|Can You Hear Me Now?
Author: KCS PM
A sporadic series of oneshots, revolving around various post-retirement telephone conversations. Completely random, not necessarily chronological, and more than occasionally pure fluff - you have been warned.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Friendship - Chapters: 13 - Words: 31,395 - Reviews: 176 - Favs: 76 - Follows: 29 - Updated: 07-25-09 - Published: 10-12-08 - id: 4592004
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Apparently my muse is inspired more by other people's stories than my own imagination, because I thank Igiveup for both the inspiration and the permission to write this, a response triggered by her recent story Lies of Deception.
Pure fluff, but we all need a dosage of it once in a while, don't we? Specially dedicated in this case to bcbdrums, who has been ill lately. Here's hoping you feel better soon!
Also - most people are aware of my view of the retirement; for those of you who are not, I believe that Watson did not remarry, and that he took a practice in London around or after Holmes's retirement in 1903.
I glanced in irritation at the telephone sitting upon my desk, knowing full well who the caller was and the reason for ringing me at such a beastly hour. After twenty-two years, one would think the man could learn some tact.
"The illustrations are horrible – who the devil posed for Sidney Paget?"
Thanks to this new invention, I was perfectly safe in rolling my eyes and took advantage of the fact. "Good to hear you too, Holmes. Look, the Strand does not pay me to illustrate, only to write the story. What the devil's wrong now?"
"My hairline hasn't receded that much even at present – and this was supposed to be set nine years ago?!"
"Write the editor a letter, but don't go calling me up after eleven at night to rant about something over which I have no control. Anything else about the story you didn't like? …Or do we have time before morning to discuss the list you no doubt have been compiling?"
"Very funny, Watson."
"I really wasn't trying to be," I sighed, laying down my pencil and leaning back in my chair, finally putting my feet on the desk and giving up any pretense of working. Abrasively insulting regarding my stories he might be, but Sherlock Holmes was still my dearest friend and as such took priority over all else, especially these days.
"Why The Empty House, Watson?" was the next question he posed to me, accompanied by a shuffling of turning pages.
"Beg pardon?" I yawned.
"Only the denouement of the case took place in Camden House; not much else of the story did," said he. "And besides, why not call it The Adventure of Camden House if you wished to draw attention to it?"
I sighed wearily, rubbing my eyes. "I wasn't referring to Camden House, Holmes."
The paper-rustling stopped. "Hmm? What then?"
I ran a hand through my hair, debating whether or not to tell him the complete truth or attempt to fabricate some other explanation - neither of which was a pleasant option when dealing with the world's only (retired) consulting detective.
"Watson? Are you there? Confound this blasted thing…WATSON!"
"For heaven's sake, Holmes, yelling louder into the mouthpiece will not magically re-connect a faulty connection – and I was thinking!" I said, repressing a laugh at his impatience.
"Well, what empty house were you referring to, then?" he demanded petulantly.
"Mine," I at last said softly. "Or Baker Street, depending upon your point of view."
Dead silence choked the line for the space of several seconds, during which I waited patiently instead of bellowing into the mouthpiece as he was fond of doing.
"Yes, of course…how remiss of me," I heard his subdued voice at last.
"Most of the public would assume I meant Camden House," I offered by way of explanation, twisting the telephone cord in my fingers, uneasy at not being able to see his facial expressions. "It was more for my personal tribute to the case than anything else."
"Well, that's your privilege as the author, certainly," he replied quietly.
I breathed out a sigh of relief that he was not going to start into a tirade on foolish sentimentalism. My exhalation must have been heard on the other end, for he began to laugh knowingly and forge onwards in the conversation.
"By the way, you do know you misspellt lama?"
I winced, for I had already seen the typographical error. "I promise, that was the typesetter, not I!"
"Is a line-by-line critique of the new series the only reason you called?" I asked, muffling a yawn.
"No. Are you yawning?"
"Yes. It is nearly midnight, Holmes."
"So I observed. Why are you working so late?"
I rubbed my eyes wearily and looked down at the stack of papers covering my desk. "Just a long week. Prescriptions to record, mail to answer, next month's story to finish editing, and I haven't even looked at my patient list for tomorrow…"
"You're going to run yourself into the ground, old man. I know you are a soldier, my dear Watson, but you are not under some obligation to so earnestly fight the entire world singlehandedly."
I smiled even though he could not see me – for some reason my friend was always much more open over the telephone than he was in person; whether it was because he did not have to look at me while he spoke or because he had mellowed with age and distance I was not certain, but I was not about to argue with him regarding the pleasant alteration of his caustic personality.
"Hopefully things will calm down next week, a few of my patients are going out of town," I murmured sleepily.
"Good. Don't make me come up there to frighten them off or drag you away on a trumped-up case."
This time I laughed aloud, and I could hear the grin in his voice even through the scratchy connection. "Shouldn't you be going to bed now?"
"My work's not finished yet – some idiot with a fascination for this new invention, the telephone, keeps ringing me in the middle of the night to interrupt," I replied mischievously, removing my feet from the desk and attempting to sort through the mess of papers.
"Technically, Watson, this is not the middle of the night. If we consider the fact that this time of year shortly after the autumnal equinox, it begins to grow dark around eight and begins to grow light at seven, then technically the middle of the night would be somewhere around one – Watson, are you listening to me?"
I hastily picked up the receiver from where I had let it lie whilst I scribbled my signature on several documents as he rambled.
"You were not, you put the phone down."
"Making theories without data, are we?"
"I heard the rush of air when you picked it back up, Watson."
I dropped my pen with a quiet moan, pinching the bridge of my nose to stave off the approaching headache.
"Look, if I hang up will you promise to turn in for the night?"
