A/n: Any crit is welcome.
I looked about me, almost but not quite reluctant to leave the bustling, lively street and enter the flat.
On that autumn day, my rounds had been of the most routine and unalarming nature. The pleasant conversations with patients put me in mind to spend some time writing a cheery little piece on the upsides of being a medical doctor, and I was drafting an opening in my mind as I made my way up the seventeen steps. I reached for the sitting-room door, smiling with anticipation of a quiet time of creativity, when a feminine sob punctured both the silence and my jovial mood.
I rapped timidly upon the door and pushed it partway open.
"Come in, Watson," said Holmes coolly. "There's something we must discuss, and straight away."
His figure was a stark silhouette against the fire, the edges lighted by the shifting flames. It was a formidable appearance and I only looked away to find the source of the crying. A young woman was collapsed in the armchair, sobbing most bitterly. She seemed familiar…
"Yes, Doctor, you know my name. And much more than that, it seems." Her violet eyes were a volatile mix of grief and fury. "I have come for one purpose only. I need to hear from your own lips that a certain Strand story was not about my father. "The Boscombe Valley Mystery" it was titled. Mr. Holmes says it was—but my father would never kill! Not my father, Doctor, not my father!"
"Watson, perhaps you could bring our visitor something to drink."
I hurried to oblige, though our little friend's hand was shaking so badly she could scarcely hold the brandy and soda I mixed her.
"Calm yourself, Mrs Fisher. No good ever came from being overwrought," Holmes said in his soothing way. He took a seat on the edge of the couch and leaned forward, waiting as she managed to take a little of her drink. "Once you have regained your composure, you might show Dr Watson what you allowed me to examine a moment ago. It will, I predict, remove all doubts—unfortunate as that may be."
The young lady turned reddened eyes upon me, one hand reaching into the reticule by her side. She brought forth a ball of paper.
Though much-crumpled and blotted by tears, once I'd flattened the papers on my knee it was no great hardship to discern this was indeed the story I'd sent to the Strand.
"Benjamin showed it to me this morning," Mrs Fisher whispered. "Couldn't believe our eyes. It wasn't an exact match but we saw ourselves well enough. Whether or not my father is a murderer—that means a good deal to me! So I caught the first train here. Set my mind at rest, for God's sake; tell me it isn't about us."
I could feel Holmes' grey eyes boring into me.
"It could be some outrageous coincidence, surely stranger things have happened, Doctor?" There was a forced lightness to her voice.
The clock ticked loudly.
I dragged my gaze from the sideboard to meet her pained eyes. "It…it is indeed your father I wrote about."
She leapt to her feet with a cry and began a desperate flight for the door, but Holmes caught her by the wrist. "No, Mrs. Fisher, you must sit down. You're in no state—"
"I'm in no state to be recommending your services," she cried, wrenching her hand from my friend's grasp. "First you keep my father's crime hidden from me—then you allow your friend to publish the sordid tale and finally you forbid me to suffer in private?" She trembled with emotion.
Holmes turned sharp eyes upon me. "The second point is the pith of the matter, Watson; you've unmasked a secret we swore to keep. I did not give you permission to publish this case. What do you have to say to all this?"
"I tried to protect their identity--"
"By publishing the case? Watson, honestly."
"That's not what I meant. I thought that by changing a few key details all would be well. Holmes, I even rewrote the dying man's last words, editing the bit from the newspaper to match."
"A few key details. I was beginning to think you a clever man, to be sure, and then this—a few key details? Watson, you left entire blocks of dialogue untouched! You can't expect all your readers to be as dense as you. And did you think the Fishers had some strange aversion to the Strand?"
I felt myself colour. "Can't we talk about this later, Holmes?"
He flung out his arm. "It's not me who had their breakfast spoiled, Watson! Mrs Fisher deserves an explanation. And as I have no little curiosity over what prompted such a ridiculous action, I insist you give an explanation now."
I was feeling so uncomfortably warm that, had I been alone, I would have taken off my vest and collar straight away. "It was such a fantastic case, I couldn't just lock it away. And you've let me publish so many in the past, I thought—"
"No, Watson, you assumed! You hoped, you guessed, call it what you like—it had nothing to do with your logical faculties."
Mrs. Fisher had been twisting her handkerchief violently all this time, leaning against the wall. "I don't understand, Dr Watson. You have a reputation for being a kind man. How can getting a story published mean more to you than—" she broke off, hiding her face.
"I'm so sorry, Mrs Fisher. I never meant for my writing to hurt you."
"What does that matter? What's done is done!"
"How can I make this right?"
"Not easily," Holmes said tersely. "You could possibly write to the Strand, say the whole story was just that: a complete fabrication. Lestrade and the rest at Scotland Yard know, of course, but that's no matter as long as the public is convinced."
"I'll…I'll do whatever you think is needed, Holmes."
