It was pre-dawn when Watson returned to his own front door, and he did not care to look at his watch to discover the precise time. Mrs Trust was at the door at once, and this time he was tired and put out enough with the world - as well as sharp with relief - that he asked her straight out if she ever slept at all.
The old woman said, "Of course not, Dr Watson. Much like your watch, I run on clockwork, and I just need a few hours every evening to clean my gears and rewind." She handed him a pasty. "As I can't imagine y've had anything half-decent to eat all day. Mr Holmes is here and upstairs, and so's Miss Mary." Because Mary would be "Miss Mary" until they were all old and dying, Watson thought, not at all certain whether or not the clockwork remark had been quite as funny as it struck him, after the past week and today.
"Do we pay you enough?" he said, taking the pasty without even pretending not to be grateful, completely artless in the sideways praise. Mrs Trust patted him on the arm.
"Oh, I'd've bent your ear long ago if not, Dr Watson. I've taken the liberty of not telling any of your patients you'd actually be back today - you let me know when you are to be back to them, but not till after you've had a rest. I expect the Inspector'll be calling soon enough. Now if you'll excuse me, my gears aren't finished."
And she swept away, leaving behind her the sense of a world restored to rights. It was a particular gift of some women, Watson reflected. Mrs Hudson had it, too, if a sharper dry way of looking at the world, contrasted to his current housekeeper's detached bemusement. Where they swept their way, domestic order followed, and from domestic order the rest of the world was rearranged and made tidy.
He would have to make note never to voice that thought aloud in Holmes presence, unless he wanted to hear it brought up from now until the Second Coming.
Watson devoured the pasty as he mounted the stairs, as quietly as possible, and made his way to the master rooms.
This was not the first time he had seen Mary and Holmes asleep together without him, but he never ceased to be touched by the tableau, which was another thing he endeavoured never to say aloud around his friend. Mary was what John thought of as an accommodating sleeper: with whomever she shared the bed, she seemed content to end wherever was most comfortable for them. With Holmes, this was most often curled up against his side, often using his shoulder for a pillow, with one of his arms lightly around behind her.
Because Holmes slept as though he expected anyone else in the bed to abandon him there, and wasn't about to let them.
Watson worked to undo his tie, watching them both as they slept. Mary's hair was still half in its arrangement from the day (and half very much not), and the bedclothes were covering them in very much the way that spoke of an irritable dragging out of disarray into something that might serve for warmth. Even taking into account the rather appalling (to a doctor's mind) state of disrepair in which Holmes' body currently found itself, they were lovely together.
Watson nearly swallowed his tongue when Holmes spoke, though on reflection he knew he should have known better. "I'm not sure this arrangement is good for you, old boy," Holmes said, without appearing to open his eyes. "If your expression got anymore fatuously sentimental, it wouldn't look out of place on an MP seeking reelection."
Damn him, anyway. This time, however, Watson had the pleasure of a rebuttal, and he drew the still sand-encrusted garter from his pocket and flung it with careful accuracy to hit Holmes in the side of the face and miss Mary entirely. Holmes, deigning to open his eyes, gave Watson a look that said clearly he was above all this pettiness, and then examined the garter by gathering it up in his right hand.
"You mean to tell me this belonged to Miss Trafalgar?" Holmes said, slightly indignant, "And you found it on the way to Manchester?"
"Yes, and no," Watson replied. "And I'm not telling you anything else until after I've slept, being as the poor girl's already dead and moving at a breakneck pace won't do us any good."
"Don't be ridiculous," Holmes said, "it's already nearly five - " at which point he paused, because he had been attempting to rise to his feet, and had instead discovered that Mary, though to all appearances asleep, was stronger than she looked, and very good at rendering one immobile when she happened to be plastered to one's side.
John suppressed a smile, and got on with the business of getting rid of his shirt.
"No," Mary said, as Holmes apparently continued his attempt to abandon the bed, and she apparently abandoned her pretence at slumber. "Not getting up til morning."
"Might I point out," Holmes said, sounding highly annoyed, and John noted at a second glance that the arm closest to Mary, which she had caught with apparent gentleness and wrapped around her, was bruised in such a way as to suggest a fracture, "that five in the morning is, as a matter of fact, morning?"
"Housewife morning," Mary clarified, showing no signs of releasing her caught prey. "Housewife morning in a house with no children begins after eight at the earliest on weekdays. That's three hours away."
Having shed the larger part of his clothing, John took the bed on Mary's other side, where there was room, without joining the argument. He was only going to get three hours of sleep, he could see, given Mary had been incautious enough to name a time, and he intended to get all of them.
He kissed Mary on the cheek before settling himself, and heard only just as he was drifting off one last exchange:
"You are a most difficult and self-pleasing woman, Mrs Watson."
"Mmm. And too heavy for you to carry with a broken arm."
"It isn't broken, it's only bruised."
Then, with habits campaign-honed and never really lost, he was thankfully asleep.