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I put down my pen and sighed, rubbing at the bridge of my nose in a foolish and likely futile attempt to stave off the headache I could feel pressing into the edges of my eyeballs. I’d been working on the same cipher nonstop for close to seven hours now, and my body was beginning to rebel. The tightness in my shoulders and along my spine could no longer be ignored, nor could the rumbling in my belly. It was time to stop.

I was loathe to do so. The work kept me busy. Made me feel useful. Less lonely.

Holmes had been gone for several months now, and I missed him. It hurt to admit. I had always valued my weeks away from Holmes, holed up in the Bodleian, doing my own research and work. When I was younger, and my time away from him voluntary, the space between us had felt wonderful, delicious, freeing. Validating. But now, I was simply lonely.

London, and the War, had called him away from me. It would likely be some months before I could be by his side once more. Some months before I could be as valuable to the War efforts as my husband. Holmes had asked me to create codes for the War Office to use, as he didn’t have time to do all the things they’d ask of him and ensure that communications were safe; he, at least, understood my value. I knew he was pressuring various government officials to bring me on, if not even more women with skills and talents that could help the War. He was, after all, nearing eighty. He would not live forever. As his protégé, his partner, and his wife, I was ideally suited to take up the work. But they persisted in dragging their heels. Women, they felt, belonged at home.

A knock on the front door disrupted my bleak musings. I stood, my back cracking as I did so, prepared to meet whomever the housekeeper, this one named Emma, brought to me.

(In the fifteen years since Mrs. Hudson left us for the final time, we’d never been able to keep a housekeeper for more than a year or two. Most left within months, fed up with the eccentric duo she was charged with keeping. Emma had lasted three years thus far, a record.)

I was left waiting for a while, as Emma did not appear at my study door. I frowned. It was always possible, of course, that our guest was in fact her guest, but in three years of service, Emma had only ever had one visitor to our cottage. Possible, but not probable.

I was preparing to do some spying in my own house when I heard Emma’s footsteps approach the door to my study. I opened the door just as she was raising her fist to knock.

“Yes, Emma? Who was it?”

Emma nodded and extended her hand. “She left this for you, Miss Russell. Said she was calling for Mr. Holmes. When I informed her that Mr. Holmes wasn’t in, she handed me this and said she’d be back in a week to speak with him. Said it was about family matters.”

I took the card she’d extended and looked at it. It was, to my surprise, a calling card. I hadn’t seen a calling card in years; they’d long since gone out of fashion. This one was of good quality, too, and clearly not a relic – the ink had a shine to it which suggested it had been printed within the past five years or so.

Mina Harker, the card read, the name surrounded by a simple but elegant engraved border of what I recognized quickly as aconite, thanks to my years of training by Holmes. I turned the card over, but nothing else was written.

I looked back at Emma. “Did you let Miss Harker know that Mr. Holmes is away indefinitely?”

Emma shook her head. “Missus, I think. She wore a ring. And no, she didn’t give me the opportunity.”

I raised an eye at my housekeeper’s unbeknownst-to-me observational skills. “Did you tell her I was home and receiving visitors?”

“She didn’t give me the opportunity,” Emma said again.

I considered the card as I returned to my chair, turning it over once more in my hand. ‘Family matters’ had brought her to see Holmes, but outside of Mycroft, who had passed two years ago, and his cousin who still held the family land, I knew of no family outside of myself. The card shed no clues. I could think of no family who had aconite as part of their heraldry, for good reason given its poisonous nature, and the name Harker… her name sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place my finger on why.

“Mrs Harker… what did she look like, Emma? Was she an older woman?”

Emma shook her head again, licking her lips. “I don’t think she was old, no. Her hair had no gray or white in it, and her face was unlined. Her knees weren’t saggy, either.”

I glanced at my own knees and then tucked them beneath my desk. Saggy knees, indeed. “So a young woman?” I asked, wondering at a young woman carrying a calling card. My generation no longer carried such an outdated mode of introduction, and we were among the last to use them.

Emma hesitated. “I wouldn’t say she was young, Miss Russell.” When I said nothing, she forced herself to explain. “She looked to be in her thirties, I would say, but… she felt much older. She carried herself like…”

“Like I do?” I asked. A woman of forty can be mistaken for a woman of thirty, though I hadn’t been in years. The gray along my temples was rather a giveaway.

“Like my grandmother does, Miss Russell,” Emma said firmly.

I looked at Emma. She was younger than myself, probably in her thirties herself. A grandmother of Emma’s would be around Holmes’ age, if not a bit older. A woman who looked in her thirties, but seemed older… I wondered what she had endured, what had brought her to our doorstep seeking Holmes.

I closed my eyes and forced myself to set the card down. I didn’t have time for such mysteries, not at the moment. Maybe never again. There was a War on.

“Thank you, Emma,” I said, opening my eyes again and forcing myself to smile. “Have a good evening.”

Emma gave me a nod and turned to leave. She paused in my door and turned back, gnawing at the corner of her mouth. “Miss?”

