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Summary: A short fic for Sherlolly Appreciation Week 2017 - Day Five (Canon Compliant – The Abominable Bride). A sequel of sorts to last year's Sherlolly Appreciation Week fic "A Letter to Mary". Pre-Sherlolly versions of Hooper/Holmes.

Rating: G

A/N - Unbeta’d. With apologies to Laurie R. King and her book “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”, from which I have shamelessly stolen the idea of traveling in a Vardo in pursuit of the bad guys.

Another Letter to Mary




My Dearest Mary,

I do not know when this letter will reach you. Holmes has forbidden me from posting any missives home for the time being. We are traveling incognito; and he does not wish to offer any indication to overly curious eyes that we are in any way connected to the well-known detective stories. If ever there was a wife who would understand the need for such discretion, it is you, my love.

As you are aware, Holmes, Hooper and I are on the trail of a small band of murderous men. Another corpse was located in a small hamlet less than half-a-day’s ride from the initial murder. Holmes suspects the man was in league with the thieves and was deemed a liability for one reason or another. He thinks the men have begun to turn on one another.

Speed and stealth are paramount, for Holmes feels more deaths are imminent if the blackguards become aware of our pursuit. He believes they will be going to ground until such time as it will be safe to fence the item.

As such, we have abandoned our conspicuous carriage and driver. Holmes has managed to procure a Vardo—a sort of traveling wagon—from a Romani gentleman, as well as a horse to pull it, and three sets of simple clothing in exchange for a hefty sum. They have made arrangements for the return of the wagon once our current mission has been fulfilled. In addition, the man advised Holmes as to the best roads to travel upon and what small villages would be the most accepting of three strange men passing through.

When next we set off, we were disguised as a set of brothers in route to visit our dear mother some far distance away.

The Vardo has a small cast-iron cooking stove and a pair of sleeping bunks, which removed our need to stop overnight at an inn. We ride as long as the horse is able, then stop only long enough to allow the animal a few hours rest. Holmes feels we are getting closer to locating the thieves with every passing day.

I am afraid that’s all the news I have regarding the progress of our case, my love. However, I feel there is something you may find of equal interest that I can begin to share with you.

The Vardo is adequate for our needs, but by necessity we are in quite close quarters. Hooper and I have endeavoured to maintain her secret from Holmes. Food has been sparse and lacking in variety or flavour. Concerns for cleanliness and hygiene have been met with the very minimum of concessions on Holmes’ part.

Until this morning.

Tempers had grown volatile, to the point that Hooper and Holmes spent nearly a quarter of an hour arguing as they hitched the horse before Holmes climbed up and took the reins and Hooper stormed into the wagon. I thought it best to stay out of her way and let her work out her aggressions alone, therefore I joined Holmes. He refused to speak for many a minute, before informing me that we would be stopping in another hour’s time. I asked if there was another village ahead, and he said that was not the case. There was, however, a small river.

I do not think I can adequately express what occurred when we arrived at the riverside in the confines of this letter. Until I am able to share a recounting of the events with you face-to-face, I will leave it at this: Holmes is very much aware that Doctor Hooper is a woman; and, unless I am mistaken, there will be a declaration of feelings forthcoming once we return to London.

I know you, my love, and you are already burning with the need for clarification, and I will appease your hunger for knowledge as soon as I am able. Until then, not a word to M or anyone else.

I do not know when I shall return. As always, I hold your memory to my heart and dream of you whenever I close my eyes.

Your faithful husband,

John


இڿڰۣ-ڰۣ—


“A river? Are we meeting another of your informants out here?” Watson asked, bracing himself as the wagon rolled over a particularly deep hole.

“Nothing so interesting, Watson. As Doctor Hooper so vehemently reminded me, we need to replenish our water supplies. A short delay to rinse the grime out of our clothes will not set us back too far, I should think.” Holmes continued to urge the horse forward, making an effort to guide it around the largest of the ruts in the road.

