[identity profile] spacemutineer.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] acdholmesfest
Title: The Secret Sculptor
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] emmyangua
Author: [livejournal.com profile] gowerstreetcat
Rating: PG
Characters, including any pairing(s): Holmes, Watson, Holmes/Watson, Mrs Hudson, past Holmes/OMC, OFC/OMC
Warnings: None apply (I think)
Summary: A chance encounter on the street brings Holmes into contact with a figure from his past who is in need of his assistance.
Disclaimer: All due credit to ACD. Apologies for playing with the London transport system.



The aftermath of the Felderson case, which resulted in the absolute pardon of Miss O'Bryan, was not entirely without its problems. Felderson had put up a significant fight once he realised that his demise was imminent. He was ultimately the worse for such an action, but not before he had done his damnedest to add Holmes to his death toll.

The resulting stab wound was not particularly severe; in fact, it was the savage blow to his head which proved the source of greatest concern. Holmes passed in and out of consciousness several times whilst under observation at St Barts. When aware of others, he complained of fractured vision, waves of pain and a worrying inability to keep anything other than thin broth in his system for more than a half hour.

His life hung in this peculiar balance for five days. Watson refused to leave him during this time, other than to collect items from their rooms at Baker Street and to keep a fretting Mrs Hudson informed of the changing circumstances. He dozed in a purloined chair by the bedside and endeared himself to the nursing staff by attending to as much of Holmes' care as he could, thus lessening their load by one.

The nights were the most challenging. Holmes perception of time was muddled; he railed against the medical’s demand that he remain in bed during his spell of relative lucidity. He admitted defeat however, after his second bid for autonomy left him in a puddle of incoordination in the corridor nearest his ward.

“I am perfectly fine,” he hissed to Watson upon waking on the eighth day of his medical incarceration. “I have answered all the questions that have been asked of me and have kept what passes for breakfast here within my system despite its revolting texture. My wound continues to heal to the satisfaction of Stamford and his medical acolytes.” He levered himself closer to Watson, who found that his greatest friend had somehow transformed from the saviour of London to the persona of an overgrown and bored child.

Watson remained outwardly stoic, even though his sympathy was clear. “You will return to Baker Street when and only when physicians other than myself deem you fit to leave.” His smile had a regretful tinge. “I am of the opinion that perhaps you will be discharged to my sole care in the very near future, providing that all the conditions of such a release are met.” He leaned in closer to Holmes, as it to inspect the bruising on his skull. His lips were perhaps an inch from Holmes’ ear. “To lose you now would fracture me.”

Holmes angled his head until he could respond in a similar fashion, “My apologies. I did not expect that you would have been so affected.”

Watson sighed. “Even a brain such as your will miss a cue from time to time, especially when such emotions and ideas are not immediately observable.” He felt a long-fingered hand grasp his elbow tenderly.

“Understood. I will be more that of the upturned flower and less of the serpent which hides under’t, if it means I will return to my own domain the faster.”

“Good man.” Watson’s smile was as genuine as his relief in seeing Holmes’ temporary acquiescence. “ Know that I will be back later this afternoon. Lestrade has been asking about you, and promises to send some of his more convoluted cases which he feels would benefit from the application of your wisdom, but only if your discharge is secured, and your progress continues. Otherwise you will be stuck with my dramatic renditions of the lesser known works of Mr Charles Dickens.”

“Tempting.” A brief, bright smile lit Holmes’ face. “I would hear you speak of other things, but not here.” He waved hand at Watson in mock dismissal. “Off with you, then, so that you return before the boredom reclaims me.”

Watson nodded. “As you wish. Until later.”

---


Watson’s temporary abandonment of Holmes allowed him the opportunity to prepare 221b for Holmes’ return. He disposed of the rotting experiments cluttering the workbench while Mrs Hudson changed the bedlinens and laid out fresh towels. She was grateful for his help, but recognised his need for fresh air, and sent him on an errand.

He was duly returning from Mr Merrick’s greengrocery shop on the corner when he fancied he felt himself under close observation. He glanced back,and at first saw nothing unusual. Then, there it was. A black-clad figure in the farthest corner of his vision, head bowed and intent on reaching him. Watson cursed the stupidity of leaving his gun locked in his desk. Damn and blast.

The figure drew closer, enabling Watson to discern a flash of white at the man’s throat. He caught the man’s gaze and prepared for confrontation. The sharp neigh of a startled horse and the frantic tattoo of unfettered hooves took his attention at the crucial moment. The oranges he had bought fell from his grasp and spattered underfoot. He felt himself jerked violently backwards as the brewery dray cart thundered uncontrollably past where he had just been standing.

