Burma, April 1894
And before he could stop her, Mary reached out and swung herself across the gap onto the chain link ladder. She looked back at him, her momentum setting her twisting gently, and gave him a small, sad smile.
“I’m sorry, John,” she told him, and Watson’s heart cracked at her sincerity. “I had hoped it would never come to this. I never wanted to see you in this position—to put you in this position.”
Watson tried to swallow, to open his mouth to speak, and found that he physically could not. He felt as though he could not get enough air, his chest tight, as though he were drowning. The comparison only heightened the sensation, but with an effort of will, he managed to force words past the weight of his tongue.
“Mary—Mary, I don’t—“
The railing was beneath his hand without any recollection of his stepping forward, and Mary’s expression shifted into alarm. “John,” she said, and the note of command struck harsh in her voice, “John, don’t—“
Watson barely heard her; he was beyond measured thought. Instead, he put one foot on the lower rail. His eyes on Mary’s face, he saw her expression change the instant before he shifted his weight to launch himself across the gap to her side.
He was pulled bodily back down from the brink and stumbled backward against the person who had their arms wrapped around his chest from behind, so tightly it was painful. But the physical sensation was nothing compared to the ache in his heart; he had last heard that voice three years prior, on another continent, and he knew it as though not a second had elapsed, in his very bones.
That Mary was evidently not surprised only made it worse. Watson did not turn around. “You’re rather late, Sherlock,” his wife said to the man behind Watson, and smiled again, still sadly.
“I apologize, my dear,” Sherlock Holmes said, regret bare in his voice. “I came as quickly as I could.”
Mary, never one to fight a lost cause, nodded. “You will act as we discussed?”
“Yes,” said Holmes, and his voice actually cracked. Watson, three years ago, might have closed his eyes, but these were his last few seconds in which to behold the woman he loved, and he did not. “I do, I shall,” the detective told her, and Mary nodded again.
“You have all my love,” she said, meeting John’s eyes, and then looked back at Holmes. “Both of you.”
She tripped the crank with one booted foot, and was instantly lost in the darkness above. The chain rattled as it spun out, reaching its end at last with a harsh clanking jerk.
The side of Holmes’s face was still pressed into Watson’s back, just below his shoulder blades. In one motion, the doctor shrugged him off, pivoted, and punched him full across the jaw.
He didn’t pull the blow, and Holmes, caught off guard, staggered backward a few steps, but when he recovered that familiar insouciant half-smile Watson remembered so well had not slipped. “I missed you too, darling,” he told Watson, who could at that moment have cheerfully killed the detective himself.
“Mary knew you were here?” he snarled.
Holmes had a hand to his jaw. “She and I have been corresponding since September of ’91,” he said after a moment. “She confided in me her suspicions, and requested that I end my exile on account of them. Watson, if you do not want her to have—acted—in vain, there really isn’t any time to waste.”
He nodded toward the passage that had brought them here, and Watson, hating them both equally, fell into rapid step behind him down the gangway. “And what is the matter that you discussed together?” he demanded while they walked.
Holmes didn’t look back. “On the day of your wedding—after she punched me, incidentally, in the exact same spot which you just struck, my dear—she and I agreed that we would not leave you alone.” His tone was determinedly neutral, which only made it more insulting; Watson knew thereby that he was quite serious.
“Agreed? Alone? In what sense?”
The detective’s back was singularly inexpressive, and from the way he hunched his shoulders forward slightly Watson knew he was trying to prevaricate. “I understood her to mean, comprehensive,” he said, pivoting to favour him with a remote look. “Subsequent events did nothing to disabuse me of that understanding.”
As usual, his countenance was perfectly controlled; to look at him, he might have been on Mount Everest for all that he cared. But Watson knew better than to be taken in by Holmes’s semblances. He closed the gap between them in two strides and seized Holmes’s chin in his hand, tilting his face up to look into his dark eyes. Homes made no complaint, though Watson’s rough grip could not but be paining his jaw where the doctor had struck him, though Holmes’s soul was in his eyes. Watson could read there naked love, and longing, and just the thinnest sliver of utter despair, as easily as he would read his copy of The Strand.