The allure of clean clothing and the possibility of a quick bath distracted Watson for most of the journey to the river. It wasn’t until Holmes brought the wagon to a stop beneath the trees along the riverbank that Watson began to realize the predicament Doctor Hooper was about to face.

Holmes leaned back to smack the flat of his hand against the wagon door twice, then jumped down and set about unhitching the horse and unslinging the steps from the back of the Vardo.

Hooper opened the door moments later. “Why have we stopped?”

“The river.” Watson nodded toward the slow-moving water visible between the tree trunks.

“Do we need to cross it?” Hooper asked, confused.

Holmes dropped the laddered steps in front of the wagon and quickly latched them to the footboard. “You said you wanted fresh water to scrub your clothes and bathe, Hooper.” He waved his arm toward the river with a mocking flourish. “There you are. Cleanse yourself.”

Then he bounded up the steps and pushed past Hooper into the wagon.

“Surely he doesn’t mean to-to . . . in the river, out in the open, where anyone could come upon us!” Hooper’s voice rose dangerously close to a feminine tone. She quickly snapped her mouth shut and glared into wagon.

“I mean that very thing,” Holmes replied. He reappeared in the doorway with a bundle of cloth. “Do hurry, Doctors. I don’t intend to tarry for long.”
By the time Watson had gathered his shaving kit and several articles of clothing he wished to rinse, Hooper had made an effort to do the same. They approached the riverbank to find that Holmes had used the soap from his own grooming kit to work up a lather and was already rinsing his spare shirt.

The water was cool and refreshing, and Watson would have given his entire portion of their planned lunch of cheese and bread for chance to undress and wade into it. He cast a glance toward Hooper and wondered if there were any way to persuade her to take a walk without arousing Holmes’ suspicions.

She looked up and briefly met his eyes before her own slid to the man behind him and widened in shock. A fiery blush turn the cheeks above her moustache painfully red, and her mouth formed a nearly inaudible gasp. Even without looking, Watson knew that Holmes had done something completely and utterly improper.

With a deep breath, Watson turned with a rebuke already upon his lips, only to become paralyzed in horror at the sight of a barefoot Holmes stripping off articles of clothing without a care to the world. He was bare from the waist up, bracers hanging off his hips, and reaching for the fastening of his trousers before Watson could find his voice. “Holmes!”

Thankfully the other man’s hands stilled before he could do more than slip the button free. “Yes, Watson?” he asked in all innocence.

“What are you doing, man?” Watson hissed. His first inclination was to insert himself between Holmes and Hooper, to make sure the poor woman wasn’t exposed to any more of Holmes’ exhibitionism; but he did not think Hooper would welcome his interference.

“I should think that would be obvious, even to you.” Holmes inclined his head toward the water. “I intend not to waste the resources nature has provided for us. I am covered in dust and grime and the river is here, the solution seems apparent to me. Would you not agree, Hooper?”

Watson heard her sputter out something that could have been interpreted as agreement. Then she excused herself for a moment, stood with her recently rinsed and still dripping garments clutched to her chest, and hurried toward the Vardo as if the very hounds of hell were at her heels.

As soon as she was inside the wagon, Watson turned back to his friend with a stern look. There was nothing else for it, he would have to reveal Hooper’s secret. “Holmes, I really must protest. There is something you need to know-“

“I am already aware of the matter of which you wish to enlighten me.”

Watson huffed, incredulous. “I do not think you are.”

Holmes finished undressing, forcing Watson to turn away or risk becoming for more well acquainted with his friend than he cared to. “If you are about to inform me that Doctor Hooper is not what he appears to be . . . I am already aware.”

“But you never! Not a word! How long have you known?” Watson sputtered. A quick glance assured him that Holmes had walked deep enough into the river that the water rose to his chest when he knelt.

