Sherlock has never been one to mince words, and Mary, for all her politeness, can be blunt when the situation calls upon her to do so.
"Irene has planned a trip for the next few months," she says. "Old friends have requested that she perform with them on a tour of America, and I believe it would be best to let her do so. She's leaving today."
They are in the sitting room, just the two of them them. Sherlock is smoking his pipe and Mary is practicing her needlework. Watson is elsewhere, most likely to see one of his ailing patients, judging by the missing bag near the windowsill that holds all of Watson's medical equipment and by the messy pattern of scuff marks on the floor next to the door, an indication of the haste with which he left. Mary would know the truth of where he went. She has always been far better at keeping track of the comings and goings of their Evening husband and wife. Sherlock scratches Gladstone's head. "She threatens to leave us once a week," he says with an airy wave of his pipe.
Mary's smile is tolerant and amused. Sherlock receives the distinct impression that she is treating him like a child, barely older than one of her wards. "Irene threatens to leave you once a week," she says, as if it were possible to leave Sherlock behind without leaving all three of them simultaneously. "She is growing restless here, and I think she will leave even without our blessing."
Irene is still upstairs, asleep on Sherlock's bed. When Sherlock had left her, her hair had been messy and tangled underneath her cheek and her right arm had been curled underneath the pillow, her skin appearing almost translucent in the early morning light. Mary and Sherlock are the only ones of the household who wake this early routinely. Mary works best in the morning, completing her chores with a minimum of fuss and interruption. Sherlock is too restless and jumpy to sleep for long, and so he finds himself awake far before most. "Then it does not matter if we give it," Sherlock says.
"Speak to her," Mary says, with a tone that will brook no argument. "I think it will do you both some good."
Mary kisses John awake after she pulls the curtains open in her room. She and Sherlock have the assigned rooms in their modest house, while John and Irene switch between them whenever they please. Sherlock is the most demanding of the four of them for his own space. Mary doesn't venture into Sherlock's room often, and so she is still not quite proficient at navigating the stacks of books, the haphazardly stacked experiments, the occasional weapons. John insists that it isn't worth the trouble, but Mary doesn't mind the extra effort when Sherlock is in one of his black moods and he needs someone to pull him out of bed in the mornings.
John blinks sleepy eyes at the morning sun. He had been awoken early in the morning, called to the bedside of Colonel Medford, an elderly war hero who had been near retirement when he served with John in Afghanistan. His health has been declining for weeks, and the calls out had become increasingly frequent. This morning had not been any different. After returning, John had fallen asleep on the nearest bed, missing breakfast entirely. Mary had hoped he would be there to help diffuse the tension between their spouses, but Sherlock and Irene had spent the morning making unsubtle verbal swipes at each other. Mary had done her best to keep the two of them from outright attacking each other, but John was far more adept at handling Sherlock's foul moods.
Now John is home, laid down on his bed with the sunlight sliding over his warm, weary skin. He smiles up at her, kind and affectionate, before he pulls her onto the bed with him. "You look worried," he says. "Surely it can't be as bad as you imagine." A little sleep always improves his mood greatly. His hands are strong and steady on her back, and she remembers the way it felt to fall in love with him, with the crinkle of his smile and the kindness of his laugh. She'd felt almost silly with it, silly enough to take John's eccentric friend and lover into her life as well. Irene had come later, but she wasn't an afterthought, not to any of them. Mary had seen too many sedoretu fall apart through ambivalence and neglect to let that happen to her own marriage.
"Irene will be leaving us tonight," Mary says. Sherlock may not want to confront the truth of it, but John has no such illusions when it comes to Irene. "Sherlock is being quite stubborn about it."
John sighs and sits up, the smile falling from his face. "Of course he is," he says. He kisses her long and sweet, his mustache tickling her cheek and his tongue sliding along her lips. He stands up and stretches his arms. "They'll have to work things out amongst themselves." He sounds exasperated and tired but also confident that they will survive this, even with Irene gone.
"I think they will, eventually," Mary says. Sherlock and Irene are stubborn enough to resent each other for ages, but she and John will be there to hold things together when they are in danger of falling apart.
"They'll have to," John says, "and we must leave them to it."
Irene spends her day packing. The early morning sun has given way to gray clouds, and pale light streams in from the window over her dresser. She finds that she misses America, of the long nights she spent travelling there before she gained any sort of name for herself, stealing trinkets from the wealthy in trains and on the streets. It seems ridiculous even to herself that she would miss any of those things. She left them long ago for a reason. No, she's not being entirely honest with herself. She left those days behind her because she could, because she convinced herself that things could only get better. She convinced herself that she'd never want anything like that again. But that isn't precisely true. She misses the freedom to go where she pleases, to disappear on a whim.
This trip is not is not precisely a whim. Irene simply needs to go off without the others, to feel untethered from the life she lives here. She becomes restless easily, and she feels the beginnings of that here, even in this place that she loves with people who she loves. When Sherlock had first approached her with their proposal, Irene had thought the whole thing was an elaborate joke. As much affection she had for Mary, for Sherlock himself in his own, the proposition had seemed absurd, ridiculous. Irene was not the marrying type, and all of them understood that. Or so Irene had thought.