He knew what to do for all of those emotions, to a hair’s breadth. Instead Watson let go of Holmes and took a step back, looking down his nose at him. “Was there anything else you neglected to confide in me?” he asked icily. “Some other person with whom you agreed to usurp responsibility for my life? The fact that you left Switzerland alive?”
“No one, I assure you,” Holmes replied, his gaze fixed on a point somewhere beyond Watson’s shoulder. He ignored the other question completely, for which Watson was grateful, and then resentful of himself for the emotion.
“Good,” he snapped. “Then let’s finish this.”
He tucked his swordstick under his arm and drew his revolver, using his freed hand to check that it was loaded and in working order. “Do you have your revolver?” he asked Holmes, who looked relieved to have moved on to a comparatively simple topic.
“Two of them,” he said shortly, and made a queer motion with his left forearm: Watson inhaled sharply. Holmes now held in his hand one of Professor Moriarty’s miniature clockwork guns.
He knew his dismay was scrawled across his face, but did not care. He’d known that Holmes was alive since the fall of ’91, but he had thought the detective would come back even while it hurt unspeakably that he had sent no word. As the months had dragged on to years Watson had changed his mind on that score, but he had never considered that the Holmes he’d loved could not. Now, however, he was forced to wonder, and on top of his despair over Mary, which he had unceremoniously thrust into a locked cupboard in his mind for later, the doubt was almost too much to bear.
Watson looked up into Holmes’s eyes, noting the bitter twist to the detective’s mouth; he’d comprehended perfectly Watson’s reaction, though Watson would have bet an oyster supper that he had failed to understand the reasons for it. For all his undeniable brilliance, Holmes could be ludicrously insecure at times.
“I should like to hear sometime,” he said carefully, “how you have occupied yourself, since Switzerland.”
For the first time, he saw that three years’ separation had deepened the lines in Holmes’s face, widened the dabs of silver at his temples, tightened the delicate skin around his eyes. “If you like.”
They continued a few yards further in relative silence.
“Is that what you meant, in your note?” Watson asked abruptly, several misshapen pieces falling into place. “When you asked me to apologize to—Mary—on your behalf?”
Holmes nodded choppily. “I thought I was going to die, Watson,” he said, looking off to one side, hands in his pockets. For all that they were in an airshipyard in Mandalay, he might have been standing on the street in London. Very quietly, he added, “Ironically, I have often wished that I had.”
His eyebrows rose when the tip of Watson’s swordstick poked him right on the tip of the nose, as though he were a gimcrack man. “Don’t say that,” the doctor told him. “Not ever again.”
“As you like, Watson,” Holmes repeated.
Watson eyed him narrowly. Whatever Holmes had not intuited would have to wait to be voiced. “Then let’s finish this.”
* * * * *
“You worry too much, Watson,” said Holmes. “How many times have I told you that?” His gaze was not on Watson, however, but rapt by something over his shoulder.
“How do you…” Watson turned around to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him, and what he saw there withered his voice in his throat.
Captain Mary Watson stood at the opposite end of the platform, swaying on her feet but smiling tiredly at them. A bright crimson fan of blood slashed across the left side of her face, which was dirty, and more blood was splashed liberally over her uniform coat. As Watson watched he saw blood dripping slowly from her right arm, and he felt his heart seize in his chest.
“Mary,” he breathed, and suddenly he was standing in front of her, his hands hesitantly brushing her shoulders. Her uniform was torn and rent. “Mary, are you—“
“Oh,” she said tiredly. “It’s not mine. Or, anyway, most of it isn’t.”
“This head wound will need stitches,” Watson said, using the barest tips of his fingers to brush at the laceration just above her forehead, her golden hair matted with blood of multiple hues, most of it the rusty black that betokened clotting. “And your arm,” he added, noticing that she was letting her hand hang tensionless.
