A/n: Sorry I haven't been replying to reviews, I'm kinda tired lately. I'm glad for any enjoyment you get from my stories, though. Thanks for the reviews. ^^
About this story, I...well, I hope you like it, and there's a tiny reference to Granada CHAR. ^^
"Here we are, Watson, hop out."
"Holmes, the ink's gone all over my sleeve! if you'd waited one minute, I could have—"
"It's all right, Watson, I'll figure this out." Holmes frowned, turning the pen round in his fingers.
"Pff! All right for you, look at my sleeve! I can't go into my club like this."
"You shouldn't have taken your coat off, the ink would have blended in quite perfectly with the black material."
"I didn't know you were going to be flinging ink about! Wait a bit, why aren't you coming out?"
"I must go to the library."
"But you said--"
"The titles I recalled may be difficult to find, I can waste no time in looking them up."
"Oh well, I'll go waste my time alone then." I shut the cab door.
"A tout a l'heure, Watson," Holmes called, and the cab rattled away.
* * *
I sank deeper into the leather chair, trying to prevent that memory from spoiling the peaceful club mood. I wished I could leave my coat on, but it was so deuced warm, I relented, took off my coat and lay it over my lap.
"Certainly." I took one from the proffered tray, nodding my thanks to the servant before lighting my smoke. I exhaled the smoke quietly.
"Hallo there, you've forgotten to take the band off!"
"So I have." I held the cigar out and examined it dubiously. "Suppose it can still be done? If I just—" I held the band loosely between thumb and middle finger and slipped it off quickly, keeping my fingers away from the glowing red end.
"Ha, neat bit of work there!" A laugh came from the same voice, and I turned to find O'Brian; we'd seen each other now and then in the club but never talked much. He seemed to be in a social mood tonight, and paused by the chair beside me, brows raised quizzically.
"Yes, do sit down." I motioned for him to do so, then turned my attention to the band as I continued to smoke. "Funny, I never forgot before. Do you like this Havana brand?"
"As long as it's a cigar, I'll smoke it," he said easily. "I'm that sort of fellow, not overly picky but—I may say from experience—setting the band aflame is preferably avoided. Wanted to save you that."
"Yes I do appreciate it. I've just…I guess I have too much on my mind, really."
"I'm all too familiar with that," O'Brian chuckled ruefully.
"Yes, I work at the newspapers—did you know that? Well I do, and everyone there is continually confusing simple problems with a crisis. They're forever holding things up and asking me and others for advice, when they should just use their own minds. I don't have enough brain-power to run the papers, you know, everyone's been given mental powers for a reason. But they like to ride my coat tails, I tell you it's a rare day when I'm not aching to get to this place and put aside all the nonsense of life. In other words, I've burned my share of bands on bad days, you see."
"Yes...I imagine so," I stammered, a little overwhelmed by his sudden and vigorous descriptions. "Ah...would you like a cigar?"
"No I've had one already, actually, was going to have brandy in a bit. I want my palate to be free from smoke when I have a glass. I am particular about my drink, you see; cigars no, drink yes. Good lord yes, I fancy one day I'll be a sommelier in the finest restaurant in the world!"
"Simpsons, you mean?" I asked playfully.
"Who knows? You know, I believe—beg pardon, I haven't caught your name."
"A doctor! Really? Now that's fascinating. Well what I meant to say was, I find I simply can't sit so near a Havana without having one myself, the brandy will have to wait. Good sir, yes, can you come this way?"
He took a cigar from the white-gloved servant's tray and turned to me, giving a knowing wink as he removed the cigar-band.
I laughed. "Do you need a match?"
"Happily enough I have a book in my pocket. And here it is…ah, yes. Some men, I dare say, don't understand about cigars. They fancy that a cigar is ugly and obvious compared to the slim little cigarette. Well I disagree, as a matter of fact I find a cigar to be well-balanced, more flavorful…better in every way."
"Perhaps you should be a salesman," I teased. "You praise them so well."
"Who couldn't?" He laughed, glanced at me and then paused. "If I were to bark any wares at the moment, though, it would be…"
"I know." I sighed, looking down at my sleeve. "It happened on the way here, you see; there was no time to go back and change. Bah, it was a nuisance!"
"Do tell," O'Brien said, smiling.
I nodded, giving a resigned expression.
"That wasn't rhetorical, Dr. Watson--really, what happened?"
Surprised, I studied his face a moment and saw he was eager and interested. It was flattering, but should I really divulge? I drew on my cigar a moment. "Well—my friend was in the cab with me, you see. And--"
"What, doesn't he go to the club?"
"No, it's not something he enjoys, really."
"Won't even come with you to visit?" he observed, cocking a brow and holding his cigar at a disdainful angle.
"He thinks it's a waste of time."
"Damned rude friend."
"No--oh no, really, I shouldn't have said it that way. It was more--"
"Oh, now Doctor, don't go back on yourself," O'Brien said lightly. "Manners are cut and dry as straw. If he's rude, he's rude, no sense hiding it. Have you known him long?"
"Yes, we're flat-mates actually. Um...anyhow, we were riding along in the cab, and he thought of some book he needed from the library. So he took out his ink pencil to note it down."
"An ink pencil? In a bouncing cab? This is really getting good now," O'Brian snickered, placing the cigar between his lips and rubbing his hands in anticipation.
