Mary Watson felt her husband John jerk awake, the motion hard enough to shake their shared bed and draw his hand from beneath hers. Nightmare, again; she rolled over and gripped his thigh just above his knee. Waited for him to speak so she was sure he had woken. They didn't talk about the dreams much — his or hers — but he'd told her once that a solid grip, a grounding contact, helped him re-orient. One simple thing she could do to ease their very complicated lives.
"Shuu—" he said, but cut himself off.
Sherlock, she thought, keeping her own breathing even. Dreaming about Sherlock again.
She had no idea how to help heal the rift between John and his former friend and flatmate, much as she wanted to. Like their nighttime dreams, Sherlock was an unspokenly forbidden topic in their home. John had struggled to talk about him before, when they'd both thought him dead; John's repressed fury in reaction to Sherlock's shocking return and underlying betrayals ran so deep it terrified her. Too much emotion for her loving man to cope with, she thought. Sometimes he could be so awfully bloody English.
And now the loathsome blackmailer Magnussen was threatening to expose her own betrayals. After a winter and spring of denying everything he felt about the lost friendship, amidst the real joys of preparing for their summer wedding, the fragile veneer over her secrets could be shattered as well. She fought every day to do as she'd been trained, to live only in the surface of her mind, where she wasn't lying when she moved through her days with only sweet sarcasms and wifely concerns, but she'd been put on notice by a bland wedding telegram: her past was no longer likely to remain in its quiet grave.
She watched John scrubbing at his face in dark silhouette, and she wondered, not for the first time, what the telegrams and speech would have been like if weird, wonderful Sherlock, and not dutiful Sholto, had stood as John's best man.
Whether Sherlock would have sensed something strange in "Cam's" telegram, or her reaction to it.
She'd spent the agitated weeks since their return from honeymoon alternately hunting for an avenue to make peace between John and Sherlock — in case her worst fears about Magnussen came to pass — at the same time she'd been relieved the great detective was too far away to put her under his microscope.
John slid back down in the bed next to her. His needs pushed aside her fears and she curled closer, wrapped arms around him. She could see the faintest bluish light coming in around the edges of their curtains; not yet dawn, then. Probably around four? John's breathing was ragged but slowing, his muscles starting to relax. He had buried his face in her shoulder; she stroked the hair behind his ear with her fingertips.
John's phone chirped. They both groaned.
"Not on call," John objected, muttering against her chest. Mary shifted, reaching over him to flip the phone's screen toward her, and paused.
Message from Sherlock Holmes:
"The hell?" she asked the phone; the screen went dark. "John, is 'soup' some sort of code between you and Sherlock?"
"What? No," he said, lifting his head up off her shoulder to squint at her. "No. That's — he what?"
She tapped the screen alive again, showed him the message.
John rolled over onto the pillow, threw his arm over his eyes. Gave a little shake of the head.
"No code. I have no idea what he means," he said tightly.
Mary considered him, then the phone. "Didn't you tell me once he'd ordered egg drop soup at the end of your first case together, even though you were at that dim sum place?"
His jaw worked, but he didn't answer.
She sighed, and kissed his cheek.
"How long has it been since he's reached out?" she asked, simply. She and John were equally stubborn on some points but if she could just get him to acknowledge the Sherlock-shaped hole in their life they might get past the months-long lie of "I'm fine," to find some way to ease the ache that continued to eat at him.
"Since he told me he couldn't — wouldn't — come to the wedding," John said, sharply. "Of course he's texted up out of the blue, demanding soup at five in the bloody morning. As if —"
His mouth tightened, sealing back the rest of what he had to say; Mary could guess the sentiment if not the substance.
As if nothing has changed. As if they were still working cases together, as if Sherlock had some right to John's time, as if asking someone to fetch soup across London was rational in the first place...
Conclusion: Neither man was rational. Something Mary had suspected all along.
She took a different tack, responding to John's words and not his sentiment.
"It's all lower-case." Not much of a demand, she meant; to her, even without tone of voice, the text read almost like a plea. Though she could be seeing what she wanted to see. "He didn't sign it, either."
John's cheeks puffed out in a reluctant sigh; he finally sat up and reached for the phone. She tried to rest easy and neutral in the bed beside him as he stared at the glow of the screen in his lap; tried not to hold her breath as something other than resentment struggled to break through his stony expression.