Mary steps into the room behind her, almost silent. She smells like John, like talcum powder and aftershave. Mary says, "I think you should bring this one with you." She holds up a black shawl, one of the ones Irene bought two weeks ago. "It will be cold in New York at this time of year."
Irene takes it from her and folds it neatly into her suitcase. "Yes, thank you," she says. Irene has never lied to Mary the way she has to Sherlock or to John. Mary has never wanted her to be anything but what she is, and in the face of that kind of honesty, Irene has never felt the need to conceal, to obfuscate. Irene finds herself staring at Mary, at the grace with which she holds herself. There are no brittle edges to her smile. "It won't be so long," Irene says, Irene promises. She pulls Mary into a kiss, lips against lips, drinking in Mary's breath, the taste of her skin.
Irene's Morning father and Evening mother had disappeared off into the night when Irene was just nine. They'd taken some money with them and some of the jewelry, leaving behind a note with only vague hints as to their whereabouts. Irene knows that there is too much of her birth mother in her, too much of the same inconstancy of spirit. Marriage had always seemed like a silly notion for much duller people. There were lovers, of course, beautiful Morning men and women who would pass through her bed. At times they would ask for more, and Irene would laugh them off as kindly as possible as she brushed them aside. That isn't what this is. She presses her shaking hands against the slender curve of Mary's neck and knows that she will miss them when she's gone. But it is still necessary, this leave of absence. She needs to leave London and England behind so that she can see the narrow streets of Paris, so that she can lean over the edge of a boat and smell of salt of the sea. She wishes she didn't need it, but she does.
"Come back to us as soon as you can," Mary says. She understands better than anyone, and there is no judgement in her eyes.
"I will," Irene says.
Sherlock prefers not to dwell on things he cannot change. It is a practical consideration on his own part, as it is far more useful in his profession to see things as they rather than what he wishes them to be. Irene, for instance, will always be feckless and untrustworthy, regardless of what Mary might say to the contrary. Watson, of course, shares some of Sherlock's hesitations when it comes to Irene, but he sides too much with Mary for Sherlock to consider him a true ally on this particular subject.
The sun is hanging low in the sky at the present time, which means that Sherlock has been occupied with his experiments for much longer than he anticipated. After a bad incident with a meat cleaver that almost took one of Gladstone's paws off, Sherlock's work has been exiled to another room, separate from the bedroom he maintains. (And he does maintain it, no matter what Irene or Watson might have to say on the matter.) Irene does not bother to hide her footsteps as she approaches, and Sherlock pretends not to hear her.
"Oh, stop sulking. I'm only going to be gone for a few months," Irene says. By the sound of her voice, the pitch and tone of it, Sherlock can tell that she is standing in his doorway, arms crossed over her chest, unwilling to come any closer.
"I am not sulking," Sherlock insists. "I am merely trying to analyze the--" He doesn't burn his fingers on the open flame of his burner. Singes them, maybe. But he doesn't burn them.
"Don't be like that," Irene says, teasing. She sounds as if she's closer now, so it comes as no surprise when she wraps her arms around Sherlock's waist, when she presses a cheek against his back. Irene has always been physically affectionate, and her timing is uniformly... inconvenient. Sherlock has discovered that his ability to do his work has been greatly hampered since she moved in with the three of them.
Sherlock says, "I'm not being like anything." He'd been waiting for this moment, after all, for the moment when Irene decides this whole marriage lark isn't for her. Not that Sherlock has always been comfortable with the idea of being involved with three other people, of being responsible for their physical and emotional needs. The difference between them is that Irene likes the idea even less than he does.
"I will be back," she says. "I am not lying to you about that."
"You say those words so convincingly. You must repeat them to all your marks," Sherlock says, trying to keep his eyes focused on the chemicals at hand.
Irene says, "Is that how you think of yourselves? As my victims?" If Sherlock didn't already know how very skilled she was at hiding her true emotions, he might even say that she sounds hurt by the accusation.
"Perhaps," Sherlock says. He and Watson were her marks, that first time they encountered her, and he is still smarting from how thoroughly she bested them. She has not attempted it again since they have been married as far as Sherlock could tell, but it was possible that she was merely waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Sherlock knows he must be prepared to guard himself against it.
Irene pulls away. Sherlock most definitely does not miss the heat and weight of her against his back. "I leave tonight," she says, her voice becoming softer as she moves towards the door. "You're wrong, you know," she continues. "I don't think of you, any of you, that way."
And then she's gone, leaving Sherlock alone with his work.
John arrives back at 221B Baker Street just as the sun has set behind the rooftops. It's a pleasant evening, warm and humid without the threat of rain, and John has enjoyed the walk home. It would have been better with Mary or Holmes or even Irene. All of them are excellent conversationalists, and he's spent many a day and night picking their minds on particular topics. Holmes, in particular, never seems to run out of subjects on which he can expound at length. He seems to enjoy dazzling John with the most obscure facts he knows.