“Sir, Sir, are you quite alright? I did not mean to startle you, but that seemed a close call.” Watson spun around. A handsome man, perhaps just touching forty, stared down at him by the advantage of two of three inches. He was dressed in unremitting black, save for the band of clerical purity at his neck.

Watson smiled at him with an odd relief. “Thank you, Reverend, for the speed of your reaction, I am quite unharmed, even if, alas my oranges are not.”

“Ahh.” his eyes glinted with an odd recognition. “Do I have the pleasure of addressing Dr Watson, the renowned colleague of Mr Sherlock Holmes?”

Watson nodded and held out his hand. “ You do, and I thank you for your attention to my welfare.” He looked curiously at the clergyman. “And you are..?”

“Reverend Fosset, vicar of St Mary of the Lanes, Whetstone.” They shook hands. “I came into town with the hope that I might engage the services of Mr Holmes in assisting me in a somewhat intriguing matter which would benefit from his discretion.”

The edge of Watson’s smile frayed slightly. “Mr Holmes is currently away from Baker Street, although he is expected to return in the next day or so. Would it be possible for me to contact you once he is able to consider your case?”

Reverend Fosset nodded. “That is most kind. I can be contacted at the Vicarage. Here is my card.”

Watson slid it into his waistcoat and nodded. “I will relay your request as soon as Mr Holmes is available. And thank you again for your assistance today.”

Fosset inclined his head. “The pleasure was all mine.”

---


As expected, St Barts relinquished its bodily hold on Holmes later that afternoon, albeit on the strictest of conditions, focusing on the fact that he strayed not further than the confines of his rooms for at least the next day, extending to the possibility of sedate walks after that.

Holmes found himself settled briefly on the chaise as Watson knelt at his feet to unbutton his shoes. There was a distinct amount of sotto voce grumbling going on, but as it was accompanied by the brushing of long fingers through his hair, Watson knew he had been forgiven. “I’d be lost without my Boswell”, he whispered to the air, a moment before Mrs Hudson bustled her way in. “Right Mr Holmes.” Her basket found a decisive home on the sideboard. “There’s beef broth and scones for now, plus some of my fruitcake for later, but only if you rest up.” She surveyed him on the chaise and nodded her approval at the rug Watson spread across his legs. “There’s a fresh scuttle of coal there, and I laid that fire myself, so mind you make the most of it. I’ll be back in later for the dishes.”

“Very gracious of you,” replied Holmes. “You are a star of the upper firmaments.”

“And mind you look after the good doctor,” she huffed, good-naturedly. “He’s been run near ragged while you’ve been up the road.”

“I will do my utmost.”

Watson turned his head to hide his grin, pretending to strengthen the pillows on the chaise. He waited until he heard the latch click behind her before allowing his arms to encircle Holmes. He leant into Watson’s shoulder with a sigh as his lips found a home on his cheek.

“I am most sorry for every scrap of worry and grief I have caused you,” he mumbled. “how did I come to deserve you?”

Watson returned the kiss. “By taking me out of that Strand hovel and repurposing me for your own ends. That remains reward enough for me.”

Holmes’ hands travelled down his ribs and and in his waistcoat pocket. He encountered the neat card and liberated it from its silken lair. “And what is this?” he asked, waving it in front of Watson’s face.

“It was given to me by a quick-thinking clergyman, whose actions saved me from a runaway cart earlier today. He claims to have a case for you.”

Holmes twisted the card into the light and examined it, before placing it on the occasional table. “Interesting. Describe him for me.”

Watson closed his eyes and pictured his rescuer. “Perhaps five or seven years my junior. Between our heights, although closer to favouring yours. Fox-brown hair, with light-toned and changeable eyes.”

Holmes kissed him again, this time between his brows. “Hmm. Curious. Send a telegram to invite him here tomorrow morning. I believe I would like to hear what your mysterious Reverend has to say.”

---


Holmes cracked open an eye as the first slices of light crept under the blind in his room. There was a vague memory of being guided to the bed and shuffled under the blankets several hours ago, but nothing more. He reached out over the edge of the mattress and tugged sharply at Watson’s sleeve. He jerked awake with some alarm before realising that the only danger lay in the glinting eyes of his companion.

Holmes frowned at him. "And why do you believe that a chair can offer a better night's sleep than the remaining half of my mattress? You will curse your shoulder later."

Watson returned the look. "I am not a calm sleeper, and you are not in a fit state to be jostled by my parasomnia."

"Pish tosh." Holmes shifted to the far side of the bed and held out his hand. "Enough of your misplaced gallantry. You need as much rest as I do, and sod propriety."

