The Carnation Conundrum

Author’s note: I’m not sure where this fits into my timeline, or even if it does.  The reference to Watson’s ill-timed proposal could put it sometime after their advenures at Baskerville, or it could be any time since.  I didn’t set out to write fiction.  I was working on a post about Victorian Valentine’s traditions, and this happened instead.  

I don’t know why I decided Watson would be the recepient, or the POV character.  I do kind of like the idea of Charlotte planning all this.  Only she could make a romantic gesture so methodical.

Happy (belated) Valentine’s Day, everybody!



John Watson is used to waking up alone. Even on the nights he starts out in Charlotte’s bed, or she starts out in his, they always end up on their own before morning. It doesn’t matter that her aunt knows – or that he’s aware she knows, whether anyone knows he is or not – they go through the motions of pretending that they’re clever and getting one over on Mrs. Hudson all the same. Meanwhile, he pretends he didn’t offer Charlotte a solution to all this that would make the need for sneaking about and skullduggery unnecessary. It went so well the first time he suggested it that he hasn’t dared broach the topic of marriage since. Thus, Watson always wakes to a half-empty bed and a growing sense of dissatisfaction with that singular fact.This morning, though, he’s not entirely alone. When he turns his head to stare longingly at the empty stretch of bed next to him, he’s greeted by the sight of a single red carnation left on the pillow. There’s no note or visible context; just one perfect flower. He stares at it for whole minutes, as if doing so would either provoke explanation, or prove it a remnant of a fading dream. When it remains – and remains unexplained – he plucks it from its perch and climbs out of bed still perplexed.

He trims the stem with every intent of turning it into an impromptu boutonnière, but someone has beat him to the punch. When he pulls his jacket out of his wardrobe, there’s another carnation, just as red and perfect, already in place. Two more are tucked inside his shoes. He finds a fifth waiting in his shaving cup.

“Wasn’t aware I slept so soundly,” he mutters to himself as he sets them all aside so he can dress and shave.

Breakfast goes much the same. While he eats – alone, but that’s not entirely unusual with Charlotte’s hours – he finds another carnation tucked inside the newspaper, bookmarking the account of a recent cricket match he’d shown interest in. Another bloom somehow finds its way into his teacup; he finds it floating there only after he blindly pours the tea.

“Do you know what all this is about?” he asks the landlady when she brings in his plate.

“I couldn’t begin to guess,” Anne Hudson says, and there’s something in the way she glares at him that makes him question the statement.

His office is a floral scavenger hunt as well. He finds flowers tucked in drawers, hidden inside books, nestled in test tubes. When he accidentally mutters something about wondering what the mad woman’s up to during Mrs. Livingston’s appointment, she only laughs.

“Consider the question a bit longer, doctor,” she says, patting his shoulder in a very “there, there you silly thing,” sort of way. “Maybe an answer will come to you.”

When he has enough carnations to fill multiple bouquets and has had four different patients giggle at his cluelessness, he gives up and goes in search of their distributor, but she’s nowhere to be found. The sitting room is vacant. Her own is empty, too, save another carnation sitting in the middle of her bed, tucked inside a folded piece of paper. “Langham Hotel,” it reads in Holmes’ precise scrawl. “Six p.m.. Room 214. Bypass the front desk, please. –CH.”

He’s nervous as he enters the hotel, though he can’t pinpoint the exact cause. Most of the staff are busy herding guests so it’s not difficult for him to slip unseen across the lobby to the stairs. Things begin to click as he passes the entrance to the restaurant and the sign there, advertising their special Valentine’s Day service. He stops and curses himself as the giggles and glares his questions earned him all day begin to make perfect, mortifying sense.

And there he is, arriving empty-handed. Leave it to him to forget Valentine’s Day because he thought Holmes would find it useless. Leave it to him to forget, like everyone else, that she’s human, too.

He finds the room easily enough and knocks. After a moment, a quiet voice within bids him enter. As he steps inside, Charlotte is waiting in the middle of the room. Her hair is down. Her dress is new. In her hands is a single red carnation. It is shaking with the force of the tremble in those hands. Watson swears he’s never seen her look more unsure in all the time he’s known her.

“Does Fidelia know you’re borrowing her room?” One of her eyebrows lifts in silent question and he chuckles. “I do make house calls on occasion, Holmes. For certain patients.”

She nods, one rebellious dark curl falling across her forehead with the movement. “She offered me the use of it for the night. Her tab with room service as well. Said it was her Valentine’s gift to the two most stubborn people she knows. She thought we might appreciate some actual time alone, where no one’s worried about rushing back to their own bed before daybreak.”

“And what will your aunt think of the both of us being gone overnight?”

“Nothing good, I’d wager. I don’t find I’m overly worried, though. Are you?”

He steps further into the room, locking the door behind him as he does. “Not really,” he says, nodding briefly to the flower she’s still holding. “And those?”