"Right. Well. Sleep's done in for the night anyway," John said, shifting to swing his legs over the edge of the bed. She also started to sit up, turning to her side of the bed to keep him from seeing her relief or the nerves prickling at the back of her neck. "The chef at dim sum on Baker Street still owes him. We can get him a takeaway there."
Holding the bag of still-hot soup in one hand, Mary knocked on the front door of 221B Baker Street. When she heard no answer above the low hum of conversations in Speedy's and cars passing on the street, she tried turning the knob, and it swung inward at her touch.
Mary looked back over her shoulder at John, his fingers clenched tight on the steering wheel where he waited in the car against the kerb.
Then she stepped inside, knocked again on the open door, and paused to listen. Still no answer from Mrs Hudson on the ground floor, just a loud voice from above — something declamatory on the television? She stepped inside uneasily and headed up the stairs. She'd been to 221B only twice — the chill night John had disappeared and she'd come for Sherlock's help and, after they'd rescued him, the following morning when they'd returned seeking answers to who the hell would put John in a bonfire — and so she remembered the dim staircase with the turnaround landing.
But she wasn't sure what to expect, beyond.
Sherlock had not had an answer about the bonfire that sixth of November; instead, she'd seen the first reluctant thawing of John's anger, as he got drawn into the beginnings of the Underground terrorist case that had been too important to walk away from, that had started off so promisingly with photos of Sherlock's "rats" on the walls, and a video of a train, and excitement in John's voice as clues, questions, and deductions bounced between them to click into place. She'd curled into the red brocade armchair, hugged a pillow to herself, and curbed her own enthusiasm and contributions — some insights might have told Sherlock too much about her, but more than anything, she wanted John to re-connect with Sherlock, remember the adrenaline-tinged teamwork he had missed. Even if he would never admit how much.
And she wanted to watch them work together, so different from she and John at the clinic. So bright, Sherlock's light and John's focusing lens.
As she climbed the voice grew clearer — not the telly; Sherlock Holmes' voice, his low baritone half-rumble and half-roar, and before she could consciously pick out the words, the rhythm told her he was reciting Shakespeare.
One day. She'd had one precious day to see them working a case together, see Sherlock's magic in action, and John just as bold and brilliant beside him, always right where he was needed. Then they'd vanished together into a clandestine Underground station, solved the crime, saved Parliament, and come back to the surface impenetrably separate.
"But when the blast of war blows in our EARS," Sherlock bellowed, and she paused to listen between one step and the next. Henry V, she realized, the 'breach' soliloquy, punctuated by the stomp of pacing feet.
"Then imitate the action of the tiger, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood! Disguise — disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage!"
When she'd last stood here, both the kitchen and sitting room doors had been open, light drifting dustily through the flat, but today both were closed tight, crowding the landing with near-darkness. A scrawl of yellow chalk (FUCK OFF, MYCROFT) marred the door straight ahead, and a sour mustiness filled the close air.
The breathless tirade continued: "Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide, hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height..."
Her gut told her to push the door silently open, to get the lay of the land, but she wasn't that person anymore. Instead, she listened to the half-sick feeling beneath her diaphragm, the one she'd had since John jolted awake before dawn, and reached out to rap solidly on the door.
The door swung inward and Sherlock appeared beyond, a whirl of darkness ranging past the fireplace. He stuttered for half a beat then continued, louder and more angrily.
"For there is none of you so mean and base, that hath not noble lustre in your eyes," he snarled.
She took a deep breath, and joined him for the final lines.
"I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, straining upon the start. The game's afoot: follow your spirit, and upon this charge, cry — "
"What the fuck are you doing here?" He glared at her from in front of the writing table, an ominous silhouette framed by the horned skull on the wall.
"You asked for soup," she said, holding up the take-away bag, pushing the door further open with her foot. The sitting room looked rearranged, ransacked, chaos and intrusion making her head hurt. Strange empty spaces, heaps of obsession starting on the floor and climbing up the walls on string: papers, pictures, maps…
...Magnussen. Everywhere, from every angle, Charles Augustus Magnussen, in the present, in the past. Her past. AGRA. Oh, God. No. Her heart clenched, hard, but resumed beating. Reflex kept her surface reaction minimal (a slight flare of her nostrils, a puzzled pinch to her eyebrows) but she sent a desperate wish to the aether she had any chance of fooling Sherlock if he was really looking at her.
His manic self-distraction drained away like the blood from her face, replaced by singular wide-eyed focus: he stood, still as marble, staring at every part of her at once.
