Chapter One: The Changing of the Guard
"You do not have to do this," Holmes said from the shadows where he stood, as his quarry, a young man whose work and intellect he had come to admire, wandered back and forth, wavering upon his chosen path.
The laugh that answered him was short, sharp, and mirthless. "Ah, Monsieur Holmes, but of course I do. What else is there for me to do?" replied the long haired, young man, as he paused to gaze up at the stars above him, his loose, jet black hair and wide sleeves of the silk dress shirt he was wearing catching the slight midnight breeze that moved about them both, while the metal of the gun in his hand glinted in the light emanating from the open doorway behind Holmes.
"What you have undertaken so far can be ascribed to Crime Passionnel," the consulting detective stepped forward, his eyes never leaving the sallow, thin faced chevalier. "The courts would…"
A slender hand rose up to stop his words, the youthful nobleman taking up the line, "Take heed…show me leniency...give me mercy…" He nodded, as he paused. "Yes, Monsieur, I know. I know all that. People will be kind, affaires de coeur and all that…but they will not give me what I want. What it is I finally know I must have..."
"And yet cannot have," Holmes said, his tone firm but not unkind.
A pair of black eyes found him in the moonlight, the momentary flash of anger and defiance dying almost as rapidly as it had appeared. "And yet cannot have," he agreed quietly. "And given that, what have I to lose?"
"Everything!" Holmes flared unexpectedly. "You have a privileged life! A gifted mind and great talent! You could be spoken of in the same breath as Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Raphael!"
"Sad, lonely men all…" the noble artist countered quietly. "Geniuses to be sure, and you are generosity itself in your comparisons…but they were all pained beyond measure, pouring that pain into their work, and hiding behind it."
"They found fulfilment in their art…their work…" Holmes countered, walking parallel to him, and falling into his pacing movements.
"They found but temporary respite." The other man shook his head. "No true peace. Perhaps, they were stronger than I and could face that life…or perhaps they were merely too selfish or scared to face something truly greater than themselves. I thought I wanted their life - that my art was everything, but I discovered too late that it was not. That it was not enough. Not nearly enough. Discovered it and did so…too late…far too late.
"Life mocks us at every hands turn, Monsieur le Détective, and never more cruelly than when we open ourselves to its utmost experiences. It mocked me by placing another in my path just as I had finally found it…" This time the fire in his eyes flared, and was sustained, his voice growing louder and more vehement. "One who did not deserve as I deserved, who did not feel and express as I did…who could never give as much as I could…and yet still I lost! And it drove me to…if it had been to someone better…someone worthy…maybe…maybe then…but…I could not allow it…I could not…"
He frowned to himself, his voice dying in his throat as he looked down at his pale hands, paler still in relief against the gun he held in them. He stared at them with widening eyes, seeming to see something that was not there. "Still…" he murmured, raising his head slowly to gaze out at the glittering city state laid before them, "it is done. Or almost so."
"No." Holmes took a step towards him, only to stop when his companion whirled to face him, crouching with his gun poised and ready. The detective straightened slowly. "End this now," he said quietly. "There is no need for more of this. Do not compound it further!" His eyes softened in the half light, as his words became more fervent. "Step back from this…this is folly! Do not let your passions rule you further. Take control; rule them! Time heals, and you will find that work is the best antidote to sorrow…Paul…there will be others…"
In times to come, Holmes would reflect on and recognise the true folly of his words, but at this time, the gaunt features before him merely resolved themselves into an almost bemused expression.
"Others?" He cocked his head quizzically, staring protractedly at the tall Englishman who had uncovered his actions, until, for once, Holmes was the one discomfited by a piercing gaze that was ended only by a question. "Have you never loved, sir?"
The words hung there between them, as Holmes's silence seemed to expand to fill the night air.
"Ah…" The young man smiled at him a little sadly, the sympathetic air that had been the purview of the pursuer now manifesting itself in the eyes of the pursued. "I see. Then how can I expect you to understand? How could you ever truly understand?"
It seemed a strange way to end such a conversation, never mind a life. So much so, that it took Holmes a full second to realise that that was indeed its conclusion. A second he did not have, as the young man's eyes left him and turned to the world beneath his feet one last time, before stepping from the parapet to hurtle to the ground far below, and leaving the detective to grasp only at air.
20th September, 1889
"Who is it Helen wants us to meet again?" Watson asked, fiddling at his tie pin which refused to stay straight, as the hansom cab he and his wife Mary were in turned down from Hyde Park and onto Oxford Street, making its way down to Frascati's for their luncheon appointment. The doctor muttered under his breath, as once again the silver tie pin he wore tugged to the right, despite his best efforts to set it straight.
"I believe his name is Captain Edwards, dearest," she replied, turning to him, and after making a few subtle movements, securing the errant tie pin. "William Edwards...I think he is in the cavalry."
"Ah..." He shot her a look of thanks, and checked on their progress down the busy thoroughfare. "And why are we meeting him?"
"Because, she likes him, and as I believe she put it, has no male relatives whose estimation of others she would give the slightest credence to. Therefore, she felt it imperative to consult the opinion of her dearest advisor and friend," she replied, giving him a warm smile. "She trusts your judgment, darling, and no doubt just needs some reassurance that she is not blundering into a profound error in agreeing to see this man."