Dianthus caryophyllus,” she says in that matter-of-fact, you-should-already-know-this tone that he both loathes and adores. This time, though, that usually confident tone wavers and her eyes remain fixed on the flower in her unsteady hands. “Common carnation. Native to the Mediterranean, but its reach has spread considerably due to widespread introduction into various areas since the time of its initial discovery.”

He nods. A teasing smile tugs at one corner of his mouth. “I thought you didn’t have room in your mental library for botany beyond hemlock and henbane and digitalis.”

She looks up, then. Blinks. Frowns, too. “I make room for relevant things. Important ones. Things – people – that matter.”

His amusement falters. He takes a step forward, a hand outstretched. “Holmes…”

“I considered one of those silly cards, you know, with all the…the paper lace and overwrought sentiment. I couldn’t find one that didn’t make my teeth ache.” Her eyes roll and a smug grin tries to find purchase on her lips, but fails. “Then I thought, well, there are more meaningful ways of saying it. Less ridiculous ways.”

He gently takes the flower from her and tosses it at the bed. He misses his target entirely, and he doesn’t care. “To say what?” he prompts her gently, tipping her chin up until she has to look at him. “What is the small flower shop you’ve set up in 221B trying to tell me?”

“Well, traditionally, red carnations symbolize love and affection. Darker reds tend to imply a deeper degree of…”

He doesn’t let her finish the sentence. His lips find hers, kissing her with as much passion and emotion as delivery of half the city’s supply of red carnations had tried to impart to him. Her arms wind around his neck and he sweeps her up into his arms without interrupting that kiss, even for a moment. As they tumble onto the bed, he pulls away just long enough to whisper “I love you, too,” against her lips. It’s the first of many places he plans to leave the words.

And later, when they fall asleep tangled up with each other, it’s with the knowledge, that for once, neither of them will be waking up alone.

When (Someone Else’s) Plot Bunnies Attack

I’m currently stuck at the Orlando airport in pre-flight limbo. I’m here too early to check-in or even drop of my suitcase and have only myself for amusement. After making one last perusal of the Disney and Universal stores and procuring a much needed smoked butterscotch iced latte from the demented mermaid (aka, Starbucks), I’m now relegated to sitting outside the security checkpoint, watching an endless stream of people shuffle past. It really is endless: for every person that advances, another two step in behind them to perpetuate the line. Welcome to the Orlando International Airport.

Since I’m too tired for that to hold my attention for long, I’ve decided to blog. In my defense, I’ve had a mid-week one half-ready to go up for a couple days. Because I’m an early riser and my travel companions are not.
Usually an early riser. Today I really wish I’d had another two hours to sleep.

**

I have this friend. We’ll call her…Vicki (because that’s her name). I’ve known Vicki for something like fifteen years, give or take a month, which means I entered into both sources of my insanity – our friendship and my current employment – at around the same time. It’s hard to say which of the two has made me crazier, but I know which one’s been more fun.

Among her many endearing quirks is her tendency to hand me completely unexpected (but usually awesome) story ideas when I should be busy with other projects. If I may indulge the court, here is Exhibit A: the first day of this year’s NaNoWriMo, while I’m sitting in my region’s first write-in of the year, mid-paragraph on my quasi-Steampunk paranormal alternate history experiment, she pings me with “Hey, I have this great plot bunny for you!” and then proceeds to map out a great story concept that I had no time to work on whatsoever, but has been dancing around in my brain since, begging for me to do something with it.

This is a bad thing because I have enough ideas spinning around in my brain looking for a highway exit to my to-do list without her adding to them. Not that that’s ever stopped her before.

You’re about to read Exhibit B.

A little more background to explain, before I unleash this insanity upon you: I am a Whovian. If this is a new word for you, it means I’m a fan of Doctor Who. (If that is a new term for you, get thee to Google, you’ll thank me later.) Vicki is a Whovian as well. She’d tell you it’s my fault, but all I did was point her in the direction of the show and say “Look, it’s something shiny!”. I just led her to the water; she decided to drink it.

I have this theory that her rampant plot bunny-gifting is payback for getting her hooked on Doctor Who. Or Torchwood. Maybe Penny Dreadful. Maybe all the above and any additional things I’ve introduced her to that I might have forgotten. I don’t have definitive evidence to back up this theory, but it’s a fairly sound one, I think.

When I was casting the first Holmes story, Jenna Coleman, circa the Doctor Who Series Seven Christmas Special, looked the part of my perfect Holmes. Interestingly, Matt Smith, the Eleventh Doctor, fit as the Mycroft to my Charlotte perfectly. This Mycroft is Charlotte’s fraternal twin, genetically gifted enough that his preference for sloth hasn’t caught up with him yet. He’s also a younger man than we meet in the books and thus not quite as homebound as his canon counterpart.

With all this information at her disposal, and knowing that I’ve committed myself to penning a story to go with each of my blogs, Vicki made the following suggestion one day:

“My espresso’d brain just gave birth to a plot bunny for you: Charlotte Holmes meets the Eleventh Doctor.”

