A/N: Note to Viola, there is a spoiler alert in this chapter for one of Conan Doyle's stories. Since you're reading through his Sherlock Holmes stories, I thought you should know.
Special thanks to Gleena for recommending my stories! This chapter is dedicated to you.
It was nearly a fortnight before Dr. Cullen and I were summoned to Holmes' rooms in Baker Street. I'd visited Cullen's lodgings previously to give Emily her doll back. She was quite happy to receive it, and clutched it to herself, running over to the fireplace to sit before the fire, patting its head and talking and singing to it as if it were a valued friend.
"It's a good thing you've done, Dr. Watson," Cullen's housekeeper told me, tears in her eyes. "I've not heard her sing since she came."
The lady, Mrs. Carmichael, hadn't wanted to let me in as her employer was at work that evening. She warmed up considerably when I told her that I was an associate of Sherlock Holmes who'd been hired by Cullen to find little Emily's mother.
I left my best regards for Dr. Cullen and decamped, my heart and step lighter than it had been before I arrived.
The afternoon when Holmes' summons occurred was a cold one. Snow began to fall that morning and continued intermittently all day. I arrived first and found Holmes at his window, playing his violin as he gazed out on the street below.
"Watson, good, you're here. Do sit down," he enjoined me, sparing me barely a glance as he continued to play.
Used to his ways, I took off my coat and hat and hung them on the rack by the door. Mrs. Hudson had delivered a pot of tea which was steaming on the table. Without standing on ceremony I poured myself a cup.
"What are you playing?" I asked curiously. The music was unnerving.
"Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain," came Holmes' reply. "I thought it appropriate."
I shrugged. My friend's taste in music was incomprehensible.
"Ah," Holmes removed his bow from the strings. "Here's Cullen."
He tapped the glass with his bow and waved, staring intently downwards, then he smiled grimly and stepped back.
"He's on his way up," he announced unnecessarily.
I nodded absently, sipped my tea and wished for cake.
A knock on the door and Mrs. Hudson's "Dr. Cullen to see you Mr. Holmes," preceded the gentleman into the room.
"My dear sir, take off your coat!" Holmes ordered and strode over to assist him, shaking snowflakes from the garment onto the rug, and hanging it up next to mine. He sat him at the table next to me and insisted he pour himself some tea.
Cullen did so, took a large gulp of it, and looked at Holmes searchingly.
"What have you found out? The suspense is killing me."
My friend's lips twitched in a way that usually denoted humor, but surely not in this case! Cullen's statement was nothing to laugh about. Holmes sobered soon enough and sat in his armchair facing us across the table.
"I'm afraid it is bad news, very bad indeed." He hunched forward in his chair, set his elbows on the armrests and rested his chin on his clasped fist. "Mrs. Peterson has been murdered."
Cullen set his teacup down, eyes tormented. "I suspected as much when I didn't hear from you for days. How did she…?"
"A knock on the head I believe. Either that or drowning, for the murderer threw her body into the Thames. I found a fragment of green wool material on a dock down by the river."
"See here, Holmes. How do you know it belonged to Mrs. Peterson? I'm sure there are lots of women walking about in green wool," I objected. I didn't want it to be true.
"The wool was located on a dock across the street from where I believe the murderer is hiding. It is the worst area of the Thames, and I regret to say that Mrs. Peterson's is not the first body to be disposed of at that site."
"But why?" Cullen broke out. "Why kill her? What had she done to deserve such a fate in the eyes of her killer?"
Holmes leaned back suddenly in his chair.
"What does any innocent victim do? Does evil really need a reason?"
"You are waxing philosophical, Mr. Holmes," Cullen told him reproachfully. "I need to know the reason."
"Yes," Holmes agreed thoughtfully. "You do. Here it is then. Mrs. Peterson is not the only victim in this story. Her husband and many others perished first."
"I know about the shipwreck that took his life," Cullen said impatiently.
"Not a shipwreck," Holmes corrected. "It was murder. The shipping company that owned the ship has been in financial difficulty for years now. They, or rather the owner of the company, decided to collect the insurance on the ship that Mr. Peterson served on. With the collusion of the captain and the second mate, they sent the ship off course during stormy weather, made sure another ship saw them headed into dangerous waters, then murdered the rest of the crew, including Peterson, and took the ship to a foreign port. There it was repainted, altered architecturally, and sold. The company collected the insurance money, claiming the ship was lost at sea. They also pocketed the purchase price of the ship itself, with no one the wiser until now."
"I don't understand, why kill Peterson's widow?"