“Yes?” I asked, spinning in my chair to look back at my ciphers, my mind already returning to the problem at hand and pushing aside the demands of the body.

“Be careful with her, when you see her next. She felt… dangerous.”

With that, Emma disappeared from my door, leaving me to contemplate her meaning.

******
The week was nearly passed before I called Uncle John. Holmes was staying at his flat in London while working for the War Office, and while I was sure he’d be intrigued by a mysterious visitor to our home, there was also nothing he could do about it. No need to activate his imagination just yet, and besides, I still had to finish the last of my own work. I sat at my desk all week long, finishing up my ciphers, Emma bringing me the occasional meal and disapproving look. She had hinted many times that she thought I should get up and walk around more, but she also didn’t know the importance of the papers on my desk, so I felt free to ignore her.

(Admittedly, even if my papers hadn’t concerned War work, I would have felt free to ignore her; a housekeeper’s disapproval had never deterred me before, even when that housekeeper was like a mother to me.)

Uncle John answered the phone promptly, his voice brimming with pleasure as he said, “Mary! How wonderful to hear from you!”

I smiled. Uncle John was older than Holmes, and showed his age far more than Holmes did, but his voice sounded clear and his brain, certainly, was as sharp as ever.

(It was of great regret to me, choosing to portray Uncle John as a simple man in my memoirs, but it was a decision he and I made together; a story for another time, perhaps.)

“Hello, Uncle John. You are well, I trust?”

“The arthritis grates upon me, and summer in London is never an enjoyable affair, but I can’t complain. At least there’s a breeze, and we can still walk the parks – the Nazis haven’t started bombing us yet,” he said, though his pleasantness seemed more forced now. I wondered if he’d seen something on Holmes’ desk that had caused him worry. Or perhaps it was just Holmes himself that caused consternation.

“I hope Holmes is behaving himself?” I said sardonically. I leaned back in my chair, the back creaking, and rubbed at my hands. After days of nonstop work, they ached.

There was a chuckle over the line. “As well as he ever has, Mary. You needn’t worry about me. I’m quite accustomed to his moods and tempers.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear nothing has changed, at least.”

“No,” he agreed, and then cleared his throat. “Were you hoping to speak with him? I’m sorry to say he’s out at the moment. Meeting with… some official or another.”

I understood what Uncle John was implying, if not saying outright. Holmes was likely meeting with Hugh Dalton, the Minister of Economic Warfare, and Sir Frank Nelson, a lifelong civil servant. He hadn’t been able to tell me much at our last meeting three months ago, but my understanding was that there was movement on forming a new organization, primarily along espionage lines, and that he was helping them with training. I was sad to have missed him, but not surprised.

“No, I rather figured he wouldn’t be there. I’d hoped maybe to catch him, but perhaps you could pass a message along to him for me?”

“Of course,” Uncle John said, and I could hear some shuffling before he said, “Very well, I have pen and paper, go ahead.”

I pursed my lips, trying to determine what, exactly, to tell him. It was not enough to simply say he’d had a visitor; my insights and deductions would be required. Of course, having not even seen Mrs Harker, I had little along either lines. I picked up her calling card once more, willing it to tell me more about our mysterious lady.

“A woman visited earlier this week, hoping to see him. I’m afraid I missed her, myself, but Emma gave me her calling card,” I said. “Please make sure to note that in particular.”

“Yes, that’s unusual,” Uncle John said absently, a frown in his voice. “Even relics such as myself have given up on such old-fashioned things.”

“Precisely. Further, Emma feels she was a younger woman, younger than me, at least.”

“Did the woman leave her name?”

“Yes. Mina Harker.”

I had called Uncle John’s flat with the small hope that I might be able to speak to Holmes, and that he may know of the strange woman. I had not imagined that Uncle John might know of her, but when I said her name, I heard a sharp intake of breath on his end of the line. “Uncle John? Do you know her?”

There was a long pause. “Yes. I believe I do. Mary, you said you did not see this woman?”

“No, I’m afraid not. I was busy with some work, and Emma didn’t bring her in. Apparently the woman delivered her message and card and then left, before Emma could suggest she speak with me.”

“I see.”

His tone worried me. “Is she dangerous?”

“I… don’t know. I think there is a possibility she is. Did she say if she’d return? Or what her business was?”

I frowned. Uncle John was acting strangely, far stranger than he’d ever behaved around me before. “She said she was calling about family matters, and she’d be back in a week. That was about a week ago, now, so I think she’ll be back around either tonight or tomorrow. Uncle John, who is Mina Harker?”

Another long pause followed. “Holmes can’t get away tonight,” he said finally, ignoring my question.

I waved an impatient hand, though I knew he couldn’t see it. “I didn’t think he could, I’m well aware of how busy he is and how useful he is,” I said, not quite managing to keep the bitterness out of my voice. “But if you know who this woman is, and that she might be dangerous, I think I’d like a few more details, please.”

