OK – I posted two bits without hurt/comfort! I was going through withdrawal. As with Trains, posted on the Book site for Sherlock Holmes, it starts after a case that goes wrong. In Six Months, Mary said she wanted to have John work with Sherlock again, but she knows what they do can be dangerous. This is a bit longer. More story to tell.
Emily and I are friends. Mind, our friendship has not been forged in the fire as John and Sherlock's, but it was her arms I ran to for comfort when my Arthur died abroad, she who accompanied me on the voyage, and I told her of my new love, John, before anyone else. I had her stand with me at my side, as Sherlock did at John's, when we married. It was a wickedly humourous subject before and after to imagine that Sherlock would take interest in Emily – simply because I knew that his first love was detecting, and he had emotional room left for naught but his one true friendship with the man who was now my husband.
I am not a fool. I knew it would not be easy to breach the wall of indifference he erected. That it should have been breached, and so thoroughly, was again due to my dear John, but the circumstances were – less than pleasant, and I do not like to dwell upon them. Perhaps at some point I will commit the entire tale to these pages, but it will not be today.
Back to my friend. Emily had it in her mind that we should be more social, now that I was married and settled. As a well-off young widow she had a wide circle of acquaintances, which she seemed intent on introducing, but I have ever been reticent and so she hit on the idea of joining a bridge club.
I will state for the record I dislike bridge. However, the idea of a few hours weekly spent in pleasant conversation appealed, and I consented. John was assisting Sherlock more often, now, and I knew these afternoons when he was not busy with his practise, he would be spending those hours in his old rooms at Baker Street.
Though the first two afternoons passed well enough, I came to realize it was not so much bridge that was the attraction as gossip. Most of it was relatively innocuous. Some of it was funny. And some of it made me grit my teeth and pray for patience – as I was one of the youngest, and certainly the newest, member of the group I could not comment as I would like.
Until this afternoon, that is. I am still angry and embarrassed and I do hope dear Emily will still speak to me!
It had started off quietly, a round or two of indifferent bidding as we – Em and I played as partners – grew to know our new opponents. It was a reasonably large room; there were four tables this day as the entire complement of the club was present. Two were entirely unfamiliar to me, and it was to one of these two I had cast half an ear, for I had heard Sherlock's name mentioned.
"…Holmes, that awful man. He had the effrontery to inform me that my case was not one he would be interested in! The theft of my rubies, not worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes! If Peter hadn't had that windfall from his uncle, and been off looking at land, I would have had him give Mr. Sherlock Holmes what for."
I cut my glance behind me, where one of the recent arrivals was settled like a great, full breasted bird amongst her flock.
"And that doctor friend of his…Watson…he escorted me out with what he thought, doubtless, was grace, but was akin to a cold dismissal with the door in my face!"
I felt a kick upon my ankle, just a gentle one, and looked up at Em who was staring at me in warning. This lady was a Lady, her gaze reminded me, and therefore circumspection was in order.
Then why is she playing with us, my gaze attempted to return, for we were all spouses and widows of professional men - good men, but why a Lady would deign to join us I found difficult to understand. Unless she was not welcome with her own group. A scandal, perhaps, I mused.
"Two no trump," said I aloud for it was my turn, and concentrated for a time on the game. I ended as dummy and laid my cards down for Emily to play, which was fortunate for our chances of winning, but proved unfortunate for I now had no other thing to concentrate on but the conversation behind me.
The Lady had embarked upon a careful description of her conversation with Holmes – how she was continuing to play I had no idea – and had summed up her opinion of both he and my husband with the comment that obviously they had come to believe their own tales, and had become puffed up and self important.
The biddies near her cooed agreement – I could not but think of them like pigeons, the lot of them; and the Lady's grey garb, though fashionable, did nothing to dispel that.