“Since the first time he spoke with true aggravation in my presence. Perhaps ten minutes into our acquaintance. Hooper’s mannerisms were odd, but easily dismissible as merely that of an effeminate gentleman. However, the lower register that Hooper routinely uses was momentarily absent. It was quite clearly the voice of a woman berating me for some infraction. One that must have been particularly heinous, judging from the scolding I received.”

“You keep saying ‘he’, Holmes.” Watson looked longingly toward the water. It did appear rather inviting.

"Why wouldn't I when we are discussing the Hooper who is employed at St Bartholomew's? That Hooper is very clearly a man. That's how he chooses to present himself professionally, which are the only times we have had occasion to interact, and the man is extremely competent at his job. What business is it of mine to contradict him simply because of what may or may not be hidden in his trousers?"

"Holmes!" Watson glanced over his shoulder to make sure they were still alone.

"For God's sake, man, you're a doctor. Stop acting as if you are my spinster maiden aunt. To the world, Hooper is a male, and I have made considerable effort to respect that. Even if my own thoughts have been known to play havoc with my good intentions." Holmes dunked his head under the water to thoroughly wet his hair, then stood up and began to wade toward the riverbank.

"If you were aware that Hooper was a . . ." Watson lowered his voice to a loud, hissing whisper. "A woman, then what was that earlier display about?"

Finally—Finally!—Holmes had the decency to look slightly abashed. "I have long been stimulated by Hooper's intelligence, his provoking nature, his ability to hold his own against me in a battle of words. Of late, however, I have begun to notice stirrings of a less . . . cerebral nature during some of our more heated exchanges."

"Are you saying that you're a, well, a homosexual?" Watson whispered once again as Holmes bent to pick up his drawers. Not that it would alter their friendship as far as Watson was concerned, but Holmes would have to tread lightly if he wished to act upon his inclinations without being accused of a criminal act by someone wishing to discredit him in the eyes of the law.

"Have we not just established that I have been aware that Hooper has been masquerading as a man the entire time I have been working with him? Clearly, it is not simply a matter of a preference for one sex or the other. I told you, Watson, it was his mind that first drew me. Then other little details began to find root in my thoughts. The size and delicacy of Hooper's hands, the graceful line of her pale throat. More and more I found myself wondering what her hair would look like when released from her wig, the shape of her lips without the obstruction of Hooper's moustache." He looked away for a moment and Watson thought he was going to draw into himself, but Holmes surprised him. "I finally understood that I wished to get to know the woman behind the doctor, to see if she truly was everything I'd begun to imagine."

"And that was?"

Holmes finished stepping into his trousers, and reached for his shirt. "Intelligent, practical, strong, graceful."

All fine qualities that Holmes would find important in a mate, Watson knew. But there were others that were equally important, surely. "What of attraction, Holmes?"

"I won't lie and pretend that her physical appearance won't have a bearing in my intentions, the difference between platonic affection and something more. But the same could be true on her part.” He slid his arms into the shirt sleeves and began to fasten the buttons. “I may not have the sort of countenance that she would prefer in a potential paramour."

"And the peacock display?" Watson asked.

“An experiment.” Now Holmes flushed. "If there was no sign of reciprocal attraction on Hooper's part, then I would be able infer any overtures of a romantic or . . . physical nature would be unwelcomed. I could therefore spare us both the embarrassment of presuming too much when I finally approached her to extend the hand of friendship."

"Why didn't you just ask? Hooper, I mean. Why bother with this highly improper ruse?" More importantly, Watson thought, why did he have to be present when Holmes decided to expose his arse to the gaze of God and Nature.

Holmes started at him if Watson had said something particularly disappointing. "Think it through. If I approached Hooper at St Bartholomew's or her residence, without first ascertaining if there was an inkling of shared interest, then I would be putting a strain on our professional . . ." He struggled for the correct term.

"Relationship,” Watson offered.

