In answer to a challenge by clevergirl: We (and Holmes) discover what happens when a panicking Watson's got a deadline from the Strand looming and HAS to stay awake…
"Watson! What the devil are you doing?"
My friend jumped, dropping his pen in startlement, whirling round in his chair. I walked into the sitting room, shedding soaked coat and hat as I went.
"It is after one – what are you doing up? Writing?"
I stared at the papers on his desk, noting the dark circles under his eyes and his semi-panicked countenance.
Watson rubbed his eyes sleepily.
"How was your talk with the condemned man?"
"Don't change the subject, Watson – what are you doing?"
"What does it look like, Holmes – deduce the obvious for yourself," he growled, turning back to the desk.
Watson was always rather grouchy when deprived of sleep.
"Ah, you've got a deadline, eh?"
"Brilliant deduction, Holmes," he mumbled, scribbling away on a fresh sheet of paper.
"Why did you wait until the last second to write the blasted story?"
"Because you were hauling me between London and Essex all day the last three days in search of that fence who took care of the Austrian diamonds, that's why – I was supposed to be writing those three evenings!"
"I needed you!"
"And I went – but now I have to have a story into the Strand by ten o'clock tomorrow –"
"Today. Ten o'clock today."
"Ooooh, just go away, Holmes!" he moaned, turning back to his work.
"I was only trying to be helpful," I muttered, glancing at the clock – nearly two.
I changed out of my jacket and put on my dressing gown and slippers, preparing for bed. I was about to close my bedroom door when I glanced out at the dimly-lit sitting room, seeing the candles on Watson's desk sending flickering shadows to flit across his face as he worked doggedly.
I must be getting sentimental in my old age – I never should have done such a thing ten years ago. I would have said it served him right for starting that romantic rubbish in the first place.
Except that I could not get round the fact that half the clients who passed our threshold said something to the effect of 'I've read of you, Mr. Holmes…'"
Sighing, I went down the stairs and, without waking Mrs. Hudson, made a pot of what I hoped was passable coffee and carried it up the stairs. I entered the sitting room again just in time to see his head nod and nearly slam into the desk.
"That's not the best idea in the world, Watson – concussing yourself will not help the story get done," I called, pouring out a cup and adding milk and sugar as I knew he took it.
He jerked upright with a startled yelp, turning half-round to stare at me. I walked over and gently put the cup down on the desk. He stared at it blearily for a minute, rubbing at his temples, before replying.
"Thank you," he murmured wearily, draining the cup in one gulp.
I refilled it, set it down, and then pulled up my own chair beside his, glancing at the mountain of papers on his desk.
"What's taking you so long, old chap?"
He laid down his pen with a moan.
"It's just not flowing – nothing ever does, this time of the morning!"
"You should have told me; I would not have made you come along on all those trips."
"If I hadn't, that Austrian would have shot you in the head that last time."
"Yes, but still, you should have told me."
"I really did not want to hear yet again that I 'shouldn't be writing lurid romanticism anyway', Holmes," he said with a grin, sitting back and sipping the second cup of coffee.
"Touché. Can I help?"
"I don't think so."
"Just don't let me fall asleep, all right?"
"Shall I play you something?"
"As you wish," I said, somewhat miffed at his horrified look.
"Sorry. Thanks for the coffee."
"Tastes all right, then?"
"I hadn't noticed, really."
This conversation was officially going nowhere, and so I refilled his cup and lit my pipe, watching curiously as he continued to scribble with a fury. How a man – especially a doctor – could write neatly at all, much less under pressure and going so fast, was a phenomenon to be studied in itself.
I sat for over two hours, puffing on my pipe and occasionally poking him with it when he started to nod off, receiving more than one irritated look for my pains, which I pointedly ignored.
As he continued to write in silence, I picked up the loose sheets of foolscap and began to peruse them absently.
"I don't want to know, Holmes."
"You spelled lama wrong."
"One L. You need one L – you spelled it with two."
"Ooooh," he moaned, not even looking up from the paper.
"You are familiar with the word?"
"I know it's an animal; I'm not stupid, Holmes."
"Well, I did not spend time with the 'head animal' in Tibet, Watson."
"You know something, Holmes?"
"I DON'T EVEN CARE AT THIS POINT!"
I glanced up at his vehemence, snickering at the exasperated look upon his face.
"Well the good man might be slightly offended, Watson."
"If the news reaches Tibet before I die, then I'll send him a letter of apology and an autographed copy of the Hound of the Baskervilles. Now do keep quiet so I can finish!"
I did keep quiet, for an hour at least. Then I found something else I simply had to draw his attention to.
"What now?" he moaned, pausing with his finger on a word.
"Why didn't you tell them what really happened?"
"Because we both have reputations, you idiot. Do you want me plastering all over the English-speaking populace's favorite family magazine that when you appeared from the dead we had a row to end all rows and I ended up throwing you from my house?"
I swallowed at the remembrance.
"Not really, no."