"He has such terrible habits, that man," she was saying now. "Not only do I have it on authority he take drugs, he does strange experiments!" Buzzing from the biddies. "I saw his equipment! Ghastly bottles boiling on the flames, odd concoctions dripping…"
I must have turned slightly, and I felt a foot make contact with my ankles again, far more energetically.
"And that Doctor chap. There is an odd friendship. Odd indeed." She stopped, and there was a breathless pause. "Perhaps his chief task is to massage that man's ego? To continually inform him of how intelligent he is? Perhaps to enhance Holmes' reputation through those terrible tales he writes?"
Sore ankle or no, I was ready to stand and defend, but rather than chance the kick again, Emily finished the hand and called my given name.
I turned my attention back to our table, pasting a pleasant smile on my face, but as is so often the case I was unable to keep from listening – mind, the Lady did not have a notably quiet tone, and she was obviously unaware of my presence and identity…or perhaps she was aware and simply chose not to care?
"That poor doctor, though, he was recently very ill, was he not?" one of the biddies ventured timidly, and the Lady snorted without grace. The misadventure involving Sherlock, John and a man who had vowed vengeance had been covered in the papers, I knew, though I had not read them and did not desire to. Lestrade had ended up having Clark issue bulletins in order to keep the newspapermen from camping out on the lawn.
"I could not believe it," the Lady said, and in a harsh stage whisper she confided to the room at large "with his friend at death's door, Holmes was seen at the docks buying drugs! My driver heard it from a friend of his who has a friend in the warehouses. So much for that legendary partnership, Nero fiddled while Rome burned! Who's bid was it?"
I snapped. I heard Emily hissing my name, and I was peripherally aware of the others at my table looking on agog, but I stood, turned, and marched on the Lady.
"Allow me to introduce myself. Mrs. John Watson." I said coldly. Her eyes widened a trifle, and she opened her mouth but I continued, "I have been listening to your very interesting observations regarding my husband, Doctor John Watson, and our friend Sherlock Holmes. It might interest you to know that a man, who was a scientist and physician of some repute, had sworn vengeance on Holmes. He mounted a cowardly attack, during which my husband was poisoned. Once Holmes had run the villain to ground he extracted the knowledge of the antidote. The materials required were not available at your average corner pharmacy, and he had to range over London, speak to every contact he had and call in favours owed to obtain them, indeed he fought for one of the rarer components! It was a near thing, but I'm certain you will be relieved to know my husband did not die, and will recover entirely due to his friend's efforts."
The Lady resembled a fish now, mouth gaping. I did not dare look behind me; I fancied I could feel Emily's glare. I had one more thing to say, though, and I leaned forward to say it slightly more confidentially – I was furious, but had not yet taken leave of my senses entirely.
"Holmes did not take your case," I said shortly, "because it could not end well. Your Peter stole your rubies, and he sold them – his windfall is likely paying his visit to a house of ill repute, not enabling him to look for land for you! I am no detective, but even I am able to see how it was!"
I pulled myself up and squared my shoulders. Meeting no-one's eyes, I retrieved my wrap and clutch and strode from the room.
I had managed to compose myself, somewhat, on the ride home. My temper was ever thus, slow to kindle, then a flash and over. The memory of the Lady's astonished face had begun to transform from pleasant to guilty, I had after all embarrassed her before her friends, and it was not something of which to be proud. A small voice reminded me that she had started it, but I sternly squashed the idea – was I still a child, to return tit for tat? It wasn't that I would apologize to her, not at all, but I did owe apology to my hostess. And to Emily, if she would hear it.
I paid the driver and entered our home, feeling, as always, a warm sense of comfort. I saw Holmes' hat and umbrella in the hall. He had borne my temper lately as well, but we had moved past it, and his visit was welcome.
"Hello, m'am, you're home early," Annie said, taking my coat.
"I found the atmosphere a touch stifling, and decided to return home. Mr. Holmes is here, I see."
"Yes, he and the Doctor are taking the air out back. The Doctor is looking much better, m'am, is he not? For one as was so ill just a few days ago."