"The guilty flee when no man pursueth," quoted Holmes. "Peterson was a faithful letter writer. Watson and I found the packet of letters he wrote his wife when he was at sea. The captain evidently thought that Peterson was suspicious of him, and so when he came back to England incognito, he and his henchman, the second mate, kept an eye on her, hence Mrs. Peterson's sense that a 'malevolent presence' was watching her. They knew of Peterson's letters of course, and were waiting for a chance to steal them in case Peterson had written anything that incriminated them."
"Letters?" Cullen echoed.
Holmes nodded. "The letters themselves were innocuous. Peterson wrote of his dislike of the captain and the distrust that existed between them, but there was nothing definitive. It was Mrs. Peterson's misfortune that she recognized the captain on the street that day. Among the letters was a photograph of Peterson and his crewmates dressed in costume at some sort of holiday event. The captain wore a false beard. He's grown a real one that looks remarkably similar. Mrs. Peterson saw him and recognized her husband's formerly clean-shaven boss. She walked across the street to confront him. He pulled her into an alley, struck her, and got her into a carriage before she could tell anyone that she'd seen a 'ghost' from her husband's ship."
"The blow killed her immediately?" Cullen asked.
Holmes nodded. "I expect so. Had she lived, the captain and his second mate would have tortured her until she told them where she'd hidden her husband's letters. As it were they broke into her flat and searched it without finding them."
"Holmes found them," I interjected. "But where is the captain now?"
"He's alone in hiding in a rooming house near the Thames."
"And the second mate?" I asked, anxious that both should be caught and brought to justice.
Holmes stared intently at Cullen. "He died in a traffic accident, run over by a cart," he said slowly and deliberately.
Cullen broke eye contact and looked away.
"So, Cullen, what is it you'd like to do?" he asked the doctor quietly.
I stared from one to the other, not understanding the sudden tension in the air.
"Why, we must call on Scotland Yard to apprehend the man, of course!" I answered for Cullen. What else was there to do?
"Yes," Cullen agreed, raising his eyes once again to meet Holmes's penetrating gaze. "Let Scotland Yard capture him."
Silence reigned in 221 B Baker Street for a long moment, then Cullen stood.
"Thank you, Mr. Holmes. I shall arrange to have my bank transfer your fee before I go."
"Go?" I repeated blankly.
"I've decided to take Emily to her relatives in America. I've been wanting a change for some time now, and Chicago would be a new start for the both of us."
"My dear fellow," I exclaimed, rising from my chair. "Saint Thomas's loss will be Chicago's gain. I know Aubrey will regret your going immensely. He has only the most complimentary things to say of you."
Cullen looked embarrassed. "I'm sure I will miss all my colleagues at the hospital, and you too, Dr. Watson. Emily has not stopped playing with her doll since you brought it by. It is a great comfort to her."
Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. "Think nothing of it, my dear chap."
Holmes stood at last and brought Cullen his coat.
"I'm only sorry it took me so long to solve the case," he told him. "I had to go undercover to find out how much the ship was insured for, and to locate the captain of course. I also needed to use my contact in the government for information on ships and travel." He held up Cullen's coat so that the man could shrug into it. "The British government keeps closer watch over the comings and goings of its citizen-travelers than you might imagine."
Cullen froze for a moment, then turned with a smile. "Is that so, Mr. Holmes?"
Holmes thrust out his hand to shake.
"Godspeed, Dr. Cullen."
Looking a little dazed at so sudden a dismissal, he shook the great detective's hand and made his way out the door.
"Holmes?" I asked after the door was closed. "Whatever did you press into his hand as he left?"
I'd seen a brief flash of white in my friend's palm just before he shook Cullen's hand.
"Oh that?" he explained artlessly. "I gave him my business card. Now, what do you say for some shepherd's pie? I've a sudden urge for warmth and the conviviality of a crowded English pub."
I blinked at the change in topic, but agreed. Life was never predictable with Sherlock Holmes for a friend.
I took the small white business card out of my pocket and looked at it again.
"Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective."
I flipped it over and looked at the message scrawled on the back.
"London Bridge, 6:30 in the morning."
So here I was, leaning over the wrought iron railing on the quay at the side of John Rennie's bridge, staring down at the grey water of the Thames. I'd stopped by Saint Olave's on my way, pausing to stare up at its hallowed, ancient stonework. Holmes had paused here as well after we'd alighted from our hansom cabs in front of Saint Thomas's Hospital when he took Emily to the scene of her mother's abduction. I wondered if he'd done it on purpose, to see if I'd shy away from so prominent a Christian landmark. I hadn't, of course. I still kept my father's wooden cross from the vicarage where I'd grown up. I planned to take it with me to America too.
The bridge was already in use, though not as busy as it would be later in the day. I stared moodily at its underpinnings, the large stone pontoon-shaped bases anchored the downward strokes of the series of arched stone, which supported the roadway above. Bits of ice floated by beneath the arches. The water would be bitter cold to a human.