She took him in just as quickly. John was off-balance without Sherlock; had Sherlock passed the tipping point without John? Even in the curtain-dimmed light he looked terrible. Unshaven; curls drooping flatly around his paler-than-usual face, his too-hollow cheekbones. The dark shirt, dark trousers, dress shoes, they wouldn't have been out of place before he faked his death, when he'd been forever in the news, but all looked like they'd been slept in for days, and the black silk dressing gown hung asymmetrically over the top of it at all (something heavy in the pocket) was torn at the sleeve and spattered with dull stains.
She knew immediately, with the eyes of a nurse and those of her darker days, what she would see if she were to push up that sleeve.
His hand dipped into his pocket and his knuckles shifted in a familiar pattern, fingers closing around the grip of a firearm.
She crouched, set the soup container level on the floor and let go of the bag (because a plastic bag full of soup was a terrible weapon, because soup on the floor would be a slick hazard in a fight, because he'd asked for soup and he obviously needed soup so she didn't want to spill his soup) as she dove and rolled to her left where she could take cover in the kitchen.
And realized her mistake even as she pushed hard with her foot to get her whole body behind the cover of the bare wall behind the pocket for the sliding door: she'd have done better to set the soup down slow, rise up with hands raised. Or to freeze altogether. Like she'd never seen a gun.
"Sherlock," she pled. "Please. Don't."
She meant don't shoot me. She meant don't draw the right conclusion, don't keep looking. Most of all, she meant don't hurt John.
The bullet passed inches in front of her nose, plowing itself into the kitchen floor beyond her at a shallow angle. The beakers and flasks on the central table rang. The sound of the shot echoed throughout the building, the neighborhood.
Mary felt battle-calm wash over her, her own form of adrenaline rush, her awareness of every potential weapon in the kitchen but this wasn't — she couldn't.
She didn't want to be that person anymore at all, she didn't want to be that person in front of John. Even if she did let who she had been emerge from the despairing wreckage of her new self, of her marriage…Sherlock had a gun and she didn't. Even if she could manage every element perfectly, and disarm Sherlock without hurting him — John would have heard the shot and already be on his way up, would find her standing over Sherlock, would hear everything he had seen and deduced about her. And she didn't want to hurt either of them.
She heard the revolver's double-action trigger advancing the cylinder for another shot, and she covered her head with her hands as though they might protect her from bullets or consequences. She knew how to listen over the thunder in her ears for John sprinting up the stairs, but didn't know what to do with the cascade of fear washing through her mind: all the terrible things that might happen next.
"We're all right," she croaked (lying, liar, all her lies and her past black as the Tower ravens coming home to roost) in the same breath Sherlock roared "Stop!"
She heard John slide to a halt on the landing.
"Sherlock, where is Mary?" She knew his tone of voice (the dangerous doctor's calm in the face of what the hell is going on here, the one practically screaming what have you done), and she cautiously eased out around the doorframe, watching Sherlock: flushed with adrenaline, eyes fixed on her over the barrel of the gun, his free hand stretched toward the other doorway, holding John just out of her line-of-sight.
"Stay where you are, John," Sherlock's deadly voice trembled where his hand gripping the enormous Smith & Wesson 629 did not.
"You don't get to say that to me again," John snarled coldly, taking two swift strides toward Sherlock, who took a step closer to Mary, ending up in the empty space where the red chair had once been. John stopped in his tracks, making a triangle of tension between them.
John's eyes followed the line of the pointing gun, raked her up and down (searching for blood, for injury, for weapons, for reasons), then snapped back to Sherlock. Mary gripped the edge of the kitchen door, preparing to rise.
Sherlock spoke softly: "Make one more move, Mary, and I will kill you."
She stilled. John was an immobile column of vigilant energy, dissecting Sherlock with dead calm eyes.
"Sherlock. Explanation, now." He reached into his coat, pulled out his phone, and Mary exhaled a silent sigh of relief. Sherlock hadn't twitched the gun toward John, toward the threat of hand in pocket. He wasn't protecting himself, he was protecting John. From her.
For one taut moment, Sherlock stared at her while John decided what to do with the phone; call 999 or…? Keep their police friends and the interfering brother out of this, she guessed, when he made only a few quick taps before dropping it back to his side.
"She is not who you think. She — she..." Sherlock's voice faltered, his eyes flicking ever so briefly back and forth; he did not let his focus stray or his aim waver, but Mary could see he wanted to look around at his web of connections, his chaotic tangle, find the simplest answer to convince John Sherlock wasn't off his nut, hallucinating, or wrapped in the paranoia of drugs and not deductions.