"The first being her attachment to Holmes, I take it." He shook his head slowly, thinking on the unforeseen events of the last year, before looking back at his wife the implication of her words finally permeating. "She's agreed to see this man? They're courting! So soon? But what about...that is to say...I thought she was still fond of…how can she…" he stumbled, before frowning. "This is deucedly quick, isn't it?"
"I suppose..." Mary agreed with a sigh. "She met him a few weeks ago, and spent a great deal of time with him while we were away. Her last letter was full of how kind, generous, thoughtful, and...exuberant, I think was the word, he is."
"But..." he turned to face her as they sat side by side, "dash it all, Mary, this is damnably awkward for me! First of all, she never said a word to Holmes! I thought something was to be said about her withdrawing from his company? Instead, there's been no communication, and since our return, while he's been talking about asking her accompany him to a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic when they arrive, I've been putting him off by telling him she's caught up at home!" he huffed. "An excuse that is wearing rather thin I have to say. I realise Holmes was not courting Helen, Mary, but still, he's my closest friend and I'm keeping secrets from him or rather endeavouring to! And now, I'm expected to approve some fly by night horse jockey?" He folded his arms, and scowled in a rare show of aggravation.
His wife sighed again and patted his hand. "I am sure there is an explanation...she has been a little vague with me in her communiqués on how it has all come to pass," she admitted, frowning a little as well. "She did mean to tell Sherlock at the opera they attended together that she would be distancing herself from him and why, but as you know he upped and left well before intermission." Her face grew more pensive. "Come to think of it, she did start mentioning this Captain soon after...do you think she met him there?"
"I'm sure I have no idea!" her husband complained. "All I got out of Holmes later was that he was called away and had to make immediate haste to Cadiz, and had to leave her there. I was full sure she would've told you it all! But if she did meet this Edwards or whatever his name is that night, well it's a foolish move on her part if you ask me!"
Her eyebrow arched a little at her husband's words. "Why is it foolish? She deserves some happiness, John, and being left constantly to fend for one's self by someone who does not feel for you the way you do for them can hardly be construed as wise, now can it? I think she would have said more to me at the time...but..." She glanced down for a moment as a wave of sadness washed through her. "She was awfully worried about me...and you know she does not like to burden others..."
Relaxing slightly, he took her hand, squeezing it gently. "Of course, I know that full well, and I appreciate her concern for your well-being enormously. I don't mean to impugn her in any way. But the fact of the matter is, Mary, this is an awful mess. You say she was in love with Holmes, and knew he was not with her. She designed to tell him she was withdrawing from him so as to avoid awkwardness, but has not, leaving Holmes none the wiser...and we holding that secret. Now you tell me she is considering this captain, who she may have met on the very night she last saw Holmes...and even if not...very shortly thereafter. Yes, Mary, if you ask me that is foolish. To go so quickly from one you feel so much for to another…there is danger there," he pronounced with a shake of his head.
"Perhaps," she agreed, looking a touch concerned now herself. "She was very broken hearted when we last spoke of him...oh dear...I hope this is not in reaction to that. And I am sure she would have tried to speak to him in the very least...she is not the type to shuck her responsibilities so."
"No," he granted, his face solemn. "But I don't know what she was thinking inviting me to meet him. Holmes is already suspicious of my avoiding the subject of her presence. He will find out...he's Holmes for heaven's sake!" He threw his eyes up to heaven. "It is one thing for me to know and keep from him her reasons for drawing away from him, even for logical reasons, but quite another to know that I had also met and approved the man she was now seeing in his stead! Even if," he reiterated quickly before his wife could, "Holmes was not her beau. One friend slips away without a word...the other covers it up. He would be quite within his rights to close Baker Street's door in my face."
Glancing out the window and seeing they were close to their destination, Mary tried to put a bright face back on it again. "Well, she never said that you could not tell him," she hedged. "Perhaps...if all turns out well here, you can...if it comes up..."
"It is not my place, Mary," Watson replied. "You know that full well. I shall stall for time for her, but I cannot speak her part, not on such personal matters."
She nodded with a sigh. "I shall speak with her, John, and find out what is going on."
Harrumphing a little in aggrieved agreement at that, he opened the flaps of the halted hansom cab and stepped out outside Frascati's, before turning to help her down. "Don't expect me to be overly friendly with this fellow, Mary," he said to her quietly as he led her to the opened door. "This is all a trifle hasty for my taste...and in my experience, it is the manthat drives that. Exuberance, indeed." His eyes took in the surrounds as they walked into the marble halled restaurant. "I never did care for the cavalry...arrogant and flighty to a man," he finished with a sniff, setting himself into a mood of determined obstinacy.
Patting her husband's arm gently, she glanced around the restaurant, while he gave the maitre d' their names. Within moments, they were led through the spacious, cool surrounds to a table in one of the alcoves of the octagonal walls, where a much changed Helen Thurlow rose to her feet to greet them.
Mary, who had not seen her friend since she was just getting up from her sick bed, was amazed at the transformation. Gone was the quiet, morose woman who looked as though she had the weight of the world on her shoulders, and what had returned was the woman they had known, bright and smiling, cheeks ruddy with colour, and eyes positively sparkling with vitality.
"Mary, John! How good to see you!" she greeted them, taking the few steps around the table to hug her friend, and give the doctor her hand. "I am so sorry I have not stopped by these last couple of weeks...but it is an error I intend to correct at once."
