It is well documented that John Watson and I met on the case known now as The Sign of Four. Whilst John’s narration of it is largely factual (despite what Holmes might say), the relationship he and I have is not quite as it seems. Yes, we both love each other, and though we are both in love, we are not in love with each other; to put it frankly, we are in a lavender marriage. We became firm friends, both being Scots in England, and then we found we had a lot more in common than we initially realised. He was worried that suspicion would start to arise about the true nature of Holmes and his relationship, and I was also feeling the pressure to be married and remove suspicion from me and my own lover, and so we thought it would be prudent for us to enter into holy matrimony. I could think of no one kinder and more lovely to be my husband.
The first time John introduced me to Holmes as his wife-to-be was probably also the first time Holmes was completely blindsided by something. In his defence, he and Watson were going steady, as they say, and I had thought that Watson might have told Holmes of our lavender plan in a more gentle manner rather than just springing it upon him.
“Your what?” Holmes exclaimed, incredulous.
“My fiancé, Holmes,” Watson replied.
“What do you mean ‘fiancé’? What’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you, dear, and I’m not leaving you.”
Holmes still looked confused. Maybe his brain was still recovering from the shock.
“Holmes, Mary and I are entering into a lavender marriage.”
“A lavender marriage. We’re both inverts, as society likes to call us, and want to alleviate the pressure of society.”
“What do you mean you’re both inverts? Can women be like us? Inverts I mean?”
At this point I had to stifle a laugh. A great mind indeed.
“Holmes are you saying that you don’t know lesbians exist?”, Watson responded, dumbfounded.
Holmes stuttered out some vague noise that I can’t quite transfer to paper.
“I mean, I hadn’t thought of it. I just assumed-”
“You know, maybe you’d fare better if you weren’t so dismissive of women. Women are people too, and you’re not always as clever as you seem. We have just as much agency and desire as you men do, even if society prevents us from expressing it.” I said this in a light enough tone, but I meant every word. I do like Holmes but he could do with being taken down a peg or two sometimes, especially in the early days.
At this he at least had the decency to look a bit sheepish.
“Ah. Um. Well, yes I suppose. I hadn’t thought about it. Hm. My apologies.”
“Don’t worry, Holmes. But I won’t let you forget this,” I said, a teasing grin making its way onto my face.
“Neither will I,” said Watson, with a similar expression.
“I’m never going to live this one down, am I?” Holmes groaned. He looked rather put out about the whole situation.
“No,” assured Watson and I, simultaneously.
After that, we cracked open a bottle of whisky and whiled away the rest of the evening in front of the fire. I knew that at some point I’d like my Cameron and Holmes to meet, however given his ignorance of lesbians, I might need to let him recover from the shock of learning we exist before introducing him to her.
A few months after that evening, John and I moved in together only a stone’s throw from Baker Street. If John spent most of his time at Baker Street, replaced at our house by Cameron, then our few staff were polite and well-paid enough not to pass comment.
Introducing Cameron and Holmes to each other was a source of anxiety for both John and I. They are both slightly odd people, to put it how others might, with very particular interests. I knew they’d either get along like a house on fire, or it would be like putting two warring cats in a locked room together. Thankfully, it was the former. Within minutes of meeting, Holmes was describing his latest chemistry experiment, which Cameron was extremely intrigued by, and upon learning she was a tailor, Holmes asked Cam if he may employ her services.
“You see, I can’t fairly well go into a dress maker’s and ask to be fitted for a dress. Even for me that’s a touch bold. I do need them for disguises though. The number of times my investigations would have benefitted from a well-fitted lady’s disguise, I can’t even begin to tell you.”
“Yes, I understand. That’s why I became a tailor in the first place. I needed trousers and waistcoats and it was far easier to make them myself rather than endure the discomfort of going to a tailor’s and fighting to be measured. Fortunately for me, Patrick, my friend who is like us, agreed to hire me as a tailor. I’m not too familiar with making dresses but I’d certainly be willing to.”
What followed was a lengthy discussion about different hemming techniques, and Holmes started planning another monograph, this time on tailoring techniques and what they might tell you about someone. Or something. I’m never very sure. Of his many monographs, only the ones about bees have held any interest for me.
