Fandom: Sherlock Holmes (movieverse)
Challenge/Prompt: sherlockkink, here.
Word Count: 3862
Genre: Slash [gen]
Summary: But John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are not quite like other men. Mary knows this by now.
Author’s Notes: Because IT'S NOT LIKE I HAVE VAST AMOUNTS OF HISTORY WORK TO DO OR ANYTHING, or even A WHOLE OTHER SHERLOCK HOLMES STORY I NEGLECTED IN ORDER TO WRITE THIS INSTEAD. Bloody hell, procrastination. I win so hard at it and fail so hard at everything else. Yes, written for sherlockkink, but screw anonymity, nothing bad happens in this! And it made me have far more time for Mary than I've ever had before. Right. Am going to go and do some actual work now as it's quarter past 3 in the morning, and part 3 of These Things Were Promises will hopefully be up soon.
Mary has not made the wrong decision because the initial decision was made for her, leaving her breathless and tearful and widowed without ever being married.
John is not second best and they both know this, but he is second. He should never have married her because she should already be married, to Harry with his sweetly nervous smile and carefully parted hair and delicate constitution that turned out to be his undoing.
The diamond on her engagement ring feels too big and too heavy some days and she cannot help wondering exactly where Mr Holmes acquired it; the jewel's origin story alters every time they ask and while the stories are always brightly entertaining and sharply implausible they are never even slightly accurate. The glittering gem conceals the faint line where Harry's rather more modest ring once sat and she is both relieved and saddened by this.
Her dress is beautiful, with fountains of lace, and her mother weeps copiously and she wears white roses in her hair and John's warm smile when he sees her is something that will stay with her forever. On her walk down the aisle Mary pretends not to notice Mr Holmes slumped three rows back, black hair a wild mess and shirt unpressed. But she can feel his eyes on her back all through the ceremony, the accusation burning against her spine, though John seems oblivious.
At some point during the reception, a little the worse for French champagne (though she is wearing it well; it would not do for her to be unseemly during her own reception), Mary allows herself to imagine what her other wedding would have been like. Perhaps it is morose to dwell but the comparison is inevitable. And when she comes back to herself, hitching her smile a little further up her face, she notes John and Mr Holmes speaking intently. Their voices are pitched low enough that no one else can hear and it would not be immediately obvious to an uninitiated observer that they are arguing, but Mary has spent enough time with both men in recent months to know them both very well indeed. They are stood too close together, heads inclined towards each other and close enough that the slightest movement would cause them to collide. They may be speaking softly and drawing no attention to themselves whatsoever but Mary can see the tense fury creased across John's shoulders and the brittle stillness of Mr Holmes and knows that any other men would be drawing blood by now.
But John Watson and Sherlock Holmes are not quite like other men. Mary knows this by now.
Mary draws closer in time to catch Mr Holmes's sharply muttered congratulations, Watson, I hope you'll be very happy - a spat mockery of the words that have been showered on the two of them all day - before Mr Holmes turns on his heel and walks out. He is leaving early enough for it to be rude, but this parting is difficult, Mary knows. She reaches out a hand and places it on John's arm; his expression is tight and unreadable.
"You should go after him," she says, and then wonders why she is suggesting that her new husband should leave their reception to go after his friend who does not cope well with change.
"I have nothing to say to him," John replies and for a moment the anger seems about to overwhelm him. Too much anger, more anger than she's ever seen from him, and Mary is more stunned than frightened by it. After a second, the fury seems to melt away, and his soft smile is genuine, at least. "Would you care to dance?"
Married life turns out to be exactly as expected, which is in itself almost a surprise. But Mary has had enough friends disappointed or disconcerted by matrimony and so she did not build a gigantic, glittering castle in the sky only for it to come tumbling down a few days after the ceremony. They are happy; Mary plays house and greets John's patients with a kind smile, and all of them shower her with compliments (and intently whisper how pleased they are that she lives with John now and not that awful Mr Holmes, who used to fire weaponry in the house, no really, it was not at all suitable) and Charlie continues to flick ink at her and she continues not to react and John kisses every place where the india blue still stains when she returns home.
It is a quiet existence and a peaceful one; John is charming company and they go to the opera and to tea and out for dinner and for carriage rides in the park, and while her life may not be a bed of roses it is not a grave of thorns either.
Nonetheless, she does not miss the way John scours the paper over breakfast each morning, pretending he is merely interested in the news. He is not; she knows that he is looking for cases, particular cases that Mr Holmes has solved. The two of them are not speaking and Mary has found that she does not know how to bring it up, does not know what to suggest to John, and so lets the matter pass her by. But Holmes does not take on any cases and does not make the press and he and John do not communicate and Mary pretends not to notice how much this upsets John.