"Helen." Watson took her hand and smiled, albeit a little tightly, before glancing at his wife's startled face. Admittedly, Helen did look much improved compared to the last time he'd seen her at his home during Mary's convalescence. Then, she had looked tired and piqued, but that was a common state of affairs for all there at that point. "You're looking very well," he said honestly.
"Thank you," she replied, inclining her head to him, and beckoning them to sit. "It is good to see you both looking so well too," she added, lowering herself into her chair.
"Yes," Mary responded smoothly, "we are both doing much better; the short trip away did us both some good, and since our return, I have even taken to having evening walks to get the air whenever John is not busy. I have always felt autumn to be my favourite season, and cannot wait to see the leaves change their colours."
Seating his wife first, Watson followed suit, and nodded at the waiter as he filled their glasses, before draping his napkin over his knee and leaning back a little to observe her further. "The clement weather has been a relief after the heat of July and August, I must admit. It must be pleasant down at the Twin Birches these days, though I understand you have been travelling to London a bit more of late."
Helen smiled widely, and nodded. "Yes, it is lovely at home, and I am enjoying my time there...but you are correct, I have been in London more frequently. It has been busy at my father's business, and the Foundation has just had a reception for a new sculptor that we have sponsored. I have also been fortunate enough to be escorted by Will…Captain Edwards…to an event or two that he was also attending." She glanced over, and noticed Watson's creased brow. "He is a long time friend of my cousin, Sarah Pembridge-Howley's, husband, Roger. That is how we met, in fact."
"Oh?" Watson nodded, taking in the fact that she had already been out with this man several times already as he leaned forward like a father in mid cross-examination of an errant daughter. "I see...and when was that?"
Flushing just a little, Helen did look rather like the bashful daughter in response, as she gazed shyly at the doctor. "At the opera...I was on my way to get my cloak after..." She paused for the slightest of moments. "After Mr. Holmes left, and ran into my cousin and her husband. Captain Edwards was with them, and after a small discussion on how he was having difficulty understanding the opera, persuaded me to stay and aid him in this." She paused, a moment on seeing his still stern face, and then quite suddenly rushed on, her words a nervous jumble. "He is a very kind, considerate, and sweet man, John, and I am sure you will both get along marvellously."
"At the opera?" Mary enquired lightly, laying a hand on her friend's arm to calm her now obvious nerves a little. "Isn't that a bit...well, considering what you said to me..." she trailed off as her husband looked at her and then back at their friend, nodding slowly in silent agreement.
Helen sighed, and shook her head. "I admit, I was a bit...well...wary of meeting anyone so soon, and I most certainly did not go searching for this, of that you can be assured," she appealed to them both. "However, Mary, as we also said when last we were here, I could not continue on as I had been with…Mr. Holmes." Her eyes dipped guiltily for just a moment before she raised them again. "And I was given an opportunity...a rare chance to encounter someone who genuinely interested and…" she flushed a little, a smile forming on her lips, "appealed to me."
Mary's brow furrowed even more. "But Helen...did you even speak to Sherlock?"
Helen's nascent smile dimmed considerably at that, and her eyes looked a little pained. "I tried that night... truly I did...but first the bell interrupted, and then the opera started...so I thought to have our discussion afterwards...but...he got that telegram and raced away. All I had time for was to say goodbye, and I do not think he even heard that." She straightened a little in her chair, and her next words seemed to have the faintest of a bitter edge. "I doubt he has even noticed my absence."
Watson blinked at her last words. "On the contrary, I have had to dissuade him several times from contacting you."
"Indeed?" She seemed a little surprised at that, but soon shook her head. "I...I am not angry with him, John, nor do I wish our friendship to end, but I could not wait any longer for a time that was convenient to him simply to have one discussion. To stand and wait merely for the privilege of telling someone you will no longer be standing and waiting on them is practiced idiocy. I wish to have a life of my own, and not one where I am at someone's beck and call, and I wished it to start as soon as possible." She gave them a lopsided smile that spoke of a finally accepted comfortable resignation. "I want to love and be loved in return...and he cannot give me that."
"Oh, Helen," Mary replied with a sigh. "Of course, you do...it what we all want in our lives. But...you should speak with him, if only to let him know your circumstances have changed."
A considerable amount of the stiffness went out of Watson at that exchange, and after a moment he nodded slowly. "I understand perfectly that one cannot keep waiting to inform someone who is hardly ever there for you that you can no longer be there for them. But Mary is right. It is an awkward situation, what with the intricacies of the diverse relationships between yourself, Mary, Holmes, and I. Holmes cannot fail but know that one of us knows why the other is absent, and deserves not to be kept in the dark, not just by one friend, but all three." He gazed at her kindly. "Come to Baker Street…when I am there, if it is more comfortable…let us give him all his much needed data," he beseeched, a small smile touching his lips.
She seemed to hesitate for a moment, before inclining her head. "Very well," she acquiesced. "During our next advisory meeting?"
"Yes...much overdue as it is," he agreed. "And, Helen, if it makes you feel more comfortable still, now that you have met this captain of yours, and it appears," he emphasised the word, "to be going so well. You need no longer reveal your feelings for Holmes to him in order to explain your withdrawal. To have met a gentleman and begun courting is sufficient and a more than logical reason enough for you to stop allowing Holmes to escort you."
She appeared to relax even more at that. "Very well," she replied, and for a moment, she appeared to almost ask another question, but simply frowned and took a sip of water instead.