"Not necessarily the term I would have chosen, but adequate. At best Hooper would be aware that I knew of her deception; and no matter how sincere my assurances that I would not turn her in, there would always be the sword of Damocles hanging over her head. Which would be preferable to the worst scenario, in which Hooper might see my overture as an extortion attempt, and feel obligated to pretend affection in order to maintain her current lifestyle."

"I still do not see how that required you to remove every stitch of your clothing in front of someone you know to be a woman, regardless of her current form of dress."

Holmes looked to the heavens as if searching for patience. "If Hooper exhibited no sign of interest in my 'display'—as you so charmingly put it—then there would be no reason to risk alerting her that I am now, and always have been, aware of her true nature. I would have been disappointed, I admit, but Hooper is the best pathologist I've had the opportunity to work with and I have no desire to intentionally ruin that."

"Is this about risking the loss of your sparring partner at the morgue, or risking your heart without first hedging your bet? She may not be the only one uncomfortable with continuing as before if your attraction is not returned." As brilliant as Holmes was, he did have an awful habit of overlooking the obvious when it came to his own emotions.

"I have been reliably informed that I do not have a heart. Watson.” Holmes shook his head as he slipped his bracers over his arms and into place. “You of all people should know that.”

"I, of all people, am the one who knows just how large of a heart you possess, and how strongly it beats for those you hold dear.” Watson saw through his friend’s defences easily. “Did you so quickly forget the extent of your efforts to remind me of all I was to lose if I couldn't see past the red haze of anger I felt when I learned of Mary's adventures for your brother?"

"That was different. That was Mary."

"And this is . . .” Watson trailed off with a frown. “What is Hooper's given name?"

"The medical license is issued to Milton Hooper, but I feel it safe to assume that wasn't the name she was christened with." Holmes looked pensive. “If I could find out where she was born, I might be able to locate her birth records . . .”

"What was all this about, then, if not a matter of the heart?" Watson's expression hardened. "I will not stand by and let you comprise-"

"Watson!” Holmes snarled. “I am not going to continue this line of questioning with you."

"Holmes. Sherlock. I've only one last inquiry. In all the years that I have known you, you have only expressed more than a passing interest in one other person-"

Holmes looked utterly horrified. "Who?!"

Watson gave him a pointed look, then glanced down to where Holmes’ pocket watch would normally rest. Holmes remained stubbornly silent. "If you have had an interaction of a romantic nature-"

"Do you mean a sexual nature, Watson? Because that seems to be what you are attempting to imply in a ridiculously indirect way." The detective bent down and snatched up his boots, before glaring at his friend.

"I said romantic and that is what I meant.” Watson held out his arm to keep Holmes from walking away. “Are you sure this is what you want, that it isn't just an entertainment to fill the time between cases?"

Holmes bit back whatever snide comment had been about to slip from his lips and took a deep, calming breath. He looked toward the Vardo, then back to Watson and nodded his head. “This is what I want. She is what I want. If her friendship is all that Hooper wishes to grant me, then I shall accept it with all the grace that God has granted me. Which is, I concede, not much. However, I have reason to believe there shall be more between her and I than merely friendship.”

“And what brought you to that conclusion?” Watson hoped his friend was correct, and that it wasn’t just the other man’s overblown ego making itself known.

Holmes nodded toward the small curtained window on the side of the wagon. “Hooper spent quite a long time raptly peeking out of that window while I was undressed. If you wouldn’t mind giving us a small measure of privacy, I believe the good doctor and I have something we need to discuss.” He set off for the wagon, then stopped before he reached the steps. “A mere two minutes’ walk up the bank would ensure that no one bathing in the river could be seen from the Vardo, if one were so inclined.”

Watson watched Holmes enter the wagon, and waited to make sure Hooper wasn’t going to come storming out. He laid out his newly washed clothing over several tree branches to dry in the sun, then took his shaving kit and began to whistle as he walked up the riverbank.

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