Annie was young, and tended to rattle on, but I knew her concern was from the heart – she had been of great help during the dark days recently past.
"Yes, he is. I would not make these comments to anyone outside the family, though." I hated to bring her up short, but confidentiality was so key in a household of this sort, doctor or detective – or both in one.
"Yes, m'am," Annie returned, not at all abashed. "And family would include Mr. Holmes, m'am?" She had a smile on her face, and I had to chuckle.
"Twas ever thus, Annie, twas ever thus. I'll change and join them. Tea, perhaps, in half an hour? And if Mrs. Tavers calls, please bring her to me?"
If she called, I would be grateful. I remembered the shocked expression on Em's face. I truly hoped my words had not broken our friendship – I didn't think they would, but I wouldn't be certain until we talked again.
It took me only a few moments to change my clothing to something more suitable to an afternoon in the air. I retrieved my sewing bag from beside my chaise and made my way out to the back.
I stood at the back door a moment, watching them. They were seated with their backs to me in our tiny garden in the sun, making good use of the comfortable wicker chairs I had purchased – I noted there was one empty on John's other side. They had their heads together, perusing an article in the paper, and Sherlock made a quiet comment to John that set him to laughing.
The sound gladdened my heart and I paused, savouring it. I know that I had indicated I would not set down the whole of the circumstances that brought Sherlock and I together as friends finally and irrevocably, and I do not intend to delve deeply into it, but in retrospect it was the only thing that could have broken the wall between us. It was so simple, really. Our common ground was the health and well-being of our John.
I remembered well a late, late night, only days before; Sherlock's taut, worried face, and the surprise in his eyes as …well, I broke. I flew at him in fury, accusing him of causing John to be poisoned, swearing it did not matter if my husband lived or died, Sherlock would never more darken our door, cursing the day I had encouraged my love to join him again on his adventures. I remember beating at his chest, making him wince - and his strong hands gripping my wrists – eyes dark, but not replying. He made no protestation to my words, and I was so sunk in despair that I did not notice. At length he left, and I did not see him again until he appeared at the doctor's side, and there was a hypodermic in the doctor's hand. The antidote.
I had not seen anything else – not the way Sherlock limped, the arm held to his side stiffly protecting bruised ribs – not of my causing, I found later, but from a fight with a docksman. We watched as the doctor made the injection, and I found myself praying beneath my breath, hoping it was in time. The poison made it difficult to breathe, to move, left to run its course John's heart would simply stop.
I had been sitting, staring at John's face, watching the stillness after each breath, watching for his chest to rise again. Slowly, I became aware that Sherlock was there as well. He was sitting across from me, and I looked up, and his expression of absolute devastation had mirrored my own emotions so exactly. My anger had spent itself long before, and I saw a man in such pain as I could understand. I stood and moved round to sit beside him, tugging a hassock over next to his low chair, as he watched me in surprise. I managed a smile, and sat. Now we could only wait – I found tears were falling and I was too weary to try to be strong any more.
I had cried, quietly, and he had sat motionless for some moments, before hesitantly wrapping one arm around me. With endearing awkwardness at our unusual proximity, he held me; his own emotions clear in his irregular breaths, and in the dampness on his face in the moonlight. I had asked about the man that had poisoned John, for I knew he had given Sherlock the formula for the antidote and I could not believe it had been that simple. He stated plainly that it had not, and that the man had been taken care of, and I knew from his voice not to press further.
We had dozed at John's bedside, I was able to take a little rest, leaning against Sherlock, and he, too had nodded off. So it was that we were both wakened by my husband's weary voice gently jibing us.
"My best friend and my wife…" he'd said hoarsely, a weak smile on his face, and we had both snapped out of our fatigue and leaned to him.
"It appears we only bond at your bedside, but we are quite good friends now," Sherlock managed a jest despite his fatigue, "you may cease being injured or poisoned," and he had returned the smile.