They are eating dinner one night and Mary is making John laugh with a tale of Charlie's latest attempt to get out of algebra when their housekeeper comes in, looking anxious.
"This was brought to the door, Mr Watson," she says, "by a slip of a boy; said he couldn't stay but that I was to give it to you."
It is a piece of crumpled paper, much ink-stained, and folded in half. John's expression freezes, laughter dripping from his mouth.
"Thank you," he says, and Mary sees the way his hand trembles as he reaches for the note. "That will be all," he adds, and his voice is curiously toneless.
Mary watches John unfold the note; his jaw tightens and she sees him swallow hard. "I'm sorry, my dear; I must be going. A patient."
"Of course," she says, and he all but bolts from the room.
She waits until the front door slams before reaching for the note that fell from John's hand. There are only two words on it, written in a hand that is worse than Charlie's, as though the writer does not know how to hold a pen or as though they were shaking so hard when writing they could barely form letters. The words are smudged, as though some kind of liquid were spilled across the page, and it has a bitter smell, a chemical scent.
Mary folds the note again and places it by John's half-full plate, and decides never to mention that they had tickets to La Boheme tonight.
(The note simply reads: Watson. Please.)
They have afternoon tea in Baker Street one week; Mary is becoming increasingly accustomed to navigating conversation with Holmes - always a tricky endeavour, with far too many pitfalls and potentials for finding out unwelcome truths about one's self - and there is something cosy and homely about the mess in Baker Street, about the bullet marks in the walls and the scorches on the ceiling and Gladstone's perpetual state of drugged good-naturedness. Mrs Hudson provides them with enough tea and sandwiches to feed both armies of a decent-sized war, but although she complains about Holmes' mess and experiments there is an underlying cheerfulness that belies her words.
John and Mr Holmes sit sprawled in armchairs and although they both make an effort to include her in the conversation Mary is much more content to sit back and watch; they exchange words faster than most people's minds could come up with them, bright and witty and sarcastic and amused, at perfect ease with each other. It is truly incredible to watch and Mary enjoys it; enjoys seeing the glow that only Mr Holmes can bring to John's face.
"I'm going to need my scarf back, old boy," John remarks, hat tilted rakishly over one eye and so at ease in here it is as though Mary is observing his bachelor years, despite the gold ring snug on his finger. Gladstone settles against her feet, and she absently reaches down to pet his head.
"We have a barter system," Mr Holmes responds, with a little smile as though this is some kind of private joke.
"I don't even live here any more," John tells him, amusement colouring his tone.
"It's your own fault for leaving it behind," Mr Holmes says, but although his mouth is smiling his eyes have gone hard, flinty. "Anything that you left behind can do what it likes with itself."
Mary gets the feeling that they have both forgotten she is here, and she makes no move to remind them. Gladstone gets to his feet and waddles away as her fingers dig in a little too hard.
"It's just a scarf, Holmes." John's voice is sharp, a singing string of tension.
"Right," Mr Holmes says, gaze dropping to his lap and snapping the argument as swiftly and unexpectedly as it began, "of course. It is just a scarf." He looks back at John, a smirk twitching his lips. "Which you cannot have back."
It is then that Mary notices that Mr Holmes is wearing one of John's shirts; she can see the patch near the cuff where she herself mended it after he caught it in a door and tore it. She has no idea when or even how Mr Holmes would have acquired the shirt, but somehow she is not surprised.
"Would you like some more tea, dear?" Mr Holmes offers, as though suddenly noticing Mary again.
She is no longer disconcerted by the familiar way that Mr Holmes addresses her as dear; she suspects that he and John have become so accustomed to sharing things that she is not seen as an exception; in a way she is both their wives and perhaps this should bother her, but it does not. They both gave her the engagement ring, after all; they both sit and tell her about their adventures, talking over the top of each other, both as eager as little boys to impress her. Oh, she does not think that Mr Holmes loves her or would even realise that this is what has happened, but in a very strange way she is just another commodity that the two of them have acquired. Mary thinks that this should upset her, but instead it makes her feel curiously safe, curiously protected.
Mary smiles. "I would love some."
