Much Handled Photograph

By Angelina

"Holmes, how is it that you never talk about your family? You already know all about mine," Russell pulled herself up into the chair, with the cross-legged informality of her youth. She turned her head this way and that, conveying the false auspices of being bored and stretching out her cervical vertebrae simultaneously. Her hair hung down her back, its damp strands attempting some semblance of curl. Holmes' eyes looked up from the papers strewn haphazardly across the carpet of the hotel room in which they had been residing the last few days while on their latest case. He frowned at her, the tolerant irritation of a mature adult has when dealing with an inquisitive child. He thought to intimidate her out the curiously over-personal line of questioning.

When she continued to look at him expectantly, he sighed resignedly and replied, "Russell, you already know my family." Then he turned his attention pointedly back to the newspaper in front of him.

"I've met Mycroft, that doesn't mean I know anything about you."

"What are you talking about? We've known each other for four years, Russ. Knowing about my family is not going to change anything and to be perfectly honest, I do not see why you should need to know about them." The last was bitten off in an angrier tone than he would have liked. Deep down he knew she was only curious and he shouldn't be so sensitive. But Russell wouldn't be deterred by his irascibility.

"I noticed some things changed about you while we've been in France. Sometimes you appear as if you are more at home here, than back in England. I know your maternal grandmother was French, the sister to Vernet. Of course, that much information as well as the fact Mycroft is your brother is well known to the public because of Uncle John's stories." Russell stared straight at the top of his head, mentally willing him to look up at her. "I would have thought you could trust me well enough to let me in on a little more than what the world already knows."

Holmes finally looked up at her, his gray eyes a blistering silver. Russell felt as though his intense stare held her motionless in the chair. Holmes stood stiffly to his feet, the stiffness due more to his ire than his rheumatism. No overly emotional displays on his part as he let the paper drift to his feet. He crossed the distance between them and looked down at her for a moment. The lack of guile in her expression, the sheer beauty of her youth almost completely overwhelmed his defenses. She met his gaze, watching as it turned from steely to confused to not-quite-serene. "It has nothing do with trust, Russell. Otherwise, I would have confessed all long ago." Holmes walked off towards his bedroom, conveniently attached to the suite of rooms they had rented. Hers was adjacent to his, where she had worried that her nightmares would torment his sleep as well as hers.

Russell popped up out of the chair, relentless as a hunting dog with the scent of a fox. She followed his retreating form into the bedroom where he was retrieving his overcoat. "Holmes, I am not letting you leave here until you explain why you are avoiding my question."

Holmes almost allowed a smile to creep on his taciturn face. "Letting me?? You are quite talented at defending yourself, Russell, but do not presume to think you could prevent my departure from these rooms."

"Is that a challenge, Holmes?" I stiffened my stance, wary of what he might try in order to get out. I had cornered him and I wasn't about to let my quarry go. He surveyed my expression for its steadfastness and sighed.

"Why do you have to make things difficult?"

"What about that photograph at the cottage? I have the distinct impression that they are your mother and father."

"Hopefully, that wasn't a guess," he muttered half-heartedly. "If I answer one question, will you cease with this infernal meddling?" Realizing this was quite a concession on his part, she nodded affirmatively. Russell contemplated the most encompassing question she could, designed to pry as much information from him as possible. Holmes watched her suspiciously, knowing exactly what she was thinking.

"What happened to your mother?"

Holmes started at the simple question. Of all the ones his mind had contemplated, this was one he had not anticipated. "She died several years ago."

"That's not what I mean and you know it. I could tell from her expression she was unhappy at the time of the portrait. That and you never, ever speak of her."

Holmes sat down on the bed abruptly. Russell took a step forward to ensure that he had not indeed collapsed. He ran his fingers through his salt-and-pepper hair distractedly. The silence was deafening and seemed to last an eternity. When his soft voice pierced the quiet, it caused me to jump slightly as I didn't expect him to speak. "My mother was a beautiful woman, warm and intelligent. She met my father under most unusual circumstances; he married her shortly after a whirlwind courtship. Their entire marriage was forever in upheaval. They both burned hot and cold, at least as long I could remember. Mycroft confirms this even farther back." He gazed up at her, a soft, gentle expression upon his memory-clouded face. He gestured for her to take a seat on the other end of the bed. Russell took up the proffered place and turned her ear once more attentively to the story that was unfolding.

"Did you know that I have another older brother? I should say had...Sherrinford died a couple of years ago. He was the reason they married in the first place. They loved each other, I least at first they did. We lived a very bohemian lifestyle for the first years of my about the continent, moving from city to city. We did stay for a time with Mama's family in Montpellier. She loved music...she taught me how to play the violin."

"She must have been an extraordinary musician," Russell murmured.

"She was a singular person, indeed. Father kept us on the move until Sherrinford and Mycroft had to start school. Then we returned to England. There I developed scarlet fever and had to convalesce at home for several months. My father was sorely disappointed that I could not return to school and made that irritation known, loudly and often. Mama took the brunt of it, I suspect."

"Did he beat her?"

"No, but I think the verbal abuse became overwhelming at times. Father was frustrated at the low income of the estate, with me, and with her withdrawal from his side. She turned elsewhere for affection."

"She had an illicit affair??" Russell's question was almost a squeak , in her disbelief.

"Intelligence is not the only thing that is inherited in our family." Russell swallowed hard against the lump in her throat when she realized his allusion to his relationship to Irene Adler. No wonder his mother's memory went unremarked; she was a reminder of more than one painful episode in Holmes' life. "He was someone who, I think, made her happy. She had known him since their childhood together. My father eventually found out and forbade her to see him again. My father even let it be known that he thought I could be the by-blow of her lover, even though deep down he knew it wasn't possible. It simply distressed him to think that I, the weakling that I was, could be his offspring. At one point, I was so ill that the physician prepared my parents for the worst. My father required my mother to submit to having another replace me in the eventuality of my death."

Russell shuddered at the coldness of Holmes' father, a man from who Holmes had been estranged for a good number of years. It did not surprise her that Holmes would take on such a warped approach to personal relationships after that. She fought the strong urge to touch him, to comfort him in some tangible way, knowing full well he would withdraw from any sympathetic overture.
"The pregnancy was a troubled one; the child born too early and small to survive more than a few days. My mother never quite recovered because her health was always frail after that. Not only her physical health deteriorated, but her mental health as well. I was about to enter University when my father had her committed to a sanitarium. Two years later, I received word of her passing. She had just wasted away."

"God, Holmes, I'm sorry."

"It's okay, Russ. You just wanted to know more about me. I don't blame you, really. Maybe one day I'll feel up to telling you the rest of the story." He stood up and shrugged his coat on. He took a step over to where I was sitting cross-legged on the bed. Russell gazed up at him, the waves in her hair framing her angular face. He gently brushed a few strands away from her face in a tender gesture. His long fingers caressed her satiny cheek, almost shocking him with the strange sensations he felt. He whispered, "You remind me very much of her."

Russell was speechless at the simple but emotion-laden compliment. "I'm honored that you think so."

Holmes smiled an odd little half-smile at her remark. He bent down and pressed his dry, soft lips to her forehead briefly, at once a seductively innocent gesture. Then he retreated out the bedroom door and the suite, leaving Russell to once again ponder the complex workings of Sherlock Holmes' mind.