Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: partial chapter 16 of Deeper in Memory novel
Pairing: Holmes/Watson, (implied Holmes/Helen Stoner)
Warnings: hetero, slash
Twilight at the Falls
[In an earlier version, Holmes used to repeatedly call Irene "Miss Adler" instead of "Mrs. Norton," because he was sure that the wedding he had witnessed in SCAN was fake. However, I've decided that Holmes would have already discussed the illegal wedding with Helen Stoner, and so learned that there was a real wedding following the staged one at St. Monica's. So here Holmes shall refer to her as Mrs. Norton. But Irene will try to point out that she and Godfrey are using aliases because they are still hiding out from the King of Bohemia.]
Struthers pulled at him in frustration. "Dammit! First you tell me that you refuse to be seen--demanding a sworn silence from me that I still don't understand. Then you speak on and on about events and people I know nothing of, but which I'm trying to understand just to get you to cooperate with me. Now you go returning to the very place that everybody is looking for you!"
"Struthers, unhand me!" He pulled away and continued further on the path to the Falls.
She trudged after him in the hazy twilight, still glancing around uneasily. "And suppose that Watson should happen to be here, and see you, and die of apoplexy at the sight of his old friend's ghost?"
"He shan't see me," he repeated, striding onward. He gestured impatiently at the ground. "His tracks left ages ago. Since that day, he has been too overcome with police interviews and... prostrated with grief, to return again." He cut off Struthers's guilt-inspiring look by dismissing the subject of Watson once more. "Can't you tell whose tracks we're following? Haven't you any eyes at all?"
She noticed then that, faintly picked out in the soil, were the heel and toe marks of a woman's high boots. "So some village woman or tourist has come to luridly view the area's latest attraction. She'll still see you, and if she recovers from her hysterics, will report your presence to the police, the press, Watson--"
She spoke no further, for they turned around a bend to meet a woman returning down the path.
The other woman halted with a gasp, as would only be natural at the sight of the famed detective, recently reported dead. She paled considerably and stood speechless with shock; her eyes widened at both Holmes and the female figure behind him. Then the woman seemed to recover a bit, looking more narrowly and sharply at Struthers.
"You're not Helen," she virtually accused.
Struthers blinked at this most surprising statement. She was, as yet, slowly getting used to Holmes's strange, repeated references to this mysterious Helen Stoner, but for this complete stranger to know about Helen entirely startled and unnerved Struthers. She stepped forward, frowning. "No, I'm not. What of it?"
Holmes brushed Struthers aside impatiently. He did not care to explain, and his thoughts had been sparked along the old lines again by the mention of her name. He looked within himself with a kind of weariness. "Mrs. Norton," he acknowledged the other woman with a nod.
"Mr. Holmes." She still looked nervous, though. Then Mrs. Norton tentatively approached him with a frown upon her face, and poked at Holmes's arm very lightly, like a curious child. She laughed and shrugged at her own silliness. "Well, you're not ghosts at any rate. I never did believe in them except for just now when you shocked the life out of me."
"Hardly, Mrs. Norton," he said humourlessly.
Mrs. Norton answered, "Actually we're still going by the alias--"
Holmes merely ignored her comment and stepped around her as if he didn't see her. Then he continued some further yards up the path, stopping and staring at a large boulder as though fascinated by some detail there.
Both women gazed after him briefly, then looked at each other in bewilderment. Left to her own devices with this most strange puzzle, Struthers inwardly cursed Holmes. What was she going to do now, just start babbling to this Norton lady, and beg her to please, please explain this whole Helen Stoner business to her?
Finding the silence awkward, the other woman boldly took the liberty of introducing herself. She put out her hand. "Irene Adler Norton," she spoke with an American accent on her name. "Though you mustn't tell anyone that, I'm afraid. My husband and I are going by the name of Stoner right now."
"Diana Struthers," she answered, and decided not to question why the Nortons apparently needed aliases. Holmes, after all, was going by the name of Sigerson now. "You are using Helen's last name, then?"
