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A Lady's Wardrobe

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The first time Sherlock made off with her clothes, it was a skirt, a crinoline and a bustle, and Mary arrived home from visiting her mother just in time to nearly run into him coming out of her own house.

Of course she very nearly didn't recognize him. It wasn't even anything in his looks that did it - it was the very precise weight that he tended to put on the first syllable of "madam" that alerted her (and damn, she was going to have to tell him he did that, because God in Heaven knew she did not want someone else to take note of that at such a time to get the man killed).

And because she was not a detective and did not need her reactions so carefully honed (thank heaven) she was almost finished closing the door before she realized what the niggling sense of recognition was, and that the woman who had just brushed past her was, to begin with, not one of John's patients, official or clandestine, and further more, not actually a woman.

Mary did not gape out of the door after him, but she did pause with her fingers on the handle and Sally looking very bewildered indeed at her employer's suddenly sharp attitude.

She stared at her maid. "That was him," she announced, firmly and improperly. Sally looked at her with blank confusion, and she shook herself. "Never mind," she said, "here," and disentangled herself from hat and coat to give them to the girl. "Is John still here? Upstairs? Good."

Mary did not take the stairs two at a time, either, but that was mostly because the heels of her boots made such a thing very unwise and she had not stopped to take them off. She strode in an unladylike if ground-eating way into the master suite and pushed open the door to find John in his shirt-sleeves very clearly dressing himself to go about London's less civilized streets and byways.

"He stole my clothes." John looked at her with that expression, which she found either endearing or infuriating depending on when he wore it and sometimes it was both, the one that said he was attempting to find just the right vocabulary to explain the moment to her bewildered self. "Why did he steal my clothes?"

"Ah - borrowed, dear," John started, as he got up to close the door, "because - "

"No," Mary said firmly, cautioning him with one finger. "Stole. They're my clothes, he has to ask me before it's borrowing and if you think I have any idea of him bringing them back in one piece, you clearly think I'm much sillier than I am."

"It's a case," John explained. Mary sat down on her vanity stool.

"Well, yes, dear, I had deduced that much. Why does a case mean he steals my clothes?"

"It happens to involve his needing to be particularly unrecognizable."

"By dressing as a woman. In my skirt."

John gave her a very level look. "You know, considering," and that word was such a weighty one when it came to Sherlock, considering, "you're being rather unreasonable about this."

"I like that skirt," she retorted. Then she paused, and corrected herself, "Liked it." She poked her husband in the shoulder. "If he ruins it, tell him I expect a replacement. The same goes for the crinoline. And whatever else he stole." She paused again, a slightly horrifying thought occurring to her. "I hope to God he hasn't taken any of my underthings - don't tell me," and she held up a hand to ward off any answer, truthful or otherwise, that might come out of John's mouth with that mischievous expression behind it.

He was grinning at her, laughing quietly, but she let him take her hand and kiss the back of it before she set aside her annoyance to ask, "How bad is it, dear?"

John's good humour slid off, as he pulled on one of his sturdier, more non-descript jackets, with a hastily applied patch (entirely for show) stitched onto one elbow. "There are some people who do some truly awful things in this city," was what he said, which was his way of saying very bad indeed, dear.

She understood how bad that sort of thing was, but she preferred him not to tell her. There was so little she could do about most of it, beyond what she already did through charitable works and by not insisting her husband come home every night without fail, that she simply did not want to know.

He let her catch his tie to pull him down to kiss. "Be careful," she said, firmly. "And take his revolver, I'm sure he's forgotten it in that outfit."

"I love you," John told her, and then put on his hat and took up his cane.

"I'm quite serious about the skirt," she called after him. Then she wondered if Lottie might not mind her coming to call, before or after dinner, so that she had something else to do besides drive herself a little mad with worry.

*****

The second time Sherlock made off with her clothes, it was a housecoat, and it being so God-damned hot that summer, she didn't notice until she caught him putting it back.

There were a lot of things about Sherlock that made Mary wonder. For instance, just now she wondered if it was that Sherlock only wore that startled, slightly guilty expression when caught out by herself or by John, or if it was just that she and John were the only people that could see and interpret it, because she knew that she'd caught him completely unprepared as a boy with a stolen cookie, could read it in his face, and their Sherlock Holmes would not go displaying that sort of vulnerability to just anyone.

(Or admit he had it at all, in so many words.)

As he stood there with that particular expression on his face, Mary put her hands on her hips and said, "Would it kill you to ask me before you took things, Sherlock? Or do you find some sort of thrill in the illicit nature of the theft?"

The look of sheer indignation was all the answer she got.

