One of the bits of my novel that I previously posted on my old website was set during the Hiatus, when Holmes is hiding out with Struthers after accidentally faking his death. (To his disappointment, he did not die and managed to recover from his cocaine withdrawal again, and now he's depressed and feels lost.) She suggests that he start drawing, to relieve his obsession about Helen Stoner, and out of guilt Holmes starts imagining again all the things that he thought he deprived Watson of.
I have revised this bit significantly to incorporate Watson and to remove the inappropriate references to Mary Morstan. I also rewrote Struthers's responses so that she is not falling in love with Holmes yet. I prefer to leave the romance until EMPT, after she and Holmes have spent the full three years of the Hiatus travelling together.
This occurs after Holmes and Struthers have gone to retrieve Helen's things after her death. Or perhaps Holmes already received Helen's diaries and letters from her aunt in Harrow, and Holmes just never had the strength to open them until Struthers nagged him into it. Holmes would not allow Struthers to read the diaries.
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes
Story: Chapter 17 of Deeper in Memory
Pairings: Holmes/Watson, and Holmes/Helen Stoner
warnings: hetero, slash, G
Struthers entered his room, finding Holmes sitting on the floor with a sketchpad, while innumerable drawings of Helen Stoner littered the entire space, such that the floor and even the top of the bed was scarcely visible. He was certainly taking her advice to an extreme! Holmes was sketching the memories out of him, but the flow still seemed far from ending as he continued furiously with the pencils and charcoals.
Holmes had said that he had art in his blood, and it showed in the deftness and intensity of each drawing. Carefully stepping through the flood of drawings, Struthers glanced among them, glimpsing varied frozen moments of the face and figure that haunted his memory. There stood Helen--tall, cloaked, and funereal before the 221B window. There she sat uncovering her black veil to reveal her shimmering eyes and rich hair; her intense eyes bore a look of surprise and a little bit of fear. There Helen uncomfortably frowned at what appeared to be someone's hand touching her discoloured wrist. Now she stood in a summery dress with the sun behind her, looking quizzically down at something on the grass; then she turned white to the lips and fell forward in a near faint to someone whose tense back showed a startled discomfort at having to catch her.
Darkness and light. Struthers observed the way that murky shadows filled and crowded the scenes, overwhelmingly predominating in many places. He wove around Helen Stoner a theme of mystery and enigma, some riddle that he had never fully unravelled about her.
Helen stood or sat in diverse poses, sometimes with anonymous persons in the periphery, at locations in Stoke Moran, London, and New York. Holmes captured her emotions in the faintest lift of her eyebrows, twist of her mouth, disarrangement of her hair, or lines in her face and hands. Could there be any doubt that he still loved her? Struthers sighed heavily, still trying to judge what was healthiest and best for her to do about this frustrating man.
As she looked over his shoulder, he sketched a plain, empty bed and bell-rope in a dark room, while a mysterious hand lingered as though fascinated by the faint impression of shape upon the mattress. Holmes incorporated a distinct motif of snake-like, slithering forms in the dim outlines.
Struthers brushed aside some sketches and sat on his bed, leaning forward. "Holmes."
He turned only slightly at her voice.
She sighed, murmuring, "Why won't you let her go? When will you forget? I did not suggest this indulgence as a chance to wallow, Holmes, but to heal. Why such clutching onto the past? To things that cannot be changed, however much regretted? I read those letters too. You told her to forget and release her futile, obsessive guilt over her sister Julia, but you won't do the same over her."
He did not answer but began a new sketch, which would soon reveal itself to be Helen's head upon, undoubtedly, his shoulder.
Struthers lay on the bed and looked down at her hands, asking at last, "What was in her diaries? The ones that you wouldn't show me? Holmes, I know this is more than loneliness and grief, or even your cocaine withdrawal." She sat up, repeating the query, "What was in those diaries?"
He stopped drawing, closing his eyes and speaking softly, "They began with, 'Why isn't he here? Why did he free me of Stoke Moran, only to trap me in himself?' I caused her to reject her first fiancé and the ordinary life she might have had. I tainted and took away her every chance at happiness and fulfilment." He swallowed. "I destroyed her."
"And she forgave you," she reminded him.
He smiled bitterly. "And Watson?" He looked up. "Watson loved her, do you know? I could see him falling in love with her right before me--and who could blame him?"
"What? He loved her too?"
H nods, insisting, "Helen and he were matched; they would have suited each other wonderfully. He'd always wanted someone who could keep house, but also possessed a mind. Someone as vibrant and as empathetic as he. And Watson was expressive, giving, honest; Helen would have had his utter devotion. I could not stand to see the interest and warmth in her eyes when she looked at him, nor bear how often he thought of her in the weeks after the case.