“John,” she said gently, and Watson came back to himself abruptly, all his detachment vanished. With a deep, shuddering breath like an airship gaining emergency altitude he threw his arms around his wife and held her as closely as he dared, burying his face in her neck.
He felt Mary tense a little in his embrace, and cursed himself for misjudging her injuries, the placement of his hands. But in the next instant she pulled him closer, wrapping her good arm around his back, and Watson wanted to laugh and to weep with relief.
“Mary,” he said into her neck, just above her collarbone, “Mary, I thought you were—“
“I know,” she interrupted, pulling back a little to regard him steadily. It was the same certain regard with which she had favoured him five years ago on another continent, and its power to enchant him was undiminished. “But, John, I didn’t.”
“Thank God for that,” Watson breathed, half a prayer, and then she turned her head and they were kissing in a way for which he did not have words.
Mary smiled at him when they released each other, and then she looked back over his right shoulder at the other man on the platform. “Are you waiting for an engraved invitation, Sherlock?” she asked, and she spoke for both of them; there was nothing but undisguised love and longing in her voice, all that they had felt for three long years.
Watson anticipated her next movement and, lifting his head from her shoulder, paced back to let her raise her injured right arm to their lost third.
Holmes’s countenance was often a mask, but Watson had never before seen it so mask-like, his features completely frozen while his dark eyes said everything: that same love and longing reflected back at them, with a heterogeneous admixture of fear.
It hurt, to see such a supremely self-confident man afraid that the two people who loved him best in the world had somehow changed enough to reject him. “Holmes,” Watson said softly, loosening his grip on Mary and holding his left hand out to him.
He could not force his throat to shape any further words; either Holmes would arrive at the correct conclusion or he would not, and Watson refused to beg, though his heart might break while he waited; he could feel it cracking in his chest even now.
But after a long moment Holmes made an inarticulate noise and shook off his paralysis, putting his head down and closing the gap between them. Watson pride is pride could not allow them to see his face at this moment, but there was neither hesitation nor resistance when he stepped into their embrace, their arms cinching tight around his back and waist and drawing him close.
“Watson,” Holmes said, voice muffled and breaking, “Mary. I am—I did not—“
The doctor wasn’t quite tall enough to overlook his wife and their lover freely, but he and Mary exchanged glances over the his dark head unimpeded. “Hush, darling,” Mary whispered, her lips in his dishevelled black hair, now flecked with silver, and when he turned to her to lodge some new protest she kissed him.
Watson was too close to see them properly, and his heart seized a little when he noticed the fresh blood on Mary’s forehead and cheek, but nevertheless the sight realigned parts of himself that he hadn’t known, or had made himself forget, were in disarray. Nor could he see Holmes’s side of the look that passed between them when they drew apart, but what he saw in Mary’s face gave him an unfamiliar sensation of buoyancy.
He recognized it as hope at the exact instant that Holmes turned his head to look at him, black eyes still dark but with stars in their depths, and Watson smiled at him long enough to be sure that Holmes registered the expression before he leaned forward to kiss him. Holmes tasted utterly familiar and completely different, but the feel of his unshaven face against Watson’s skin was the same, and he closed his eyes against a rush of unadulterated relief.
“Don’t apologize,” he said when Holmes opened his reddened mouth. “Do not apologize,” he repeated. “Not now. You are here.”
“Where you belong,” Mary added from the other point of their triangle, the certainty of a captain in His Majesty’s Aery in her voice.
Holmes looked between the two of them, a faint trace of the old imperious amusement diffusing into his expression. “In that case I shall cease protesting,” he said hoarsely, and almost as one they stepped forward to close the gaps that remained between them, heads bent together, with an echo of their former unity. What had been disassembled could be rebuilt; what mattered was the fact that after three years, five thousand miles from London, Sherlock Holmes had come home.
Captain Watson presented herself to Dr. Watson in his sickbay rather sooner than later. In the Army Watson had observed that the best officers were punctilious in their regard for their physicians’ advice, and in his limited experience the same held true in the Aery, despite those officers’ sex.