I found myself smiling. "Well, so he took the cap off, his notebook ready on his knee. He started to write—and no ink came out."
"Oh that's nothing serious; nudging the metal tip generally works."
"Yes I know, but Holmes...ah, Holmes hasn't always the patience to think those things through. But just listen." I was eager now to get to the worst part of the story, which becomes the best once a man is in his club and provided with an attentive audience. "When the ink still wouldn't show, he became frustrated, and he shook the pencil rather violently—" I demonstrated with my cigar, though something bothered me. My voice and actions were a little too dramatic and exaggerated, almost mocking. Perhaps I'd better stop the story.
"Do continue, Watson, what did the fool do next?" O'Brian begged through anticipatory laughter.
The flinch of guilt was quite overwhelmed by the fresh memory of Holmes's haughty face—ridiculous, as if he could know all about the virtues or vices of clubs without belonging to one!—and his self-righteous smile as he bid me good-bye from the cab, in French. I was certain he thought himself more self-controlled and disciplined, educating his mind instead of going to a club for the evening.
Abruptly I turned round to O'Brien. "He shook that stupid pen until the ink came out, all over my sleeve. I'd taken off my coat because the summer even is so warm, and I paid for it! You can nearly see Ursa Major in these spots!"
O'Brien clapped me on the back, gasping with laughter. "What a story, what a story! Old fellow, you and I must talk more. You've made my evening so much better with your wit. Yes, you are a wit; don't often get told that, eh? Well, you have to admit Doctors aren't generally thought of as entertainers. Too black and white, our society. Watson, do tell another story of this man. You can't leave off there! Tell me more about what sort of man he is."
I was flushing under O'Brian's praise, but something gave me pause. It was my own laughter. Usually when I laughed with Holmes at a joke, I felt it in my ribs, my lungs, a happy sort of pain. But now, I laughed coldly, mockingly--and I felt a strange, dark satisfaction that was utterly foreign and quite terrifying. I looked into O'Brian's eyes and saw no compassion, no heart. Eyes like a snake.
And I felt I was almost the same, turning poison inside.
I bowed my head a moment, and began speaking quietly. "One day, a rainy day, a lady came to the flat. Not like that," I snapped, cutting off his sly laugh. "A lady came for help, she was…at a loss. Her gloves were wet, Holmes asked for them and lay them carefully over the grate so they would dry, so she could have warm, dry gloves. He took care of a little detail like that. That's the sort of man he is," I finished, getting to my feet. "Good evening."
I caught a cab and went to the library, asking the librarian straight away if they'd seen a tall, austere man. He must have slipped in quietly for she had not seen him. I was left fumbling my way through the rows of books, my hand trailing along the spines of old friends. Occasionally I pulled a book off the shelf, flipped through it in a superficial, hurried manner, and shoved it back.
My hand was always on the shelves, the books—seeking anchorage as I searched. Finally I turned a row and there was Holmes, finger to lips in thought, his top hat in hand. I hurried to meet him, whispering his name.
He glanced at me but showed no surprise; his face eased into a more tranquil expression as he continued perusing the titles. It was as if he'd suddenly found his misplaced walking stick. "Hallo Watson," he replied, speaking in the hushed library-voice as well.
"I hope I'm not disturbing your research," I apologized, drawing near to him.
"Ah, no; this is, as I mentioned at dinner, a case long abandoned. All parties involved are dead, so there's no lives or honor at stake. It's more a matter of brain-exercise and innate curiosity than anything else. The only worry is if this library stocks the books I thought of...Disturb my research, indeed." He gave me an affectionate look before turning back to the books, tilting sideways so he could read the titles easier. "You're my illumination, don't you know."
"Holmes, earlier tonight..."
"You mustn't take it badly, you know, Watson; I recalled the books and so my plans changed. That's just…how it happens." He gave a pleased exclamation and knelt before the bottom shelf. "I thought this was out of circulation…" Holmes flipped the book open, running a gloved finger along the lines, murmuring as his brow knotted tighter. "'Disregarding the use of iodine'…well that's no good...H'm! Why didn't you stay at the club?" He asked me suddenly, looking up from the faded page. He looked almost startled, as if he had just now realized it was strange I should be here with him.
I was unused to looking down at Holmes; perhaps it was his sudden diminutive appearance that gave me strength enough. "I—said some things, tonight at my club…that I…I…sh-shouldn't..."
Holmes looked at my trembling knees, and gave a sideways jerk of his head; I sat beside him. "Let me see your sleeve. Don't be bashful, Watson--yes, just slip one arm out like that. Oh dear...I didn't see in the cab how much…I really spoiled your shirt, didn't I." He sank into thought for a moment before turning back to me. "Do you know, Watson, in my experiments I've found a compound that takes the ink out of most fabrics. Not perfectly, but it can help a good deal. It's wonderful to see, really, and if you want a demonstration tonight, I'd be willing."
"I'll gladly see it, Holmes. Thanks," I added, as he offered his hand to help me up.
"No need to mention it. Watson, if you wouldn't mind lingering here, I've a few more ideas on books I can use—and who knows, you may find a volume or two that interests you as well. Tomorrow will most likely be rainy; it's wise to stock our little flat. Proverbial chipmunks, if you will."
I thought of the two of us by the fire, looking through books together as the rain pattered against the window, and I wished it was tomorrow already.