So, since she put the idea in my brain and left it to germinate like some out of control alien plague, she is the one to blame for this. At least I have a quasi-canon story I can tie it to, and since it’s going to be a multi-parter, I’ll probably save the finale for when I take on “A Case of Identity” in a few weeks. For now…

Act One: Clara

Clara Oswald never feels entirely comfortable when she visits the Victorian Era. There’s baggage here: people who knew her – the version of her that spilt out of the Doctor’s time stream and landed in London as a barmaid and governess. The version that died here, as the Doctor watched, spurring him on in his search for the Impossible Girl. Victorian London, to put it simply, makes her twitchy.
Here she is, though, wandering around in a bloody corset and a ridiculous hat, trying to find where the Doctor ran off to. “Oh sure, he tells us not to run off, but wave a shiny temporal abnormality at him and poof!” She’s talking to herself, walking along an empty, early morning street. The sky is a dark gray – a darker version of that shade of foggy, bland gray London is famous for – and the sun hasn’t bothered to rise enough to even hint at itself yet. The street vendors haven’t, either. It’s not, strictly speaking, the safest time to be wandering London alone. But here she is. Why? Because someone buggered off and hasn’t made it back to the TARDIS yet.

“’Stay here, Clara’” she says, imitating her Doctor’s manic tone. ”’Don’t leave. I’ll be back. I just have to track down something big and growly that has a taste for the humany-wumany.’ Hah! Worried about me gettin’ into trouble, where’s…” A loud clang interrupts her. Her head snaps in the direction the sound came from, down a dark, foreboding alley at her right. At times like this, she wonders what Victorian women had against pockets, because a smallish weapon in hers would come in handy right about now. Also at times like these, she wonders why the human impulse is always to walk toward the strange sound in the alley, instead of fleeing in the opposite direction as fast as possible. Of the two choices, the one she picks is the latter.

Impossible Girl or not, she still is only human.

“Just a cat. Rat. Loose garbage. All it is, yeah?” She pauses two steps into the alley and bends to pick up a broken piece of wood. Might be silly enough not to run, not silly enough to charge in unarmed. “Yeah. Of course. Just an innocent noise, Clara. Nothin’ to worry about.” It’s still too dark to make out anything of her surroundings, short of vague shapes that only add to the creep-factor of the place and the moment. She can only almost make out the end of the alley for that matter, and depth perception’s kind of bollocks in so little light. If she walks right into a brick wall, she wouldn’t be the slightest bit…

Something grabs her elbow. She screams and spins, swinging the plank as she does. It makes contact with something – something that makes a “squish” sound, like flesh getting pummeled with something solid, like a large wooden plank swung at nowhere near maximum velocity. She pulls back for another swing, but her attacker grabs the other end of the wood in both hands to stop it before impact.

“Blast it, Charlotte! Stop hitting me!” The voice almost sounds familiar – if familiar means mostly entirely not with just a hint of something close to maybe a little bit. Clara tugs at the plank to pull it free, but her only-slightly-maybe-familiar attacker keeps a strong hold on the wood. With one yank, he plucks it from her hands entirely and tosses it across the alley. “Have you completely lost your mind?”

“M’not the one stalkin’ after strange women in dark alleys.” She takes a step back and around, trying to edge past her new “friend” and toward the exit. “So, if you’ll let me just…” As they turn into the light from the gas lamp across the way, the man’s face is illuminated enough that she can pick out the more-than-slightly-maybe-familiar features of the Doctor staring back at her. “Doctor! Why didn’t you say so?? I’ve been lookin’ for you everywhere. D’you realize how long you’ve been gone, you idiot?”

The Doctor stares back at her with a bland, almost concerned, almost unDocterly, expression. “If you’re mistaking me for Watson, either the light is very bad or you really have gone mad. And I don’t know why you would be looking for either of us to begin with. Where you should be is at home, where I told you to stay, far removed from whatever madness this all is. Wandering Catherine Street in the middle of the night, for God’s sake! Anne would faint if I told her.” He takes hold of her elbow and shoves her in the direction of the other side of the street.

“You’re makin’ no sense whatsoever right now.” Clara tugs against the hand on her arm. “Why d’you sound funny? Who the hell is Watson? Or Anne? And why’d you call me Charlotte?”

“I’m making no sense? Did you hit your head somewhere this evening?” His free hand reaches for her chin. She slaps it away. “I’m not the one who sounds funny. You sound like a blasted lunatic. Charlotte is your name. What else should I call you?”

“Charlotte’s not m’name. Haven’t hit my head. Don’t sound funny. Also not crazy. Very funny joke and all, Doctor, but can we stop messin’ about now and get back to the – “

A loud, ground-shaking clang cuts through the night, followed by an unnatural roar. Clara grabs the Doctor – it is the Doctor, isn’t it? – to steady herself.

“Sounds like our cue,” she says, and takes off running, pulling the Doctor behind her.