Mary was about to enquire what was on her mind, when a pleasant tenor spoke behind them.
"My sincerest apologies! There was a slight accident on the road on my way in from Chelsea," William Edwards exclaimed, gazing at them all with a pleasant if contrite smile. "Took them a while to clear the road." Turning to Helen, his smile grew broader still, as he stepped forward and stretched out his hand with an incline of his head and a soft cavalier click of his boots. "Miss Thurlow."
Helen slipped her hand into his, her wide beaming smile speaking volumes, while its suddenness and ease catching her friends unaware and causing them to glance at one another. "Only a little late," Helen chided him with much humour. "But it merely gave us a moment to catch up, and I am very glad you are here now."
Watson watched the handsome young officer raise their friend's hand to his lips, brushing them very lightly over her gloved fingers before releasing them to turn his attention to Helen's companions enquiringly, while the doctor's face resolved itself into a slight frown as soon as he did so.
Smiling at her friends, her eyes happy in her task, she introduced them in turn. "Captain William Edwards, these are my dear friends Dr. John Watson and his wife Mary Watson. Mary, John, this is Captain Edwards."
"My compliments ma'am." William bowed to Mary, and offered her his hand. "This is a singular pleasure. Miss Thurlow has spoken of you a very great deal - all to your most extraordinary credit. I half expected an angel from her description of your deeds...and now that I see you in person, I see the comparison is not misplaced."
The blonde woman flushed deeply, but gave him her hand with a rather pleased look. "Why...thank you, Captain Edwards," she replied with a modest tone. "That is most kind of you to say...but I fear I am far from angelic in any way."
"That..." he touched his lips to her gloved hand as he had Helen's, "I most severely doubt, ma'am."
As they spoke, Watson was watching him like a hawk; the frown etched on his face. However, if William noticed it, he gave no sign as he turned to the older man. "How do you do, sir," he greeted him with an outstretched hand. "I am privileged to meet you, Doctor, not just as the author and fellow army man that you are...but also as..." He trailed off slightly. "Forgive me, Doctor, but haven't we met before?"
"Yes!" the older man moved to his feet rapidly with a snap of his fingers, the frown of perplexity on his face easing as he found he was not the only one trying to ascertain where he had seen this man before. "From the moment I saw you I've been trying to figure it out! But where in the dickens can it..." He snapped his fingers suddenly again, a smile on his face. "I know! The club! You were at my club in Grosvenor."
William gazed at him, as he nodded in realisation. "Yes! You were playing billiards!"
Helen and Mary exchanged a puzzled look, before the auburn haired woman arched an eyebrow at William. "You both go to the same club?"
Taking and shaking Watson's hand with a grin, he turned his eyes back to her. "Well, another friend of mine, Oliver Gillette, is a member there..."
"No! Young Oliver is a friend of yours?" Watson voiced with a chuckle. "He and I play poker every..." he caught himself suddenly and glanced at Mary, "once in a while," he finished hastily.
"Yes." William nodded enthusiastically. "Oliver was a year ahead of me in Cambridge...he insisted on sponsoring my membership, even though I am unsure how long I'll be here for. He kept saying it would stand me in good stead in the long term...connections and all that."
"And so it will...I'd venture..." Watson agreed. "So it will." He smiled broadly at the younger man, before suddenly remembering himself and his prior determination to be aloof, and with a slight cough moved to sit down again. "Well, do have a seat," he said, indicating the one beside Helen, and cleared his throat at having shown some over exuberance himself.
Seating himself beside her, William offered Helen another smaller, yet more intimate, smile of greeting as he picked up his napkin from his setting and unfolded it. Mary watched her friend closely as she smiled back, her demeanour shy but with that spark in her eyes once more. "So, Helen has told us that you are in the cavalry...India wasn't it?" she enquired lightly, endeavouring to converse and ascertain simultaneously.
"Indeed, ma'am." William nodded. "With the 16th Queens Own...we were based in Bombay previously, but this is the regiment's third tour of India, and we've been placed a little further north up near the northern border passes. Our headquarters is in Amristar. Been there three years now...fascinating place, India. I've been fortunate enough to have some time to travel and see it close up." The smile on his lips and the gleam in his eye grew nostalgic as he spoke.
"There is really nowhere quite like it. The sights, the sounds, the scents...a fiery orange orb of a sun lowering itself into the Ganges in the evening, the smell of spice and jasmine on the air, women singing as they cook outside their homes...the temples and mosques…the bazaars in full frantic vibrant life, snake charmers and fakirs and the most wonderful artisans, the incredibly vivid colours of the merchants' goods, silks, fruit, spices, flowers..." He paused and looked at them, dipping his head somewhat sheepishly at his own increasingly passionate tone. "Excuse me. As you might be able to tell, I'm somewhat fond of the country and its people."
"Indeed, and if the picture you paint is any indication, I can most certainly see why," Mary replied with a smile. "It sounds wonderful." She looked at her plate for a moment. "My father was also stationed in India...I barely remember it for I was very young when my father sent me home after my mother's death. But the scents you speak of do spark some memory." She flashed him a quick smile. "Perhaps someday I shall see it all again."
He nodded enthusiastically, "You must, Mrs. Watson. Everyone should. India truly is the jewel in the crown of the Empire, make no mistake. But…in the meantime, have you read Mr. Rudyard Kipling's Plain Tales From The Hills just released last year? That gives a most excellently descriptive account of life out there...and the English man and woman's place in it."