*****

The third time Sherlock made off with her clothes, she almost didn't notice.

In fact, at the time he made off with them, she didn't. It wasn't until Clarky arrived at her door, five days after Sherlock had last been seen by anyone and four hours after John had boarded the train to Manchester on the thinnest of clues, that she was even aware the morning suit and hat were missing at all.

"Ma'am," the constable said, "we've found Mr Holmes. I'm sorry to disturb you, but Dr Watson said in the event - "

"Yes," Mary said sharply, cutting him off and then cursing herself, and trying to remind herself - trying to make herself listen to the reminder - that she was only the wife of his good friend. That she was only a friend. "Yes, thank you, he did say he had told you as much," she amended, summoning up a smile. "Is everything all right, Constable - oh, Mrs Trust, get my coat, would you be so kind, they've found Mr Holmes."

The look her housekeeper gave her was deeply knowing, but she only gave orders to Sally and ushered Mary out the door with the policeman.

"Well," said Clarky (Constable Clark, she corrected herself), "he has been shot - just a graze, ma'am, nothing to it, the doctor we found says the broken arm is more of a concern, especially since Mr Holmes is insisting it's just a bone-bruise."

Mary attempted to put her heart back in its place. This was Sherlock. He and John had both survived being blown up, and gone on to save England the next day, in spite of what was probably a serious overdose of cocaine on Sherlock's part. "But th'Inspector doesn't want to send him back to Baker Street alone, is the matter, being as he may be a bit distracted about this case."

There was something very delicate about the way in which Constable Clark said that, and Mary took a brief but searching look at the constable's almost preternaturally honest face. You mean, she thought silently, trying her best to show nothing but appropriate concern on her face, he has been taking cocaine again.

To which, contemplating an intoxicated, injured Sherlock no doubt still neck deep in the case - all Mary could think was, oh, dear.

"Have you sent a telegram to Manchester?" she asked, as Constable Clark gave her a hand out of the cab.

"Of course, ma'm," he said, motioning for the cab driver to remain where he was until they came back out of the Yard. "Dr Watson should be on his way back as soon as possible."

Sometimes she wondered whether Constable Clark was really as dull and unimaginative as he seemed to be. She knew that there was a pointed sense of humour lurking underneath his bluff police-constable's mask, and she knew he had achieved a deadpan joke even on Sherlock once or twice. But that musing never took her anywhere, in the end, and she was only indulging in it again now to avoid worrying at the, well, genuine worries dogging her thoughts.

Inspector Lestrade met her in the hallway, and she summoned her own mask, becoming the doctor's wife as best she could. "Dr Verriger says he's to go home with you," the Inspector told her with no preamble, "or he's to be admitted to a hospital as soon as possible, whether he will or no. He also said to give you this - well, to give Dr Watson this," Lestrade went on, holding out a folded piece of paper, "for what he called medical indications."

The part of Mary's self that really was a doctor's wife translated that, accurately, to what he did to himself and how many things he's ingested or injected or inhaled in the last twenty four hours, at least as well as I can guess.

Mary took it and nodded, as Sherlock came limping out of another room, wrapped in a greatcoat too large for him and looking as if he wanted to shred something, and the question wasn't so much whether "with hands or wit" as which one would come first.

She didn't expect seeing him to affect her quite so much. She would have thought that if she was going to find herself wanting to faint, cry, or otherwise find herself behaving like the heroine out of a terrible novel, it would have been on being told he was alive in the first place, but somehow it was now, instead: as he limped and stomped his way over, with his expression of greatest, angriest disdain and disgust for the cupidity and softness of the world around him, face bruised and nicked, one arm in a crude sling, and lip split.

She wanted to burst into tears, or shake him until his neck snapped. Or both.

Sherlock probably said something viciously cutting either to her, Lestrade or both of them, but Mary's mind discarded it in favour of directing the cabbie back to Cavendish Place; once inside the cab, Sherlock subsided into brooding, resentful silence, fingers twitching for a pipe he had apparently lost, and fingers occasionally counting out something he was clearly wrestling with deep in his own mind.

The distance of the ride allowed Mary to note two things: one, Sherlock stank, and two, beneath the greatcoat he was wearing the remains of one of her dresses.

When they arrived at home, she locked the door behind them and immediately ordered Sally to draw up a bath. Sherlock ignored her, and the maid, and limped into John's office in search - Mary realized when she followed him - of something to write on, and something to write with.

