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A Tessera from the Mosaic of a Marriage

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"Holmes," she had objected, when he had informed her that he had wished to kiss her - and hard - from the first moment he had seen her, "when first you saw me you thought I was a boy."

And he had replied, because it seemed appropriate, "And don't think that didn't cause me some minutes of deep consternation."

It had not been a lie, of course. If he could avoid it, he elected not to lie as much as possible. Part of that was a pragmatic concern: lies direct were much easier to find out than delicate repositionings of the truth. Part of it was also aesthetic sense: lies were both easy and inelegant. But he had been caused moments of deep consternation, owing far more to his perception of the wrongly-identified-lad's age than his theoretical sex. There is almost always a trade in years when a female individual masquerades as (or is simply mistaken for) a male, and while developing an instantaneous passion for a sixteen year old girl is bad enough, one for a fourteen year old boy puts one slightly beyond the pale.

Thus, consternation. Solved almost immediately by her excellently staged revelation, to be followed up in short order by all new sources of consternation which would not sort themselves out for several years yet.

But in the end, whether she was boy or girl was very much the least of it.

He had elected not to tell her this, on the basis that to begin with, Russell's own perception of her sex was a great deal more important to her than his perception of her sex was to him, and further on the slightly whimsical basis that apparently, even a marriage had to have a few secrets. Watson and Mrs Hudson had both assured him of this on multiple occasions.

(Granted that his had more than a few, but he harboured the resigned suspicion that most of them would come out before time inevitably ended their intimacy. Russell was to secrets as a terrier was to rats: when she did not dig at them compulsively out of some respect for territorial understanding, one would catch her eye while flitting past, and she would be off before she remembered that she had agreed, if mutely, not to dig there. It was simply her nature, which he could not begrudge her without considerable hypocrisy, because it was also his.

This one, he thought, he would probably elect to keep to the grave. Part of him - a younger part, far more impressed with itself than he had truly come to be over the years of his life - was appalled at the sentimentality. Most of him, however, was simply amused.)

Indeed, sometimes it seemed to him that he had spent nearly as much time loving her in the guise of a young man as he had in her more innate (to her own mind) stance as a young woman, from their introduction to Jerusalem to India, to now, as she came out of her room adequately disguised once again as a young officer, her still-shortened hair increasing the ease of the deception.

Something was almost always required to change the line of her jaw, the only feature that insisted upon her femininity with a certain stubbornness. Padding or putty was a simple enough solution. Otherwise, binding was a simple enough solution to one declaration of sex, and the cut of the clothing disguised the other. Her own natural movements were as likely to fall on the side of masculinity as anything else, when she was not thinking about them; when a deliberate choice was made, no one would look twice at the way she walked, stood or shook hands.

Yet she was still clearly and wholly his Russell under the clothing, and that was, perhaps, the important part. It was reassuring to know that, regardless, what was important in her endured.

"I still think," she said, quite firmly, "that this is entirely the wrong way to go about this."

"You've said so previously," he reminded her, and removed a thread from the shoulder of her uniform. "I assure you that you are completely mistaken."

She shot him one of the looks he most enjoyed, donned her headdress and replied, "Rest assured, if the joys of a well-declared 'I told you so' present themselves, I will not hesitate, Holmes."

"As ever, I am comforted by your predictability, Russell," he replied blandly. "Shall we?"

Later, after they had both hauled themselves out of the river and accepted rough blankets from the constables, but while Lestrade was still shouting at people and finishing his arrests - all of his arrests, as the two men who looked most likely to succeed in their flight had discovered the difficulty of making use of clever escape-routes when someone has been cleverer than they - Sherlock Holmes looked inquiringly at his wife.

Dripping wet, hair in half-greased snarls around her face, missing her thin moustaches and looking highly put upon, Russell looked back at him. Her eyes betrayed a particularly private amusement, and a sense of deliberation, as if she were making some intensely important decision. After a pause, she said, in a fair match for his own bland tone, "I still think you were only using it as an excuse to get me dressed as a boy again. Honestly, Holmes, you only have to ask."

There remained a particular type of laughter that very few people, other than his partner and wife, managed to evoke. It certainly bewildered the constables, who glanced at both of them warily and then moved on. Russell, for her part, looked ever so slightly smug, implying to her husband that she had been awaiting the opportunity to come out with that line for some time now.

Sometimes, he wondered what it would like to have a wife he could deceive. It was a relief to know that (so long as her full faculties were about her), he would never have to find out.