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the island of conclusions

"Nothing Between Us and the New World," 1/3, (Holmes/Watson fic)

the island of conclusions

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"Nothing Between Us and the New World," 1/3, (Holmes/Watson fic)

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Title: Nothing Between Us and the New World 1/3
Genre: casefic, romance
Rating: G for this part; everybody cross their fingers we make it up to R by part 3.
Warnings: none.
Word count: ~2.7K (this part)
Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit
Summary: An old army buddy convinces Holmes and Watson to investigate a series of robberies at his inn on the Cornish coast. Watson is sure Holmes has only agreed to cheer him up after Mary’s death, but there may be more going on under the surface.

a/n: Boscastle is a real place, of course, but I’ve played very fast and loose with local geography—no offense meant to anybody who knows the area well.
a/n: set after the movie ‘verse. I apologize in advance for any injuries to book canon.
a/n: thanks, as always, to [personal profile] calamitycrow for the last-minute beta and the hand-holding!

a/n: written for the lovely and generous gabsy as part of the help_haiti auction fundraiser, who was also kind enough to wait a bit for the next two parts (they should be up by the end of the week). I hope you enjoy it, bb!



Nothing Between Us and the New World

I.

No ordinary man could sleep like that, Watson thought, bemused by the manner in which his companion had folded himself into the hard, narrow seat of the railway carriage, knees drawn up to his chest, head pressed into the corner of the car, pipe dangling precariously from his lips.

The carriage had been full at the beginning of the long ride to Cornwall, and Holmes had seated himself across from Watson with dignified propriety, legs crossed, feet on the floor, eyes focused on a monograph about the varieties of Australasian soil. But the number of occupants had dwindled as they journeyed west, and, as it had, Holmes had let his grip on the book slacken, gradually drawing himself into one of the twisted shapes he seemed to find most comfortable. He might not even be asleep, Watson realized—he might just as easily be composing a treatise of his own, or solving the case before them. It was impossible to tell.

Unconsciously, Watson smiled. His bad leg, which age had done nothing to improve, had stiffened during the long ride, and he cautiously stretched it out in front of him. He had long ago finished the newspaper lying in his lap. Holmes’s face was turned away from him, and the late afternoon April sunlight slanting through the window illuminated the pale strip of skin between collar and ear. Watson found himself gazing at his old friend for longer than he meant to, obscurely fascinated by the way the clear light threw the short curls at the nape of Holmes’s neck into relief. He wondered idly how many grey hairs there were now amongst the black.

With a start, he wrenched his eyes away, knowing Holmes would not appreciate the scrutiny, and sternly brought his mind back to the purpose of their trip.

:::

It was his fault, he supposed, if not exactly his doing. Thanks to his published accounts of their adventures, his association with Mr. Sherlock Holmes was well-known. So it was only reasonable that his erstwhile friend, Robert Mallick, would turn to him when faced with difficulties of a criminal nature, despite the fact that they hadn’t seen each other since their service together in the east. Unable to resist the old bonds of military camaraderie—Mallick had always been a good egg, if somewhat unimaginative—Watson had offered to introduce him to the world’s only consulting detective.

Holmes had agreed to hear Mallick’s story—less out of curiosity, the doctor suspected, than as a kindness to Watson. It had been ten months since Mary died, and nine since he’d move back into his former rooms at Baker Street. For the most part, he and Holmes had fallen back into the old patterns of their relationship—the detective arrogant and acerbic, the doctor patient and accepting; indeed, there had been a good deal of comfort simply in rediscovering that familiar give and take. Every now and then, however, Holmes would acquiesce to something Watson knew he never would have done in the old days, giving Watson a long cool look that he was sure masked a well of pity. The acts were well-meant, Watson knew, but they irked as much as they comforted him. He was bereaved, yes, he was grieving—but now, more than ever, he felt he needed Holmes to be himself: rational, imperturbable, uninterested in the agony of romantic feelings.

This was surely one of those times, he had thought, as he’d watched Holmes listen to Mallick’s sad, if mundane tale. No ancient family curses here, no hounds let loose from hell—just an ordinary story of a business venture gone wrong. After leaving the army, Mallick, a confirmed bachelor, had drifted for a while before deciding to invest in an old inn on the north coast of Cornwall—beautiful country, and popular with tourists and family holiday makers. All had gone well for a number of years, but the past few months had brought a spate of robberies to his establishment. No manner of guards or locks or hidden safety deposit boxes had managed to foil the thieves. The inn was developing a reputation and business had begun to suffer—he was within a month or two of closing down altogether.

Mallick, a strong man whom age had made more portly and more ruddy, had twisted his large hands together and looked a Holmes beseechingly. “Will you come down and look into it, Mr. Holmes? The local constabulary have thrown up their hands, the local wags talk only of brownies and tommyknockers. I have nowhere else to turn.”

Holmes had sighed—as much in boredom as in sympathy, Watson intuited. “I am very sorry for your troubles, my good sir,” he said, “but I think my best advice to you would be to simply replace your staff. You are dealing with nothing more complicated than a light-fingered servant, and my arriving on the scene would be like hiring a lion-tamer to house-train your poodle.”