"So I did not take him with me to visit her at Harrow, nor share her letters to me with him. I was being unreasonable and possessive, taking every opportunity to cut him out. There was something frightening about how very much Helen affected me. I sent her away to New York as much to keep her from me as to keep her from Watson."
"If you couldn't have her, no one else would?"
He frowned and shook his head hesitatingly. "I wrote her an introduction to my friends Wilson Hargreave and the Pinkertons. I vaguely thought that if she liked policemen and detectives so much, then she could have her pick there and keep away from us."
"I see. But you kept up a correspondence with her anyway."
He nodded. "At first I was only comforting her about her sister Julia, and then I was just discouraging her interest in Watson. Then she asked me about my time in America and how I became a detective. On and on, it went. At some point I should have stopped it and let her go. Let her live her life. But I couldn't help myself somehow. I seemed to hang on her every word."
"And then you visited her."
He sighed. "I should have known better of course. But I'd convinced myself that my feelings for her had subsided and numbed with time. Watson was being a nuisance about my health as well, and I wanted to get away from him for a holiday. But seeing her in person again, and without Watson around to distract me, she was too much for me. To my shock I realised that she was interested in me too. Helen had long forgotten her fiancé by now, and apparently her smitten constable as well, but she had not forgotten me. Worse yet, she met my eyes often and seemed to constantly tempt me to kiss her. Something about being free of Stoke Moran made her freer as well. I resisted her for as long as I could, and she was puzzled, wondering if she had read me wrong, or if I was only thinking of propriety and her engagement. She was unsure of how to broach the subject with me, and I certainly didn't make it easy for her."
"So she acted instead."
"Yes. There was something about Irene Adler's visit, with evidently many tears shed over a heartbreak. It convinced Helen to be bold and decisive, and to no longer accept my backing away from her."
"And when she cornered you with a kiss, you panicked and hurled your accusations."
"To wound her, to escape. Surely if I equated her to a murderess, it should kill her love for me? Surely she would forget me now, and find another?"
"Well, she did for a while, with Tibbs."
Holmes nodded, "And that only ended as badly as her engagement with Percy. I read these notices in the paper and was worried every day that she would suddenly descend on us in Baker Street. It was bad enough just being aware that she was living in England again. Right in Harrow with her aunt."
"You should have gone to see her. To apologise to her, at the very least. You didn't have to pursue her, if you truly weren't ready for it then."
Holmes scoffed, "It would not have been my choice, Struthers. Looking into her face would have been enough to make me weak, to achingly recall our kisses in New York. But you are right, I should have apologised to her years earlier. I should have invited her back to Baker Street, in fact. To visit us, to see Watson again. I couldn't love her myself, so why keep her from him, who would suit her so well? I'm sure she would have been happy with Watson, but I took away that chance. I had no right to her, but still could not let go, though I could offer her nothing. So she spent years being frustrated in love, only to go back to New York to dwindle into merely a good Christian woman, spending her inheritance on charitable causes."
"That's not so bad," Struthers protested. "A woman's life should not be solely defined by having a man. She has a right to an identity and a career of her own."
"But was she happy in that life? Hargreave would sometimes write me about her, saying that she was letting people think her an older widow, so that she would not become anybody's pitiable old maid. Giving in to her grey hairs and wearing spectacles she did not need."
"Holmes, you heard this second-hand, from a man's perspective. A man who looks on a spinster as a pitiable thing," Struthers argued. "But remember that she was trying to live down any scandal that might have followed her from England. It was a persona, perhaps so that she would be taken seriously by the businessmen and such folk that she dealt with."
Holmes shrugged and admitted, "I don't know. I did not observe her myself at that time. But I did observe Watson then. I know what damage I did to him." He frowned, privately recalling the claustrophobic, confining atmosphere in Baker Street in 1887. The bitter feuds, the partial making up, and that strange, brief affair that only made Watson feel more guilty and unworthy of love. Holmes could never figure out how to make him happy, nor how to be satisfied with just their friendship again, after being so much more intimate.
When Holmes realised that Struthers was staring at him, he shook it off, and said instead, "Watson spent years never finding anyone to satisfy him quite like Helen did. He stayed a bachelor far too long for a man with such healthy and normal appetites." Healthy and normal until Holmes drew him into madness, at least. Holmes insisted, "Though Watson may boast of a wide experience with women, what he really longs for most of all is to be domestic and faithful. With perhaps a little mystery and adventure on the side. She could certainly have given him that. If I had just let them be, the Speckled Band would have become a novel and right now you'd see him writing of 'my dear wife Helen.'"
"I doubt that very much." She raised her eyebrows, and added, "And what of Mary?"