After a few minutes of letting him scrawl something like a note on the page, she took it from him when he paused. When he turned on her in something between a snap and a cool fury she drew herself up. "You smell like a sewer, Sherlock," she told him, "if that sewer were inhabited for some time by an opium addict of poor hygiene and poorer bowel health. You have a broken arm, have recently been sewn up, have had far too much in the way of stimulant, and are dressed in the remains of one of my morning suits. I assume this is a note to someone profoundly important to the case and I will have it delivered where it needs to go, but God as my witness Sherlock you may hate and disparage me until the Second Coming but you are not leaving this house until you have bathed, eaten and slept, and I would be much happier - " she came to notice that she had raised her voice and that Sherlock was giving her a curious sort of look, and so brought her tirade to a quieter volume, "if you would wait until John came home and looked at your arm."

"You seem on edge, Mary, dear," Sherlock noted when she had finished, and only lack of ammunition kept her from throwing something in his face once again.

"You frightened us, Sherlock," she said instead, frankly. "John went to Manchester to look for you."

That seemed to bring Sherlock up short, but only for an instant, and then only to say, "Why on earth Manchester?"

Mary bit her tongue for a moment, and then said again, "Please, Sherlock. Take a bath, have something to eat, and sleep." And though he gave her a look that said quite clearly that he considered it a great act of tolerance for her fluttering feminine ways, Sherlock did take himself and her ruined suit in the general direction of the stairs, and the larger bath-room upstairs where Sally had drawn the bath in which he would clean himself.

Sally didn't even need to ask what to do with the discarded ruins of clothing: she simply gathered them up with a look of profound distaste and took them away to be thrown out as soon as possible. Mrs Trust brought up a tray with food on it and left it on a table in the master bedroom where Mary found herself, and found herself (she would admit it) hovering uselessly.

In the end, once Mrs Trust had once again gone downstairs, Mary abandoned dignity and grace and flung herself onto the made bed so that she lay on the bed with her arms open wide, staring at the canopy.

Some time later, Sherlock came in. He was dressed in John's clothes - Mary rolled over slightly onto her side in order to see him - which was something she always found oddly intimate and endearing. Trousers, braces and shirt-sleeves, which he was rolling up. He seemed more in touch with the world, with his actual surroundings, and he came to sit beside her on the bed.

"How long was I gone?" he asked, frowning slightly, and Mary restrained herself from sighing.

"Five days, Sherlock," she told him, cushioning her head with her hand. The frown deepened slightly.

"Hm," he said. "This indicates that I lost more time to the opium than I expected."

"John went to Manchester because of the telegram," she told him, only to have him look at her sharply.

"What telegram? - No, never mind. I will ask Watson when he returns; nothing depends on the next several hours, and third-hand information is a bane of any case." He finished rolling up the sleeves and then glanced down at her, the cocaine still clearly in his system. "You look rather under the weather, my dear."

"The last time you disappeared for more than forty-eight hours," Mary replied levelly, "we thought you were dead for a year, Sherlock."

" - Ah," he said, and became fascinated with the painting she had hung on the wall beside the bed. "I didn't exactly disappear," he objected, after a moment.

"You were supposed to meet us for dinner on Friday, Sherlock," Mary countered, shifting so that her arm was bent and her head rested on her hand. To his credit, he only frowned and then, finding the memory of the engagement to dinner lost somewhere under the much more pressing needs of the case (not to mention the cocaine and, it seemed, opium), became fascinated with the painting once again.

Mary knew him well enough, by now, to realize after a moment that there was simply no way Sherlock was going to sleep any time soon. And on realizing this, she took stock of her own feelings, and sat up.

"Mmm?" he said, when she gently indicated he should turn his head by putting a hand along his jaw, but this was as much of a question as he could ask before she kissed him, as long and lingeringly as she could. He no longer smelled of whatever filth he'd been dredging through for justice and glory, but of soap and water and clean skin.

After the first kiss, Sherlock gave her a thoughtful look for a heartbeat or so - and God only knew what thoughts went on in the man's mind, sometimes - before turning himself towards her and claiming a second one. It turned a little fiercer, and Mary thought that might be her fault, particularly when the fierceness ended by pulling him over her on the bed and only just remembering that he had a broken arm she should probably be being careful of, even if he wasn't.

"I do not like," she told him, as he looked down at her, "thinking you might be dead."

"One of the many things that makes you a singular woman," he replied, in his most serious voice, which of course meant he was anything but serious.

"Stop stealing my clothes," she said, then, because otherwise the slight pricking behind her eyes might become a burn, and she would much rather Sherlock helped her out of her walking suit than found her a handkerchief.

When Sherlock kissed her a third time instead of acquiescing, she accepted that it was probably a lost cause.