"But about Mrs Hud-" Holmes waved his hand.

"Martha Hudson has eyes and ears, but she is ruled by her heart. I doubt the suggestion that we might innocently share a bed would startle her into moral panic. Come on, you great fool. Lie down in the warm. There are two locked doors between us and the outside world, and what should you fear? Surely not me?"

Watson calmed a little. "I wouldn't have returned to live in this house if I was, but I fear for your reputation. The world is an increasingly cruel place, especially after the Wilde case."

"True,"admitted Holmes. "But neither of us are corruptible young men rebelling against the bigotry of their elders." He sat up, grasped hold of Watson’s arm and yanked him into the bed.

"Careful of your stitches!"

Holmes raised the edge of his pyjama jacket. "See? No disturbance to the wound. Now settle yourself." He pushed Watson onto the softest section of the mattress and fitted himself comfortably behind. "Mrs Hudson won't be in to disturb us with breakfast before nine. Now sleep."

But he received no response other than the soft, deep breathing of a man too far from waking to provide an appropriately articulate response. Holmes twitched the bedclothes over them both. "Oh, you blessed idiot,” he huffed into Watson’s neck, before drifting off once more himself.

---


Holmes deliberately waited until Fosset was comfortably ensconced in the sitting room before making his appearance. Mrs Hudson fussed with the coffee tray, but her smile broadened as he caught her arm as she left the room.

“Good morning Reverend,” he said, striding across to meet him, hand outstretched. Fosset seemed startled at the approach. A jolt of recognition passed between them. Holmes’ face lit up with an oddly placed smile.

“Victor…”

Fosset grinned back. “Sherlock…” They stood and held each other at arm’s length, eyes locked. Watson felt suddenly awkward at what was a significant and unexpected reunion. They remained oblivious to his presence for several moments as each drank in the other’s features. It wasn’t jealousy that he felt as such, but Watson’s sense of unease grew as a single thought swept all others aside- what made you think that you were the first to be charmed by him? A curl of misery grew and began to unfurl in his gut.

The fire cracked in the grate and the spell was broken. Holmes blinked and dropped his arms.

“How I forget myself,” he exclaimed. “Please sit down,” gesturing to Fosset. ”I understand that you met Dr Watson yesterday in my absence.”

Fosset nodded. “He was good enough to pass on my card.” He turned to Watson with a smile which seemed almost apologetic. “Please allow me to explain myself more fully. My surname is Fosset now, but until I was seventeen it was better known to your good friend here as Victor Trevor.”

Watson nodded sharply as acknowledgement. “Such a thing is not unheard of,“ he replied, although clearly wanting a more detailed explanation. He took out this notebook.

Fosset took a breath before continuing. “Sherlock and I know each other through the trials and tribulations better known as surviving the English public school, although we have not seen each other for over twenty years. I had to leave without notice when my father’s business affairs declined in such a way that I was unable to continue my education. After he died at his own hand, my mother remarried and i found myself with a stepfather willing to extend the protection of his name and fortune to myself and my younger sister, which went some way to alleviate the public shame of being the son of a bankrupt suicide. This involved the completion of my studies at another (if slightly less prestigious school than Harrow) and then on to Oxford. He was a good-hearted man who in particular treated my mother with great kindness. His generosity was also extended to my sister, who was similarly enabled to complete her education, albeit one which ended at the schoolroom door rather than the lecture hall. His only stipulation was that all traces and connections to our previous life and of my father were swept away and never mentioned again.

“When I took holy orders, Amelia left the family home and took up a role as my housekeeper and assistant as I moved between parishes until I was offered the living at Whetstone eighteen months ago. We settled into parish life quickly, and once again found ourselves amongst good people.

“It was then that Amelia met and grew close to Dr Lovellan, a young doctor keen to make his mark on the profession. He was a kind, calm and human soul, very similar in some ways to our stepfather, and he seemed to make her very happy.” He smiled at the memory. “Indeed, when he approached me for permission to ask for her hand, I was delighted. An announcement was made and the banns were read, in preparation for a late spring wedding. And then...” His face greyed.

“And then?” prompted Holmes.

“Lovellan undertook to a journey to Devon to visit an old friend about a month before the wedding. Amelia saw him off at the station, expecting that the separation would only be for at most a week. But he never came back.” He took a long draught of his coffee before continuing. “The day he was due to return was full of storms in the south west, to the point that the railway line near Dawlish was ripped apart by the elements.

“When Lovellan did not return as expected, Amelia smiled bravely and hoped that he would only be delayed by a day or so. But the news arrived of a train crushed under the rubble of the sea wall, its carriages swept like debris out to sea, with the loss of almost all trapped inside.