"Remembering the old bridge?" asked Holmes as he came up alongside and leaned his elbows against the iron railing.
I smiled briefly. John Rennie's bridge replaced the old medieval one near sixty years ago. I've been able to pass for a man in his late twenties, early thirties if I pushed it.
"The frost fair, actually." I said and felt him start in surprise beside me. I chuckled inwardly. "I never saw it myself, you understand. My grandfather told me stories of when the river froze solid under the old bridge. There were archery contests and dances held right there," I nodded toward the river. "In later years when the river froze people would set up booths and stalls, and there were even horse races. I was gone from England by then, so I missed seeing this bridge being built, but I understand that because of its design, the Thames no longer freezes solid hereabouts. I've missed much in my time away from England."
"Ah." Holmes digested this, then got to the point.
"What are you? You're not human," he stated with certainty.
"How do you know?" I was curious, not confrontational.
Holmes looked at me and held my gaze unflinchingly. He was not without courage, this detective.
"You forget to breathe sometimes. When you entered the hansom cab it sank lower than it should have for a man of your weight. The only other time I've seen a hansom sink like that on its axles was a case where I was accompanying a circus strongman, a gentleman of solid muscle and a great deal bulkier than you. Snow does not melt on you. I noticed that yesterday when I brushed some on your neck from off your coat when I took it from you. Your hands are cold. While Watson might attribute that to a warm heart, I do not. You also chose a job that keeps you inside during the daylight hours. You said that you found Mrs. Peterson's cousin's address, yet her landlord swore that you'd never been in her apartment. I found the paint chips where you wrenched open her window to search her flat for her address book, a window located at the top of the building with no ledge and no marks from pitons or mountain climbers' shoes – which is the only other way a person could have entered that window, since there's no access from the roof."
"And your conclusion?" I asked blandly. The leap from street level to window had been a gamble I was willing to risk in order to find Emily's kin.
Holmes struck his hand against the railing, stepped back from it and gave a bark of laughter.
"I've predicated my career on one immutable axiom, that when all the facts are collected, the theory that fits them all, when you've eliminated the impossible, must be the truth, however improbable it may seem. You sir, are the impossible. Your physiological idiosyncrasies and habits argue that you are not human, but what you are…ah therein lies the rub. Watson chides me for my lack of interest in current literary trends. I've never been interested in tales of the occult, except in debunking the tricks of charlatans, but I am at a loss to describe you."
"I think you already know," I told him. "That's why you've been testing me."
I turned my back to the bridge and faced him.
"You noticed that I didn't eat or drink when we first met. I surprised you when I ate the chestnuts later that day, admit it."
Holmes nodded, brow furrowing. "Yes."
"And the stop at Saint Olave's church?"
"That too was a test."
"And yesterday, when you asked me what I wanted to do about the captain?"
Slowly Holmes nodded. "You were seen leaving the scene of the second mate's accident. I had to know how far your need for vengeance went."
Sighing, I leaned against the railing, careful not to break it.
"I didn't kill that man, but it was a near thing. I live with constant temptation. So far I have been able to resist." I stared at my shoes. This was the first time I'd confided my struggle to a living breathing person.
"Then I ask again, what are you?"
I looked up, startled by Holmes' soft laughter and a look of fierce triumph on his face.
"Then it is as I surmised. My foray into the world of fiction has not gone unrewarded."
Thinking of the vampire fiction I'd read in recent years I shuddered. "Rymer and Polidori got it wrong," I told him. "I may be pale, but I do not have fangs!"
"I know," Holmes informed me dryly. "I looked."
And just like that the tension between us broke and I laughed.
"There is still the matter of your diet," Holmes reminded me quietly, but in a friendly tone.
"Animal blood, I drink from animals. Blood is the only thing my body will digest."
"Then I apologize for the chestnuts."
I laughed again. It was a strangely freeing experience, being able to talk about what I was to a man who was not fleeing in terror. I believe Sherlock Holmes was the only human on the face of the earth who could process the information with such calm equanimity.
"You're forgiven," I told him lightly. "I take it you didn't tell Watson of your suspicions?"
"I don't tell Watson everything, you know. I don't think he'd take it well, and I don't believe the case of the missing widow will ever make it into print. He would not publish any case without my say so, and that I shall never give."
Holmes' look of determination decided me. Here was a man that I could trust. I felt compelled to warn him as obliquely as possible, of the Volturi.
"I'm very glad of that. I'm a doctor now. I save lives instead of taking them, but not all of my kind are that way, and if they thought the secret of their existence was in danger they would not scruple to kill anyone they felt was a threat."
"There are more of you in England?"
I shook my head. "That I don't know. I haven't encountered any, but apart from visiting my hunting lodge in the country and the odd errand to my banker or solicitor, I remain mostly in Southwark. My work and my home are there."