“I think there might be another marriage at this rate,” John joked.
I chuckled at this. Indeed, they did look quite a pair, dressed almost identically in black trousers, black waistcoat, white shirt and black bow tie. I think Holmes’ brain short circuited when he first saw her. Maybe he’s fantastic at deduction, but he is still stumped by lesbians, it seems.
“Heaven help us if they do. I think they could get up to all sorts of mischief, and I fear we’d be the victims,” I replied.
Later on in the evening, after a very delicious dinner courtesy of Mrs Hudson (who was privy to our arrangement and cared not a jot, thank goodness), we all sat chatting in front of the fire. Cam and I were curled round each other, and Holmes was draped across Watson, snuggled into his side.
“You know, Cam, when John first introduced me to Holmes as his fiance, Holmes didn’t know what lesbians were.” I couldn’t resist bullying him slightly; as John’s best friend and wife it was my solemn duty to intimidate Holmes just enough to remind him I’d protect John against everything. Also I couldn’t let Cameron think Holmes was infallible. He gave back as good as he got though - we had a playful friendship. I like to think of us as platonic nemeses.
“You what? Oh my, that’s hilarious!” she exclaimed, lifting her head off my shoulder to look at Holmes.
“Oh not this again, I already said I was sorry! I’ve learned now.”
John, Cam and I just laughed at each other, and Holmes soon joined too.
“Well, at least I didn’t once mistake a giant rat for a cat!” Holmes said, bringing up an incident I’d rather forget.
“That was one time, and it was dark! Also I don’t make a living out of knowing about rats or cats,” I retaliated.
“I don’t make my living out of knowing about lesbians!”
“You do make a living about knowing other people’s business, what if you needed to know that two women were in a relationship?” John was joining in now.
Very quickly the conversation descended into madness, all four of us overwhelmed by paroxysms of laughter.
From that evening on, the friendship between the four of us grew from strength to strength. For some time we existed in this happy but odd arrangement, our found family of four previously-lonely ‘inverts’, and I thought naively that we’d continue to do so. I knew deep down that one day, maybe Holmes’ work would catch up with him but I never expected that he’d die.
When John returned from that fateful trip to Switzerland, he was broken. I had received a very short note in the post from him telling me what had happened at Reichenbach. I don’t think he could bear to write more. I opened the door to him upon his return and he crumpled into my arms. John Watson was my best friend, and it pained me greatly to see him like this. Holmes was also a dear friend to me, despite our playfully antagonistic relationship, and I felt my eyes sting too, and Cameron was to Holmes what I am to Watson. The three of us were quite overcome with grief.
As was to be expected, the first year without Holmes was difficult for John, however with Cameron and I’s support, he gradually managed to cope with the grief. Thankfully his writings still brought in money, as did my work in the florist, and Cameron, who had moved in at this point, earned a respectable wage as a tailor. We were fortunate enough that there was no rush for John to return to work, however he was adamant that he would start a medical practice, and I sensed that he now needed to work in order to take his mind off his loss. He still worked with the police, however now it was in a more official capacity, as a police surgeon. He published the events known as The Final Problem, and he started to heal. Over time, his work and his life with Cameron and I began to soothe the wound he gained at reichenbach. Of course, there were good days and bad days; the grieving process is not linear, and I don’t know if one can ever fully heal when a part of their soul is lost forever. However, the three of us muddled through together, still that same odd family, though Holmes’ absence was always felt keenly.
Three years after Holmes’ death, John came home from work in a sort of excited daze.
“Mary, Holmes is back.”
I’d have thought he was playing some sick joke if it weren’t for the fact that this is absolutely not something John would joke about.
“What do you mean, John? How is he back?”
He was pacing excitedly up and down the hallway, trying to take off his coat and hat, however he was in such a state of agitation that it was impossible for him to function. I crossed over to him and stilled him by placing my hands on his upper arms.
“John, I need you to explain, how can Holmes possibly be back?” I helped him off with his coat and took his hat from him as he seemed incapable of doing anything else. He clasped my upper arms as I had been doing to him a few moments previously.