And like most good officers, Mary did not like to take morphine. “John, it would be a dereliction of duty,” she said tiredly when he protested. “We are short-handed as it is, and I must return to the bridge when I am finished here. Put in the stitches already, if you please.”
Watson took a last look at her face, still dirty and bloodied, and knew protest was useless. He himself hated morphine, and had no desire to press the point. Instead he handed his wife his flask and a clean cloth before taking up his cauterized needle and thread. Mary took a generous swig from the flask and bit down on the cloth firmly, then nodded to him. Her muscles relaxed slightly as the alcohol flowed through her system, and Watson began.
The wound required only a baker’s dozen of stitches, and he worked with all possible speed. Mary sat still under his hands while he did so, but when he pronounced himself finished she was pale and sweating. After a moment she took the gag out of her mouth and let out a shaky breath before using the clean end to wipe the tears of pain from her eyes.
“I beg you, John, tell me that a bandage will suffice for my arm,” she said roughly, and Watson gave her a smile.
“The female tolerance for pain will never cease to amaze me,” he said, knowing that she would find his unconcern reassuring. “Shall I cut your sleeve, or will you remove your jacket and shirt?” In his brief stint on the Eumelia he had grown accustomed to performing all kinds of procedures on women in every possible state of dress or undress.
“Cut the shirt. Isn’t it in Genesis, that God increased our pain and we shall strike at the serpent’s head?” From the slur in her usually impeccable elocution, Watson knew that the alcohol and the pain’s aftereffects had affected her more than she showed.
“Here, wait, save the jacket,” Mary commanded, her left hand already reaching up to unfasten the first gold-braided buttons. It had long been a source of amusement to both of them that Aery uniforms had buttons on the left side of the garment in the men’s style, though all but the surgeons in the Aery were women.
Waston helped her with the collar buttons and then helped her out of the coat entirely, setting it to one side carefully despite the fact that it was almost certainly ruined.
When he cut open her right sleeve, Mary hissing a little involuntarily when he peeled the cloth back from her torn flesh, Watson frowned, but the wound was revealed to be shallow, deepest where it began just below her shoulder, ending about six inches later above the elbow.
“I think iodine and bandages should suffice,” he said when he had cleaned it.
Mary breathed out slowly, and only five years of marriage enabled him to perceive her relief. “May I ask,” Watson said while he worked, “why you never told me about Holmes directly, in all this time?”
“He requested that I not do so,” she answered quietly. Watson did not take his eyes off her arm, for he had no need; they were close enough that her breath tickled her ear when she spoke, that he could look to her body to perceive her emotions. “I think he became afraid—half-convinced, rather—that I was merely…humouring you in condoning our arrangement,” she continued. “That left to ourselves in his absence we should forget him, fill in the gaps with our own selves.”
“As though Holmes were forgettable,” Watson muttered.
He heard her smile in her voice. “As though both of us did not love him intolerably.”
Watson looked up sharply and saw that she was quite serious. “I told you that he was a part of you, as you are of him, and that loving you I could not help but care for him as well,” she said, answering the question in his eyes, and he nodded; he would remember that conversation until the day he died. “But I realized well before he did not return from Switzerland that I was in love with him in his own right as well.” Mary smiled crookedly. “I hope you don’t mind, James.”
“I should never dream of being so hypocritical,” he said, tying off the bandage and taking his wife up on the invitation in her eyes. “I love you, Captain Watson,” he said, kissing her, and she laughed.
“I know you do, Doctor Watson,” she said seriously. “And I love you too.”
“Do you think—“ Watson hesitated. Since he’d begun writing he’d grown wary of using the wrong words, of voicing things improperly. “He thought we’d forget him. But what if it was he who forgot how to—how to want us?”
“He hasn’t,” she said. “Hand me my coat, dearest.”
Watson did so. “You sound very sure.”
She allowed him to help her, and looked back up at him over her shoulder when he finished. “Captain’s intuition.”
“Well, in that case—“
They exchanged smiles, and then Watson shut his bag with a snap. All that remained was to clean his instruments; the Eumelia was too short-handed to spare a rating for a surgeon’s assistant, even had one with the proper training been available.
