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Afternoon Tea

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She's not going to clean the whole flat, she reminds herself. She's not their housekeeper. They've just been so busy lately, running off chasing one thing or another. And things get so dusty up there. Martha Hudson hums quietly to herself -- the current EastEnders theme music -- hefting the caddy full of cleaning products up the stairs.

There's an unfamiliar smell hanging in the air. It usually smells like chemicals and shaving foam up here, but there's a subtle, elegant perfume in the air. John's lady friends -- bless them -- usually have more obvious tastes when it comes to scent. There's something almost androgynous about this one. It's lovely. Far too modern for someone of Martha's age, but refreshing nonetheless. She's just not sure where it's coming from.

The answer is obvious when she steps into the lounge. There's a woman sound asleep on the sofa. Her long, dark hair is damp and mussed, and she's wearing Sherlock's tartan dressing gown. Her face, even in sleep, gives off the impression of sharp cleverness. Something about her reminds Martha about Sherlock. Poor John, so besotted and he doesn't even realise it. The women he's dating have been resembling that man more and more as of late...

She nudges the Hoover out of the way and coughs quietly. The poor dear should probably go upstairs and nap in John's room. The woman rustles slightly but doesn't wake. Undaunted, and determined to finish the housework before the boys get home, Martha coughs a mite louder, and the woman sits up, instantly on alert.

"Hello, dear, I'm Mrs. Hudson. The landlady. John's just stepped out, I'm afraid. I'd invite you to make yourself at home, but it seems you've already done that." She smiles, hoping to make it clear the woman's presence is not an issue for her.

"Thank you. Irene Adler. I was actually waiting on Sherlock, but I assume they're together?" She grins, and there's something a bit rude, a bit lascivious about it. The bathrobe falls open slightly and she's quite obviously wearing nothing beneath it, so Martha averts her eyes. Honestly, these women of John's-- wait a moment. She said she was waiting for Sherlock?!

Martha pauses, unsure of how to proceed, and falls back on her old standby. "I, um, see. Would you like some tea? Biscuits?"

"Oooh," she purrs. "Tea'd be lovely, thanks."

The ritual of making tea gives Martha a moment to compose herself. Surely the woman on the sofa is a client. But, no, if she were simply a client she wouldn't have let herself in and had a shower, and she certainly wouldn't have stolen Sherlock's favourite robe. She catches herself staring into an empty teacup, lost in thought when the kettle finally clicks.

When she gets back up the stairs, the woman -- Irene, she reminds herself, the lovely thing has a name -- has readjusted the robe, feigning some semblance of decency. Martha nods politely and lays the tea tray out on the coffee table.

"So, you said you were here for Sherlock, then? Is it a case?"

Irene waves one hand idly through the air, a gesture so reminiscent of Sherlock that Martha finds herself wondering if she'd been wrong about him all along. There's clearly some sort of intimate relationship between these two, but what?

"Oh, Hudson, darling, it's not like that."

She reminds Martha of a cat. Smug, satisfied, full of secrets.

"Good. I mean, well, you know. He's busy."

Her laugh is infectious, and Martha finds herself warming up to the interloper. Irene reminds her a bit of herself, back before her life got so complicated, and then so boring.

"Is this going to turn into one of those Hurt him and I'll kill you speeches?" Irene asks, smirking. "How quaint. I am quite certain I could shock that cardigan right off your shoulders." She sips her tea, staring almost threateningly over the cup, and slides a discreet business card across the coffee table. Martha studies it briefly. Recreational Scolding. Is that what they call it nowadays?

Martha bristles slightly. "Dear, I don't know who you think you are, but what I've seen would curl that limp hair of yours. I taught the people who taught you everything you know."

Something about her tone fractures the tension in the room, and Irene lets out a genuine, uncalculated guffaw. Martha feels all the stiffness seeping out of her shoulders as she sips her tea. Tentatively, she reaches out and pats Irene on the hand.

"The ones hunting for a decent mother-figure are always the worst, aren't they?"

Irene laughs again, that unaffected, deep chuckle. "Oh goodness, yes. And yet, there's something about them..."

As soon as she utters the words, Sherlock and John stumble through the door. Sherlock's eyes narrow with wariness and confusion as he draws an invisible line between Martha and Irene, no doubt suspicious of their conversation . His timing proves too perfect and Martha loses herself in yet another fit of giggles. She stands up, flattening her skirt with her palms, and picks up her tea set, tucking Irene's card into the pocket of her cardigan.

"I'll leave you three alone then, will I?"

"Thank you for the lovely chat. We'll be in touch!" Irene's voice carries over the confused murmurs of the boys.

"Oh, I suspect we will." It will be good to have someone to share stories with, after all. Someone who understands.

Smiling, humming softly to herself again, Martha heads down the stairs.