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Not Bowldler's Copy

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John came across the Ovid almost completely by accident, and opened it more to see how much of his own Latin he retained, beyond the working phrases of legal detalia and other such commonplaces. He found he remembered quite a bit; he also found that Mary's edition of Ovid was quite uncensored and indeed bore neat notations beside particular passages in what looked like her hand, detailing the dirtier of the puns and word-play.

He had to admit his eyebrows rose, but it was outside of enough for Providence to choose that moment exactly to have Mary enter the room, recognize the book and stop with one hand in arrested motion, halfway through a warm greeting by name.

John would never have Holmes' skill at telling everything about a person from the least flick of their little finger, but many years at work with the man had left their mark. Still, it took him a heartbeat or two to understand why the silence hung so suddenly, and why it was that Mary looked so pale, why her shoulders had gone back and her spine stiff, and her face set as if waiting - well, to be struck, honestly.

Then he forgot Holmes, for a moment, and remembered what it was like to keep pace in the so-called civilized world and understood all at one time. He found himself wanting at once to be comforting, to be reassuring, but he stopped himself and, out of respect, sought another way instead.

He closed the book and held it up, and said, "Well this is certainly disappointing," and then very quickly, before it could be even the slightest bit cruel, went on to say, "Because now I shall have to take this off the top of my list of gifts to get you on suitable occasions. Really, Mary, you are a very difficult woman to purchase things for."

John saw many things go across her face and the rest of her, as her posture softened and then melted, her eyes closed and her face assumed entirely new expressions. She walked with extraordinary grace (given the circumstances) to her chair by the window and sat in it. "Oh, John," she said.

He crossed, grateful that his leg did not choose that precise moment to be difficult, and sat in the other chair, and reached for her hand, which she granted him. "Did you think I would be - " and here he paused, uncertain, quite, which word would be appropriate. Mary favoured him with a half a smile and squeezed his hand.

"You will forgive me my fear, John?" she asked. "It is so difficult to tell these things - "

"Honestly, Mary, I am simply quite impressed by your translation - " and here he opened the book, which he was still holding, and tapped the page as he turned it to her. "Even as a school-boy, I had completely missed that particular -"

Here he was stopped by Mary's choked laughter as she took her hands and put them over her mouth, giggling with as much relief, he thought, as hilarity. (That was one thing he knew well: too many loved ones at too many bedsides had made that noise, men and women both, and of all ages.) "John, have I told you how much I love you?"

"Yes," he said, "but I have to say I have never objected to hearing it again." He put the book down on the windowsill, and Mary anticipated him by taking both his hands as he turned.

"No one else in the house could read Latin if their life depended on it," she explained in a much more ordinary Mary sort of voice. "My aunt taught me, along with Greek and French and other languages."

John was distracted for a heartbeat by how wonderfully soft her fingers were between his, but did manage to ask, "This legendary aunt again. Am I ever going to meet her, or is she going to remain a mythical figure."

Mary laughed. "She would never forgive me if I married a man she had never met."

John reflected, for that moment, how wonderfully the words "married" and "man" went together, at least when Mary Morstan said them. "I quite look forward to it," he said. "From how you speak of her, I suspect I have a great deal to thank her for."

As he generally did when the occasion reminded him, John immediately started thinking of ways to provoke that particular smile from her, because he thought if he could do it regularly, he would have a life of complete contentment. Then it turned to mischief, a little, and he thought that perhaps that one was even more enchanting, even if it did always seem to come at his expense. "Now," she said, sitting up proudly once again, "given that you are several hours early for our engagement to dinner, I suspect you are here to tell me I am being thrown over for Mr Holmes for the evening."

"Only," John said immediately, in as earnest a voice as he could summon, "because this particular case -"

"The murdered girls," Mary supplied.

"You've been reading the newspapers."

"Yes," she agreed. "And I quite forgive you. Go, John, find this man and stop him, I will make all due apologies to my parents."

"You are," John said, standing up and bowing over her hand, "a treasure beyond all worth."

Mary smiled at him. "Why, Dr Watson," she replied primly, "if you keep saying such things you may quite turn my head."

When he was at the door she said, "John," in a much more serious voice. He turned to look at her, and her face was unwontedly serious as well. "Please take care," she said. "I would - truly prefer not to bury another fiancé."

Her voice was light, but he knew her. "You won't," he said, with all the truth in his body.

Mary nodded, and forced a smile, and because time was pressing, John went.