"Perhaps we might find what the good lady thinks is needed. Mrs Fisher?"
My heart seemed to be beating in my stomach as I watched various emotions battle on our visitor's face.
"Part of me wants you to be shamed, Dr Watson," she said at last, in a surprisingly calm voice. "But that's a vile wish, worse than what my father did. And…well, maybe people do need to know what happened; there is all too little mercy in this world. At least—did it happen like that, the…the end, I mean?"
"Dr Watson recorded our final conversation with your father exactly as it happened," Holmes replied. "And may I say with sincerity, any knowledge I withheld I did so only with your best interests in mind."
"It's not for me to judge such a difficult decision," Mrs Fisher remarked thoughtfully. Though obviously ravaged by grief, she was able to keep a composed expression.
"You have made a generous decision, Mrs Fisher," Holmes said after a brief pause. "Still, you've suffered a serious shock. Are you really well enough to set out now?"
"Yes, I am quite alright. I will return home by the very next train; I must have some time to think these things over. Good afternoon Dr Watson, Mr Holmes."
Holmes saw her to the door while I remained on the couch, clutching the crumpled papers she'd never asked me to return. I dimly recalled how pleased I'd been with the clever exchanges between Holmes and Lestrade—I really thought I'd made Holmes scintillate there—to say nothing of the shocking finale. Now it was ink spatters on magazine paper.
"Are you quite through looking at that, Watson?"
"I never want to see it again."
"Then give it here."
As I placed the story in his outstretched hand, he met my eye soberly. "It seems inevitable now that what you have done will remain in the public eye. Perhaps this copy, though…" At my nod, he threw the pages into the fire and we watched them burn away.
When the last scrap was edged in amber, I asked Holmes if he wished me to stop writing.
He shoved his hands in his pockets. "This was a very bad judgment on your part, and I won't deny I was angry about it. My business is based on my reputation, Watson! On the discretion afforded the clients!"
"I know. I'm sorry, Holmes."
When at last he looked to me, his face was decided. "There should be no call for you to cease writing, as long as we use a little care. It seems prudent for me to look over your work before you send it off in future--at least until we are absolutely sure we see eye to eye."
The crackling of the fire filled the following silence; I drew my knees to my chin and closed my eyes, letting my mind drift. I dimly heard a clinking of glass and swish of liquid and supposed Holmes had absorbed himself in an experiment. When my eyes opened at the scent of brandy, I found Holmes standing before me, holding out a glass.
I drained it in one draught, then turned the glass round and round between my fingers.
"Put the matter behind you, man. Mrs Fisher said there were no ill feelings on her part."
He looked at me in perplexity before returning to the sideboard to pour himself a glass. Bringing an index down from the shelf, he took a chair and endeavored to lose himself in the pages.
He glanced at me every so often; once our eyes met and he seemed to lose his place. After a moment of fumbling he tossed the book aside and finished the brandy at a steady pace, set the glass on the floor and steepled his fingers.
I wondered what we were having for dinner; closing my eyes again, I attempted to fix my mind to the inane topic. I was in the middle of an intense vision of peas when the couch springs beside me squeaked. I jumped in surprise, turning to find Holmes settling himself on the couch and fixing his gaze ahead of him.
I said nothing; instead I studied his expression as subtly as I could. He seemed very deep inside himself, and his face, half-illuminated by the flickering light, was quite mysterious to me. So I waited, possessing my soul in patience as my friend often says.
"Watson, would you really have retracted that story?" He asked suddenly.
"It would have destroyed your reputation, you know; there was no way to do it gracefully. And you still would have done it? Dear me."
"Well I didn't want to, of course; it was a matter of principal. But do you know, Holmes, I think I've realized something."
"Ah! enlighten me."
"Until today, I thought discretion could be had by switching out certain points—but that type of point stayed the same, you understand?"
"I must agree that you changed the species and not the genus, Watson. Your substitution in disguising the cases is fairly crude. Really hiding the truth wants more than switching around an occupation or a district; some aspects must be twisted out of their form. All your artistic heart could handle was a thesaurus, and so it was easy to trace the original story."
"You have it exactly," I replied. "Although to be fair, it has never led to a problem before now."
"To be equally fair, you never tackled such a sensitive case before. If I had known you wanted to publish such a case, I'd have written you a monograph on the subject of disguising people and events. Don't look so depressed, Watson. Now you know, at any rate, and Mrs Fisher seems to have suffered no permanent damage. You do understand, don't you?"
"Yes. The privacy of your clients must come before my art, even at the cost of making changes I dislike; no risk must be taken. And I think I can do this Holmes, write more carefully I mean."
"Hm! we shall see if you hold fast. Will you start tonight?"
"Perhaps, but not just yet." I stretched my legs closer to the grate. "I'm quite content to remain here for the moment."
He turned to look at me, and I saw his twinkling eyes fully illuminated by the fire's light.