Her gut twisted, and she sought refuge in what she could see beyond Sherlock: A soiled duvet, propping up the cracked screen of an abandoned mobile phone, wadded into the corner between the slate hearth and the rumple of carpet where the armchair had been. And the obsessive web of photographs crawling up the bookcases and mantelpiece: Magnussen, Magnussen, Appledore, the Prime Minister. Lady Smallwood. A tall balding man in a bespoke suit with a familial resemblance to Sherlock — Mycroft?
"She's my wife," John said over the roaring in her ears, gaze flickering between them. "She brought you your damn soup."
Mary's throat clenched and jaw tightened at the photograph of her best friend Janine, smiling thinly up at Magnussen at some formal function. So much for friendship: at best Janine had been bought and sold with another of Magnussen's hoarded tidbits of leverage; at worst, she'd been his agent all along, a ready hand with which to menace Mary — or John. And Mary had been blind to his machinations either way.
Sherlock's attention was divided, part of him unhappily giving John a minuscule shake of the head, insisting on upending John's reality once again. But his gaze remained on her, observing her unfolding reactions.
She'd left AGRA behind. Buried the past. Re-invented herself, looked for a simpler life, a quieter, kinder life. Become a nurse. Met John Watson, doctor, and discovered she did still have it in her to love. Thought she could build a future unstained. But here she was, as tangled in strings, seen and unseen, as any of Sherlock's photographs.
She swallowed, tightly, and spread her hands like a captive in a film. Looking up at Sherlock, letting her unspoken plea show in her eyes, trying to let him see he didn't need to unmask her to have John back in his life.
"She…" Sherlock licked his lips, blinked several times. Light-headed. Stressed. But decisive. "John — John. How did she get there?"
John frowned, brows contracting over shifting blue eyes. She recognized the twist of warring priorities. The instinct to trust Sherlock — and her; the suspicion that he shouldn't trust either. And no comprehension of how to solve the puzzle he'd been posed.
Sherlock pushed the gun forward half an inch. "There. Where she's sitting. Why is she there? In that position?"
"She—" John started. But his eyes tracked where she was, where her hands were, back across the floor. Mary felt herself tense further when his eyes caught, and hung, on the takeaway bag with Sherlock's soup. Upright. Unspilled.
She closed her eyes, not wanting to see the rising admixture of doubt and confusion and anger as John — clever John, military John — put the pieces together. Just as Sherlock had asked, as Mary should have foreseen.
"No," he said, the word so strangled and horrible she almost didn't recognize his voice in it, forcing her to look up again. "No, Sherlock. She can't — she isn't?"
"She is your wife, and she is a nurse, John. But she's much more as well. Connected to much larger things…" Sherlock's chest heaved. Mary could see him trying to determine where to start, how to cut straight to the beating heart of the story. Still trying, if the bleak way he was looking at her over the gunsight was any indication, to comprehend and connect all the pieces himself.
John's fist had tightened around his forgotten phone until it bit into his hand, until he slid phone into pocket. With clenched teeth, he pivoted, ever so slightly, to face her. To place his shoulder, ever so subtly, closer to Sherlock's.
The truth could never set her free, but it might be the only chance she had left to defend the relationships she cared about.
"Sherlock," she said, to both pairs of eyes, her own voice broken and wrong. "Let me tell him. Please."
"Tell him a story? Tell him more lies?" he accused.
Mary bit her lip, thinking about John, bitterly tangled up in all their dishonesty. Would her past self had chosen differently, come clean with John early in realizing how deeply she'd fallen for him, if she'd known about the heartbreaking lie Sherlock had still been acting out at the time? And the lies the rest of John's world had told him on Sherlock's behalf? Could she have?
"I want to tell him...the truth. The basics of my story. My real story," she said, and looked down, away from the betrayal in John's eyes as her confirmation extinguished any doubt. "All the details later, if he wants them. And you can vouch for or contradict everything I say. Please."
She looked up again at Sherlock, tried to show him how serious she was, how she wanted and trusted him to call her out if she did lie, or omit something relevant. Because an adult lifetime of keeping secrets made hiding the truth second nature, and only Sherlock could convince John now that her love for him hadn't been another part of the lie; a story, a trick.
John took a restless step closer to Sherlock's side, settled almost unconsciously into parade rest.
Sherlock stood taller, shoulders dropping a fraction, and his eyes shifted, gathering information, the dark under narrowed lids giving way to silver-blue. "Who is Mary Morstan?"