She shook her head, glancing over at her friend, who was looking rather amused but relieved at the exchange. "Not yet...but I have been rather busy of late. I will certainly add it to my list, though."
"I read it on my journey back home to England," William continued with a nod. "He's a fine young writer, and remarkably accomplished for his paltry twenty-three years. It made for a most enjoyable and recognisable read heading back home to Blighty." The smile lit upon his face once more. "I have to admit though, as much as I love India I am enjoying being home, even though I was somewhat returned here forcibly."
"Forcibly?" Watson asked curiously.
"Yes..." he admitted, "after a particularly bad incident along the border skirmish with some raiding bandits attacking the merchant trails, we were lucky enough to stumble on a trail of information that led us to Sharupak Khumar Khan...a rather notorious bandit leader with a reputation for blackmail, murder, and a host of other crimes. We took him and his cronies unawares and brought him back to Amristrar. Our regimental colonel got the fool idea that somehow this was all my doing in the to-ing and fro-ing of names in dispatches between our HQ and Delhi...and the next thing I knew I was standing in front of General Cadwalader's desk in Delhi being offered the post of his aide...and a promotion to Major at the end of that tour.
"Well...as much as I loathed the idea of pushing paper around...I liked the General and the promotion would mean that I would have a chance of a command of my own. Needless to say, as you can tell from my presence here, I took the position."
"And I dare say," Watson added, impressed despite himself, "that that fool idea of your Colonel's wasn't as foolish as you have insinuated."
"Do not sell yourself short, William," the young woman beside him insisted in agreement. "Doing what you did took a lot of skill and cunning, of that I am sure."
William's lips quirked in a small grin as he shook his head. "Really, too much fuss was made, and the trail was not a hard one to follow...certainly not anything like as twisting or puzzling the ones Helen tells me you follow with Mr. Sherlock Holmes, Doctor."
"Oh?" Watson's eyes turned to Helen, who gave her new beau another shy smile, before turning to answer the doctor.
"I mentioned to Captain Edwards a little of what you and Mr. Holmes do," she answered. "Though I think my recitations of the few cases I know were rather poor...especially the one about the hound."
"Yes! The Hound! Quite so, the Hound," William exclaimed, straightening, his blue eyes alive with such a sudden unbridled boyish zeal of an intensity that it quite took Watson by surprise and brought a helpless grin to both his own and Mary's faces…the fellow proving damnably likeable.
William stopped, and composed himself a little as the waiter approached them now that they were all arrived, and handed them their menus. When he spoke again it was with a quieter voice, almost a loud whisper, but his enthusiasm even then remained undimmed. "A marvellous tale, Doctor! And one I'm sure would make a capital book! Absolutely capital! Romance, history, villainous deeds in the most atmospheric of settings, a hellish creature...and a fascinating mystery."
Watson couldn't help but smile, as he nodded, a small chuckle escaping him. "I doubt Holmes would place importance in those factors you have given us...but yes, I rather think it will make a good story when I finally get the chance to put pen to paper. It is a rather long and involved tale, and I've had precious little time to write at all of late."
"When you next get the chance, then. It really is quite an exciting case, John," Helen agreed. "When you do publish it, I am sure you will have a rapt audience indeed."
Her advisor smiled at her, before adding facetiously. "With any luck! The royalties would always be welcome."
"Without a doubt," Helen agreed with a laugh, before taking a sip of water, and glancing down at her menu.
Watson chuckled and perused his own menu. "So, Captain, where are you staying while here on the General's service?"
"I have a room at the regimental quarters here," the officer replied. "But I plead guilty to staying at my family home in Chelsea almost as often. My mother would be greatly grieved with me if I did not...and I would rather incur the wrath of several starving Bengal tigers than my Mama's when it comes to such things. She and my sisters ensure that any and all sightings of me are treated as if I were the Prodigal Son returned. They spoil me terribly, fussing over me and providing for me." He shook his head a little. "It is quite overwhelming...and quite wonderful" he confessed confidentially.
Helen chuckled a little next to him. "They are most...devoted...to you," she concurred.
Watson immediately glanced at Mary, before looking back at Helen. "You've met them?" he asked, keeping his voice light and conversational.
She nodded, her tone full of good spirits, the smile still on her face, though it appeared to be half bewildered at the memory. "Oh yes...about a week and a half ago I was invited...well, summoned really...to a garden party with Mrs. Edwards where all four of Captain Edward's sisters were present. It was quite a...well, it was a combination of an examination and a party. Definitely an adventure...but I think it went well..."
William laughed. "Exceedingly well! My youngest sisters, Clarissa and Catherine, are now confirmed as fast friends with Miss Thurlow here. My mother throws that garden party every year to welcome in the autumn…one of her foibles," he elaborated with a shrug and a smile, shooting Helen a sympathetic look. "Though we had quite a number of guests, both she and my other sisters, Jane and Lydia, were keen to know all about this mysterious young woman their brother had asked be added to the invitees along with my friend Roger and his wife. My brothers-in-law and I could only watch in wonder at the font of information that flowed to and fro."
"I see," Mary voiced with amusement, as her friend's cheeks flushed. "Well, it is wonderful that they took to you so, Helen...and that you have such a close knit family, Captain."
