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Tactical Skirmishes

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When she arrived at the door, Mary reminded herself to slow her step and allow John to catch up and to offer his arm. He did so, but only after he had provided her with her wrap and hat, which in her ire she had forgotten as it was not particularly cold.

After they were both dressed for the street, she did put her arm through his and, without prompting, he elected to walk rather than to hail a cab immediately, a choice which she deeply appreciated. The London night was its usual fragrant - or perhaps odoriferous was the better word - self and just bracingly cool. It helped to calm her temper magnificently, even if the shoes she wore were not particularly comfortable for walking.

"I apologize for that," John said eventually, as they walked. Mary shook her head at once.

"No, John, it was no fault of yours, not at all, and so you have no cause to apologize. Truly." She looked up at him and offered a smile. "I did expect something of the sort."

" - really," her fiancé said after a pause, and she once again marvelled at how practice allowed him to put the merest pointed hint if disbelief into his tone.

"I perhaps did not expect him to be so . . . . unpleasant, no," she admitted, but went on, "but I did know that I was engaging in a skirmish when I insisted, my darling. I have perhaps not known you quite so long as he, but it has been quite long enough to recognize warning in your tone when it appears." Then she chided herself, because the implicit rebuke in her words, and its implicit envy and jealousy, was not what she had meant to convey. So she finished in honesty and said, "He struck a point of soreness when he turned to Rupert and speculation. That is all, I assure you." In the silence, she added, "The wine was perhaps excessive - "

"The wine was exactly what he deserved," John disagreed immediately, "and, followed by the unpleasant experience of being wrong, may be all that could convince him you could not be driven away by petty warfare."

He was annoyed, yes, but Mary could sense that he was also distressed. The thought of Aunt Emma crossed her mind, and she found herself in sympathy, and put gentle pressure on his arm with her fingers. "He behaves from concern," she offered, and John snorted in disbelief.

"He acts out of selfish petulance," he retorted, and she smiled to herself, if sadly, at the underlying hurt in his words. A great many tangles, in this, she thought: the simple irritation, yes, but also the regret at the necessary passing of something once held dear, and the proud hurt that a friend could not trust his judgement, and the child-like hurt that he had found something new and precious that his friend did not appear to appreciate.

"And concern," she insisted, gently, "lest his dearest companion be ensnared by a seductress." She left just enough of a pause to provide a beat of contrast, and then went on before John could reply, "Which I believe is a clearer comment on the sort of woman with whom he keeps company than it is on myself, or on your intelligence."

She suspected that there was a great deal of the joke she was not getting when John slowly succumbed to quiet laughter, but she was content with the world as it was. And she made a resolution, quietly, to herself, that although her skirmish with Mr Holmes certainly did not make the end of the war, she would not throw any more wine in his face.

Not unless he really deserved it.