It is the smallest of details that create the bigger picture; Collins and Poe tell her this in their printed words, and Mr Holmes has assured Mary of this verbally and even demonstrated it in a woundingly insensitive way (she has never apologised for throwing wine at him, and she does not think he would want her to). While John refrains from helping out in most of Holmes' cases - he sometimes goes along to investigate empty warehouses and comes back, dirty and sometimes bloody and always with a thousand apologies for his recklessness, so Mary has never told him that she finds it rather exciting, actually - he still relays the stories to her, filling her in on the tiny pieces of evidence that slotted together to form a perfect, shimmering conclusion.
It is tiny details like John telling her that he is spending the night at his club and then coming back in in the early hours of the morning, thinking she is asleep, reeking of sour alcohol and lying beside her in the dark, staring at the ceiling, for hours. Mary is becoming very good at pretending to be asleep, simply because there are questions she does not want to ask and does not want to force John to answer.
It is tiny details like John telling her that he is spending the night at his club, but when she looks in the pockets of his jacket the next day she finds the freshly creased stub of a boxing ring ticket and a bloodstained handkerchief. John has no wounds - she would know - and so the blood cannot be his. The handkerchief is, at least, John's; his initials on the corner confirm that. Mary washes the handkerchief in salt water and embroiders over the worst of the stain and puts it back without saying a word; John is equally silent on the matter, though occasionally she catches him looking at her, expression intent, as though he is trying to pluck up the courage to say something.
It is minute details like the fact that John has clearly got his gambling habit under control and he does not gamble at any other time, not even a little flutter on the horses, and he does not even go to watch the boxing on a regular basis. His attendance is erratic and unpredictable and he never goes more than once in a week or even once in a fortnight. But he has not yet mentioned that he goes to her, and there are never any signs beforehand that she can pick up on.
It is small details like going to afternoon tea at Baker Street after one such night - a boxing ring stub, a bloodied hankerchief - and seeing Mr Holmes with a blackened eye and a lip split as though it was bleeding profusely last night.
"You are injured, Mr Holmes," she remarks over scones, and does not miss the look of panic that passes between Mr Holmes and her husband, though she suspects she is meant to. "No doubt from chasing after some criminal," she adds, because she may as well get a little mischevious fun out of this, and sees them both relax, just slightly.
It is little details like the look of gratitude that Mr Holmes sends her behind John's back later on, and Mary thinks that well, at least Mr Holmes has faith in her deductive powers.
It is a wet afternoon and Mary returns from visiting a newly-married friend to find a strange woman sitting on her sofa, sipping at tea out of her best china, and looking utterly at home in her surroundings.
"You'll be Mrs Watson, then," the woman says without batting an eyelid as Mary stands in the doorway and stares. The stranger has an unfamiliar twang to her accent that twists her words.
"I am," she replies carefully, and wonders whether she ought to shout for the police.
The woman waves a hand at the carefully laid-out meal and smiles. It is a nice smile, but there is something dangerous about it. "Please, sit."
Mary reflects that there is something very wrong about being invited to sit down and drink tea from your own tea set but obediently does so, with no other palatable options at her disposal.
"You must be wet through," the woman continues, reaching to pour Mary a cup and adding liberal amounts of sugar. "Here, this should warm you up." She smiles again; there is something a little less deadly about it this time. "I'm Irene Adler, by the way."
Mary has heard about Irene Adler; John spilled little scraps of information about her, and she has overheard some conversations between him and Holmes when they have both forgotten she was even there. Irene Adler does not seem like the kind of person Mary would like to be having tea with in her home, but curiosity is swelling inside her and so she does not ask her to leave.
"What can I help you with, Miss Adler?" she asks, attempting for civil and probably coming off haughtier than she means to.
"Please, call me Irene." A flash of teeth and Mary reminds herself to stay on her guard.
"I was looking for Sherlock Holmes," Irene tells her. "But he's not at home and his landlady hasn't seen him in a couple of days and I thought, well, if anyone was likely to know where the elusive Mr Holmes is, it will be his dear, dear friend Watson. But then I couldn't find Watson either, so I thought I would wait."
"John is seeing a patient," Mary says, and does not miss the way Irene's eyebrow quirks at that, a sort of amusement and pity colouring her expression. "And he was here all of last night," Mary adds firmly, though she does not know why she feels the need to defend John to a wanted criminal.
"I'm sure he was," Irene drawls, though her expression remains entirely unlikeable. "But if he doesn't know where to find Sherlock I don't know what I will do."
"Of course John will know where to find him," Mary responds, almost snappish. She swallows, unsure exactly where that emotion came from. "He should be home soon," she continues, quieter, "although since you've already helped yourself to tea there isn't much more I can do in way of being a hostess."
