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She looks positively exhausted though her face is just a pinch paler than usual and a pink hue tells him that she’s enjoyed herself. But it hardly comes as a surprise. Working is essential. To both of them. It’s one of the first feats he’s learned to appreciate about her, alongside her astounding gift for observing the smallest details. For now going through dozens of old documents will have to do. A real case, involving people who need help, quickly... it’d just destroy the small easily fractured balance they’ve re-established over the past few days. Not that she has decided to share anything. But it takes time. She’s pushed, gently, over the years, for him to tell her things. Taken breaks from it. And pushed again. But that doesn’t work for her, he’s offered to talk and all she does is pull away further. Patience’s not a virtue he’s overly fond of. For Watson, though... well it has to work if it’s the only chance he gets.

They’ve spent five days either in the archives, searching, selecting and copying potential pieces of evidence. Or at home, sorting through them and comparing the sources. It’s a fool’s errant, history scholars have spent decades on analysing the available data. But the plan’s never been to identify the true culprit or confirm any of the theories concerning what may have happened. She’s mentioned writing... and when the time is right he’ll suggest that she uses this to write a case study, maybe from the perspective of one of the courtiers. Should suit her to find out what her characters can and can’t know about deductive reasoning. And it’s certainly more comfortable, if she were to apply her skills to historical characters she’s learned titbits about in the past few days rather than another story about their adventures.

When their taxi arrives back at 221b he has to nudge her to wake her from a quick nap. The driver smiles knowingly when he hasn’t the faintest idea of either what they were doing or what they will be doing. It’s surprising how many people assume that they can read people based on a handful of years of interacting with them. But there’s no need to correct the notion. It’s bad enough if someone else gets to watch Watson sleep, but that can’t always be avoided. There’s no need to offer him any further insight into their relationship.

“We’re home,” he says as he pays. She frowns at that. He probably should have specified that they’ve arrived at their temporary lodgings that will house them till they return to the brownstone. It’s hard to tell when it’s time to go. At home it’ll be more complicated, taking time away from their shared passion. The temptation would be greater to dive back in. And she’s not ready for that. Not when he still catches her contemplating space at least thrice per day.

And not when finally getting her to write letters with him by disguising them as notes helps to at least gather some intelligence about her state of mind. There are moments when he sees Watson, just Watson, brilliant and thoughtful and amazingly witty, reaching out from beneath layers of disguises and fears and guilt. And the helplessness frightens him, knowing that unless she wants him to take her hand and try to free her she won’t hold on. He’s been there once too often not to understand how hard it is to try to climb back out of that hole. And that’s only the beginning of the harder problem - staying out of it.

He offers her his hand as they get out of the car and lets it slips under her arm after she got out. Watson’s usually fine back on her feet even shortly after she woke up, but it’s good to have her close. And good manners are a very welcome excuse.

“You realise I don’t need help on the stairs?” Her words are drawn together and slower than usual.

“I know.”

“Good.”

But they move up the stairs, side by side, his hand comfortably in place, till he needs it to dig for his key and unlock their rooms. She seems asleep on her feet, but follows inside when he puts his hand back on her arm to guide her to the sofa. It’s unlike him, failing to notice that she’s coming down with something. And yet when he returns from locking the door, she’s lying down in a very un-Watsonly fashion... no food, not even a salad or a bag of crisps and already asleep... that can’t be good. The last time she’s failed to eat dinner he’s found her contemplating the bees.

But that’s different. Because this time, whatever may cause this, at least he knows where she is. And this time all it takes is to spread a blanket over her to ensure she won’t be cold. It’s simple enough to stay up for the night, there’s always someone to talk to if you enjoy talking to trolls and conspiracy theorists. His latest attempt -suggesting that farmers deliberately murder bees with pesticides to excuse using gen-manipulated plants that no longer require any natural pollination- is surprisingly popular. There are four rants that would fill a page or two on paper and thirty-nine shorter comments since he last checked.

Watson coughs, softly, but it doesn’t seem to wake her. Her breathing is more audible than usual, even sitting a few paces away. Waking her up two times in a row without at least another hour or two in between would prove a risk to his own health though. And it’d be wise to stay away if she caught a cold with all their recent exposure to travelling in public transport. But wisdom’s entirely overrated. Laptop in hand he settles beside her to keep a more careful ear on her breathing, a task interrupted only by putting on the kettle and a quick trip to the bathroom.

For a while he ignores what must happen. Watson’s had colds before and she’s perfectly capable of surviving them. But colds are a nasty setback in any effort to improve her mood. No jogs, for one, that’s never good for her. And a miserable Watson’s much too focused on trying to look and sound fine to allow any talks. Another coughing fit and he gets out his phone and speed dials the one person to trust with his mission. It’s tempting, too tempting, to just reach out and stroke her hair while she’s sleeping... but just in time the phone’s answered and he withdraws his hand again.

“Ah Mary... I do need your help.”