"Not necessarily," I replied truthfully. "Besides, you still haven't told me the real reason for your call. Somehow I doubt it was just to chat for an hour - that isn't your style."
"Why wouldn't it be?" He sounded quite miffed, and I chuckled.
"Because if you truly wanted to talk about nothing, you would have called at a time when you knew I would be awake, instead of chancing my being either asleep or barely coherent at this ridiculous hour."
"I might have been busy the entire evening."
"With a hive of bees?"
"Three hives, and they are very demanding."
"More so than any client you ever had, apparently, if they took your entire afternoon and evening."
"Well, I suppose it could have waited until morning, but I thought it worth a try to catch you tonight," he said in annoyance.
I yawned again, not bothering to repress the sound. "Thought what was worth a try?"
"What are you doing this weekend?" He always had retained the most annoying habit of answering a question with another question.
I shouldered the telephone, rubbing my head with one hand and reaching for my appointment book with the other. "Mm, let's see…nothing much, thank heaven. I was going to a lecture on the recent European developments in psychology at St. Bart's Saturday evening…"
"Bah, you are the one who should be doing the lecturing, not attending them. Forget about the boring thing. I've been practicing Mendelssohn."
I assumed the last two sentences had a logical connection, though my brain was slightly fuzzy at that point in a very long day and I was not quite sure what that connection was. "Is that a suggestion, or an invitation?"
"For someone who cannot stop from yawning his head off into the telephone, you are dreadfully pawky tonight."
"Answer the question, Holmes, for goodness' sake!"
He snorted. "An invitation, naturally. I grow weary of talking to bees all the day."
"Hence the midnight phone-calls."
"Hence the midnight phone-calls," he agreed cheerfully. "And if you don't come down, you shall get another such call tomorrow night."
"You know, had you set your mind to it, you could have given Charles Augustus Milverton quite a bit of competition."
"And you in turn could have given Charles Dickens some had you tried writing something other than popular romantic claptrap."
"Erm…thank you, I think."
"You're welcome. Your train leaves at two tomorrow afternoon. Don't be late."
I snorted fondly. "This from the man who used to vault over the gates of Euston Station, hurl his ticket at the conductor, and jump aboard the locomotive as it was gathering speed – on multiple occasions?"
"I said don't be late – I could not care one whit how close you cut it, so long as you get here. I shall have a trap waiting for you."
"Last time I had to walk," I said in amusement, shoving a stack of papers into a drawer for obviously I was not going to do more on them tonight.
"That was in the summer. It's far too cold for a man of your declining age to be doing so this time of year."
"I am not even going to respond to that, Holmes."
"Are you done with that paperwork yet? I don't hear the rustling any more."
"I've given up for the night," I sighed wearily, leaning back in my chair and repressing another yawn.
"Excellent," he said gleefully. "Now you only have to pack, and you can go to bed."
I restrained the urge to slam my head into the desk, but only with an effort.
"Didn't I leave some of my things there last time?" I asked in dismay.
"No, but it might be a good idea," he replied helpfully. "You could leave a weekend's worth of clothing and so on in the guest room."
"You may need it for something between my stays; somehow I doubt a visitor would appreciate finding a used toothbrush on the bureau," I said sleepily.
"Well, there is one permanent solution to the problem," his voice came through the line much quieter than it had been.
I sighed, fingering the telephone cord slowly. "Holmes, we've been through this a dozen times already…I just cannot do that yet; I would go stark raving mad before a month had passed, with nothing to do out there…"
"A soldier fighting to the end, eh?"
"That is not something I can discard like an old coat, Holmes – no more than you could change your temperament of an escapist," I replied gently.
"You're implying my method of dealing with the change in London was to withdraw from it, yours by staying to fight it?"
"Isn't that what it boils down to, my dear fellow?"
There was a small pause, and then a dismal sigh. "You are correct, I suppose, Watson…which is a more common occurrence than anyone would think who only knew us through those ridiculously florid memoirs."
"It always comes back to those, doesn't it?" I asked with a smile.
"You have come to expect it from me by now, have you not? I should hate to disappoint you."
"Yes," I admitted, absently twisting the telephone cord round my hand. For a moment neither of us said a word, and then I could not keep back a wider yawn than before.
"I'm hanging up now. Do go to sleep, old fellow. It would not do for you to be dispensing the wrong drugs tomorrow due to being half-dead on your feet. Not to mention you would probably end up in jail for it, and that would completely ruin the weekend."
"Your concern for my welfare is staggeringly touching," I replied, smiling at the receiver.
We both laughed with the ease that comes of a near quarter-century of close friendship, and it was with genuine reluctance that I did finally end the conversation.
"Technically, my dear fellow, it is morning now, as the actual definition of post-meridian ends with –"
I hung the receiver up on the instrument, as he knew full well I would, and grinned into the darkness. Some things never changed, among them his absolute reluctance to say goodbye to me.
He had refused outright to say goodbye when he left London, insisting desperately that it was merely an au revoir and hopping on the train before I had even finished saying what I wanted to (having anticipated this, I had written him a letter and stowed it in his last valise), and every time I had to return to the city from a visit to him he refused to say goodbye, only to voice a bon voyage before seeing me off to the trap that would take me to the station.
In addition to this, he either hung up the telephone without saying goodbye, just by ending the conversation, or else a tradition had started between us where he would launch into an inane ramble about the most random topic under the sun and I would simply put the receiver down, negating having to say a final farewell - it was practically habit now.
I turned off the single lamp and left my consulting room, trying to remember where I had put my bag upon returning last weekend, my mind already racing past the routine of the next day to land upon a country railway station platform in the heart of Sussex.
For a man who professed to be a brain without a heart for so many years, Sherlock Holmes could be endearingly sentimental at times.
And I would not have it any other way, not for all the world, past and present.