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The Matter at Hand

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Watson couldn't actually say that he expected Mary's timely rescue. It would be fair to say that he had hoped, but he had certainly suspected that it might be too much to ask, all things considered, and that he would in fact remain in the yard, with Holmes, until such time as Lestrade felt his point had been made, and that sulking further would be beneath the dignity of his office. Had resigned himself to the idea, in fact.

That only meant that the sight of her face outside the gate was a particularly welcome and happy sight - particularly since, for a wonder, she did not look angry or distressed. Indeed, she wore one of the two looks she favoured when presented with circumstances that might be hostile. The other was a mask of cool fury; this one, however, was all aloof amusement and untouchable calm.

It perhaps reflected poorly upon him that Watson took some satisfaction in the sound of the gate closing, out of just barely catching the words jus' Watson, but he was rather beyond caring. He did not look round to see how Holmes took it, either. Just took Mary's arm and said, "I am so incredibly sorry, Mary -" and then let her cut him off.

"Never mind, dear," she said, "the cab's this way."

Watson caught sight of Lestrade, coming out of doors held open for him by one of the constables, but Lestrade avoided them entirely. And John caught himself narrowing his eyes, and made a note to make very sure that everyone involved had been polite. Mary having to come down here at all was quite enough.

He gave Mary a hand up into the cab, directed the driver to Baker Street, and settled in himself. "I am sorry," he repeated, as Mary lifted her hood away and let it fall behind her. Looking carefully, he thought he might see the shadow of a restless night, and hoped it wasn't so.

"I said never mind, darling," she replied, checking by feel to make certain that her hair was not in disarray. "I would have been here much earlier if I hadn't had to argue with Papa about it." John reached forward and settled a fly-away before thinking that, given the state of his hands, he might have done better not to help.

He found himself less than sanguine about the quick forgiveness. Not because he believed it to be insincere, no: Mary was not one to say what she did not mean. It was one of her better qualities. No - simply because, just at the moment, he was run up hard against just how much he had apparently tolerated from Holmes, and how insane most of it was, and that made him acutely aware of how much he might be trading on others' tolerance.

On Mary's, specifically. But he accepted it anyway, sat back and sighed.

She added, "You look like you've been through the wars. Again."

John's mouth quirked. He did not, in fact, but he wasn't about to correct her. A pale echo of the wars, he'd grant, right down to the aching leg. "Yes, well. A night in lockup will do that for you."

"What on earth happened?" she asked, more disbelief than exasperation. She had leant forward, gloved hands clasped. "The way the constable went on, you'd think you and Mr Holmes had set fire to the shipyards."

Probably Clarky, that, who had gone to tell her. There were a lot of the others who might have happily pretended that he was as devoid of people (other than Holmes) to bail him out of prison as Holmes was (other than Watson himself). Never miss an opportunity -

John presumed Mary's father had put his foot down at the idea of Mary's coming to the Yard at night, for which he was actually quite grateful. Among the things he truly had no desire to subject Mary to, Scotland Yard at night was certainly one of them. But here she was, now, and looking expectantly at him.

"Well," John said, considering the best way to tell her, "we didn't exactly set fire to it."

"Oh no - " Mary began, and then stopped herself before John could interrupt her. "This is going to be a long story, isn't it," she remarked, sitting back up.

"Sadly," John replied, sighing, "yes. I couldn't possibly tell it briefly in a way that would let you make any sense of it, my dear."

She reached over and took his hand, squeezing it gently. "Then let's wait until we get you back to your rooms, darling, and see if Mrs Hudson will make us a tray. I dare say you haven't eaten since yesterday-noon at the latest, either."

John put her hand between both of his. "You are," he said, very sincerely, "a wonderful woman."

Mary smiled at him, then let it turn mischievous. "Don't be ridiculous," she said. "I just don't want you to faint in the middle of telling me the most exciting part."


Mrs Hudson would, in fact, make a tray. Mary waited, talking cheerfully with John's landlady as he went upstairs and endeavoured to remove the dirt and smell of the last dozen hours from his skin and hair, and to replace his present clothing (rather the worse for wear) with fresh. He joined her in the parlour downstairs, where Mrs Hudson left them.

Mary insisted he eat something before telling the story, so he did; not until he had gone through half the plate and had paused did she take another cup of tea and say, "Then you did - "

"Oh, let me begin with Irene Adler and the ginger midget, darling," John said, appreciation for the nearly farce of the last twenty four hours now restored with the meal and the clean clothes. Mary's face was a picture in surprise and half-disbelief, and John allowed a half-smile. "Believe me, darling. It gets better."

He did begin with Adler; indeed, he had to, having managed to happily erase her until now. "Everything," he told Mary, after finishing this introduction, "that involves Irene Adler ends in disaster, if not outright ruin."

"Well," Mary said, thoughtfully, "at least I can now see the source of Mr Holmes' deep concern regarding my intentions towards you."

"As you said," John agreed. "Much more of a comment on women of his acquaintance than on you."

"I did wonder why you found that quite so amusing," she remarked. "At any rate, do go on, darling."

Mary listened without interruption, but perhaps only because her face and the expressions that passed over it made her commentary for her. From amusement to horror to revulsion to (John thought) fondness to shock and back again, her face was a very mobile thing as he described everything from Blackwood's apparent resurrection (and that still rankled: the man had damn well been dead) to Reardon's body, from the pawn shop to the laboratory, to the toughs and their elephantine companion.

She said nothing, until, in the midst of his description of the fiasco at the shipyard, she interrupted to say, "The ship ran you over?" with a look of horrified concern on her face.

"Well," John amended, "it certainly ran over us. There was a track," and he sketched it out in the air with one hand, "I managed to pull us both into it so that the keel went above us instead of, well - "

"Through you," Mary finished. "Oh John. And then they arrested you."

"I suppose Lestrade felt he had to do something with his day," John replied, sourly, turning back to his own tea to find it cooled. He poured himself more, to warm it up.

"Well," she said, "I suppose that might have been a bit much for even you and Mr Holmes." She looked momentarily guilty. "I suppose I could have posted his bail as well," she went on, "except I suspected it was all because of him and I was a little cross. Who do you suppose will?"

John tried to find a way to express just how ludicrous the idea that Mary should have to do such a thing for Holmes, and found himself without one that did not include rather a lot of the sort of language that belonged more in the ranks than in Mrs Hudson's parlour. "Someone will," he said, instead, hoping that his tone would convey the message clearly, "someone always does. But today that someone won't be me, and it should certainly never have to be you."

It cleared the guilty look away, at least, even if it was replaced with one of worry and thought. "What's going to happen about Lord Blackwood?" she asked.

"Blackwood," John said, very definitely, and meant every word, "is Holmes' problem, not mine. He can call on me when the man is in custody again. This time, he'll very certainly be deceased by the time I'm done." Because I'll shoot him in the head. Several times, he added, silently and to himself.

When Mary put her hand on his and gave him a knowing smile, though, he suspected she heard it just the same.