"Yes," he agreed with a nod, "with five children and my mother, myself the middle child and only boy, we are as close as any family can be suppose. My father, for whom I am named, rest his soul, was a fine man - open hearted and generous to a fault, and he taught us that family and friends were everything...and just as crucially that time was not to be wasted on trivialities when there were important things to do and say. Before he died, he taught us always to be open and honest with our feelings and to be expressive." His demeanour grew a little abashed. "It has not always gone down well outside of our family, and indeed, I have often had trouble in the army because of it, but it has bonded us together wonderfully, and I could not dwell on us being any other way."
He gazed up at the married couple, his cobalt eyes suddenly knowing. "I know it must seem quite hasty to you, the speed with which I came to be...courting Helen...and the fact she has met my family so soon quite surprising, but," he glanced at Helen, "as I say, I, like my father, see little sense in putting off important things for mere convention's sake. And I felt my seeing Miss Thurlow again to be..." his voice softened noticeably, "quite important."
Mary's back slowly relaxed, the tension she felt about what this man's motive may have been melting away in his sincerity and genuine affection for her friend. And she could not help but see how pleased his words made the young woman beside him, and the affection in her as well as she reached her hand out to place over his. Perhaps this match was indeed a fortuitous coincidence.
Holding Helen's eyes for a moment, William turned back to the Watson's. "I am fortunate in that she deemed my methods bohemian rather than brazenly forward...at least enough to accede to my calling on her. Needless to say, once that happened, my family were all agog." He shook his head before his grin returned. "Just as I am to meet the two rapscallions of brothers I keep hearing about."
"Oh ho..." said Watson, who like his wife found his reservations, forced or not, starting to waver under the refreshing openness and good humour of the young man in front of him. "Then you are in for a memorable treat!" he forewarned him. "Two more imaginative and energetic young fellows, you're not likely to meet."
"They are charming boys," Mary agreed, having met them on her overnight visit at the Twin Birches shortly before her miscarriage. "I expect you will all get along quite famously."
"Knowing their penchant for all things adventurous," Watson added with a slight smirk, "I dare say Captain Edwards that you will be received with open arms, a tidal wave of questions, and quite probably an entire recreation of The Charge of the Light Brigade in miniature."
"Or saving the empire from the machinations of the evil Mr. Beans," Mary added, as Helen laughed in remembrance, "dreaded scourge of the seven seas."
William stared in mystification as Watson laughed a little louder alongside her, his memory somewhat confusingly telling him that Mr. Beans was, if he was not mistaken...one of their cats...a blink or two later and his face resolved into a anticipatory smile. "I see I shall be encountering like minded young men of good taste. And I look forward to putting the dastardly Mr. Beans in his place...nine lives upon his seven seas or no."
As Helen squeezed his hand warmly, the waiter returned to their table to take their orders.
"Well," Watson said, turning to Helen as the cab he had hailed drew up outside Frascati's for he and Mary, "my thanks again, dear lady, for a most enjoyable luncheon." Taking her hand, he kissed it lightly with a smile. "The company as always was first class."
She smiled happily at the doctor. "And thank you for coming. It was wonderful to see you once more," she returned, before turning to his wife. "And we must see each other soon, promise?"
Mary laughed and hugged her friend. "Of course! Next week, most certainly," she replied, before stepping back to her husband's side.
Watson regarded Helen once more, glancing from her companion to her, and trying not to let any slight agitation show, the subject of his best friend once more on his mind. He had hoped to mention it to her further, try and flesh out who was to say what to him and when, but with Captain Edwards still there it was impossible to do so...he would have to wait and catch her when she came to visit Mary next. So, with a quick inhalation and another smile, he held his hand out to the young officer, who took it immediately. "A pleasure, Captain Edwards," he said truthfully, even if a small part of him still felt it a betrayal of sorts to do so. "I am sure we shall meet at the club one of these evenings."
"I'll count on it, Doctor," William replied, shaking his hand firmly. "I fully intend to match you at Billiards given half a chance...can't let the infantry get the upper hand, you know," he added with a grin.
Despite himself, as it had proven all afternoon, Watson chuckled. "On that we shall see, Captain...we shall see."
On releasing Watson's hand, William turned to Mary and extended his own to her with a slight bow. "Mrs. Watson, ma'am. It has been a most charming privilege, and one I hope to have the honour of again soon."
Taking his hand, she smiled, and inclined her head. "Of that I have no doubt," she returned. "It was good to meet you, Captain Edwards."
"Ma'am," he said again, bowing over her hand and releasing it. "A safe journey home to you both."
Nodding his thanks, Watson turned to Mary and helped her up into the cab before climbing in after her. "Enjoy the rest of your afternoon," he told them from his seat, still finding it somewhat odd to see another man save Holmes by her side. Sitting back, he gave the cab driver instructions and with a wave they departed, leaving the new couple on the pavement watching them off.
As their cab merged with the traffic, the broad red tunicked chest of William Edwards deflated slightly and with a loud exhalation, he turned to Helen with a lop-sided quizzical smile. "Well Miss Thurlow?" he asked. "What say you? Did I pass muster? Or am I to be sent to the barracks?"
"Well...I think perhaps it's safe to say..." She drifted off, an enigmatic look on her face as she watched the traffic go by.
His quizzical look increased as she faded off. "Safe to say?" he prompted gently.
She turned and smiled widely at him, a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "Oh...that I think your concerns may be put to rest," she confirmed.