“Mary, I.” He stopped again. My impatience and, yes, irritation, began to soften into concern. I knew some of Uncle John’s darkest secrets, things he had never even told Holmes (though I suspected Holmes knew; difficult to keep anything from that man), and he’d told those secrets to me with far less hesitation, courage always driving him forward.

“Uncle John, it’s me. You can tell me,” I said gently.

“It’s not mine to tell,” he said sadly. “But I will tell you what I can. I met Mrs Harker only once, very briefly, many years ago, near the turn of the century. She was an honorable lady, and… knowledgeable… about certain matters you will not have encountered before. I believe she has the potential to be dangerous, but I don’t think she would mean any harm to you, Mary. All I can say is… whatever she tells you, you must listen to her. She’s telling the truth. It may sound bizarre and blasphemous and like insanity, but…” he trailed off.

My mind worked furiously at this bare snippet of information he’d provided. If he’d met her back in the 1890s, then she had to be older than me, no thirty-year-old young thing that Emma had supposed. But then, Emma had noted she’d walked like someone much older. Incredibly youthful looking? There were certainly techniques to make one look younger – I’d employed many myself in my years with Holmes, and of course the magazines were always extolling women to try this cream or that powder to recapture their spent youth – but nothing so effective that could roll back decades from one’s face or, more importantly, one’s elbows and knees.

And how could Uncle John speak so confidently that this Mrs Harker would know things I did not? I’d encountered much on my adventures with Holmes, and even more on my own excursions, things I’d never told him but certainly hinted at. It was not unreasonable to suspect there was a chance I’d know something about whatever Harker was apparently knowledgeable in. And what in the world could she tell me that would make Uncle John give me such a warning? I considered myself a fairly open-minded woman, all things told.

If Uncle John meant for his statement to put me at ease, he’d missed his mark. I had more questions now than I had before.

“Uncle John-”

“I’m sorry, Mary, but I’m afraid I must go,” he interrupted, sounding harried and flustered. “I will let Holmes know; I suspect he’ll make his way back to Sussex as soon as he’s able. You should expect him in a day or two. With luck he’ll be there to meet with Mrs Harker, and you can put this entire thing from your mind. I do hope to see you in London soon, I know Holmes is making some headway there. Thank you for calling, my dear. Give my regards to Emma.”

He rang off before I could say anything further. I sat staring at the receiver, entirely baffled.

******
I spent my day doing very little. I would start to clean, and then find myself standing in the sitting room, holding a random object and staring at nothing at all, only to realize that twenty minutes had passed. I went for a walk at one point, but merely walked in circles, finding myself back at the cottage well before I had intended. I was incapable of focusing, the mystery of Mrs Harker and of Uncle John’s warning weighing upon me.

Family matters. She was coming to see Holmes about family matters. Holmes had little family, his parents long deceased, his brother gone for a few years now, and his cousin a complete non-entity in our lives. I knew of no other family, although Holmes had always been rather tight-lipped on the subject. Was it possible that Mrs Harker was herself a relative? That Holmes had more family than he’d ever told me about?

The thought gnawed at me. My family having been taken from me, and the rest having been a disappointing and no longer a part of my life, part of me always longed for more. Mrs Hudson and Uncle John were family, certainly, but I hadn’t seen Mrs Hudson in years, and Uncle John wasn’t going to live forever. If Holmes had more family…

But then, family matters could be a matter of ancient history. Perhaps Mrs Harker was a solicitor, executing his cousin’s estate (though, as best as I knew, his cousin still lived), or executing an unknown part of Mycroft’s will. Perhaps she was the daughter of one of the tenants that lived on the Holmes’ family land.

It was pointless. I had no information to make inferences from, and so it was best just to wait to find out what she wanted.

This decision left me standing in Holmes’ office, holding a pipette and a sock with no recollection of how I’d gotten there.

My suffering was finally ended as the day moved into night. An hour or so after the sun set, there was a knock on my door. Having sent Emma home, I squared my shoulders and opened the door.

A woman stood on my doorstep. She had dark hair, curled neatly around her face, and dark, solemn eyes. She was dressed neatly, in a prim dress-suit in dark blue, similar to a dress I had in my own closet, and a very fashionable hat. Her posture betrayed no nervousness or tenseness – in fact, she seemed the opposite of most of the clients who came to our home. She appeared to be on a mission.

Family matters, I reminded myself.

“Good evening. Are you Mrs Harker?” I asked, standing firm in my doorway.

She tilted her head slightly. “I am, yes. You are…?”

I nodded. “Yes, I suppose my housekeeper didn’t have the opportunity to tell you when you visited last. My name is Mary Russell. I am the wife of Sherlock Holmes.”

If she was shocked by the revelation that Holmes had a wife, she didn’t show it. A single blink was the only reaction, and that, for all I could tell, was simply a regular blink. “I see. Is Mr Holmes at home? I have rather an urgent matter to discuss with him.”

“I’m afraid not. However, as his wife, and partner in all investigatory matters, I am able to act as his agent at this time.”