"I am Mary Morstan." Sherlock's lip twitched upward angrily, hand tensing on the gun, and she lifted her hands higher, truly beginning to fear his fraying control. "But that isn't my given name. Mary Morstan was born four years ago. And she died at birth almost forty years before that."
"Stolen identity. An orphan. Did she have any family at the wedding, John?"
John shook his head, lips thin and eyes stony.
"You would have known she didn't, if you'd been there." There was a flicker in his eyes, anger and hurt from then and now, and Mary could hear the accusation: You'd have seen through her earlier, if you'd been there.
"Not. Relevant." Very stressed. Almost robotic.
Mary watched the muscle in John's jaw working, forcibly sealing off that untapped well of fury again under the needs of the moment. He looked between them again, fist clenched until it twitched in a little 'go ahead' gesture she wasn't sure he was aware he made.
"Before that, I was…" She briefly bit her upper lip. "A lot of things. A combat veteran. A mercenary. An assassin. I did a lot of things to and for other people and I didn't like all of them but I got paid. That used to be all I cared about."
"What are you now?" John's question was quiet, but still silenced Sherlock's next biting interrogation. They both looked at her. She looked only at John.
"I'm a nurse. I'm your wife. I am a more-than-ordinary woman trying to live an ordinary life, to do what scraps of good I can in the time I have left. And I am the woman who loves you."
John looked at Sherlock, tense. Seeking the promised verification, she thought. Not trusting his own judgment, not even wanting to trust Sherlock's; not able to trust her words or, presumably, the look on her face. Sherlock, for his part, appeared locked into place — merciless eyes still first and foremost watching for danger to John, and searching for clues in her face, her elbows held apart from her sides, the navy socks she'd thought were black when she'd grabbed them in the dark, the ragged part in her hair.... The gun wobbled downward half an inch, but she might as well have been nailed to the floor for all the difference it made.
"Why did you marry me?" John's shoulders were hunched, his gaze on the floor, but his voice still had an army snap to it.
"For all the reasons I said yes to that first date, and all the reasons I moved in with you. Because you're clever, and funny, and you don't give a lot of yourself, your real self, not your doctorly self, to strangers but when you do you're just...amazing. And also because you're a stubborn bastard who would debate with the statue of Lord Nelson if you took a mind to and you'd probably at least argue him to a draw." She felt hot tears spill over her lashes and onto her cheeks. "Because I feel alive when I'm with you, even when you tell me I can't do something and I have to contradict you. Because I've never felt anything like this and don't imagine I ever will again. Because I want you to be happy. I made you get soup this morning because you love Sherlock and you miss him, and I wanted you two to heal whatever rift has taken hold between you."
A half-dozen other answers wanted to spill out of her but her breath caught hard in her throat, as John's mouth twisted against the things he didn't want to feel or admit or hear out loud. But she could see unequivocal love and fear in John's every move when Sherlock squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his hands to his ears, leaving the gun pointing at the ceiling with his finger still on the trigger. Her heart pounded; everything in the moment felt like glass on the verge of shattering.
"Oh, Sherlock," she said through a sob. John had mentioned his carelessness with firearms but she'd thought he was exaggerating. "Don't do that."
John had stepped urgently forward, into Sherlock's space, caught his arm with gentle firmness, and tugged it down so he could pull the gun from unresisting fingers. Without letting go of Sherlock's wrist, he decocked its hammer and leaned to place it carefully on the mantelpiece. Mary wiped her eyes on the back of her hand and watched John gently lower Sherlock onto the greenish chair behind him, his other hand resting against Sherlock's cheek.
Checking pupillary response, she knew he'd say. But his thumb wasn't drawing Sherlock's lower lid down and there was no pressure at his pinkie touching Sherlock's neck above his artery. She knew that touch, could feel the memory on her own face. Sherlock pulled his face aside and down, leaving John's fingers hovering in midair.
"John," she said, slowly drawing herself to her feet. "I'm—"
"Shut up!" Sherlock barked, hands coming to cradle his bowed head. John turned so he could see Mary, still gripping Sherlock's wrist. "Shut up, just — just. I need to think."
Mary gave John a dismayed look and carefully came out into the sitting room just far enough to pick up the soup. Her face, her chest, both felt numb. She leaned one hand on the door to the landing, and held the bag out at her arm's length; a peace offering, an apology. A goodbye, if it came to that. This was a life it would devastate her to lose, not one from which she could just cut her losses, cut and run. But she dreaded she would be asked — or told — to leave.