Mary finished buttoning her coat and slid off the table, running her good hand over her hair in automatic habit and grimacing when she perceived how dirty it was. “You look gorgeous,” Watson assured her, and she rolled her eyes.
“If anyone at Admiralty House saw me in this state I should be turned out for being unable to wear the King’s uniform,” she said tartly. “…Have you seen my hat?”
“Better the hat than you,” Watson quipped, though it was painfully true. “Have you seen Holmes?”
“My cabin,” she answered, and laughed at his reaction. “John, will you never believe me that it is impossible to shock a woman of the Aery? And that no one on this ship gives a damn?”
It was still a reflexive shock to hear her swear, and he knew she’d done it deliberately. That he was manipulable because they loved each other was not precisely a comfort, though one thing Watson had learned in the Army was when to accept defeat. He could of course reopen the argument later.
“Very well,” he said, and she smiled at him one last time before donning her captain’s face and exiting the compartment, again impassive and in command.
Sherlock Holmes was sitting in one of Mary’s chairs when Watson entered his wife’s sleeping cabin, marvelling again at its spaciousness. Eumelia was a warship, but an airship had far more room to spare than a naval vessel or an army camp. The fact that all the furnishings were bolted down, and that all the drawers latched, did not detract materially from the luxury.
Night had fallen over Mandalay, but a full moon hung just past the zenith, and by its light Watson could see that Holmes had apparently fallen asleep where he sat. The moonlight blotted years from his face, and Watson was reminded forcibly that they were no longer young; even Mary was approaching an age society would call seasoned, and she was young for her rank. All the more reason not to let what had happened get in the way of what was truly important.
Watson divested himself of coat, collar, waistcoat, and tie, though for lack of anywhere to keep them he left his collar studs in his shirt. Knowing Mary found it endearing, he deliberately neglected to doff his hat. In the still air of the cabin he could smell the gunsmoke that clung to them, to say nothing of blood and grease, distinctly.
Holmes had chosen the chair with a footrest bolted in position nearby, for which Watson was devoutly grateful on behalf of his knees. He sat on the footrest next to his feet—Holmes had not even removed his shoes—and, leaning forward, pressed a kiss to his forehead.
Holmes awoke instantly, his dark eyes snapping open with a ragged indrawn breath. Watson had anticipated this, as well as Holmes sitting up convulsively and seizing his gun wrist in a steel grip. He relaxed visibly the moment he recognized Watson, who knew these reflexes from the battlefields of his youth, only too well.
“Watson,” Holmes said presently, relief evident in his voice, and he scrubbed a hand over his face, leaving a streak of dirt that was visible even in the dim light. “I thought—“ He broke off, and did not say what.
Silently, Watson extracted Holmes's handkerchief from his breast pocket and did away with the worst of the dirt. He did not ask what Holmes had thought or dreamed; he could guess, and he had seen enough of his own worst nightmares made real these three years that he had no wish to vivify others by speaking of them.
And yet he heard himself voice the words regardless. “I thought you were dead, Holmes—why did you not return immediately?”
The moonlight made his dark eyes look black, and Watson wondered how he had lived in the interim, for his features to divulge misery so easily. “I swear to you, Watson, I thought I was going to die,” he said, voice almost inaudible. “I did not know—I did not think I could have done it until I already had. And then it seemed the only way to ensure your safety, and Mary’s, and my own.”
He looked away out the viewport, despite Watson’s hands on his neck and hip. Watson knew that Holmes wanted to be forgiven, but he was no longer sure, strictly speaking, that there was any thing to forgive. He was Sherlock Holmes, and it was hard to imagine him acting in any other manner. To have the man, he had to take his faults, and he had no intention of letting those faults allow him to lose his grip on Holmes again.
So rather than voice empty platitudes Watson slid his hand up to his cheek, thumb pressed to the soft underside of his jaw, and when Holmes turned his face to regard him he leaned forward and kissed him gently on the mouth. Holmes’s hands came up and tightened around his back, and Watson distinctly felt the barrel of the revolver concealed in his sleeve pressing into his thoracic spine.