Mrs Harker finally gave me a solid reaction to what I said. Her lips tightened, almost imperceptibly, at the corners. “I’m afraid this is… personal. It concerns family matters, you see.”

I stared back at her. “I am Holmes’ family. Some of the only family he has left. If it concerns Holmes, it concerns me.”

We stood silently, staring at one another, for near ten seconds. It felt like an eternity, much like the authors write. She stood primly in my doorway, and I stood blocking her path. We were at an impasse.

It was absolutely ridiculous.

I broke first, sighing. “This is ridiculous,” I said, giving voice to my thoughts. “You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. We haven’t any reason to trust each other. Please, come in. Perhaps we can get to know one another a little.”

Mrs Harker de-primmed enough to give me a smile. “Thank you for inviting me in,” she said, stepping over the threshold as I stood aside.

We went through the usual pleasantries – I took her coat and hat and showed her the sitting room, she complimented my home and decorating tastes (the work of some of the local women; my own decorating tastes leaned towards ‘mess’ and ‘more books’), I offered her tea that she demurely declined, I offered her something stronger which she gratefully accepted. I poured us each a small brandy, and then I sat down opposite her, in the chair that Holmes usually occupied.

“So, Mrs Harker. How do you know my husband?”

“Please, do call me Mina. These formalities are positively Victorian,” she said, somewhat ironically, in my mind, given her own formal way of speaking. “I met Mr Holmes years ago, although very briefly. In truth, however, I know him through his cousin. Do you… know of Mr Holmes’ cousin, Miss Russell?”

“Mary,” I offered, my mind racing. She knew Holmes through his pathetic, weaselly, dull cousin? His cousin had to be in his sixties, maybe his seventies; it seemed odd that he would be acquaintances with such a young woman, even one who acted years older. “I know of Holmes’ cousin, yes. A rather… traditional man, I found. Is the estate doing well?”

Mina frowned over her brandy glass, and then her eyes brightened. “Oh! You are speaking of his – other – cousin. No, I am speaking of his… foreign cousin.”

My heart quickened. It was what I had worried about all day: Holmes had more family that he’d hidden from me. I didn’t know how to feel about that. Holmes was, of course, entitled to his privacy, and I was certain he would never hide family from me if they were good, decent people. But it was still somewhat disturbing to know that the man I’d been married to for close to twenty years had family members I’d never heard of.

I took a breath and let it out slowly. If Holmes hadn’t told me, he had his reasons. I trusted him.

“No, Holmes has never mentioned another cousin to me. I know of the Vernets, but my understanding is that they have all passed. How do you know his cousin?”

Mina smiled again, and I had the fleeting impression that her teeth – but no, that was ridiculous.

“No, not a Vernet cousin. I believe you are correct; they have all died. This cousin, well. If Mr Holmes has not discussed him with you, perhaps it is not my place,” she said, neatly skirting my question. “It is a delicate situation, you see.”

No, I did not see. We were back to the beginning, and I was growing frustrated. Holmes and I really ought to have come up with system for these situations, when a client only wanted to speak with him. It had come up several times in the past. “I have been Holmes’ wife for nearly twenty years. I have known him for twenty-five years,” I said, as calmly as I could. “And he will not be home for some time. So if there is something he needs to know, it is best that you tell me so I can pass it along.”

“Engaged in War work, then?”

“I’m afraid I cannot say.”

“I see. And of course, you are right – the War will keep him from home for a long time. Much longer than he realizes.”

“And how do you know that?”

“His cousin. He, too, has War work. Why do you think I am here, rather than his cousin?”

I looked at her a little more closely and abruptly saw her. What I took as solemnity was possibly fear; her smiles were less friendly than I thought, tinged with a certain amount of bitterness that I recognized from my own smiles in the past year. I had offered tea, a calming beverage, only to be rebuffed, the offer of alcohol instantly accepted. Dancing around the subject, refusing to get to the point… playing the messenger, I knew, was never enjoyable, especially when the person you’re supposed to deliver the message to isn’t available. The dress-suit, so like one of my own, conveying a woman of purpose – who found her purpose shelved, at least for the time being.

In a moment, I understood her better. I offered her a smile, and saw her soften. Perhaps she, too, understood me a little better.

“I don’t know when Holmes will be home. Our phone calls are brief, and I haven’t seen him in months,” I confessed. “He sends me work, but no indications of when I can join him and do something more substantial.”

Mina laughed softly, a sad sound. “I only had two years with his cousin, after my own husband died. And he sent me away months ago. Not just to the countryside – to a different country entirely. Where I can be of no use to anyone.”

I poured us another drink.

“Mina, tell me what this is about. What is so important that Holmes’ cousin – does he have a name? – sent you?”

Mina contemplated her drink, swirling it in her glass. “Mary, what do you know about nosferatu?” she asked, once again neatly sidestepping my question, albeit with a somewhat nonsensical question of her own.