Outside their front door, there is a cab waiting. John knows that it must be here for Irene, seeing as the light in Mary's room is on, and Sherlock is not running down the stairs in his haste to reach to his next destination. Sure enough, Irene is stepping out the door, a bag in hand. The cabbie takes it from her and places it inside the cab. There is a weariness in the set of her shoulders, though she is still holding her head high. They have never been quite friends, John and Irene, but they understand each other well enough. There are nights when they will sit together in the study and not say a word, with John at his desk, writing in his journals, and Irene in the room's most comfortable chair, reading a book. On those nights, neither Sherlock nor Mary will interrupt them until it's time for bed, and John knows he will miss Irene's company and Irene's companionship.
"Good evening, John," Irene says when she sees him. Her smile looks fragile, strained.
He climbs the steps to the front door so that he talk to her properly. "Leaving already, I see," he says. He isn't surprised that she needed to take this journey and he isn't surprised that Sherlock is taking it badly, which is terribly obvious from the muffled sound of Sherlock's screeching violin through the upstairs window. The first time they met Irene, she had been untouchable in every sense of the word. John suspects that she's never quite changed from that first image in Sherlock's mind. He never did learn to see her as a real person, achingly flawed and incredibly vulnerable.
Irene doesn't say a word. Instead, she pulls John into a very tight, very American hug. John returns it, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. When Irene pulls back, she turns her head to the side so that John cannot see her face. "Take care of them for me," she says. She runs a hand underneath her nose, as if she's wiping something away.
"I will," John says. "I promise." It's hardly a promise he needs to make again, but he understands why Irene wishes to hear it. If he were the one who was leaving, he'd want to hear it from her before he left.
"Thank you," she says. She straightens her skirts and disappears into the cab. John stands there and watches as it clatters down the street and disappears into the encroaching night.
Sherlock is still at his experiments when he hears Watson's footsteps on the stairs below. They heavier, slower footfall indicates that Watson is still deep in thought. Sherlock blinks for a moment before he lights a candle. The room is not well-lit, and the sky outside the window is inky black with faint pinpricks of lights. Reaching for the gas lamp would disturb the flow of his work.
"She's finally gone, then?" Sherlock asks when the door behind him opens. This is not so different from the last time Irene had simply disappeared into the middle of the night. She is about as fond of teary farewells as Sherlock is himself. Which is to say, not at all. Granted, the last time Irene had disappeared in the middle of the night, they hadn't been married, and Irene had been wanted for questioning in relation to the Earl of Canterbury's missing jewels. But really, Sherlock hardly considered that much of an excuse for why she didn't stop by to trade some barbed remarks before disappearing to Canada for a few months.
"Yes, Holmes, she is," Watson says. He doesn't touch Sherlock the way Irene and Mary do, casually, affectionately, without warning. Watson believes in leaving Sherlock a certain amount of physical space, though he's far more likely to attempt to pry into Sherlock's mind as though he has any skill or subtlety at it. Not that Sherlock ever makes it easy for him. Watson says, "You don't have to pretend, you know. You are allowed to care that she's gone."
Sherlock says, "Really, Watson, there is no need for you to project your concerns onto me." He sniffs his fingers to determine exactly what sort of clay he was working with and from which parts of London it had been located, pointedly not granting Watson the pleasure of his attention.
Watson snorts. "I really hope, for your own sake, that you don't actually believe that."
Sherlock spins on the balls of his feet so that he can face him. Watson has a amused eyebrow raised, and a hint of a smile lurks at the corners of his mouth. Sherlock has always hated that expression, though he has been loathe to ever let Watson learn that. No need to let the man discover all new ways to aggravate Sherlock. Sherlock says, "It was obvious from the very first day that--"
"Don't be ridiculous," Watson says. "Just admit that you'll miss her. She'll be back in no time, and the two of you can go back to pretending that you're not madly in love with one another."
It's an absurd notion that Sherlock would ever have to admit anything to himself. He is the pinnacle of self-examination, after all, and Watson does not understand anything he speaks of. This was well-proven after the Anderson case. Mary had been required to do all the hard thinking for him. "Jealous?" Sherlock asks, because pettiness is not beneath him.
Watson laughs in a way that makes him light up, makes him look leagues away from the tired, worn soldier who had come back from the war looking for someone else to room with. "Hardly," he says, smirking, and Sherlock needs to kiss him right then, needs to bring them together. Their marriage vows still hold, after all, even if their sedoretu is somewhat incomplete at the moment. Watson has been out walking, and his mouth tastes like the London air, and his collar still smells like Irene's favorite Parisian perfume. Watson is still smiling once they've pulled apart. He says, "We're going to bed right now, and you're not allowed to sulk about any of it, understood?"
They are all so convinced that Irene will be back, that this is not the end of everything, and so Sherlock will trust them even if he does not fully trust Irene. Sherlock rolls his eyes. "If you insist," he says, but he still follows Watson into the hallway, blowing out the candle as he leaves.