We had reached for John's hand at almost the same time, I did not pull back upon encountering Sherlock's fingers, nor did he when he found mine, and it must have been a comfort to John as well that we sealed our friendship – for that it was. I was still afraid of losing my love, horribly afraid, but something had eased in the night.
With this memory in my mind I advanced on the pair. Sherlock turned at the slight sound of my footsteps, alert and wary, but relaxed when he identified me. I was touched again at his protectiveness of my husband, his friend, and I smiled warmly, dropping an affectionate hand on his shoulder as I passed before leaning and kissing John's pale face.
"You're back early," John said, echoing Annie. Sherlock said nothing, but I knew he must have detected signs of my discontent; his eyes had surveyed me keenly.
"There were entirely too many people there, my love," I said, attempting to sound lighthearted. "I found it quite confining."
"Is Emily with you?" he asked then.
"Oh, I think she will be along presently," I replied, busying myself with my sewing bag. "I must say, though, this has more appeal to me at the moment – wonderful weather, sewing to occupy my hands and the possibility of interesting conversation to occupy my mind. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you."
"Not at all," Sherlock replied. He was eyeing me narrowly, and I knew that I had not fooled him with my quick response, but I tilted my head slightly in a negative motion – which was missed by my husband, occupied as he was with the newspaper – and Sherlock thinned his lips in response. I knew I had but delayed the questions, in deference to John's recovery.
"Tea will be served presently," I said, withdrawing a pair of socks in need of darning. I held them up, they were unfamiliar to me for a moment, but then I heard John snort in amusement.
"You borrow my clothes, and now you borrow my seamstress," he said with a twinkle, and I made a small derisive noise, then shook Sherlock's socks out and began to stitch.
Tea had arrived and been consumed, and the conversation was flagging as John became weary. The sun was behind the garden wall when I folded the top of my bag and suggested we retire to the house.
"You'll stay for supper?" I asked Sherlock. "And your room is ready, if you have no pressing need to return to Baker Street, and you would like to stay the night. I daresay you have made provision for Gladstone."
"I will, and I will, and I have," he replied, as we assisted John to his feet. He walked slowly but steadily, with Sherlock on one side and I on the other, ready to assist if needed – but it was not necessary, for he gained the house and the sitting room with little difficulty. I excused myself to check that supper was proceeding, and to ask Annie to lay out a nightshirt for our friend.
There were two guest rooms in the house, and one I had come to call Sherlock's – once it was apparent John would recover he had stated his intent to depart, to trouble us no longer, but I had merely steered him to this room. As I handed him one of John's nightshirts, I caught his hand and pressed it. I had apologized for my words of anger, and he had simply said that they were deserved. If I still wished, he would absent himself from our lives.
I wish I could say I had laughed off my earlier outburst as pique, but in reality I looked at him for a long moment. His gaze, usually so firm, had wavered and dropped finally, to our hands. My words were slow in coming, but I was certain he understood the trust I placed in him, and that while I did not want John to come to hurt, neither did I wish him to lose what made him strong, and he nodded, and closed the door softly when we had finished.
He had slept the clock 'round, almost, and woken with remarkable appetite. I had been sitting with John in our room, reading to him as he dozed – the doctor had come, and been suitably impressed, and indicated his recovery should be complete. Sherlock had taken some little time to wash, then had wrapped himself in the dressing gown I had left on his bed and come into the room, rifling through the drawers and closet for clothing.
I had watched in amusement, and John had roused to comment that Baker Street was only a cab ride away, and complained about the fact his third best suit was being commandeered. Sherlock had made a comment about married gentlemen gaining a certain roundness about the stomach, and noted the colour was more suited to one not quite so aggressively moustachioed…John's laughter had been brief but heartfelt, and Sherlock had raised an eyebrow at me before retiring to dress.
I had no idea what the humour and discussion was about, for Emily and I had shared clothing before, it seemed eminently sensible to me. Men can be odd.