Sherlock lifted his head halfway at the swing of the sitting room door. She couldn't decipher the intensity in his wan face, in his mercury eyes: she wished she knew him well enough to read anger, or fear, or accusation beneath the adrenaline crash, or headache, or worse, and whatever remained of the chemical mixture that had been sustaining him.
John cleared his throat, stared into her eyes for a moment. But his expression was blank, the mobile face she'd loved to watch shift with his thoughts gone hard and unmoving. He stepped close enough to accept the offering from her, then returned to Sherlock's side and set it on the table so he could flatten the bag around the soup container. He placed the spoon in Sherlock's hand, and the pale white plastic against his dark curls was much less alarming than the chrome barrel of the gun.
Sherlock inhaled raggedly. "You — it doesn't fit, John, she doesn't fit."
"I get it," John said, sounding like his own heart was strangling him.
"You do? She — she loves you. I believe that. But she's… a tool, a sharp tool, the kind you don't leave lying around, that doesn't get placed in — in a suburb — for no reason. It has to be a plot, a plot I missed, a plan, something set up by Mag-Magnussen."
"What?" Mary exclaimed, fingers and toes suddenly burning cold with adrenaline and anger; this accusation was beyond the pale. John straightened, looking at her, mouth slightly open at her vehemence. "Sherlock, you think I'm — no. No."
She took a sharp breath, driving emotion back so she could be very clear.
"There is literally no amount of money in the world that could convince me to work for Magnussen. He knows who I was. He knows where we live, so he can pass that along to anyone who might want me dead. He let me know at our bloody wedding that he had his eye on me, on us. But so far, I'm just on notice. And I've been trying to figure how to get to him before he can use me."
John stood still, but his eyes flicked back and forth between the two of them. Sherlock's head came up the rest of the way, slow as a moonrise, til he was gazing at John's face. She finally saw Sherlock illuminated — that elevated state John had struggled to describe a dozen times while they were courting: the jittering eyes that gave only the barest hint of the whirring hard drive behind, ten thousand facts dancing in his mind's eye, connecting in patterns that only he could see.
An aeon of immobility, then six fast blinks, then his gaze went straight up over the kitchen doorway.
Mary had to pivot slightly to follow his gaze.
A clothesline near the ceiling, strung with maps, and three surprisingly sharp CCTV printouts of a crowd surrounding a bonfire.
"My God," she breathed; John looked up as well, frowning at first before his face lost color. Mary turned back to Sherlock. "That was him, Magnussen? It was. Why?"
Two more blinks, and his head settled slowly against the back of the chair, soup forgotten on the side table.
"To test your pressure points." The picture on the left: Mary leaning too close to the bonfire for her own safety, wide eyes showing her terror.
"And maybe mine." The picture on the right: frenzied Sherlock throwing a hunk of burning pallet out of the pyre.
She took a step back, right up to the threshold of the landing, pulse pounding with the abrupt flush of remembered adrenaline, ears ringing with the child's screams, her voice and Sherlock's shouting John's name. John caught his hand on the back of the chair, thighs tightening beneath his denims to keep himself upright. He'd gone from gray to stark white; for a moment she was afraid he was more likely to pass out than Sherlock.
She made herself straighten up, looked at them. At the way John's eyes tracked from her to the photo to Sherlock and back. The way John leaned in, slightly, toward Sherlock, while still looking at her.
She'd rather stay with them, learn the edges of this new shape the three of them could form. But not if it meant giving Magnussen a shot at John and Sherlock.
She gave a curt nod.
"No," Sherlock said softly.
"Wait — what?" John asked, and then looked at Mary in the doorway again, lips thin, fingers unconsciously flexing and relaxing. His eyes sought hers, and she watched the fear and anger build as he placed the pieces of her retreat together; not as quickly as Sherlock, but just as thoroughly. Shame finally closed her eyes, turned her head away.
"Stop it," John said. She hesitated, opening her eyes but unable to look directly at him, and he closed the distance between them and brought his heels together with a little tap.
Sherlock, limp in his chair, watched John's back, his eyes quiet and resigned.
"Just — stop. You two both think you can protect me by running away from me? No. Mary, you say you've been on a battlefield? Worked in a team?"
"Then you know. That's not how it works. You stay. You stand. You fight."
Sherlock looked down at his hand on the arm of the chair, at the spoon in his fingers. Mary looked into John's face again, met his gaze somberly. His jaw tightened.