"Yes," Mrs. Norton replied, then glanced toward Holmes for a moment, murmuring almost to herself, "Either Mr. Holmes does not know, or he does not approve." With a sigh she turned back to Struthers and explained, "Helen gave it to us, since we were in danger. Why, she even sent us a congratulatory telegram on our honeymoon, telling us to consider her name our wedding present--as if she had not already done so much for us already!" She shook her head wistfully.
"She... clearly means a great deal to you," Struthers said, then cleared her throat. "If you don't mind, Mrs. Norton, may I ask how exactly you know Helen Stoner?"
Mrs. Norton suddenly smiled, laughing. "Oh I'm an old friend of Helen's, that's all. I'm from Jersey, and we met in New York." She shrugged. "We were what you might call sisterly to each other, Helen and I, and we gave each other support and understanding at times when we both were in need of it." She looked sad again and confided more quietly, "Of course, we fought too. I kept telling her that all men were selfish cowards at the core, and she kept telling me to wait until my emotions had settled and I had a clearer mind before I believed in such generalisations. Always the one to remain rational, she was, against what she called my 'operatic' excesses of passion."
She sighed, smiling with a faraway look again. "And yet, Helen was strangely romantic too, in her own way. When I was in London, after an unpleasant experience with one of those cowards, she told me to give up my fixation upon bitterness and hatred over my past. She had the nerve to insist that I open my eyes to a certain gallant and uncondescending lawyer who had befriended me, in spite of all my troubles. I refused and stalled, thoughtlessly pointing out to her that all who loved or didn't love her had left her. She stopped speaking to me for a time, and rightfully so. Yet in the end her generosity won out enough for her to finally write back to me again." She cocked her head toward Holmes. "Helen warned me that a certain 'prince'," she spat the word, "from my past would surely try something against me, and that I should secure the help of Sherlock Holmes as soon as possible against whatever machinations he intended. But I had too much pride and resentment for that. Besides, didn't I owe it to Helen to get some bit of revenge on Holmes?"
Struthers's eyes widened, beginning to catch the slightest glimmer of understanding then. Just how tangled did Holmes's business and personal relationships get?
Mrs. Norton continued, "And Helen had the last laugh on me, even still! She reminded me once again to take heed of my gallant lawyer's gentle attentions toward me. She gave me all the warning in the world, and yet Godfrey's proposal took me by surprise nonetheless." She chuckled at the memory. "Storming into my parlour one morning, demanding in an operatic rage--a comic opera, surely--that I forget my old 'prince' and pledge my love to him once and for all before he was forced to murder someone for me! He was such a bad actor, and shaking all the while. He carried the part through to the end, though, whisking me away to church and 'marriage' in the most funny, yet tender, of elopements." She shook her head, "I did not need to hear his explanations afterward to know that Helen had put him up to it, in letters that he hadn't ever shown me. She was a back-handed, conspiring girl, at heart."
Struthers smiled too, in spite of herself. Still not quite seeing how Holmes fit into this, she found it amusing nonetheless to see a light-hearted side to this Helen Stoner that Holmes had not revealed in all his talk.
Mrs. Norton grew wistful again, sighing. "All this, for me, and without a thought to how I might myself try to resolve a heartache of her own, if she would only ask me to intervene for her..." She raised her eyes toward Holmes's silhouette in the distance, whispering, "How she warned me. And how I should have warned her." She looked down to her hands and twisted the wedding ring upon her finger. She whispered with the guilt, "Perhaps they would have been together much earlier, had a wedding of their own before it was too late."
Struthers frowned and felt that perhaps a ghost of Helen might be here today after all. Before she could express her sympathy, she looked up and suddenly saw Holmes moving away in the distance again, disappearing around the other side of the boulder. "Holmes!" she called out.
She picked up her skirts and hurried after him, forgetting all courtesies in her sudden panic. "Holmes! Where are you going?"
He carefully made his way toward the fatal ledge, then paused to turn at her shouts.