Irene's smile twists a little. "I'm sure you're very hospitable," she says.
Mary is not in the mood for this, and wonders when pieces of John and Mr Holmes' disreputable lives began bleeding through into hers. "If you want to say something then say it, this isn't a parlour game," she says firmly. "And I can and will have you arrested."
Irene studies her for a long moment, chin propped on her hand. "I believe you would," she says at last. "I like you, Mrs Watson."
Mary honestly does not know what to say to that; it must show on her face because Irene just laughs and reaches for more tea. "What's it like being married to him?" she asks at last.
"I don't know what you mean," Mary replies, though of course she does.
"I have to drug Sherlock to get him to pay the slightest bit of attention to me," Irene explains, a reminiscent smile flickering about her mouth, "don't tell me it's any different with your precious doctor." Her expression flickers slightly. "Or have I said too much?"
"No," Mary sighs, and it is as close to confessing this to herself as she will get, "no, you haven't said too much."
Irene leans back, looking throughtful. "You're smart," she observes. "I bet they both like that."
Mary hesitates. "I think Mr Holmes does," she murmurs eventually. "I don't know what John thinks. I haven't dared ask."
Irene sips at her tea. "I'll ask him, if you like," she offers, but she is laughing. "Or do you think he doesn't know that you know?"
"I don't know anything for certain," Mary tells her.
"Neither do I," Irene shrugs, "but lord what I can infer." She winks at Mary over her teacup. "I almost felt sorry for you before you came home. Now... I think I'm almost proud."
Mary smiles back and finds herself weirdly hoping that John does not come home for a while.
"We need to talk," John tells her. He is dressing, movements brisk and sure and certain, tugging at his tie as though it has done something to personally offend him. Mary gets up from where she is perched on their bed and pushes his hands away until she can do the tie for him, gently looping it into a neat knot. She straightens it, and steps back.
"No, we don't," she replies softly, straightening his lapels before he can crease them with his anxious hands.
"Mary." He catches her hands and holds them much too tight; she can feel him trembling. "We need to talk."
"We really don't," she assures him, rubbing her thumbs soothingly against his knuckles. "There is nothing to talk about, John. I already know."
John looks stunned, startled. "You do?" He visibly swallows. "You know about... about... my feelings for Holmes?" Every word sounds like it is being forced from somewhere deep inside him, reluctant to come out but inevitably forced into daylight.
Mary feels herself smile, though she suspects it does not quite meet her eyes. "Well, I definitely do now." When John opens his mouth to speak, she pulls her hands free of his and places a finger against his lips. "Shhh, dear. I am not blind, by any means, and I cannot spend as much time with you and Mr Holmes as I do without learning something about observation."
John looks wretched. "I suppose not."
"You are just as married to Mr Holmes as you are to me," Mary tells him, and wonders why she is being the strong one here when surely she should be cracking into pieces. "Perhaps more so, though I am the one with the ring."
John's eyes dart to the gold band on her finger, and then to her face. "I tried, Mary," he tells her, "I honestly tried. I did not know... I did not know that..." He trails off and Mary does not hesitate to gather him into her arms, bringing his head down to rest on her shoulder. "I love him," John mumbles, so soft she barely hears him.
"I know," she whispers into his hair, and wonders why this is not tearing her apart. Perhaps because has always known - or at least suspected - known longer than John apparently has. "I know."
They finally draw apart, and John looks positively sick. "I'm sorry," he tells her, "I'm so sorry. I don't know what to do."
Mary smiles. "You live here," she tells him. "You have a practice, you have friends, you have furniture that does not have bullet holes and scorches on it. Stay here, and go to Baker Street as and when you wish." She reaches up, cups his cheek in her hand. "Stay some nights with me and tell me your stories that rival any of these gaudy novels on our bookshelves. And we will be happy enough."
John closes his eyes briefly. "I do not deserve you."
"Oh, I know." Mary laughs. "I expect some very shiny jewellery for our anniversary. Tell Mr Holmes; I am sure he can manage something."
John turns his head and presses a kiss against her palm. "I do not deserve you," he says again.
Mary lets her hand drop and takes a step back. "Don't keep him waiting," she tells him, "and give Mr Holmes my regards."
She waits until John has gone, anxiety and guilt ravaging his features, before she collapses onto the bed, unable to tell if it is tears or laughter shaking her frame. Mary will be all right, she knows; they both will. No. All three of them will, and it is with that resolution that she reaches beneath her pillow and withdraws The Woman In White. After all, if this is to be her life now, she may as well put in the research.