Author: [to be revealed]
Characters/Pairings: Holmes/Trevor, Holmes/Watson; both can be read as friendship or pre-slash. ACD canon.
Word Count: around 1700
Betaed by [redacted] once again – huge thanks!
Summary: One friend offers him safety, the other believes him dead. At the end of the day Victor Trevor begins to understand Sherlock Holmes’ decision. Hiatus fic.
Author’s note: Dear recipient, I’m guilty of taking some liberties with your prompt, but since you appear to like Trevor, I thought that this might be after your taste. Hope you like it!
“I can’t”, Sherlock Holmes told me flatly.
I watched his features intently, but found to my dismay that I could read nothing in them, least of all the trace of wistfulness I hoped to see. Not that I was surprised by his reaction: ever since he had appeared unannounced on my doorstep the previous day, worn with travel and wind-swept like a spotted eagle and once again intoxicating my mind with his enigmatic brilliance, I had known in the back of my mind that it was beyond me to hold him, for it would be easier to tame an Indian tiger than to put ties to Sherlock Holmes. If anything, he had become colder and less approachable than he had been as the student I had known, self-sufficient and needless of all human company.
But it is not in my nature to accept an unpleasant fact without a protest.
“You would be free of all your worries, my friend,” I argued. “Your enemies will never find you here. You cannot be on the run forever. Look at this,” and I gestured at the wide landscape that stretched out before us, a picturesque plain painted in soft warm colours by the light of the setting sun, bordered by mist-clad woods and mountains on the horizon. The aromatic scent of tea leaves filled the air, and only the stomping of our horses and the eerie sound of nature disturbed the silence. The sight never fails to fill my heart with pride.
“Didn’t you tell me that you dreamt of a quiet retirement in the country?” I reminded him of a bedside conversation almost twenty years ago. “This, my friend, is better than beekeeping. It is a place of romance and adventure, and there is so much here to study for an inquisitive mind like yours.”
Holmes gave me a crooked smile at my all too transparent attempt to convince him. “I remembered you having a romantic streak, Trevor,” he returned. “You may recall that I, on the other hand, do not. There are duties I need to attend to.”
“In London?” I shook my head in disbelief. “You told me that you caught the spider. Let others destroy the web. Unless, of course, it is London itself that you…” I paused before I could add the offending word “miss”, and ventured instead, “have a mind to see again? It’s only a city, Holmes. You are not sentimental enough to break your heart over a place.”
My friend’s eyes narrowed as he stared ahead without a reply, purposefully ignoring my provocation. Not London, then.
Suddenly, as I studied his gaunt face and the bright grey eyes that refused to meet mine, a suspicion arose in the back of my mind. An unlikely one, for sure, and yet…
“Holmes,” I ventured boldly, “can it be that there is another reason why you must go back? Did you,” and I felt myself blushing with the audacity of it, “leave someone behind?”
For a moment it seemed like he had turned to stone, frozen in time like those strange many-armed gods and goddesses who are worshipped by the local natives. I had not expected an answer, but then he turned to me with a mocking smile.
This, I added to my mental catalogue, was a trait that had not changed. Still he was able to read a man as others read a book, and he was never afraid to voice the result of his assessment, even if courtesy might suggest otherwise.
I am not a particularly courteous man myself.
“Yes,” I told him bluntly. He chuckled at my honest answer.
“I am sorry,” he continued more kindly, and I could see that some of the tension had left him. “But there is indeed… that is to say, I have a friend, and he believes me dead. I have a mind to remedy that misconception.”
There was more information in those two sentences than the mere words could convey. Sherlock Holmes does not use the word “friend” lightly, and once again I experienced the sinking feeling of loss; yet it was beyond me why he would see fit to leave a friend behind, doubtlessly grieving, instead of using him as an ally in the enemy’s territory.
“Why not write him a letter?” I inquired, genuinely curious. “Most people would forsake the effect of a dramatic reappearance for the knowledge that their friends are still among the living.”
“I can’t. Not before my business is finished.”