"My dear Helen," he lamented, reverting to her first name now they were alone, with a half sigh half chuckle as he shot her a lightly reproving glance, "one should never agitate a man's nerves so, especially so soon after lunch...it could make a chap quite queasy!" And making a rather sickly face, he rubbed his stomach in an effective piece of acting.
She chuckled and took his arm. "Fear not...they liked you, of that I am sure of. So, William, must you return to the General or are you free for a little longer?"
Looking down at her hand on his arm, his smile increased with pleasure at the natural way she had simply reached out to take it without his proffering it for the first time. His voice was quiet and resonated with that same contentment as he looked from her hand to her. "I believe I may be free for a little while longer," he murmured.
Her face was bright, as gazed at him. "Would you be averse to taking a walk with me, then? I must return home later, and it would be good to stretch my legs before sitting on a train."
He frowned and sighed theatrically at the thought. "If one must...one must," he replied, arching an eyebrow at her. "Where shall it be, miss?"
"That, I leave in your very capable hands, Captain," she answered with a laugh.
With a slightly disorientated expression, he gazed up and down Oxford Street before brightening in decision. "Would a stroll around Hyde Park be acceptable?" he ventured. "We could purchase some bread from the vendors to feed the ducks, and go and learn the infernal error of our ways at the feet of those oh so wise men perched on Speaker's Corner?"
"That sounds perfectly acceptable," she agreed, her smile warm as she gazed up into his blue eyes.
With a nod, he guided them back up towards Marble Arch, moving along the busy street at a leisurely pace. "So..." he mused, "now that I have won over your good friend and her renowned husband. I must begin to strategise for the storming of your mother and brothers' good auspices." A moment later, he leaned towards her. "Might one ask for an advantage or two?"
"Well..." she mused with a light frown. "They love anything to do with the sea...pirates...Robin Hood...and soldiers. Does that help?"
"Hmm..." he thought aloud, "soldiers...soldiers...you know, I might be able to do something with that. Though it will be a stretch, of course."
She nodded seriously, though her eyes twinkled up at him as she replied drolly, "Yes, I simply don't know how you will manage."
He smiled ahead of him, enjoying how she joined in his style of humour and moved her hand a little closer to his side in acknowledgement of that fact. "And your mother?" he asked a little more seriously.
She considered her words carefully, before replying, "My mother values honesty above all other virtues. She has this almost uncanny ability to see inside a person and know exactly what they are thinking and what their intentions are..." She paused for a moment. "She was always intuitive...but after her...illness...she became more so." She gave his arm an affectionate squeeze. "Simply be yourself, William...and she will be as fond of you as I am."
His head turned to her immediately on her final words, his eyes widening slightly at such an open admittance.
Realising what she had said, her cheeks flushed into a deep rose, but she did not take her words back. She had grown extremely fond of him, and though it had surprised her at how quickly, she was not one to shy away from such emotions when they presented themselves.
Sighing to herself, she was again forced to acknowledge both Mary and John's worries that perhaps she was proceeding too quickly. After all, it had only been just weeks earlier when she was smitten...no...in love with…John's partner, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And in truth, part of her still was. One simply did not divorce oneself from their feelings, especially not such strong ones as those, no matter how hard they tried. But she had grown to care for William, and indeed her affection was increasing more and more every day.
Instead of glum and lovelorn, she awoke each morning with optimism and the promise of vivid blue eyes and a contagious smile, and the acknowledgement that he really was a more suitable and realistic choice than the detective from Baker Street had ever been. And so she had pursued this new relationship with a vigorous eagerness that even she did not realise that she possessed, and had managed to all but put Mr. Holmes right out of her mind.
So much so, she had forgotten that she still needed to have a resolution of sorts with him. Her behaviour had not been well there, and he was, even after all of this, still a dear and trusted friend, and was owed an explanation. She had not meant to ignore him so, nor leave John and Mary in a state of limbo there...no...she needed to speak with him, and soon. So as to rebuild their friendship and so that she could fully move on.
"Well..." William said, his voice warm with a barely constrained happiness at her words, as he looked away to spare her the further embarrassment of his staring, "if there are better words to give a chap courage existing in the English language, I can't say I've heard them." Puffing out his chest slightly, he raised his chin. "I shall sally forth onto the field of familial affection and do battle bravely..." His blue eyes blinked. "That is, once I've received an invitation to visit the battlefield of familial affection..." He blinked again. "Not that I am pressing you for one, of course!" he added hastily, a flush almost as scarlet as his tunic spreading over his face, and wincing slightly at his lack of tact, he took to staring at his feet.
She too had blushed a little at first at his suggestion, but then slowly began to smile anew as he stammered very much like her in such a situation, and whereas it was mortifying in herself, she found it was exceptionally endearing in him. "Well...I am afraid that I have a few work and other obligations in London over the next weekend or two...and my brothers already have an outing with a neighbour's children planned...perhaps...three weeks from Saturday? If you are able to come, of course."
He turned his head a little, his long hair falling a little over his forehead slightly as his still bowed head moved, the beginnings of a new smile cutting through the embarrassment. "I believe I will be able to accept...and most happily too, thank you for the invitation, Helen."
"You are very welcome," she demurred with an incline of her head, placing her other hand on his arm as well, as she turned her head back toward their destination.