When they separated, his hand still tangled in Holmes’s hair, Holmes met his eyes for only a brief moment before resting his head on Watson’s shoulder, his face against Watson’s throat. “How did you survive?” Watson asked, stroking the back of his neck with the very tips of his fingers. This was the truly crucial question. “Mary and I barely endured, and we had each other to rely upon.”
“I shall tell you, if you like,” Holmes said, voice muffled; “I can promise it will not please you. But not until Mary comes; I can only speak of it so many times, I fear.”
“Then in the meanwhile you must tell me your adventures,” Watson said with perfectly pitched levity, though he was in earnest; given time, he could transform Holmes’s solitary exploits into thrilling adventures, and for Holmes’s sake he would. He pressed a kiss to the back of Holmes’s neck and then rose slowly, taking Holmes with him.
“Gladly,” Holmes said, with more than a touch of his old suavity. “Watson, what—“
“There are more comfortable places to talk,” said Watson, cutting his eyes at Mary’s bed against the far wall of the compartment. “Provided you remove your shoes, that is.”
“If you say so, mother hen,” Holmes said darkly, and a burst of laughter escaped Watson in despite of himself. Mary was alive, Holmes was alive, and they were all three reunited; it was difficult to set anything else at anything but naught.
A quicksilver grin flashed across Holmes’s face in an instant, his features resettling into their cracked neutral mask in its wake. He would have to relearn, Watson thought, how to be happy as well as how to be part of their union, but he was not unduly concerned. He was a notoriously quick study; the fact that he had survived was merely additional proof of the same.
Watson stretched out on the bed of his back, letting the tension of the day dissipate, leaving the dull ache of injuries old and new in its wake. When Holmes had finished removing his shoes he lay down carefully beside and a little on top of him, fitting himself into the hollow between Watson’s right shoulder and neck. His lips settled just over Watson’s pulse point, and Watson stroked his dirty, dishevelled hair with one hand as he began to talk.
By the time Mary entered the cabin Holmes’s voice had given out and he was half-asleep. Watson and his wife exchanged speaking smiles while she carefully removed her boots and uniform jacket, piling it with her sabre and pistol-belt and cravat on one of the chairs. She bent to kiss Watson, taking his hat off his hand with one hand while sliding the fingers of the other to the base of his skull, and when Holmes flopped onto his back she kissed him too. Watson had to wonder, when they broke apart, whether the relief evident in the set of her shoulders was legible to Holmes.
“Our detective has been telling me of his adventures,” he said lightly as Mary manoeuvred her way into the bed, which was not really fit to accommodate two people in complete comfort, let alone three: she had to arrange herself on her side, leaving Holmes sandwiched between her and her husband, as Watson had intended.
“Really,” said Mary, looking down at their other half, who lay with his eyes mostly closed, exhaustion scrawled across his face. “Do tell, John.”
Of course she had heard more than he had, being Holmes’s correspondent, but Watson set his emotions on that score to one side for the time being. “Five continents and nearly ten times as many cities,” he said, and then let his tone sharpen; “entirely alone. Holmes, how did you do it?”
Holmes extricated his hand from where it had lain between their bodies and covered his eyes with the crook of his elbow before he spoke, but when he did so his tone was detached. “You are both familiar, I am sure, in your professions, of the need at times to set one’s emotions entirely apart from oneself, and thus act with complete detachment from the situation at hand,” he said, as though commenting upon something entirely without consequence, a set speech. “That is what I did.”
Watson bit his lip so hard he tasted blood, and when he glanced at Mary he saw that she had gone white beneath her tan; so had he, in all probability; his face felt cold. He remembered with an unreal clarity performing surgeries in Afghanistan under the conditions Holmes had described, when all Hell had broken loose around him and the man on the table and he could not afford to think of anything but what he had to do or he and his patient would both die. Those memories had no substance; they seemed like dreams, or nightmares. What was unbearably painful was remembering the façade shattering, leaving his entire being sensitized and raw to the world.
