Un-anoning my holmestice story: Do Not Use This Address for Reply, Holmes & Watson, G

Jul 02, 2012 18:28

I will respond to comments on the post at holmestice when the masterlist goes up, but meanwhile I've let methylviolet10b, the recipient, know that it was my work, and mods have OKed us posting our works elsewhere as they sort out technical difficulties with getting a masterlist out.

Title: Do Not Use This Address for Reply
Recipient: methylviolet10b
Author: tweedisgood
Characters/Pairings: Watson, Holmes. Friendship or squinty slash, as you prefer
Rating: G
Warnings: None
Summary: Summer 1912; Watson hasn't seen Holmes in the flesh in years. Then he gets a strange telegram.



My first thought was that the telegram came from Holmes.

I knew no-one in the whole of America, after all, let alone in the city of Buffalo, New York State, the location of which I had to search for in an atlas. True, he had not been at liberty to give me the least idea where he would be off to, for some unspecified time, “longer than a month but, all being well, shorter than a lifetime”. True, too, that even had he been at liberty he might well have dismissed it as information I scarcely needed. He would always know how to find me.

My second thought was that the text of the wire made absolutely no sense. Telegraphic brevity usually translated my friend's crisp, incisive reasoning and peremptory demands into an austere ode to the economy of words. This was...well, in all honesty, I wondered whether, assuming it was indeed from Holmes, he was quite well - or entirely sober.

C/O DIPLOMATIC BAG, HIS BRITTANIC MAJESTY'S AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA STOP DO NOT USE THIS ADDRESS FOR REPLY STOP HAVE LONG KEPT A STOCK OF BEST VINTAGE 1852 BETTER ENJOYED WITH A FRIEND QUERY PITY STOP

As no address to which I could reply was offered, I could only puzzle over the contents of the message. There was no cellar at his country hermitage so far as I knew. Holmes had only ever taken a glancing interest in fine wines and spirits, usually at the actual point of consuming them. 1852 certainly had been a very good year, but after six decades, what might survive?

It had been almost five years since we had last met in person.

I had meant it to be otherwise, had promised myself not to see Holmes' natural reserve and self-created retirement solidify into silence and isolation without me there to provoke him to speech and sociability. From time to time in those five years we corresponded, even spoke on the telephone once or twice: but somehow he slipped away from the hook whenever I fished for another trip to Sussex. He had a standing invitation to stay with me whenever he might come to town: but he never found a reason to come to town.

A part of me was wounded; a part of me hardened my heart, week by week, month by month. Drat the man; why should I always hang on his grace and favour? I was the one who enjoyed society, a family, a reading public, a respected profession. It was his choice to be out of step with the world; his responsibility, now, to catch up with me. I had grown too accustomed, I told myself sternly, to being a follower. Time to cast off that yoke and stand tall.

All of that flew up like chaff in the harvest of memories.

Over the next few weeks several more messages came to me, apparently all originating in America, by way of haunts I had whilst at Baker Street and some that I had only started to frequent after we both had left. I began to feel as though Holmes, wherever he was in body, was following me around in spirit.

C/O NEVILL'S TURKISH BATH FOR GENTLEMEN NORTHUMBERLAND AVE LONDON WC STOP DO NOT USE THIS ADDRESS FOR REPLY STOP DO YOU NOT AGREE THE HOTTER THE BATH THE BETTER QUERY TESTS A MAN AND PROVES HIM STOP THIRTYONE DEGREES COOLED LATELY STOP

Thirty-one degrees? I should be encased in a block of ice if that number were in Fahrenheit, and in Centigrade, it was barely tepid. What was he on about? Why use an expensive transatlantic cable to make inane remarks about bathing? There was some code here, some inner meaning with which I could not help but feel he was teasing me.

I experienced that familiar mixture of irritation mingled with deep fondness that was the legacy of years - how many was it, now?- of dealing with my friend's love of a mystery, all the more if he could deepen it a little before the dramatic reveal, and his sly sense of humour at the expense of those not on his mental level.

Ten days later: Derby Day. I was about to have a modest flutter with one of the less dishonest bookmakers when, to my surprise, he handed me a telegram.

C/O SAMMY MILLER TURF ACCOUNTANT EPSOM RACECOURSE STOP DO NOT USE THIS ADDRESS FOR REPLY STOP WHAT ODDS SEXAGESIMA COVERING WHOLE DISTANCE SUCCESSFULLY QUERY SHORTER BY THE DAY STOP

Why was Holmes giving me racing tips? Besides, if a horse of that name had been entered for the race, it was not running.

I was in more comfortable circumstances now than the days when settling a gambling debt meant a journey home in Third Class and prevailing on Holmes for my half of the rent. So we puttered up to town in a smart little Ford. A worn gasket meant an unscheduled stop - and another telegram. He had, it seemed, seeded them all along my path well in advance, and left them to germinate whenever I stopped by.

C/O WEST'S INFALLIBLE MOTOR MECHANICS NOTTING HILL GATE LONDON W STOP DO NOT USE THIS ADDRESS FOR REPLY STOP AUGUST DESTINATION QUERY DEPARTMENT DE L'OISE STOP

As a matter of fact, I had planned a motoring tour of France for later in the year; but Holmes was mistaken as to my intended route. I suppose it was enough that he had managed to divine firstly that I had bought a car at all, and where I would choose to service my vehicle.