"For goodness sake, stop it!" he halted her with irritation. "Don't be hysterical."
"Rest assured that I never repeat an impractical impulse, once decided against. Not of that sort, at least." He turned and knelt down at the ledge, already trampled completely by police footprints. "I merely wish to pay my last respects to Professor Moriarty." He gazed silently into the depths of the Falls.
Struthers stood chastised, but unapologetic. He'd already given her more than enough shocks to make her believe him capable of anything. She caught her breath and was silent.
Mrs. Norton came up quietly from behind them both, catching up to them in elegant, measured paces. She cleared her throat and asked another bold question, "Mr. Holmes, is it inappropriate for me to ask, or may I know what grand scheme of yours this is, which has resulted in my coming to pay my respects to you?"
He looked up and turned, having nearly forgotten her presence. He hesitated. "It... is a matter of some discretion, I'm afraid."
She smiled. "Then I shall endeavour in imitation of Dr. Watson. By all reports, he has thoroughly convinced the police and press alike."
He had a twinge of guilt about Watson again, and he avoided Struthers's glare that silently admonished, "Even she assumes that you would not leave Watson out of this secret!"
Holmes cleared his throat and whispered, "Most kind of you, Mrs. Norton."
"We are going by the name of Stoner," she said this time, and saw the pain that crossed his features. "Mr. Holmes, since Godfrey and I could not communicate with you at the time of Helen's death, I would like now to express my deepest condolences on your loss. We miss her terribly too."
Holmes would not answer her, looking away and wincing again.
Mrs. Norton almost wanted to reach out and touch his shoulder, but recalling how Helen described the man as cold and reserved, she decided against the familiarity. So instead she offered, "If you need any assistance at all, only contact us in Montenegro, and we will gladly provide it."
Holmes said nothing, so Mrs. Norton merely said, "Good day, Mr. Holmes. Miss Struthers." Then with a beautiful bow of the head, she turned and left.
In case it isn't clear here, Irene Adler is indeed legally married to Godfrey Norton, and he is alive and well. He just couldn't come along with her on this trip to Reichenbach because they thought it would attract unwanted attention from the King of Bohemia. Or maybe they have kids at home that he needs to watch.
In any case, I'm going to make clear in the correspondence between Helen Stoner and Holmes that the absurd wedding ceremony in SCAN was a staged wedding. That's also why they immediately parted after leaving St. Monica's; they wanted to prepare for their real wedding. Godfrey had to get back to court and probably also wanted to send Helen a telegram saying, "It worked! She finally accepted my proposal. Do you think you'll be able to travel here in time for our real wedding?" They probably needed to get a special license, a real priest, nice wedding clothes, invite some friends and family, etc. However, then Holmes and Watson pulled that false fire trick, and Irene followed them home. On realizing that she'd been duped into revealing her hiding place, Irene decided that she and Godfrey had to have an emergency wedding. So they packed their bags and had a legal ceremony in her house that night, with servants as witnesses. Then they left for the Continent, Irene only leaving behind a substitute photo and a letter. Once on the Continent, they wired to Helen again (possibly in code), saying that they were married and in hiding now, because they could not be sure whether the King of Bohemia would really give up pursuit of them. Helen offered them her congratulations and her name as an alias, also promising to write Holmes to beg him not to help the King anymore.
However, some letters and telegrams have criss-crossed each other in the post. Helen's first letter to Holmes about Irene, (written before SCAN) did not arrive until the SCAN case concluded, because Helen did not think that events would happen so fast. Holmes was shocked to realize that Helen had been the friend who warned Irene Adler months ago, and he and Helen write each other to clarify what happened during the case. It's just like their wrangling over the SPEC case. And Holmes perhaps apologises for assuming too quickly that Irene Adler was a blackmailer, instead of a jilted woman who was repeatedly burglarised and harassed by a royal bully.
I'll try to make it clearer when I write out the events in sequence, though I do still need to work through some chronology problems in SCAN.