I answered promptly. “Not a terrible film, but the character of Ellen was completely wasted. I much preferred…” I trailed off, realizing abruptly where I knew the name Mina Harker. I raised my eyebrows. “Were your parents fond of the novel Dracula?”

She laughed. “No, they weren’t. But I wasn’t talking about the silent film, though I agree with you. Ellen was a terrible heroine, her entire role reduced to fainting and dying. Such a waste.”

“If you weren’t talking about the film, then…?”

Mina set down her drink and leaned forward, her eyes gleaming. “Mary. What do you know about vampires?”

I held her gaze, but I found myself incapable of saying anything. The connection I’d felt with her only moments ago was gone. Instead of a clever, independent woman who’d been set aside and made to feel useless, I saw a woman in the thrall of some sort of delusion, or fantasy world. Vampires were fictional monsters, made popular with Bram Stoker’s sensational but somewhat clever novel. They weren’t real.

“I know they aren’t real,” I said firmly. I wasn’t going to patronize her by playing along or pretending ignorance.

“They are,” she said, completely calm. “And I know this, because I am one.”

I didn’t blink, but I did lick my lips. “Mrs Harker, why don’t you tell me what you came to see Holmes for?” I said, hoping desperately to redirect her.

“Well, Mary, I can’t until you understand that vampires are real. For you see, it concerns my twin children, and Mr Holmes and his twin.”

My head felt full of static, and my fingers were numb. There was a woman sitting across from me who purported to know a heretofore-unknown-to-me cousin of Holmes, who also claimed that Holmes was a twin, and more importantly, claimed to be a vampire. I did not know how to comprehend anything in our conversation anymore. This was far beyond anything I’d encountered before.

She was clearly a lunatic. And until I knew exactly what kind of lunatic, I had to tread carefully.

And through the static, I kept hearing Uncle John’s voice. ”Whatever she tells you, you must listen to her. She’s telling the truth.”

I pushed him aside. Clearly, he knew Mina before… this. Before whatever had caused her to lose her mind.

“Holmes has a twin,” I said flatly.

“He did,” Mina said calmly. The tension was leaving her shoulders, as though a great burden had been removed from her. “He is dead now, thankfully. He plagued poor Mr Holmes for years. But he, Dr Watson, and his cousin put that animal down just before the Great War, and he is no longer of any concern to you.”

“I see.”

“But this doesn’t concern Mr Holmes’ twin, except for how twins work with vampires.”

“Ah. They have a specific way of working? With vampires?” I could not believe I was having this conversation.

“Yes. I won’t go into details, but when a woman becomes pregnant while also having relations with a vampire, she may have twins. One is a regular human, and the other is a vampire. You see?”

“Of course,” I said, struggling to keep the sarcasm from my voice. “It makes perfect sense.”

“You are wondering how this relates to Mr Holmes, I understand. Allow me to explain. It has always been understood, among the nosferatu, that that is how twins work. One undead, one alive. And when I became pregnant by my husband, while also having relations with my lover, Mr Holmes’ cousin, and had twins, I understood what that meant. My Quincey was a normal, average human. My Lucille was a vampire. That was the state of things.”

I nodded, and wondered how I could get to the phone and call for reinforcements without her noticing. I wondered if Holmes had received Uncle John’s message, if he was racing back to Sussex.

Mina picked up her glass again and studied the liquid. “My Quincey was called away to war, of course. He’s a bit old, being in his forties -”

“His forties?” I interrupted, startled. The woman sitting before me could not be any older than thirty-five. But of course, that wasn’t possible, I remembered just as abruptly. Uncle John knew her at the turn of the century. Was she perhaps a daughter of the original Mina Harker that Uncle John knew? I pushed the issue aside. It was the least pressing of my questions.

Mina smiled. “I’m a vampire, Mary. I don’t age the way you do.”

“Naturally.”

“Quincey was an officer. I was not worried about him; officers don’t get killed in wars.”

“No, they send boys to do that for them,” I said angrily, before I could stop myself. But Mina merely nodded.

“Yes. So I wasn’t concerned. But three weeks ago, I received a telegram. My Quincey… he had been killed.”

Everything about Mrs Harker slotted into place. A mother’s grief could be all-consuming. I’d seen mothers, wives, fathers, and friends all be eaten alive by grief during the Great War. I’d seen people turn desperately to spiritualism, grasping at nothing in the hope of keeping their child alive, their spouse alive, for just a few minutes longer. I’d seen the way grief could destroy a mind. I understood, now, the nature of Mina’s psychosis. It was, in some ways, a relief. The devastation wreaked upon the brain in this manner rarely led to violence. If Mina believed in vampires, believed herself to be a vampire, then it was likely a self-contained delusion. I let out a long breath and leaned forward, feeling safe enough to place my hand on hers.

“I’m sorry,” I said, genuinely sad for her.

“You needn’t be. You see, three weeks ago, I received a telegram telling me Quincey had been killed in the war. And then two weeks ago… my Quincey came home,” she said, her eyes shining. “He walked through the door of my house, looking scared and overwhelmed, but very much alive.

