Captain Mary Watson sat by her husband’s bedside in the veterans’ hospital just after midnight, cleaning his service revolver of the grime and grit it had acquired in an exploded slaughterhouse on the Thames with the calm focus that spoke, to her intimates, of tightly leashed anxiety. She was waiting for a surgeon to remove the shrapnel from John’s shoulder, and tales of what Aery women had suffered in places like this yammered vividly in the back of her mind; wearing her uniform here might well prove unwise.
She was waiting also for the consulting detective and wanted criminal Mr. Sherlock Holmes.
Mary looked up at the sound of a footstep coming down the hall, her fingers reassembling the gun with the speed of daily routine; she relaxed only marginally when she saw that the newcomer, by his white coat, must be the surgeon. But when she saw the man’s face in the gaslight beneath his silver hair, she perceived that she was mistaken, and let out a breath she had not realized she had been holding. He looked up from John when she set the revolver on the table and stood, and his lack of expression was eloquent.
“I was not informed of your presence, Captain; my apologies,” he said when she met his dark eyes behind his spectacles, voice marked by a Bavarian accent. He brushed his hands over John’s shoulder and then put them behind his back, spine straight as the swordstick leaning against Mary’s chair.
“I am off-duty at present,” Mary explained, coming around the foot of the bed to stand beside him. She did not mention that she had gone to Baker Street and heard from Mrs. Hudson, by way of Clarky, enough of the night’s events to depart immediately for the hospital.
He nodded, and then nodded in John’s direction. “Zie doctor is resting comfortably; ze surgeon should be along shortly to see to his wounds. I bid you good night, Captain.”
Mary’s worry for them both flashed instantly into irritation when he made as if to step around her and out the door, and she seized his arm roughly, yanking him around. “Is that the best you can do?” she demanded, and he glanced down at her hand clutching his sleeve, and then within the disguise she saw Sherlock yield a little.
“I must attend to my other patients,” he said, and Mary had to force herself not to roll her eyes. She knew it was the danger they had faced without her sharpening her tone, for all that she did the same to them on her tours of duty.
“Then I shall accompany you,” she said instead, lowering her voice, whereupon Sherlock seized her by the shoulders and dragged her into the corner of the room, out of the direct line of sight of the corridor.
“I need you to stay here,” he told her, voice pitched low. “I must know that Watson is safe, and if you are with him I may be sure of it. And furthermore there is a warrant out for my arrest; what would you do should we be seen together?” He looked straight at her while he said it, and after a moment Mary looked away; her blood cried out for action, but he was right.
“I already have a reputation,” she said, but her tone failed to achieve sufficient lift and the words crashed back to earth, where they flapped pitifully; she took a deep breath and made an effort to speak normally. “My leave expires at six a.m. in any event; we shall be flying patrol above the city.”
“Well, at least someone has a firm grasp of the situation,” Holmes muttered, and she looked back at him, loath to waste the chance of gazing her fill of his beloved features, however weary and disguised. “I rather fear it is Coward; the Aery is powerfully intimidating, you know.”
“Yes, I did know,” Mary told him, and when he glanced back at her he actually scraped up a wan smile some whence; the effect was ghastly, and did nothing to conceal his manifest guilt. “This was not your fault,” she told him flatly, shifting her grip on his forearms and shaking him a little to punctuate her point. “He chose this, and he would say it was worth the risk.”
“You are too kind,” Sherlock insisted, his eyes sliding back to John lying unmoving on the bed.
Mary wanted to laugh but could not. “Hardly,” she said instead, the word harsh in her own ears. “Solve this. Whatever it takes.”
Holmes’s eyes widened a little, at her tone and at what she had not said; there were things he did at which John would baulk but from which Mary would never flinch, and they both knew she had just placed the situation, should necessity dictate, into that dangerous category.
But rather than discuss the unalterable Sherlock simply leaned forward and kissed her fiercely. Mary barely noticed his hands tightening on her shoulders; she was preoccupied by the presence of his tongue in her mouth. She would find bruises beneath her uniform the next day.
They broke apart too soon, breathing heavily and trying to quiet the sound, both of them a little dazed. “Give that to him for me,” Sherlock murmured into Mary’s ear, and she choked back a laugh.
“Damn it, Sherlock, what is the point of having a bohemian lover if you persist in wearing a false moustache,” she gasped, but kissed him again before he could respond, answering her own question. “Go,” she told him when they separated. “Solve this. Come back.”
Sherlock nodded once, and even gave her a small crooked grin, and then between one moment and the next he was his focused self again; he stepped out of her arms and before her eyes he melted back into the middle-aged Bavarian surgeon, hands clasped behind his back as he walked out of the room.
Mary did not watch him go; indeed, she made a conscious effort not to think about where one of the men she loved would go in this situation, lest the authorities question her about the same; she and Sherlock Holmes were, after all, known associates. Instead she resumed her place by her husband’s bedside, wearily pulling out her timepiece: half past twelve. She had a responsibility to her ship and to her crew not to go on duty exhausted, but she had an equally incontrovertible responsibility to John and to Sherlock not to leave John alone. She split the difference as best she could by rolling John’s singed and bloody jacket into a ball and placing it under her head for a crude pillow: for the next few hours she dozed like that, her revolver in her hands.