"You're ready to bolt out that door — if it's because you've pissed me off, then you damn well better stay and fight that out. But if you're like him… if you're taking off to lead the danger away from me, take your private fucking battle off somewhere to fight it on your own, then…"
"Then you're an idiot," Sherlock finished for him, without looking up.
She blinked. Saw the misery in the droop in Sherlock's shoulders, the tight-folded corners of his lips. Misery, because he had made the same choice, in the name of protecting John, and paid for it terribly. Suffering alone in this musty nest of neglect because he had not, maybe could not, figure if John had forgiveness enough for what Sherlock had done, or how to ask for it in a way John would hear, or whether he deserved to. Did he even know how to acknowledge that much emotion? So many ways he and John were alike; so many ways he needed help and wouldn't ask.
She looked back at John. They all needed help they hadn't asked for. And if they were going to get through this at all intact, they had to help each other.
What mattered now was opening up the future — they had all tried to bury their painful pasts, alone, and walk away to something that seemed cleaner, but John was right. That's not how it worked.
They would have to exhume everything, face up to their unquiet dead.
Mentally she flipped her own lens on everything, re-evaluating events with John at the center.
"You're right. I'm an idiot. We both are."
Sherlock's lips tightened, and she could see that whatever reserves had lifted him from begging for soup to firing a gun were almost gone — but the crisis wasn't over yet, and she needed to push them through to the end of this. Mary moved past John to stand next to Sherlock's chair, where John could see them both, and reached down to take his spoonless, and apparently nerveless, hand. She twined their fingers together, so their palms were pressed together.
"John, we've lied to you, and lied to ourselves that we were hiding things in your best interest. We've been selfish. You needed all the relevant information to make sound decisions, and we've kept it from you. Our reasons don't matter." She felt Sherlock try to withdraw and squeezed his hand, encouragingly. "We were wrong."
"I was wrong," Sherlock said. "You were merely about to be wrong."
She drew in a breath.
"Stop," John ground out, strain colouring his voice like broken glass. "Both of you. I don't—"
He paused. Closed his eyes. Took a deep breath of his own. Mary realized she was gripping Sherlock's hand a little too hard.
"You, Sherlock Holmes, are an ass," John said. "You have always been an ass and you probably always will be one."
"I am well aware."
"Shut. Up." John scrubbed his hand over his face. "I don't need protecting. What I needed, and thought I had, was someone who trusted me who I could trust in return. Was I the only person you didn't tell because you were afraid your clever plot would end up on the bloody blog? Don't answer that."
Sherlock let the spoon slide out of his other hand; his eyes were downcast, lined with pain. Mary could see how John's anger tore at him. "You don't want answers about any of it. I don't know what you do want. But I can stop her leaving you."
"You can't make her do anything. You can't make her be what she isn't. We weren't supposed to be this way, Mary. We were going to have a quiet — quiet-ish — life in the suburbs. Maybe even raise a child."
Mary opened her mouth, then closed it again; spread her free hand, asking for peace or a moment to think, to respond, to come up with anything but white noise.
Again, Sherlock drove wearily to the heart of the matter.
"You're abnormally attracted...to dangerous situations and people, John, so is it truly such a surprise that the woman you've fallen in love with conforms to that pattern?"
"Sherlock," Mary said, and then sighed, looking at John and the tight bunch of his eyebrows and shoulders. "He's not wrong, love."
"He's always not wrong," John growled. "Except when he is. But..."
John's shoulders sagged, like he'd lost the bluster sustaining him. "I chose you. I chose both of you. And I thought you chose me, as well."
"I did." Sherlock said heavily. "Every time."
"I did," Mary said. "I do."
"The worst thing. The absolute worst. Is that the two of you...Sherlock, I asked you not to be dead. Mary, I asked you to marry me. You both gave me what I wanted. This is—" He threw his hands up helplessly, paced two steps toward the sofa and then back again. "Look, I find it difficult. I find it difficult, this sort of stuff."
Mary squeezed Sherlock's hand a little tighter, trying to reassure them both.
"John…" Sherlock said, with a growing waver in his voice. "I know that I am not what I was. But you asked me not to be dead, and I moved hell and earth to make that possible — because… because… I thought you needed me."
"You thought John needed you, or you needed John?" Mary asked, keeping her voice soft. She stroked her thumb over Sherlock's.
He looked to her, his chest struggling to rise and fall evenly. "I have always needed John. I needed him even before I met him. I always will."