“Amelia fell into a mute panic from which she could not be reduced. I made desperate enquiries on her behalf, only to discover that our beloved Lovellan had been on that train, much to the distress of those who loved him. A memorial service was held once it was confirmed that there could be no hope for his return, in place of the much looked-for wedding. Amelia withdrew even further into herself, almost never leaving her room or even her bed. She grew increasingly pale and listless, and I truly feared that I would lose her.” The room hummed with an unspoken sympathy.

“And then, about three weeks ago, she rediscovered a fraction of her herself, and went into the church. I found her in a pew adjacent to Lovellan’s memorial plaque. She had been sitting there in odd contemplation for some time when the parish ladies came in to refresh the altar flowers. They invited her to join them, which she did, albeit still as a muted shade of whom she had been.”

“You must have been relieved to see this improvement,” suggested Watson.

Fosset nodded. “She began to spend more time in the church, gradually taking back more of her previous duties. Last Wednesday afternoon, however, I came into the vestry to find her in a state of wordless distress, quite unable to articulate or explain what had caused her distress to reappear so violently. I bid her stay whilst I made a quick search of the building, but found nothing. I thought perhaps we had been visited by a vagrant. True enough, there was a set of mismatched footprints leading to one of the back pews, but nothing more. I returned to Amelia to assure her that nothing was amiss. She reluctantly accepted my findings, but felt unable to return.

“The next morning, I was opening the church for Morning Prayer when I heard an odd scraping sound coming from the body of the church, It was a dank, grey morning, wreathed in a fog which engulfed the porch. I called out, asking our guest to make themselves known, only to hear the clank of metal on stone and the uneven scuffle of feet hurtling through the shadows and through the side door and into the churchyard. The collection box was undisturbed, as was the silver plate. It wasn’t until I approached the middle of the church when I discovered the damage.” He fumbled in his jacket pocket and produced a lumpen handkerchief. “Lovellan’s memorial plaque had been grievously damaged via the judicious application of hammer and chisel.” He unfolded the parcel and spread the crumbled fragments onto Holmes’ outstretched palm.

“Ah,” he responded. “Do you have any idea who might wish to obliterate Dr Lovellan’s memory? He seems to have been a much respected member of the community by all the evidence that you have presented.“

Fosset shrugged. “Indeed, I am somewhat at a loss to understand the reasoning behind such an unthinking and callous act.”

“Might I ask how your sister reacted when she heard of this?”

“She fainted, and had to be taken from her room, from where she has barely stirred since. Her room is adjacent to mine, and I took the precaution of leaving my door ajar in case she had need of me in the night.”

Watson nodded sadly. ”The actions of a devoted brother,” he affirmed.

“I attempted to provide whatever comfort and solace would be accepted, but nothing could shift her from her grief. She barely spoke, or ate, drinking only water. I continued to stay as close as my parish duties allowed. And, then, on Sunday night, I was in my study when I heard a dreadful scream and a thudding coming from her sitting room. Naturally, I ran up the stairs, dreading what I might find.”

Watson pressed a small tumbler of brandy into Fosset’s hand, which he downed readily.

“What had occurred?” asked Holmes, still working the fragments of stone between his fingers.

“Amelia was throwing herself against the window casement as if intending to burst through it. It took almost all my strength to enfold her safely in my arms and guide her to her bed. Her eyes remained fixed and unseeing, and she kept repeating “He did not die, he is not dead, why does he not come?” over and over. This did not cease until a doctor was summoned to sedate her.”

“And what was his professional opinion regarding your sister’s condition?” asked Watson, as gently as he could. The light that appeared in Fosset's eyes was so desperate that neither he nor Holmes could bear it for long.

“There is a genuine concern that the grief of losing the future for which she so longed with Lovellan has stolen her rationality and that there is very little that can be done beyond her removal to a more suitable therapeutic environment.” He swallowed as if to make the idea more palatable. “She was the brightest light in my life before this tragedy unfolded, and while it rips at my heart to see her so changed and in so much distress, I am increasingly convinced that the current situation cannot continue.”

Holmes rewrapped the fragments of stone and set it aside. he placed a conciliatory hand on Fosset's arm, who looked up at the touch. His eyes grew soft. “I am glad you found the courage to find me again, after all these years.”

Fosset nodded. “You remain the cleverest soul I have ever had the opportunity to encounter, and I am sure that you will be able to unearth the truth behind this sorry tale. For once my faith is of little use; I need your rational viewpoint so that I can ensure my sister has the greatest opportunity to recover herself as far as she is able.”