"Hence that blather in my study there in the story."
"But still, Watson, the truth should be –"
"And do you want me telling them that you got pathetically sentimental and kept coming back to the house pleading for forgiveness until I finally cooled down and let you back in?"
"I did nothing of the kind!"
"You did too."
"I was not sentimental and I was not pleading!"
"Oh, really, Holmes," he replied dryly, glaring at me pointedly.
"Well, not entirely," I amended sheepishly.
"Not entirely. Not entirely what?"
"Not entirely sentimental. It was purely a business deal, Watson – I needed a dependable person to accompany me to Camden House to catch Moran, and you were simply the easiest to get to, that is all."
"You do not lie outright near as well as you used to, Holmes."
"I am not lying!" I said indignantly.
He turned a grinning face in my direction.
"Holmes, please just be quiet so I can finish?"
I settled back, muttering to myself and glancing at him out of the corner of my eye. True, some things were better off not going into the pages of the Strand.
He scribbled for some minutes in a fury, finally pausing to take down a dictionary and fumble through it unsuccessfully trying to locate the correct word.
"How do you spell shikari?"
"Are you sure? I thought it was s-h-a."
"No, I'm not sure. But why should you care, if you are leaving llama in there?"
Judging by his growls he was not pleased with my sense of humour. His scribbling was growing increasingly slower now as he grew more and more tired – it was well onto six in the morning at this point and he had been no doubt at this all night.
The coffee pot was empty, and so I took it downstairs to refill it. When I returned, I saw that he had given up the battle for sleep in my absence and was slumped over the desk, breathing heavily, a long scratch in the paper where his pen had skittered across the foolscap as he fell forward.
I had my hand out to waken him when I saw that the page he was on was detailing the very end of Moran's capture. Surely…
Surely it would not be that hard to duplicate his writing style, for it was floridly romantic enough to give a man plenty of leeway. I had twitted him mercilessly about his writing on multiple occasions, and he had often enough tried to get me to write one of my own. Hmm…
I glanced up from the Times as Watson gave a start, jerking his head up so fast I was worried his neck might snap, glancing frantically at the mantel clock as it struck ten.
"For the love of heaven calm down, my dear Watson. Mrs. Hudson made an excellent breakfast, and –"
"Holmes, it is ten o'clock – I fell asleep, why didn't you wake me up?" he demanded, scrambling round for his pen and paper.
"Because you looked exhausted, Watson. You were almost finished, at any rate," I said calmly.
He stopped his scrambling, glancing round at the now-empty desk before turning a pair of suspicious hazel eyes upon me.
"Holmes," he asked in a deathly calm voice, "where is my story."
"At the Strand."
"Don't worry, I finished it for you," I told him, taking a bite of buttered toast.
"Watson, don't shout, you'll wake the neighbours."
"You did not just say that!"
"Well you will wake them!"
"Not the blasted neighbours, the story, Holmes! You – you –"
"What, don't you think I can write as well?" I asked indignantly.
My dear friend collapsed on the couch with a moan, burying his face in the pillows there.
"No, no, no," I heard a muffled cry of dismay.
"Would you rather I let you miss your deadline?"
"Did it never occur to you to just wake me up, Holmes?" he demanded, lifting his bloodshot eyes to look at me.
"Yes, it did occur to me. But this case is far from over, Watson, and I need you to be at your full alertness later when we go after that –"
He buried his face again, and I looked at him, nonplussed.
"Oh, come on, my dear fellow – if anyone can tell my writing from yours at the end, I shall never again tweak you about your stories," I offered.
"Promise?" This in a muffled groan.
"I promise. I have not dealt with skilled forgers for years with no result, Watson. Now stop sulking and eat your eggs."
"I'm not sulking."
"I am not!"
"All right, you're not. Get up and eat anyway."
He growled something unintelligible and finally sat down to breakfast with me.
A month later
"'It will be verified or disproved at the trial. Meanwhile, come what may, Colonel Moran will trouble us no more. The famous air-gun of Von Herder will embellish the Scotland Yard Museum, and once again Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems which the complex life of London so plentifully presents.' I take it all back, Holmes."
"Hmph? I beg your pardon?" I asked, not looking up from my experiments.
"This story. Well done."
"Oh, the story. Out, is it? How did I do?"
"As well as I, I shall be the first to admit. Surprised you could write something that 'romantically ridiculous', though," he said, and I could tell from his voice that he was grinning ear-to-ear.
"I have to say I was quite nauseated when I was done. I thought about just saying, 'Colonel Moran is now rotting in Dartmoor prison and obviously Sherlock Holmes is back in practice'. Succinct and to the point, eh?"
"Now I am quite nauseated," I heard a mutter and a rustling as he went back to his magazine.
He didn't see the wide grin upon my face as I glanced toward my desk, where I had hidden my own copy of his rather good Adventure of the Empty House.
No sense in telling him I actually enjoyed the thing – he would want to do a collaboration.
I went back to my chemicals.
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