“Of course, his sister and I were baffled. There is nothing in vampire lore that speaks to this. Lucille was blessed with vampirism, but Quincey – he can’t be killed.”

A mother’s grief indeed. I nodded sadly.

“Mary, do you understand? One vampire twin, like your Holmes’ twin brother. And one twin that cannot die.”

I gave her a small smile. “You’re saying that Holmes cannot die?” I asked. It was a ludicrous notion, but of course, her grief was playing tricks on her right now.

“I don’t know for sure, of course, but… yes. I think it likely. There were signs, with Quincey. As a child, he certainly got into his fair share of scrapes, some of which it felt like a miracle that he survived. Has your Holmes ever been in such situations?” she asked, setting aside her drink and sitting forward on her chair.

I opened my mouth to scoff but found that I couldn’t. Holmes was a detective; of course he’d been in dangerous situations before. Some absolutely deadly. But it was his wits that saved him, his wits and his skill and, yes, sometimes his determination to live. “Of course,” I said calmly. “A detective’s life is never a safe one.”

“And, too, Quincey always seemed to age slowly. He’s in his forties, but he still appears a youth of twenty.”

Holmes was seventy-nine, but still had the energy of a fifty-year-old. And he certainly didn’t look like he was nearly eighty. But Holmes was incredibly physically fit, and had always treated his body well.

Except for the tobacco.

And the morphine.

And the cocaine.

I pushed the thoughts aside. “Physical fitness can slow down aging, of course,” I said, but my tone no longer felt as firm. I cleared my throat and forced myself to focus.

“Quincey needs less sleep, and he’s rarely been ill.”

Holmes still routinely forsook sleep, and illness was almost always a ruse.

”She’s telling the truth. It may sound bizarre and blasphemous and like insanity, but…”

Uncle John again. I pushed him aside once more.

“Holmes is a man,” I said, sitting forward in my chair as well. “A mortal man. He is old, now, and he will die. Sooner, rather than later. That is the reality of things. I’m sorry for your loss, Mrs Harker, I truly am, but please… leave my husband out of it.”

I looked at this woman, with her wide, dark eyes and pale skin, and wondered who had given her Stoker’s novel when her son died, or if she’d always enjoyed it. Did she take the female character’s name before her son died, or after? Did she always enjoy Uncle John’s deliberately misleading interpretations of Holmes’ life, or did she read those in the wake of her son’s death as well? When did the two stories become entwined in her head? I felt such sorrow for her.

That was all. Just sorrow. Not small, niggling doubts. I was an intelligent, rational woman, and Holmes was not immortal.

Even if he was still running around London like he was in his fifties, not approaching eighty, and even if he had been shot, stabbed, tortured, and drowned and come out fine every single time. And healed remarkably fast each time, too.

But he wasn’t immortal.

Mina sat back, crossing her arms and smiling sadly. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

I sighed, rubbing my temples. “Mrs Harker, you must admit it’s a bit far-fetched. I’ve never met you before, but you come here, claiming to know my husband and wishing to speak to him about a family matter concerning a cousin that you still haven’t named, and then tell me a tale about vampires and twins and… immortality? Did you expect me to believe you?”

“I had hoped to speak with Holmes, not you. But at the very least, I hoped he had told you. About his twin brother, his cousin, his mother. Holmes has been surrounded by the nosferatu his entire life. As his wife, is it too much to have hoped he told you?”

“My husband doesn’t tell me lies,” I said softly.

“But he doesn’t tell you everything, does he?” Mina asked, just as softly.

That was true. So many times I had stumbled into a new, previously hidden part of Holmes’ past. Spies, skills, dresses, sons

But this was completely different.

“She’s telling the truth.”

I stood up, smoothing my trousers. “Thank you for coming, Mrs Harker. I will be sure to pass along your… information… to my husband. I hope your travels are safe.”

Mina stood as well, handing me her glass. It was still almost completely full. “You’re a rational woman, aren’t you, Miss Russell?”

I moved over to the mantlepiece, setting our glasses down. “I consider myself to be, yes.”

“And you believe evidence that you can see with your own eyes?”

“Often times, yes,” I agreed. There were some things, of course, that I took on faith, but overall, Mina was correct. I was a scientist. A theologian, but a scientist nonetheless.

And then Mina was in front of me, and her teeth were sharp and gleaming, and she was pressing me against the mantlepiece with unnatural force. “Then believe this, Miss Russell. Believe me.”

I stared at her, my breath coming fast. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her teeth, which only moments ago had been normal, just barely visible when she smiled. Now they were sharp, cruel looking, and clearly deadly.

“You… you…”

“I am a vampire, Miss Russell. I have not lied to you tonight, not once. I am not merely some bereaved mother, unable to accept my son’s death. Talk to your husband. Listen to what he says. And please, tell him what I told you.”

Her teeth shifted before my eyes, retracting back into her mouth and returning to normal. I could feel how large my eyes were, how short my breath was. I was in a room with a monster. A monster from horror novels I’d read as a child.