“But of course,” replied Holmes. “It is an intriguing case, and one that I am glad to undertake on your behalf.”

Fosset’s relief was palpable. “I cannot express sufficient thanks for your engagement in this matter. Grief is a monster which has the ability to destroy the most balanced of souls. I have to believe there are other avenues to be explored before I am forced to entrust my dear Amelia to the care of others, no matter how caring and professional.”

“I will accompany you to Whetstone while Dr Watson completes some research here,” announced Holmes. “If you could excuse us for a moment?” Fosset nodded mutely as they went into the hallway.

“I require you to go to the Newspaper Archives to find out all that you can about the Dawlish calamity, with particular attention paid as to where all of the male casualties, dead or alive, were taken.” He pressed a telegram pad into Watson’s hand. “I believe these might come in useful.” Watson tried not to bridle at the menial request which would normally have been well within the remit of one of the other Irregulars. Holmes saw the thought track across his face.

“Watson, I merely wish to take the opportunity to speak privately with Vic- Fosset, as he is now, as I feel that there are elements of this case which he would only reveal to a friend, even one he hasn’t seen for half a lifetime.” He squeezed Watson's arm. “There is no avenue of life in which I would exchange you for another,” he whispered. “Be assured of that, if nothing else.” He watched Watson’s face and seemed to see a fraction of the concern there ebb away.

“As you wish,” came the enigmatic reply from a man wishing to believe what he had been told, but not entirely trusting to hope it was the truth.

---


Holmes waited until the railway carriage was empty before he spoke. “You have failed to tell all that you know, Victor.” Fosset looked up at the use of his Christian name. “Remember I know you of old, and can spot omission as quickly as fabrication.”

He focused on the unending streets of houses as they rumbled through the outer reaches of London, and it took him several minutes before he felt sufficiently brave to look directly at Holmes once more. “It remains a matter of extreme delicacy which I was loath to discuss, even in the presence of Dr Watson.”

Holmes regarded him with caution. “I do hope that you realise that you there are no secrets between the good doctor and myself. I have perfect and utter trust in him, and he in me.”

“As we once did?” asked Fosset.

Holmes nodded. “We have been companions for most of the past decade, through fair times and foul, and I am confident that this will continue for the rest of our lives.”

“He is a fortunate man.”

Holmes huffed. “However distant I might appear to the wider world, do not doubt the regard I have for those who eventually managed to break down the walls I constructed to keep them out.”

“And what of someone who was forced by circumstance to sever such a connection? Is all hope lost?”

“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” he replied. “You were not in any position to go against your stepfather’s dictats, especially when the welfare of your mother and sister were at stake. Losing your companionship was my first experience of grief, lessened by the fact that I knew you lived on elsewhere. I never stopped hoping that we would meet again when we had greater agency over our lives.” He leant forward until he was almost within reach of Fosset’s hands. “But we live in an era of increased suspicion, where certain feelings must be concealed in order to protect them.”

Fosset looked directly at him. “I did not seek you out to reclaim my stake in your affections,” he replied softly and without regret. “Time moves and changes all who survive its ructions. I would never wish to disrupt the friendship of two connected souls such as you and Dr Watson.”

Hoolmes acknowledged his admission, before his expression shifted a little. “But what of the connection which your sister shared with Lovellan? Your description of the grief which continues to threaten her seems to have struck much deeper than anyone could have expected.”

Holmes’ assertion was rewarded with a curt nod as Fosset continued. “My work amongst the dying and bereaved has made me almost professionally immune to grief because to be otherwise exposes the self to incalculable damage. And yet...” He paused, as if searching for the words. ”And yet, the fracturing of Amelia’s spirit when she heard about Lovellan’s death seemed more akin to that of a recent bride rather than that of an untried girl.”

Holmes’ eyes widened at the implication of his words, but he nodded in agreement. “There are some secrets which are not shared between siblings, no matter the strength of their bond.“ His hand touched Fosset’s. “If that is the case, she is battling more than grief. She is living in fear of your reaction, especially now that the one with whom she had planned to share her life and its developments cannot protect her.”

Fosset paled. “I never would have thought that Lovellan could have left her in such a position. I would never have granted him her hand if I had thought…” Holmes interrupted him.

“Old friend, that goes without saying. Perhaps what occurred was not the theft of virtue taken under dubious circumstance, but instead the gift of affection freely offered in the sure and certain understanding of the shared life that was to follow.”

Fosset frowned. “But if this was a suspicion, then why did the doctor who was called say nothing of this? I know that he was most thorough in his questioning of her.”