“Because they would do him harm, that’s why!” he interrupted me angrily, lashing out in frustration that had nothing whatsoever to do with my person. “They would use him to get to me. I won’t have it. I will keep him safe, even if it’s the last thing I do.”
There I had it, the confession I had not wanted to hear and I am sure he never meant to utter. Only for a moment I caught a glimpse behind the calm, cool facade, and beheld a haunted man whose features were tired and drawn with worry. In a matter of seconds he had composed himself, leaving me to stare at him with mixed emotions of hot jealousy, sadness, but also a strange surge of compassion – for him and the mysterious stranger who had by some miraculous means won such a firm hold on my friend’s affections, but had lost him all the same.
“Holmes,” I said after a moment, even though I was reasonably sure he would rather let the matter drop; but if I would indeed have to let him go, the least he could do was to satisfy my curiosity. “Holmes, do you think your friend will appreciate your concern? That is to say, the… methods you are applying to keep him out of harm’s way?”
“Most certainly not.”
“And yet you think he will welcome you back when you return.”
He did not answer at once, absently running his hands through the thick black mane of his chestnut instead. The beast snorted in pleasure. Somewhere in the distance we could hear the shrill cry of a wild monkey.
“I hope so,” Holmes said eventually. “He’s a good man.” His eyes focused on a far point behind the horizon as if he could see thousands of miles over land and water, and behold there a familiar shape.
Now the word “good” is not necessarily a detailed description, but something in the way he said it made it sound like it was supposed to be written in capital letters: a good man, an exceptional man, a saint compared to us mere mortals who can only strive to lead a decent life, and all too often fail. I wondered how good a man must be to elicit such a fierce protectiveness out of a man who, as I had come to divine, preferred to see himself as an island, content with nothing but himself. Also, my mind wandered further, how it could be that Sherlock Holmes would find himself drawn towards a good man, rather than an interesting one. Good, that meant decent, loyal, kind, brave and generous: a man who could never be Holmes’ equal in spirit because my friend, admirable as he may be, is not necessarily a good man. Decency and kindness are not his strongest virtues, a fault he shares with me, and he who, being a good man himself, could oversee these faults and still choose Holmes as a companion, must be a saint indeed.
I wondered how this good man would react in the face of a deception that had cost him so dearly, that seemed to speak of mistrust and manipulation and was really nothing more than a stubborn refusal to risk any kind of danger for his person. Holmes, I fear, did not know much about the dangers of the mind, or if he did, he obviously believed that his friend was above them.
A shadow fell on the distant, majestic profile of the Himalaya when the last rays of the setting sun disappeared behind the western horizon, and I knew it was high time to turn our horses back towards the stable. Darkness falls quickly in these parts.
“Holmes,” I said slowly as I urged my beast into a slow trot. “If it was me, I don’t know if I would forgive you.”
“You wouldn’t,” he stated calmly, as if he could tell for certain even though it had been so many years since we had been intimately acquainted. Perhaps he could. “And you would have been right, because I don’t deserve to be forgiven. But I need someone who will.”
He left the next morning, and I watched him go into an uncertain future, his luggage sparse enough to be tied in a tight bundle behind the saddle. Sherlock Holmes is an ascetic man, and his basic requirements are very few; he had also told me how he had survived in spectacularly averse circumstances. It had cost me many sleepless hours in the course of the previous night, but I had come to accept the fact that I could neither domesticate him nor keep him from sticking his head into danger if he wished it so; also, and that acceptance had been harder to reach, that the only person who could possibly achieve such a feat was not me. He needed someone to accept his uniqueness and allow him his freedom, to forgive his faults and not put any ties on him, and yet to ground his superior intellect, to guide him kindly and teach him not to deny the voice of his heart. I sincerely hoped for him that his friend would be up to the challenge.
Many years later and by pure chance – though whether there is such a thing as chance remains beyond the wisdom of us mortal beings - I came across an aged and well-read issue of the Strand magazine, and to my utter amazement found there a story that touched me to the core: a story of grief and resurrection, of friendship and hope and, more than anything else, of forgiveness and unwavering loyalty.
And at the bottom of my heart I felt glad that Sherlock Holmes had, after all, returned home.