"I know how you feel," she said, swiping her free hand across her eyes.
John folded his arms and then unfolded them. His upper lip sucked in, slightly, and he pursed his lips again, watching them both. Finally, with both Mary and Sherlock looking up at him, he reached up and scratched his temple, clearing his throat.
"Mary...Mary Watson. You are…life. You bring life to everything you do. You brought me to life. I don't know who you were before we met, but you can't fake what you did for me. And I do want to spend the rest of my life with you; we have words to speak still but as long as you stick around to speak them, I can forgive you.
"And Sherlock, even after all this. Even...even now," John made the tiniest gesture toward the table by the chair, confusing Mary until she saw the syringe half-hidden under the takeaway bag, "you are the best and the wisest man I have ever known. You saved my life… multiple times, probably in more ways than I know. You, I can forgive now."
John closed his eyes, covered them with his hand so only the working of his throat suggested he might be close to tears. When Mary glanced down, Sherlock's face was turned aside, toward the fireplace, eyes pinched shut but lashes damp, and the fine lines around his mouth suggested some hopeless, silent pain.
John drew his heels together again, straightened up and looked at each of them in turn.
"Either way. Words we need to have aside. We can't change the past. Any of our pasts. But I would very much like for us to write our futures — all our futures — together."
Mary didn't try to stop her own tears from falling; instead she held out one hand to John. He took a step toward them, but Sherlock remained limp in the chair. She and John both paused and shared an alarmed look.
"Sherlock. Look up." She wasn't asking; she hoped he could give John one more burst of energy, one more moment of that intense attention. She was confident she could convince them both they could make this work, as long as Sherlock saw what she saw. "I know you're tired."
Far too slowly, he turned back to face her, pale eyes asking her to ignore the wayward tear that had spilled down one unshaven cheek. His eyes flickered, but he couldn't seem to look at John.
She gave him a tiny, damp smile. Reached for John once more, tilting her head toward him.
Sherlock whispered, "He needs you, Mary. Stay with him."
John stepped closer to hear Sherlock's fragile voice, watched his face with frightened, breath-held intensity.
Mary tugged gently at Sherlock's hand. "He needs you, too, Sherlock Holmes. Don't you dare leave him again. That's what got us all in this ruddy mess in the first place."
"He doesn't want...all this. It's all right. He chose you."
"Stop," John said, sharp and tight. Mary could hear the pressure of his emotions behind the one word. Sherlock fell silent.
"Mary's right. Please look at me." John stood in front of Sherlock's chair; close enough he and Mary could join hands while Mary kept hold of Sherlock's. Almost close enough to take Sherlock's free hand.
Sherlock closed his eyes briefly, then scraped together the mettle to look up, and even if she hadn't been ninety percent certain already, she would have known in that moment how hopelessly in love Sherlock was with John.
Mary looked between their faces; and if she hadn't known before, the softness of John's eyes, the way his frame eased, all the little things she recognized in John's body language for love would have been clear.
"Sherlock," she said, "look at him. See how he looks at you. Compare how he looks at me."
Through their hands she felt John twitch, and this time he got the cautionary squeeze; vitally important he not deny it this time. Sherlock was already shaking his head.
"Don't," she said sharply. "Don't give me any sort of rubbish, supposedly 'rational' reason I'm mistaken. Sentiment isn't your area, Sherlock, and it often isn't John's either. But it is mine. He loves you, and he misses you. You love him, and you miss him. Denial is causing you both to do idiotic things.
"I love him and I'm not giving him up — but he loves you. And I would very much like the chance to love you, too."
His lustrous eyes were locked on John's, scanning deeply but not so hard to read after all: searching, hoping, fearing.
"Sherlock," John said. "Did you forget? 'There's always something.' So, here it is: I did shave for you."
Mary hadn't a hand free to cover her smile, sad and hopeful; Sherlock's harsh little bark of a laugh served them both. The hand that gripped hers shook like an old man's, though — the last dregs of Sherlock's energy, his temporary cocktail of adrenaline and emotion and his drug of choice fading and leaving precious little behind. She looked at John, who stretched out his hand, palm up, just above Sherlock's.
"Soup," she said, because Sherlock had asked for soup and he obviously needed soup, and hope alone wouldn't be enough to buoy him past the moment. "And then hospital."
"Soup," John agreed. "And then hospital."
Like a man waking from a nightmare, Sherlock reached out to take John's hand, completing their circle.