"It is most likely that her hysteria and anxiety masked all other symptoms for him. And it is also possible that she herself was unaware of the subtle signs of her condition. He saw what he chose to see, and made a judgement which best fitted his observations.”

Their train approached Barnet. Fosset remained fixed in his seat. “Come on, Victor,” Holmes offered his hand. “Take me to the Vicarage, and allow me to find a solution amongst these tangled ends.”

---


Watson completed research in an efficient manner and the results surprised him. He noted down the relevant details, then took the next train towards Whetstone.

The day had bloomed into soft sunshine and the air felt cooly fresh in the the pleasant lane leading from the station. The Great North Road awaited at the top of it, and he spotted the modest spire of St Mary’s in the near distance. His heart felt glad that there were still such places surrounding London amongst the encroaching sprawl of the city.

“What have you uncovered?” Holmes materialised beside him like a friendly spirit. Watson handed over his notebook.

“The newspaper archive was particularly helpful, as were the registrars at Somerset House. Your deductions, as ever, appear to be on the mark.”

Holmes grinned. “ As ever, your complimentary recognition of my talents nourishes me.” He flicked through the relevant pages of the notebook, a brightness shining in his eyes. “Hmm. Interesting, and not without promise.” He patted Watson’s arm. “Before we visit the Fossets, I believe that the church may furnish further information. Be prepared for anything including violence,“ he warned. “We may yet witness the dead walk amongst us.”

Holmes guided him into the church via the side door and pulled him down into a pew. “Keep your eyes on the far wall, just beneath the middle window.”

“There’s no-one there,“ hissed Watson. “You are mistaken.”

“I believe not. I observed his tracks in the dust. Our secret stonemason is there.”

They remained in absolute silence for several minutes, their eyes trained on the space under the window. At first there was nothing, then the faintest barrage of metal against stone. Watson strained his eyes and could just make out the furtive movements of a figure intent on chipping away at the damaged memorial plaque.

“Now!” Holmes pulled Watson to his feet and they advanced. He stopped a handsnatch away, just as the figure, dressed in pitiable stinking rags, dropped his tools and attempted to flee. Watson blocked his path.

“Explain yourself, “ he commanded gently, “and no harm will come to you. Hand over your tools.”

Holmes held out his hand. The man sagged in defeat, then obeyed. “Good man.”

“I am not a good man.” His head was bowed and his speech slurred. “They lied about me and I did not stop them.”

“It was not your fault.” Holmes‘ voice seemed to temper the man’s fear and self loathing. “Assumptions were made without appropriate evidence. Now come with us and all will be solved. There’s a warm bath, a clean bed, good food and new clothes waiting for you if you come with us now.

“I- I cannot return... They will think me the worst form of coward and liar.”

Watson held out his hand. ”I am a doctor. I will see to it that you receive the assistance you require, but you cannot stay here and continue as you are now. We have the means and the will to set your world back on its axis.”

“B-but I am a thief, and a desecrator.” His eyes grew ever wider with fear. “I do not deserve such kindness…”

Holmes was emphatic. “Your current state is down to a lack of sleep, inadequate nutrition and the fracturing of nerves. Come with us, I may not be the Lord, nor do I wholly accept the doctrines of organised religion, but I do believe in the potential goodness of the human heart. If I did not, I would not have been able to have followed my life’s path. Now, can you walk unaided?”

“Slowly.”

Good,” replied Holmes. “So come with us, and all will be well.”

The visit to the Fossets was postponed for the immediate time. They left the church just as they had entered it. Holmes kept a wary eye focused on the vicarage, and was assured that the departure had gone unnoticed.

The return to Baker Street was an uneventful one, taken in an a cab driven by Billy Wiggins. They stopped once, at a modest gentleman’s outfitters off New Oxford Street. Mrs Hudson chose to ignore their arrival. Holmes ushered their guest upstairs and into their bathroom.

“Leave your things here. “He unfolded a large sheet of brown paper on the floor. “I will dispose of them for you. Run a bath and make whatever use you require of the facilities. The water is hot and almost unlimited. Everything you might require is here. Dr Watson is also on hand if you require his services.”

The man nodded his bewildered, silent thanks. Holmes leaned over the bath, secured the plug and set forth the flow of hot water before leaving him to it.

Watson stood in front of their dining table, setting out the contents of the parcel as Holmes joined him.

“I still have a number of questions, Holmes, not least the identity of the wretch we have just rescued. Are the Fossets aware of this development?“

“All in good time, Watson. Our immediate concern is the welfare of our guest. All the answers that you require will be revealed in the near future. Now be a good soul and ask Mrs Hudson for another portion of her excellent soup. I doubt that our guest has eaten properly in some time. ”

---


The man who emerged from the bathroom in Holmes’ least-favoured dressing gown bore little resemblance to the beggar they had transported from Whetstone. The restorative heat of the bath had straightened his back and uncrabbed his hands. His hair and beard were and soft, albeit lacking in a certain level of tidiness.