He rolled his eyes. "Mary Morstan would be fine! She was still working for Mrs. Cecil Forrester at the end of her case. She also had those pearls from the Agra treasure. If she had any sense, she would have sold them, and then used the money to found a detective agency of her own, instead of wasting her potential on marriage. No doubt she could get plenty of cases from women clients, and resolve them the way that she likes." He's still slightly annoyed by Mary Morstan nagging him about poor Mary Sutherland in IDEN.
Struthers tried to picture that. "So she'd be sort of your distaff rival?"
"Possibly. Or else she would have become the headmistress of a school like Violet Hunter did." He snorted and waved a hand dismissively. "Or she would have married some other fellow. I only mean that she need not have had Watson to make her happy." At least, he wished it so. Even knowing that he could not make Watson happy, Holmes still wished, irrationally, that he could have kept Watson with him. He could convince himself that Watson was better off in a normal relationship, but he could not control his jealousy and heartache, from a long dead affair.
"Very well." She summed up, "So you imagine that Helen would be Mrs. Watson, and that Mary Morstan would be anything else. Everyone would be happy except you?"
Holmes considered it, trying to imagine a life in which he had never kissed John Watson. Maybe, never knowing what he missed, he could have been happy? "Well... Helen would have been alive and loved; I would not have deprived her, nor Watson, of anything. I'd be their--their amusing and eccentric friend." He deserved that kind of punishment, didn't he? To be reduced to some useless third wheel. Looking back at his sketchpad and turning to a new page, he began to draw a pair of wedding rings.
Struthers still thought that Holmes sounded as if he was trying to talk himself into something. "And you'd be fine with that?" she asked sceptically.
He braved on. "Who knows? With the two of them constantly watching over me, I probably would not have sunk into the abyss of cocaine, and I might have completed my investigation into Moriarty much more easily. London would have been free of the Napoleon of Crime years ago."
"Oh really? A case that took you over three years to solve? Presumably it was all wrapped up peacefully, too? With no necessity for a trip to Reichenbach?"
"No, I'd be safe at home." Docile. Trapped. Like a pet. Like Watson's old puppy. Loved, but neglected. Given away. But no, that was wrong. Holmes was giving Watson away. To someone who could make him happy. To someone else. But why did the gift feel more like a theft?
To dismiss the rising heartache again, Holmes put down his pencil and lit his pipe. He bit on the stem with a grimace.
She noticed his hands shaking. "Safe, but unhappy," she insisted. "With no Moriarty anymore, there'd be no crime, or at least the kind that you find so interesting. With only commonplace cases, you'd be right back in the cocaine again."
He nodded, realising that she was right. "And he'd be unhappy with me again," he whispered, picturing Watson's disappointed face. Could he never make Watson happy, not even in his imagination? Holmes put down his pipe and stared at his current drawing again, tracing the outline of the man's ring with his fingers.
She noticed. "It's Watson you're focused on now. Not Helen. You feel guilty about him, and you need his forgiveness too."
He gulped and said nothing. Let her not be dangerously close to the truth, as Helen had been. No more arguments when he was in no condition to deny. He felt fragile and brittle.
Struthers continued, "You want him to forgive you, not only for the deception at Reichenbach, but for this stolen life with Helen. For your possessive jealousy."
He nodded, but said nothing else.
She asked pensively, "You speak of how happy they would have been together, Holmes. But I don't think you're right. This isn't a merely a case, a mystery you can unravel in your mind. This is love, which is irrational and messy. You can't predict it."
"I can! I know Watson. I know everything he'd do and say." He closed his eyes and whispered almost tenderly, "I know all the sweet idiotic charms of him. How his eyes would watch hers, how he'd whisper his love, how he'd kiss her fingers..."
"Stop it!" Struthers was tired enough to be angry rather than kind. "You know, maybe you're not obsessed with them so much as you are obsessed with yourself. Such an ego! Do you think the entire world hangs on your difficult choices? How do you know it would have worked out that way? What if Watson didn't marry Helen? What if, despite your conveniently cutting Percy out of the picture, Watson was still too gentlemanly to be comfortable with courting another man's former fiancée? What if Helen did marry him, but still pined for you? What if they loved each other but in 1888, upon meeting, Mary and Watson also fell in love? They'd all be miserable, trapped. Or what if Helen died in childbirth along the way, still snatched away too young? What if you became even more passionately jealous after Watson and Helen married, so much that you poisoned your relationship for years and caused him to despise and never speak to you? What if you still ended up at Reichenbach, miserable and lonely?"
He looked increasingly horrified with each scenario. He frowned at his drawing of wedding rings, then blinked as if he were waking up suddenly. "You're right," he finally murmured. "My God, you are! Yes, that could have happened too."
She was glad that he was seeing some sense at last. "Yes, anything could have happened. So do stop moaning about what could have been. What's past is past, and no longer in your control. Just accept it, and do what you can to change the present and the future."
Holmes was not sure what future he wanted, though. Losing both his loves had left him with no options.