But as much as that emergence hunt, every time, he found the idea of persisting in that isolated state for any appreciable duration to be the last thing in the world he would choose in exchange.
“Oh, Sherlock,” Mary said quietly, and Holmes removed his elbow from his eyes, and in the face of her manifest sympathy he actually managed a cracked grin.
“Come, my dear, you cannot deny that of the three of us, I am unquestionably the best suited for it.”
“Ability is not the same as necessity,” she whispered, and Watson knew that Holmes knew, as he did, that her thoughts were five years and five thousand miles away with a dead woman.
“I admit I may have confused the two,” Holmes agreed. He still had Watson’s hand in a crushing grip. At least in three yeathane had not forgotten how to care for Sherlock Holmes: slowly, wary of startling him or overwhelming that sensitive awareness, he laid his hand along Holmes’s unshaven jaw, turning his head slightly.
“You must not leave again,” he said, and did not attempt to disguise his elation when Holmes shook his head.
“I could no more do that than fly,” he whispered, and Mary let out a giggle, girlish and only slightly hysterical.
“Without mechanical aid, you mean,” she said, laughter in her voice, bending forward to let her head fall on his chest. “Given your present circumstances…”
Holmes frowned at her, then hesitantly put a hand to her golden hair, still streaked red and black. “Mary Watson, you are an unnatural woman.”
She looked up at him lazily, and Watson saw the sparkle of wicked intention in her green eyes. “Given how well we have been rewarded for it, Mr. Holmes, I cannot see why you should complain about that.”
He opened his mouth, doubtless to illuminate his reasoning with exquisite logic and masterful detail, but Watson bent and sealed his mouth with his lips. When Holmes arched his back, responding to Mary sliding a hand beneath his shirt, lips opening in an involuntary gasp, Watson took the opportunity to deepen the kiss ruthlessly, holding Holmes firmly in place. They would teach him again what it meant to be known, and loved, and tonight they would all three finally sleep well.
Repairing the saboteurs’ damage to the Eumelia was relatively uncomplicated, although somewhat tedious for her captain, whose heart was in the end tuned to the winds in the sky, rather than to any terrestrial instrument. Mary endured the monotony of repairs with better grace than she might have, given her own healing injuries and the déjà vu pleasure, at once familiar and strange, bittersweet and delightful, of relearning Sherlock again, in John’s company, and of being relearned in turn.
She had written her after-action reports with all dispatch, and had sent them off to London and Admiralty House with the same haste; given the nature of the conclusions Mary had communicated to her superiors, she was honestly surprised that it took them nearly a fortnight to respond to her findings.
But respond they did, with the less formal but no less urgent emerald-edged and emerald-sealed papers indicating a formal reassignment, if not of a new command entirely. Alone in her office, Mary carefully pried the wax from the heavy paper with her letter opener, and then read what it contained twice over.
Mary was, technically, on duty, but with her ship in the docks and almost on the ground it was perfectly permissible for her to open the door to the other compartment in her cabin. John and Sherlock were there, reading the Mandalay papers and making notes on what looked to be a dictionary of Chinese against a list of some sort, respectively. They both looked up when she entered the compartment, and Mary had to swallow against the sudden surge of emotion she felt. She had never expected either of them; five years ago, she would have sworn that she would never find even a shadow of what she had now, and she was still struck, daily, at her immense, undeserved good fortune. Now that Sherlock had returned, her happiness was more or less complete.
“I surmise you’ve heard from your lords and masters in our imperial metropole,” Sherlock said, glancing up from the dictionary, and Mary nodded.
“Yes, I’ve just received new orders,” she said, and looked to John.
“Where to?” he asked, warily. There was always the possibility that the Air Lords would object to his pro tem designation as the Eumelia’s surgeon, and without that post, he had precious little reason to be aboard.
The same went double for Sherlock, really, but Mary had simply neglected to mention his presence in her reports in the first place. They still had enemies in Britain, after all.
“China,” Mary replied, handing over the stiffly folded paper. “Shanghai.”