“He came into my practice, disguised as a bookseller, and when I turned away from him, he had removed his disguise. I fainted with the shock of it, but it’s him, Mary, it’s really him!”
I could tell John was overcome with joy, and I was happy for him. I knew that when I saw Holmes again, if he was indeed back, I’d be giving him a very strong talking to about the way he revealed himself to John.
“Mary, I know what you’re thinking, please don’t berate him too fiercely. After I fainted, he was very apologetic. You know what he’s like, he vastly underestimates the importance of himself in other people’s lives. Oh, Mary, I can still hardly believe it. He and I had a reunion a-”
“I don’t want to know.”
“Not like that! Anyway, he explained to me why he had to fake his own death. Moriarty still had some men whom the police were unable to round up, and he knew that if they thought he was alive, or if they knew that I knew he was alive, I would be in significant danger, as would he. He needed me to write a fully convincing account of his death, both for his protection and mine. I do regret that he didn’t feel he could trust me, however our lives were at stake. He did it to protect me, and he regrets deeply the hurt he has caused. There is still one of them out there, though tonight Holmes plans to catch him with my help. It is imperative that you don’t tell a single soul about Holmes, Mary. Promise me, please?”
“Of course, John, I understand. I’m still going to have stern words with him, as is my duty as your best friend and wife, but I’m so happy for you, for all of us. How blessed we are that he gets to come back to us. I just wish he could have spared you the pain of these last three years.”
I think my words finally made the whole situation sink in with John, who started tearing up, probably for the second time today. No wonder though; it’s not everyday your lover comes back from the dead. I took him into my arms again and the tension and pain from the last three years finally began to ease.
The events of that night are now widely known thanks to The Empty House. John did kill me off, and I consented to it. I think losing Holmes and getting him back again made him very reluctant to ever leave Holmes’ side, and Cameron and I fancied a change of scenery. Though our marriage had been happy and supportive, it was time for John and I to go our separate ways. John becoming a widower shielded him and Holmes from suspicion, and I never featured enough in the stories to be recognised, which suited Cam and me well. Killing me off was also a desire of his editor, to add more pain and romance to the story. I am ever so glad that I was there for John; I couldn’t imagine leaving him whilst he was still deep in the fogs of grief. I dread thinking about what would have become of him.
Cameron and I kept up to date with John and Sherlock’s adventures on our travels, though I knew that a lot of the published details were likely a fabrication to cover the true nature of their relationship. I did however get a chuckle out of John’s account of the Retired Colourman, where Holmes says “With your natural advantages, Watson, every lady is your helper and accomplice. … I can picture you whispering soft nothings with the young lady at the Blue Anchor and receiving hard somethings in exchange.” They really can be rather transparent sometimes, it’s a wonder they’ve not been caught yet. John's narratives are excellent fodder for me teasing Holmes, even if they aren’t true. In fact, the less true they are, the easier it is to wind him up. I swear we are actually friends and we do get along well, I don't just tease him mercilessly.
Now that Holmes and Watson have retired for the second time, after the war, we see them a lot more regularly. Cameron and Holmes speak to each other in French when they want to gossip privately, much to the chagrin of Watson and I. However two (or four?) can play that game. When we don’t want them to understand us too well, we just break out into as full Scots as possible, and the two of them look rather put out. There’s plenty of light teasing between the four of us, our odd found family, and I think we deserve to be a bit odd after all we’ve been through, much of which will almost certainly never be published. We visit them in the South Downs twice a year, and they visit us at our home twice a year too. I enjoy watching Holmes’ bees, and we discuss them. Given my previous work as a florist, I have accumulated a wealth of horticultural knowledge which he is keen to hear. Together we are going to write a monograph about the best flowers for bees. I think Watson and Cameron are secretly glad that we have each other to talk to about bees; we are all very tolerant about each other’s niche interests, however there’s only so much specialist talk one can take. Whilst Holmes and I are outside enjoying the garden, John and Cameron like to bake together and discuss literature. This evening, like many before, the four of us will sit down, crack open a bottle of whisky with some home baked goods, and while the evening away in front of the fire.