"In Italy then."
Startled, I stared at Holmes. "How did you…?"
"You sound like Watson," he told me. "I have a brother in the government who traced you back to Italy, but could find no records of you prior to your enrollment in medical school. Italian medical schools are decent but lack the reputation of say, the Sorbonne or Edinburgh's medical school. Why study there unless it was a safe place to be?"
"Please," I begged. "Don't let your brother dig any further into the matter. If the others realize what he's up to…"
"Mycroft has moved on to other things. Besides, he wouldn't believe in vampires if one kissed him on the neck."
"I see you've been reading Sheridan Le Fanu as well," I sighed, thinking of the melodramatic and strikingly disturbing tale of Camilla.
"You ought to be grateful," Holmes pointed out. "The more melodramatic, the less likely people are to take vampiric stories seriously. As for me, my stand shall always be that vampires are an absurd myth. I deal in facts and nothing else."
He stared at me intently, until he saw that I believed him, then held out his hand for me to shake.
The last I saw of Sherlock Holmes, he was walking away from me across London Bridge, a tall figure in a tweed coat and hat, who rapidly disappeared among the pedestrians making their way to their morning destinations.
Seven years later I had cause to remember Holmes' words when Bram Stoker's book, Dracula, was published. It caused a resurgence of interest in vampires that ultimately caused me to leave New York where I'd settled after dropping Emily off in Illinois with her family. The Thatchers were a pleasant couple with two nearly grown boys who immediately took a liking to Emily. She grew up happy and protected. I pensioned off Mrs. Carmichael so that she'd spend the rest of her days in comfort, and sold the flat and hunting lodge.
When the nurses at the New York hospital where I worked became a little too curious about me after reading Stoker's book, I moved back to Illinois, to the heart of Chicago. It was there that I met Edward. Perhaps caring for Emily the short time I had her made me yearn for a family of my own.
I swore I'd never inflict this sort of existence on anyone else, but a promise to a dying mother, and Edward's own face, pale and wracked with fever, yet fighting to live, convinced me to try.
The experiment was a resounding success. Edward was the sort of son any man would be proud of. One day in 1924 he strolled into my study and threw a magazine down on my desk on top of the medical journal I was reading. I picked up the copy of Hearst's International Magazine and raised my eyebrows.
"Will you look at this?" Edward demanded. "Even that Watson guy has written a vampire story."
I froze. So far as I knew, Holmes was still alive in England, living on a remote farm and raising and studying bees of all things. Had Watson published the case notes of Mrs. Peterson without Holmes's permission? Or had Holmes with the recklessness of age, changed his mind about forbidding Watson to publish it?
Opening the magazine, I scanned the text of "The Sussex Vampire" quickly while half listening to Edward's tirade about vampire literature in general, and Bram Stoker's version in particular.
"Castles in Transylvania?" he huffed indignantly.
Sighing in relief, I set the magazine aside.
"A wise man once told me I should be grateful for the melodramatic nature of vampire novels," I told Edward.
"Grateful?" he asked incredulously. "Why would I be grateful for that?"
"Because it makes it all the more difficult for thinking, reasoning people to believe that we exist."
"Oh." Edward's face took on a look of concentration as he assimilated the idea.
"Besides, have you actually read this story?"
"No," he stammered. "I brought it straight to you after buying it at the newsstand."
I smiled and turned to the page I wanted.
"The Sussex Vampire isn't about a vampire, it's the story of a case of attempted murder by poison. Look here," I found the passage I was looking for and read it aloud.
"Rubbish, Watson, Rubbish! What have we to do with walking corpses who can only be held in their grave by stakes driven through their hearts? It's pure lunacy."
Edward blinked. "You mean Sherlock Holmes doesn't believe in vampires?"
I felt a nostalgic smile cross my face. "I wouldn't say that exactly."
My son sat down in the armchair in front of my desk. "What aren't you telling me?" he asked.
"I met the man," I told him. "It was before you were born, in the winter of 1890. I suppose you'd call it the 'Case of the Missing Widow'…"
As I sat in my study and told Edward about my encounter with Sherlock Holmes, I remembered, dimly, my grandfather sitting much as I was, telling stories of his youth, stories his father had told him. And so it came full cycle, stories, facts, bits and pieces of our lives translated from father to son. I may have lost much in becoming a vampire, but the important things remained. I watched the rapt expression on Edward's face as I told my tale and I knew that my story about Sherlock Holmes would live on as part of my family's lore forever.
A/N: That's it. I'm not entirely satisfied with the last paragraph, but it's the best I could do. I hope I've remained true to both Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephanie Meyer's vision of their fictional worlds. If I have or haven't, feel free to let me know in your review.