Watson gave him a welcoming smile. ”You are looking considerably more restored, sir. I have some soup for you.“ He took in the welts and scratches on the man’s hands, and the pain he attempted to conceal while walking. ”May I examine you?" He asked gently.

“Thank you.” His voice crackled with hesitation.

Watson turned to Holmes, who was staring out of the sitting room window. “Holmes, could you leave us for a few moments so that I can conduct a consultation? “

The question startled Holmes out of his thoughts and he looked mildly affronted for a moment, before remembering his manners and presented a more reasonable version of himself. “As you wish,” he replied, with an odd light in his eye. “Some topics are better discussed between professionals.” He swept out, ensuring that the door closed with an audible click.

The man sagged onto the chaise as though his strings had been cut. Whatever courage had been summoned since he arrived at Baker Street melted into the air. Watson watched him with no little compassion and took the opposite seat. “Please remember that you are amongst allies here, and that anything you say within these walls remains here unless you explicitly state otherwise. Let me see how I can help you. Shall we start with your leg?”

He moved the dressing gown aside and Watson saw how the jagged welts on his leg looked as though it had been attacked by an unseen monster. There was more evidence of healing than putrefaction, but when Watson gently palpated the area, his fingers encountered evidence of an unwelcome heat.

“Hmm. I will redress this now, and give you something which should work towards the fever, but only once you have eaten.” The patient acknowledged the diagnosis. He allowed Watson to position the injured limb in such a way that it could be anointed and bandaged more suitably.

“All done,” said Watson.”Now have some soup, just a little at a time. Once I am confident that you can keep it down, I will allow you more. Then you must sleep.”

“I cannot take your bed, Doctor.”

Watson fixed him with a friendly glare. “I insist. You must know as well as I do that a few hours rest will make a great deal of difference. I believe Holmes has every intention of disentangling this situation sooner than you think.”

“I am doubtful that he will be able to.“ He looked at the mug of soup from Watson. “It would have been better for all if you had not found me. I am not deserving of such support.”

Watson sighed. "I will take your unfounded doubts as nothing more than the wanderings of an exhausted soul, and nothing more."

"Yes, sir." He drank from his cup, then swallowed the tablets that were offered to him before being guided to the back room and assisted into the bed. The comfort of fresh, clean sheets and a soft mattress claimed before he could object.

Holmes had already reclaimed the chaise when Watson returned from settling his patient. "And how is our patient?" he asked.

Watson busied himself with repacking his medical kit. "Rational to an extent, but bewildered as to how or why he should accept our assistance. He should recover from his physical injuries, but his nerves are quite another matter. He harbours great uncertainties about what the future might hold, and if I were in his shoes, I would be in a similar frame of mind."

"Your sympathy is both notable and admirable. I have sent a message to Whetstone, and they will be expecting us between about eleven and noon."

"And this will form the end of the matter?"

"Absolutely." He rested his chin on his templed fingers and looked sideways at Watson. "Years ago, the very best of men reminded me that the heart has twice the power of the brain."

“Because I refused to entirely accept your death after Reichenbach, even when all logic pointed elsewhere?"

"Precisely." Holmes swung himself up on his feet. His lips branded Watson’s forehead with a hot, soft kiss. ”And this is why I would not be without you.”

---


Eleven o'clock found them well on their way to St Mary's of the Lane in Wiggin's ersatz Hackney cab. He weaved them across the city, avoiding the majority of the traffic via an unending trail of backstreets.

It was a silent, watchful journey for all concerned. Watson kept a close eye on both of his companions, who each their own way had spent a restful night. They had both consumed suitably fortifying breakfast of toast and tea. Their guest then allowed Holmes to carefully and efficiently remove his beard with his cutthroat razor, much in the demeanour of one mutely preparing for sacrifice.

They pulled up on the lane when the church arm vicarage nestled. Holmes sprang out first and turned to Wiggins. "Thank you for your service." He pulled out a folded note. "Give my thanks to the rest of the Irregulars."

He folded the note into his hoe, then tipped his hat. "Pleasure, Mr Holmes." He waited until all of his passengers had alighted before executing a neat turn in the lane and rattling back towards the city.

"I am not sure of this, sir. I do not feel that I would be welcome here. I am at best a bounder and at least a liar."

