watson frowned. "Don't do that, Holmes. It was fine, Dear Mary. This will be fine too."
"I'll go with you, John. I'll act as your nurse."
"Not a chance, Mary. Smallpox hits hard and it hits fast. The work is dirty, exhausting, and heartbreaking. I won't allow it."
"I'm not afraid."
Holmes sighed. "You won't move him, Mary. I never have. He's a man of honor and all that."
"You'll get sick!"
"I have been around many diseases including smallpox. None have taken me yet. Now, we won't have any more fussing. I'm off to Charing Cross station. The medical effort will be centered there."
"I'll bring fresh clothing every other day."
Watson smiled. "Good man, Holmes."
"I shall bring you soup everyday," Mary said.
Watson shook his head. "The streets won't be safe. People are always more desperate during times of sickness. You'll stay here, Mary. Holmes will watch after you."
He gave her a kiss and a hug. "I'll be as few days as I can manage."
Then he looked at his old friend. "I can count on you?"
Holmes nodded imperceptibly.
Watson smiled. "Of course, I can." Then he grabbed his cane and was out the door.
She ran to the window and watched him disappear down the street. When she finally turned back to him, Holmes had dropped back into his chair.
She dabbed at her eyes. "Poor Holmes, now you're really stuck with me."
He shifted uncomfortably. "Now, Mary, I'll be on my best behavior for you. You won't have a single complaint to share when he comes back."
She stamped a foot. "I don't like it, Holmes."
He blinked, "Nor do I, My Dear. Nor do I."
He immersed himself in the minutiae of his thoughts, trying to dive deeply into study. One of the irregulars had procured two authentic elephant's tusks, and he had ground them down in the hopes of testing the powders against the curative claims made by the natives in India. It had all the hallmarks of a worthy diversion, but Holmes was distracted by thoughts of Watson. Diseases and epidemic were nasty business. There was nothing that logic and a razor sharp mind could do to make a difference in the face of it. The great Sherlock Holmes was powerless: a mere mortal against the ravages of disease.
He'd been through this before. The cholera epidemic he alluded to earlier took Watson for two weeks. Holmes took to pacing the floors during that time. There was no role for him to play, no sleight of hand for him to perform.
Finally, in frustration, he sent Constable Clark out to find him. He paid him 6 quid to say that Holmes had come down with the sickness and Watson was to come home straight away. It worked. A thoroughly exhausted Watson stumbled through his door the very next day. Of course, he was mad about the charade, but lack of food and dehydration left him weak enough to give in to Holmes' fussing. He took to his bed and didn't rise again for two days. By then, the crisis had passed. Watson refused to talk to Holmes for a month, but it was worth it just to hear the knocking about in the rooms next to his.
Hudson's shoes on the stairs sounded, and Holmes straightened up. She was bringing up tea. Tea meant it was time to get Mary from Watson's rooms. He insisted she sit with him for tea and meals. He was determined to be the epitome of a gentleman at all times.
He made it to the stoop the next morning with a packet for Watson before she caught him.
"Please let me come with you." She was dressed for the street. She must have listening for his footsteps for hours.
He turned to her. This was a moment where Sherlock Holmes usually would say something curt and then disappear, but he found himself to be somewhat softened toward Mary Morstan. Her concern never wavered, and she faced him day after day with a steady eye. She was made of sterner stuff than he'd originally thought.
"It's not possible."
"I'm not afraid, Holmes. I just need to see that he is okay. Please."
"He would be very upset. And he would blame me for not protecting you."
"I need to see him."
He shook his head and put his hand on her arm. "You'll have to trust me on this, Mary."
"Can I?" Her eyes were searched his.
"You once told me that you knew I cared for him as much as you did. I'll bring him back."
She relaxed. "Aren't you afraid I'll clean your rooms in your absence?"
"I've left booby traps for you, My Dear."
She smiled. "I'll be waiting for both of you."
Pain exploded in his leg every time it touched ground. When he could, he rested it on a stool or a chair or anything to give it a little elevation. He'd been awake and on his feet for far too long. Groans erupted again, and he hobbled into the next room to care for a mother and her three children. Two other children had died during the night, and her cries were a mix of fever and anguish.
A military doctor is prepared for men wounded by bullets, knives, and explosions. Here, he was mopping foreheads and urged broth on delirious patients that lay scattered on every inch of free space in the house. For every fever he brought down successfully, there were five he failed to hold. The children died the quickest. A little boy was watching him intently one minute, and then dead an hour later. He would clean after a hundred battles if it meant that he would never have to see the life drain out of another small child.
He felt robes brush against him, and he turned to find a young nun press a tin of food into his hands. He nodded gratefully and sat on the edge of the bed of the grieving mother. There would be no pretense or ceremony. He hadn't eaten in at least a day, and he would take sustenance wherever and whenever he could find it. There was a biscuit and some dried meat inside, and he took small bites, worried that he would choke if he ate too quickly.
The nun disappeared as quickly as she arrived. She was part of an order called the Sisters of St. Joseph. Their habits were hospital white, and they seemed only to appear at times of disease. He found them to be amazing creatures that worked fearlessly among the sick, offering a level of care no different than his own capabilities.
One of them whispered to him some hours ago that there was a tenement building much deeper into the quarantine area that had been avoided because of the squalor and crime associated with it. The nun worried that there might be sick inside in need of care. The police would not escort them down there, but the nuns were planning to send a team nonetheless. He had rather crossly told her that it was a foolish idea and that he would not allow it. The look she gave him made it very clear that she didn't need his approval.
The streets were largely deserted. As he neared Charing Cross, he noted a few storefronts with broken glass. Looting always seemed to occur during time of disaster or disease. Holmes secretly hoped he would come across some soulless looters; he was weeks behind in his martial arts practice and relished an opportunity to practice.
At he neared the station, he encountered groups of policemen set up to make sure no one entered the quarantine area. The first few groups paid no attention to his presence and he pressed on. It was only at the fever line itself that he was stopped. It took a three pound bribe to get cops to search the houses used as hospitals for the doctor.
It was another hour before he saw Watson follow a bobby out of a building. The doctor's limp was exaggerated, and the strain of the effort showed on his face. Watson stopped about ten yards from the line. "Good to see you, Holmes."
Holmes moved forward until a nightstick slapped him lightly on his chest holding him back. "You're not getting any rest."
Watson shrugged. "I close my eyes when I can. Is Mary well?"
"You're going to ask me to leave. I can see it in your eyes. I don't have the energy for it, Holmes."
"You're spent. You need to get some rest."
Watson leaned heavily on his cane. "I've been exposed to smallpox before. I won't get sick."
"You'll die of exhaustion."
"I'm okay, Old Boy."
Holmes tried to push past the police. "If you are not leaving, then I am staying."
Watson watched wearily while four bobbies converged to hold Holmes behind the line. "Go home, Friend. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Watson! Listen to me, Watson!" Holmes struggled against the arms holding him back.
Watson shook his head and turned back toward the makeshift hospitals.