Raising his head a little, he gazed at her once more. "You are sure your mother will be happy to receive me? What I mean to say is, though you said she was still not wholly comfortable with strangers and that you are in fact her de facto guardian while she is convalescing, and by all rights I should have called upon her to ask her permission to call upon you, will she be happy to receive me after the fact? Courting her daughter as I am without her formal permission?"
She squeezed his arm again, this time in reassurance. "I have three weeks to prepare my mother for the daunting proposition of you calling on the house." Her tone teased him a little. "That is plenty of time for her. As for the protocols...I am sure she will understand, and indeed, she was not at all upset when I discussed with her your proposition and what my answer would be. She knows she is not readily available to ask, and has left the matter in my hands. After all, as she put it, I'm overseeing an international company and two foundations...if I cannot manage my own personal affairs then I had no business doing the former." She glanced up at him with a chuckle. "I told you she was quite perceptive."
"Indeed," he nodded robustly, "she rather sounds as if she would be most capable of running said company and foundations herself!"
She nodded herself at that. "Oh yes, without a doubt...if it interested her to do so. But she has little to no interest in business or in the practices and law that surround it. She has helped me plan a few luncheons...but prefers to stay in the country and do her charitable work."
He laid his black leather gloved hand over hers. "All the same, you must be overjoyed at the progress she has made these past twelve months. It was an amazing thing to come out of such tragic circumstances."
"Yes...I shall never forget it," she agreed, her mind drifting back to the events of those days, and a sad shadow crossed her face before she shook her head a little and turned back to him. "And it is wonderful how she has responded...and how she progresses more each day. I thank heaven every day for my mother being returned to me...and that my mother and father could make peace before he died."
He considered this with a small nod of his head. "It is a sad thing when a love as strong as the one that you described to me is thwarted by weakness. I dare say had they been attacked by outside forces trying to tear them apart they could have withstood anything. Invariably, as Shakespeare seems to observe in his plays, it takes something weak inside oneself to destroy such a bond...jealousy, greed, vanity."
"Quite," she agreed, her voice soft, and frowning just a little, turned her head, her mind unwillingly moving back to the man who had won her heart, but refused to see.
"My own parents had such a bond. They were inseparable," he continued. "When my own father died suddenly, just after I left for Sandhurst, my mother was nearly inconsolable...we feared for her for a time. It wasn't until my uncle, a lawyer and the executor of my father's will delivered to her a letter he had written years before to her in case he passed on before she...that she began to rally." His head dipped. "She never told us what he said, and I doubt she ever will...but I can guess." He smiled to himself at the thought.
"I suppose that is the kind of bond myself and my sisters aspire to and…on reflection…given our natures, are predisposed to. A bond that is deep and abiding. We have fiercely loyal natures us Edwards, one and all...once we give our affection, it is not easily taken back," he informed her, before chuckling self effacingly. "We are like a family of human limpets, and I'm afraid you have been adhered to by us all."
A laugh bubbled forth from his walking companion at those words. "Oh my...well, loyalty and attachment are most certainly virtues that are dear to me...however, I shall have a hard time wiping that particular image from my mind when I next meet your mother and sisters." She shook her head a little, and laughed again softly.
"Yes...I dare say you will." His own laugh joined hers before he frowned a moment later, and swallowed. "Please don't mention it to them...my sisters en masse, as dear as they are, when riled terrify the life clear out of me."
"Oh, never fear! I should not like to be the one to tell them either," she agreed with another laugh at his playacting. "It shall be our secret...but you will now know why I start chuckling and look rather odd at the next visit."
He grinned broadly. "Very well, it shall be our little secret," he pronounced, glancing down at her, his affection clear in his eyes once more. "The first of many I hope," he murmured, before drawing a quick breath, and not allowing that thought to prolong itself and cause her embarrassment. "And perhaps I might be permitted to show you one of my own...a boyhood one, next time you are free for another constitutional in London?"
Her eyebrows rose as she gazed up at him. "I must admit I am intrigued," she admitted after a moment of surprise, her curiosity piqued. "What kind of secret?"
His eyes glinted mischievously as he stared resolutely ahead of him. "Are you free in five day's time to walk with me in the vicinity of Regent's Park?"
One eye narrowed as she pursed her lips, as though suspiciously considering it, but she already knew what her answer would be...and she knew he knew it too. "I might be able to..." she replied slowly.
"Oh?" the amusement danced in his eyes, as he leaned his head closer to her. "Then, dear Helen, I just might be able to show you."
Authors' Notes: Welcome back, all! Now hopefully everyone has seen the poster (thank you, Wens!)...and there will be more (think we have one or two others...), and everyone is all excited to start this next tale. Again, I want to thank everyone who read and/or reviewed our other stories, and would also again like to recommend if you have not...that you may wish to, as this is a continuation of An Unforeseen Occurrence. No pressure or anything, we just don't want anyone confused. Also, my illustrious co-author would like me to point out that this chapter is dated before the Epilogue of Unforeseen...so keep that in mind as well.
So what is there to come from us in this story? Well, currently it's running about ten chapters long, it has a mystery (though you may be surprised who's POV it is in), and as usual...we follow the canon and shall mention it frequently (if not delve in feet first). Now if anyone has any questions at anytime, feel free to drop us an email or head over to my livejournal (aerynstales is my user name). I frequently answer questions there or put up art.
So sit back and enjoy, and feel free to let us know what you think! Hugs! - Aeryn (of aerynfire)