She let me go and stepped back, reaching over to retrieve her coat and hat from the stand. I watched her every move, willing my heart to slow down. She had not attacked me. The monsters in the novels always attacked without thought, like animals. But she still wore the prim dress-suit. She pinned her hat to head neatly, and at a jaunty angle. She still behaved like a proper English woman. It was hard to look at her now and see the monster.

“You’re a monster,” I croaked out, not moving from where I was still pressed against the mantlepiece.

She turned back to me, raising an eyebrow. “So the novels say. But they are, of course, misleading. Did I strike you as a monster, Miss Russell, before I proved to you that I am what I say I am?”

She didn’t. That was the crux of the thing. She had seemed perfectly pleasant. Insane, but pleasant.

When I didn’t answer, she merely nodded. “I will return tomorrow night, Mary. Just to make sure that you passed along my message to your husband. My lover thought it was imperative that I let him know what we learned about Quincey, since it may affect Holmes as well, and my lover is a man of honor. I will not disappoint him by failing.”

Mina smiled at me and then, without another word, turned to mist and disappeared.

I did not move for a long time after that.

******
In the morning, I was halfway convinced that I’d dreamt the whole thing. But for the memory of Mina’s teeth, I would have been willing to write the whole thing off as bad food, bad alcohol, and bad dreams.

But I kept seeing her teeth. And she had been right; I was a rational person who believed evidence I saw with my own eyes.

I paced the cottage most of the morning, gnawing on my thumb and trying to decide what to do. If everything hadn’t been an illusion, then I needed to talk to Holmes and tell him about Mina’s son. And I needed to figure out what to do.

Did I really believe, now, in vampires?

The phone ringing mid-afternoon interrupted my fruitless thoughts. I walked swiftly over and picked it up. “Hello?”

“Russell, hello. I’m glad to have caught you.” It was Holmes, and he sounded distracted. I had planned on calling him, but not until I’d determined what I thought about last night. Hearing his voice solidified things for me. Maybe I was losing my mind, but the fact remained that Uncle John knew who Mina Harker was, and thus so did Holmes. Perhaps he could explain matters in such a way to put my mind at ease.

I drew a breath, prepared to tell him about Mrs Harker’s visit, but before I could say a thing, he’d plowed on.

“I have good news. Dalton and Nelson have agreed that women will need to be involved in the War effort, in a larger capacity than just clerical work, or working with the WVS or the Land Army. Sir William is writing a report along those lines.”

In an instant I was completely distracted. “Really? That is excellent. What work are they opening for us? When should I be in London?”

“I can’t say much on the telephone, but there will be a need for pilots, for espionage work, for codebreakers.”

My heart soared. I was well-suited for espionage work, thanks to Holmes’ tutelage. My German was excellent. Or perhaps they’d send me to France; they needed people on the ground, since the occupation. The possibilities were endless. “Tell them I can leave immediately. I have a bag packed already, and my passport is up-to-date,” I said, turning around to see if I had a pen in reach, to leave a note for Emma.

There was a pause on the line. “Where are you going?” Holmes asked, caution creeping into his voice.

“To London, of course. And then on to wherever they send me.”

There was a longer silence. I could hear the tension in it. I stopped looking for the pen.

“Russell. You aren’t going anywhere. Except London, of course,” he hastened to add. “They want you here.”

“Doing what?” I said slowly, sitting down next to the telephone table.

“What you’ve been doing,” he said. “They need you to continue doing it.”

They wanted me to continue writing ciphers. They wanted me to sit behind a desk somewhere, doing work I could do from home, in my sleep, while Nazis ran rampant over Europe, in a war that threatened to be more deadly than the Great War, than the war to end wars.

I took a shaky breath. Codework was important, I reminded myself. Important, valuable, and necessary.

“I could be a pilot,” I said instead, my voice small.

“You don’t have a license,” he replied, his tone kind. Rage flared up inside. He’d been in London for a year now, working side-by-side the people running our end of the War, while I’d been trapped at home, tending the hearth.

“So get one of your pet forgers to make me one,” I grit out.

“Russell…”

“No,” I snapped. “Don’t placate me. I am not your little wife who needs placating. Tell me, Holmes. Just tell me. Why won’t they give me espionage work? After all I’ve done, in the course of our work, in the course of Mycroft’s work, why won’t they let me do the work I was trained to do? Trained by you I might add!”

“Russell-”

“Just tell me!” I yelled.

“They want younger women for that kind of work,” he said in a rush.

And there it was. The thing I’d been trying to ignore for the better part of the year.

It wasn’t just that I was a woman, though that played the largest role in it, I knew. It was that I was no longer a young woman. I looked down at my knees. My saggy knees. My knees that told the world that I was forty years old, and no longer young.