Watson watched as Holmes put a guiding hand on the man's arm. "Come now. You are Lazarus, and not the prodigal son. There are two people in there who are desperate to reclaim your acquaintance. They have waited long enough." His eyes glowed with encouragement. "I know how terrifying it is to return as if from the dead, but love and genuine regard will always find the means to override any obstacle if hope allows them to grow."

"M-May I ask… have you ever been in love, Mr Holmes?"

Holmes smiled at the memory. "Once happily, once less so, but all concerned continue to live and thrive, which is better than living in the shadow of unremitting regret."

Watson remained silent, merely allowing Holmes' words to flow around him. He may not have been the primary audience, but the message struck home as potently as if they had been safely private elsewhere.

He strode up to the porch and tapped at the door which swung open at his touch. "Morning. May we come in?"

"Certainly," came Fosset's voice. "Please come through. You said you had some news?"

They found him in the kitchen, washing his hands under the sink. Holmes approached and laid a hand on his arm. "Victor," he said quietly. "We have solved your mystery, and have someone with whom you need to speak. Dry your hands and turn around."

Fosset started at the use of his Christian name. He looked at the man standing awkwardly next to Watson and blinked.

"Lovellan!" he gasped. He turned to Watson and then back to Holmes. "Can this be true?"

Lovellan advanced slowly. "I am no ghost, and am continuing to recover from my injuries, thanks in no small part to these gentlemen here."

A floorboard creaked about his head. His gaze flashed towards it. "How is Amelia? I feel I have done her a grievous wrong."

Fosset shook his head. "You are back with us, in body as well as spirit. Let me fetch Amelia…"

"No need." Holmes looked towards the door, where a wan-faced young woman stood, her face filled with equal amounts of fear, joy and confusion.

"Edmund?" she whispered, before crumpling suddenly. Watson darted back and caught her before her head connected with the floor. He felt for her pulse and found it comfortingly regular. "Just shock," he announced to the room. "All will be well in a while." He eased her into a sitting position. "Holmes, if you could assist me?"

---


Later, once Miss Fosset had recovered herself, they gathered in the modest parlour whilst Lovellan recounted the tale of his misfortune and return. The train which had crashed into the sea after the track was pulverised by a vicious spring storm. Being washed up on a beach further up the coast, lacking everything but the clothes on his back and a few coins in his pocket. His mind feeling as blank as though it had been washed by the waves. The label in his coat which suggested a London origin. How his journey began, funded by begging and the charity found in churches along the way.

"Slowly my memory returned," Lovellan continued. "But when I reached my former lodgings, I found them locked and empty. I stumbled into the church, more dead than alive. My eyes fell on the plaque erected by the parish, and I wished that I had never returned, and that the waves had claimed me. I slunk into the shadows, exhausted and broken. Then I saw Amelia and the extent of her grief, and the guilt ripped me apart. She was perhaps twenty yards away from me, but in my current state it might have been a distance of a thousand miles. I had nothing- just a homeless wretch who had lost all that he had once valued."

"But why did you deface the plaque?" asked Fosset. "What purpose did you hope it would serve?"

Lovellan looked him squarely in the eye. "Because it was the physical embodiment of a lie," he replied. "I borrowed the hammer and chisel from the vestry, and attacked the plaque by night, sleeping wherever I could find shelter." He turned to Miss Fosset. "I did not wish you to see me in this state, and yet I couldn't leave without seeing you again, even though I knew there was nothing I could offer you. My funds, such as they were, were tangled in bureaucracy, and alone I lacked both the means and the influence to access them."

But Miss Fosset was undeterred, "I will have no husband but you." Her eyes glittered determinedly. "We will find a way," she promised, looking towards Holmes, who had a thoughtful look in his eyes.

"Despite what you may have erroneously believed, your death certificate was never issued, as proved by Dr Watson's unstinting research." He smiled wryly. "I do have some personal experience in social resurrection, and I offer my help in returning you to society."

Lovellan sighed like a prisoner released from chains. "I would be honoured to accept your assistance."

---


Of all the cases they took on that year, Watson's mind kept wandering back to the wretch they had found huddled next to the desecrated plaque, and the resulting resurrection of a decent man. His notes were never formally written up into the casebook. In such a place, only two clippings remained, both from the Barnet and Whetstone Chronicle. The record of a quiet family wedding in early May, followed by the christening of William Hamish Lovellan in December, just before the year turned.

Life at Baker Street continued with its mixture of calm, danger, calamity and adventure, powered perhaps by the mutual affection shown by those who lived behind its twice-locked doors. There would be no banns published or any fluttering of legal certification for them. But the love and regard expressed therein lacked none of the sincerity of a more conventional marriage.
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