It was whilst paying for a road map of Brittany that I received the most baffling message yet:

C/O STANFORDS LTD LONG ACRE LONDON WC STOP DO NOT USE THIS ADDRESS FOR REPLY STOP FIFTEENTH LETTER OF HEBREW ALPHABET A VERITABLE PORTMANTEAU HOW TO CARRY IT QUERY EXCEPTION TESTS MY CONVICTION THAT NUMEROLOGY PRODUCT OF UNDEROCCUPIED BRAINS STOP

What on earth? Perhaps there were other and worse stimulants than cocaine to be had in the New World, and Holmes had been tempted to try one, even after so many years' abstinence. Yet there was something in the word play that sounded a true echo of his own love of the portmanteau - of the layer upon layer of his own accumulated case-notes and files, which made a portmanteau of our entire living room; of reaching deep into a mass of clues contained in an investigation to find what lurked at the bottom or in hidden corners.

I meant to hunt down a Hebrew dictionary and look it up, but an outbreak of diphtheria plunged me into dark realms of hazard and heartbreak for a fortnight. When I emerged blinking into the light after one especially evil night, gasping for a cigarette, another telegram was put into the bag with my purchase.

C/O BRADLEY'S & CO FINE TOBACCO OXFORD STREET LONDON W STOP DO NOT USE THIS ADDRESS FOR REPLY STOP HOW DOTH THE LITTLE BUSY BEES QUERY FIFTH FRAME TWELFTH HIVE FROM STAND OF ASPENS TOP MEADOW STOP

My wife was not much impressed by my determination to do down to Sussex by the next train and follow what seemed, at last, to be a clear and comprehensible direction. On the other hand, she had a bevy of guests to prepare for on that particular day, and I dare say having me safely out from under her feet was some compensation. I had formed no idea of what I might find. It was like the old days, when some clue had to be uncovered or some villain bearded in his den and I was sent off to fetch it like a loyal gun dog who knows only that its master is a dead shot and there will always be something to find in the undergrowth.

I passed the gate of his little villa on my way out to the land behind. I'd stayed there on an occasional weekend, surrounded by the flotsam of Baker Street and the jetsam of Holmes' childhood home, and learned more about bees than I had ever wanted to know. Of Holmes, of his life after London, I learned next to nothing. “L'homme c'est rien, l'oeuvre c'est tout” he had once told me. I did not really believe him: he was a colossus astride the Thames, seeing all and knowing all. In Sussex, he really did seem to diminish - to wane in the shadow of the hives.

They were empty now, cleared and cleaned in preparation for his departure. Birds sang, the trees trembled and rustled in the salt wind whipping up from the sea, but the steady hum of work, of the great insect city, was missing.

I lifted the top off the twelfth hive and pulled out the frames one by one. Tucked into the corner of the fifth frame was an envelope. He had often had me read his correspondence aloud, and I found myself doing the same for his own words without conscious thought.

“My dear Watson,

First of all, my best wishes on the occasion of your sixtieth birthday. No mean achievement. You have, I venture to hope, been entertained by my little puzzles. They all in some way commemorate the anniversary of your birth and the significance of our long association, but I draw your attention most particularly to the symbol
. Samekh stands for 60 in the Jewish tongue, and at its base refers to that which is relied upon, that which lies at the root of their law. What lies at the root of the law I once defended, the way of life that I am presently scheming to protect, and the green and pleasant land that gave us both birth, is the thirst for justice, for fairness,that wrongs should not go unchecked, that Everyman (and every woman) has as much a claim to his portion as the great and mighty.

To speak more personally - well, that is my failing, no doubt. To 'speak more personally' is for me akin to appearing naked on the stage at Drury Lane. So I have covered myself in a cloak made from ink and paper. What lay at the root of my work, of my life, what I could rely upon without even troubling to think on it - and indeed I did not trouble, that again is one of my failings - was, is, John Watson.

I have been in the wrong, my boy. And you, the very embodiment of Everyman, are owed justice. I stood off when I ought to have cleaved to you, geography and habit be damned. I was, perhaps, too afraid that we would no longer have anything in common to seek out what we might still have.

There may yet be time to put right my fault. I hope you will forgive me if I prevail upon you at the conclusion of this present work, should it prove successful. Look out for a wire, for you know I will never write if a telegram will do.

On this occasion, it would most emphatically not do.

You and I are due a reckoning of accounts. I believe, however, that I will always remain in your debt beyond that which can ever be repaid, and ever most truly

Your friend

Sherlock Holmes"

I sat, laughing, with my back to the hive, until the tears flowed. How like him this all was - the cleverness; the secrecy; the outrageous theatricality; the utter indifference to the convenience of ordinary mortals; the true heart, nevertheless, at the core.

Would I answer when his next call came? I might as well ask myself if I remembered my own name. Yet perhaps, just perhaps, when I did, I might make some passing allusion to having come out of my way. Again.

END

sherlock holmes, fic

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