I’d never minded the idea of growing old. Not once. People who feared growing old feared their own mortality, and I did not fear my mortality. I knew I was mortal. I’d confronted my own mortality when I was fourteen years old and my entire world drove off a cliff. Growing old was just a fact a life. I wasn’t vain enough to care about the gray in my hair or the wrinkles at the corners of my eyes or even the sagging of my knees. I didn’t mind the aches in my back or in my fingers. My skin was no longer as tight, but that was just life. I’d never lamented the loss of youth, with its awkwardness and unhappiness and uncertainty. I’d embraced my age, my hair, my wrinkles, my knees, with open arms and joy.

My knees were betraying me now.

And I couldn’t help but think, Holmes’ knees don’t sag.

I couldn’t help but think, Holmes’ knees will never sag.

Holmes was talking again. “I’m sorry, Russell. I tried to convince them that you, at least, should be the exception. But if there is an exception, in their minds, then there are more to follow. The work you’ve been doing has been essential to British military operations, and they want you to keep doing it. You’re forty now, and your experience with ciphers cannot be replicated,” he said, sounding helpless.

“You’re almost eighty, but they don’t have you doing ciphers,” I said bitterly. But it didn’t matter that he was eighty. Whether it was because of what Mina told me, or whether it was because he was a man, or whether it was because Sherlock Holmes, no one would put Holmes on the sidelines. Just me. Just his mortal, forty-year-old wife.

“Russell,” Holmes said. “I’m sorry. I will keep trying. The War isn’t going to end anytime soon, and they may realize that they need more women to-”

“Holmes,” I interrupted. “Did you get my message from Uncle John?”

He paused. “I haven’t been to Watson’s flat in a few days. I haven’t spoken with him.”

I nodded. That made a certain amount of sense. He wouldn’t lead with the War when vampires were apparently a potential topic of conversation. “A woman came to see me last night. She actually wanted to see you, but I explained to her that you weren’t home and she could tell me her message for you. Her name was Mina Harker.”

The silence was much longer this time. “I see,” he said finally. “And did she? Give you her message, I mean?”

“Her son, Quincey, can’t die, apparently. He may be immortal. It appears to be something that happens to the non-vampire twin,” I said, and hung up.

******
When Mina came that night, I was ready for her. We talked for a very long time, until only an hour or two until sunlight. We talked about vampires, about Dracula, who was apparently real and related to Holmes.

(Holmes owed me so many explanations when I saw him next.)

We talked about how she became a vampire when she was in her seventies, despite appearing in her thirties now. We talked about Quincey and Lucille. We talked about what it meant to be a woman in England – Mina had a great deal of insight, having been born in the 1870s – and we talked about our frustrations with the men we loved, who loved us, who had the best of intentions. We talked about the role of nosferatu in the War, and how the Nazis had already recruited Dracula’s brother, Radu, according to Dracula’s sources. We talked about earth and blood and running water and mirrors, and how vampires could appear younger than they were when they were made.

I think, in retrospect, my decision had been made before she had set foot in my house for the second time.

Holmes called several times that first day. I ignored his calls, too upset to speak with him. Emma brought me the phone messages, her eyes worried as she handed them over. “Mr Holmes sounds quite concerned,” she said, handing me the third message in one day. “Perhaps you might consider taking his calls?”

I smiled up at Emma, the feeling of exhaustion that had been plaguing me all day having driven me to lay down upon our settee. “Thank you, Emma. It’s quite all right. We’re just having a bit of a domestic. This will all have passed in a few days.”

Emma nodded, but she looked uncertain as she left the room.

Holmes’ messages did indeed convey a certain amount of increasing concern. Of the somewhat hysterical kind by the last message, I was amused to note. I was also pleased to read that he was trying to get leave from his taskmasters to come home and talk to me. Too little, too late, but it was an effort. I could appreciate the effort. Some of my anger eased.

When he called on the second day after our fight, I was asleep. Emma left the message by my bedside, and I read it in a haze. He was coming home. Tomorrow. I smiled and went back to sleep.

The third evening, Holmes burst into the cottage close to midnight. “Russell!” he called, and I watched as he walked swiftly into the sitting room, looking - well, looking somewhat calm, but I could tell he was worried. I could feel the nervousness and tension rolling off him as he looked through the darkness for me, his hand fumbling to find the light switch. I smiled fondly. My husband, who I had chosen when I was twenty-one, and who I loved still.

And would love forever.

“It’s all right, Holmes,” I said softly. “I’m here.”

His hand found the switch and he turned on the lights. He saw me sitting in my usual chair, watching the fire, one hand propped up on the arm of the chair. He crossed the room in three steps, kneeling beside me.

“Are you all right?” he asked urgently, his eyes searching every inch of me. “I understand why you aren’t talking to me; I deserve that. But then Emma said you were ill, and… I know we have so much to talk about, but please, first tell me you are all right.”

I looked at him and smiled, the taste of metal still fresh in my mouth. “I’m fine, Holmes. Just fine. But you’re right,” I said, taking my hand away from my neck and letting him see the tidy holes Mina had just left in my neck, neatly atop the two other sets from our previous evenings together. “We do have a lot to talk about.”