Sherlock's room was prepared, and I was descending the stairs when the knock came. I paused on the landing, listening – it was indeed Emily, and her voice was firm in her request to see me.
"I'm here, Emily," I said, stepping down the last few steps.
Her gaze was neutral and I felt worry rise.
"I am sorry, Em," I said before she could start. "That was a terrible thing for me to do."
She blinked at me. "I beg your pardon, Mary, but it was a terrible thing for Lady Sunderland to say! When you left, the bridge was over of course, but you would have been pleased – opinion came down on your side squarely!"
I blinked. I knew, of course, that it would have interrupted the games, but to stop them entirely?
"Oh, dear – I must write a letter of apology to Sarah directly!"
"Dear Mary, you are always so worried about the wrong things. Lady Sunderland was quite abashed! She took herself off quietly. Do not give it another thought."
"What I said, about her husband…" I protested. "That was quite unnecessary."
Emily shook her head. "Far from being embarrassed, my dear, she seemed quite angry at the man. She can survive the scandal. It's not her first."
I must have appeared puzzled, for she took my hands.
"You were completely justified in defending your husband, Mary. And his friend. Do not feel guilty. We are all terrible gossips, and at times we forget that the names mask real people. You reminded us all, and I am grateful. Now, may I see John, or is he resting?"
"Yes, he's resting – I mean, of course." I was somewhat flummoxed, and I drew a breath to calm myself. "Do come in. He's in the sitting room, resting before supper. Sherlock is here as well."
I led the way, and sat – John greeted Em with affection, and Sherlock stood politely, before sitting again as she did. We had exchanged a few small pleasantries before Sherlock asked directly about the occurrences at the bridge game – I cringed inwardly, but I knew he must have heard the conversation in the hall.
Emily had no reticence. She launched into a spirited re-telling of the confrontation, and summarized the discussions thereafter, which I had no part in, with wit and aplomb, and both Sherlock and John cast admiring glances my way.
I was still displeased with how I had conducted myself, and vowed to write our hostess Sarah a note of apology as soon as possible. By the time supper was announced I was all but squirming with embarrassment.
"Do stay to supper, Em," I invited half-heartedly, not looking forward to continuing to discuss my behaviour. She shook her head. "I have an assignation, my dear, and must not miss it. I will tell you about it next time we speak. Don't get up, gentlemen," and she rose, as I did, and we left the room.
She retrieved her bag and hat, and I saw her carriage waiting outside. She nodded to her driver, but turned to me and looked at me directly.
"Are you going to let John continue this dangerous work?" she asked flatly.
I stared at her, and then dropped my eyes, remembering another outburst of mine. I still asked myself the question, and knew I would every time he left with Sherlock; even knowing the answer was immutable.
"John would stop if I asked, Em. I know he would." I replied. "Sherlock himself indicated he would retreat from our lives if I asked. It is a terrible power for me to have."
I collected my thoughts with deliberation, and then continued, "But if John stopped, he would be compelled to watch Sherlock continue without him. He would grow to resent me – he has been a soldier, Em, he is a man of action. It would poison - " I hesitated, but the word was apt, "poison our marriage. And if, the Lord forbid, anything were to happen to Sherlock…" I shook my head slightly "it doesn't bear thinking about. I can't ask John to stop. I have asked Sherlock to watch over him, to bring him back to me, and I cannot ask for a more loyal friend."
I straightened. "Yes. John will continue as long as he wishes. I will not stop him."
I met her eyes, and saw – relief? She smiled, warmly, and embraced me.
"You are wise, Mary, so wise. You have it exactly right, and for that reason I know you and John will have a long and happy marriage. And…"she eyed my midriff "children? Soon? I have a need to be an auntie."
I laughed and patted her cheek. "You will be the best auntie. Go, your assignation will be put out if you keep him waiting."
She waved, and I waved, and Annie called us all in to dinner.