“Ah, but there’s the rub, Mr. Holmes,” Mallick had nearly wailed, traces of his cockney accent suddenly more audible, “all of my staff have been with me for years, some at the inn for longer than I, and I’ve never had any trouble before. What’s more, they’re all local people, and Boscastle’s a pretty close-knit place. They still see me as an outsider, for all I’ve lived among them for over ten years. If I fired even one of the staff without good reason, they’d make sure the inn never prospered again—“ He broke off, even redder in the face than before, pulled out a large cotton handkerchief and mopped his brow. “Won’t you reconsider?”

Holmes had regarded him dispassionately, seemingly a breath or two from sending him on his way.

Watson was fairly certain he’d been to Boscastle. His family had gone there, or somewhere nearby, when he was a boy, one summer holiday one year. He remembered a quaint town following steep streets down to a picturesque harbor, curved bays of emerald water, long evenings of splashing in the waves. Without meaning to, he’d murmured, “beautiful place, wouldn’t mind seeing it again myself.”

Holmes’s eyes had darted towards him at this, sharpening, and Watson had wished the words back in his mouth. “On second thought,” Holmes had said, turning back to Mallick, “perhaps your case does present some points of interest. We would be glad to come investigate, though I’ll need a day or two to set my affairs in order.”

“Thank you, Mr. Holmes, thank you,” Mallick had said wetly, pumping the detective’s hand between both of his own. He’d thumped Watson’s shoulder and looked so ready to embrace him that Watson backed discreetly away. They’d made arrangements to meet at the station at Bodmin Parkway four days hence.

“Really, Holmes,” Watson had said awkwardly, as they listened to Mallick’s heavy tread descending the stairs, “there was no need to agree to this foolish jaunt for my sake. I’m sure you’re right—it’s just a case of a good servant gone bad, something even Mallick could resolve on his own.”

“Nonsense, old chap,” Holmes had replied, “I gave no thought to your frivolous nostalgic attachment when I made my decision: a guarded house, a trusted staff, the possibility of tommyknocker involvement? There is certainly enough there to to keep us interested, whatever the local scenery.”

And that had been that. Holmes had raced around London for a few days on mysterious errands connected to a variety of cases, and Saturday had found them in Paddington station, boarding the train for Bristol and points beyond.

::::

The train slowed in front of a tiny country station, a white wooden fence separating the single platform from the scrubby trees. Holmes blinked once, instantly awake, and smiled his mercurial smile at Watson, who blushed, embarrassed to have been caught staring. They had arrived.

II.

The tiny station at which they alighted was on the edge of Bodmin Moor, still seventeen miles from Boscastle, but Mallick himself was there to meet them in a sturdy wagon. He tried to amuse them during the long, if scenic, ride with testimonials to the beauty and interest of local attractions—he may not have been a native, but he had a convert’s zeal about his adoptive home. Holmes did little to hide his boredom, peering into the gathering dusk, and going through at least three bowls of tobacco. Watson, always stirred by tales of Arthur and his knights, felt it would be a fine thing to visit nearby Tintagel—he wondered if he could convince Holmes to see it before they left. Maybe Holmes had been right to indulge him in this venture, his leg ached, but he was already feeling more cheerful than he had for a long time. He let his gaze stray towards his friend again, amused by the way he had to hold his hat against the rising sea wind.

They came into the narrow streets of Boscastle just before dark. For some reason, Watson had expected Mallick’s establishment to be a country inn, but the Island Prince was more like the town pub, located close to the harbor amid a tangle of winding streets, enclosed on both sides by taller, newer buildings.

“I thought you said it was a smuggler’s inn,” Watson teased.

“It was,” Mallick replied good-naturedly, “they didn’t just frequent the lonely moors, you know? Had to come into town for supplies sometimes, like the rest of us.” Watson laughed, and let the probably spurious legend be.

The inn itself was clearly very old, painted white except for the broad oak beams bisecting its front. A battered, salt-stained sign featuring a Caribbean prince dressed in feathers swung over the door. Mallick led the horses around to back, handed them off to a groom, and led Holmes and Watson through a low door into the sparsely populated public bar.

“You can see what I mean about business falling off,” he said morosely, signaling to the barman for drinks and leading them to a table in a corner of the pleasant, low-ceilinged room.

“When was the last robbery?” Holmes asked abruptly, sinking into a chair, almost the first words he’d spoken since they left the train.

Sighing at the thought of rehearsing his misfortunes again, Mallick gave Holmes a date roughly two weeks previous. Watson sympathized—the Mallick he had known in Afghanistan had always preferred to speak of happy things. He took a pull of the decent local brew and tried to concentrate on Holmes’s thorough questioning of the innkeeper.

He was hard put to do so, especially after their supper, a hearty mutton stew and fresh bread, arrived. But Holmes was both diligent and persistent, taking Mallick through the dates of the crimes, the persons affected, the items stolen and the rooms involved. The veteran, to his credit, kept up with him, providing all the information without hesitation, even as his ruddy flush faded to a grim pallor.

Watson found his attention wandering—he sometimes wondered whether the shock of Mary’s death hadn’t permanently blunted his powers of concentration, though it might’ve as easily been the fatigue of the journey. His mind kept snagging on random things—the age of the worn wood of the bar, the unfamiliar Cornish accents of its patrons. His leg twinged, crooked at a painful angle under the low table. He stretched it out, but found his foot brushing against Holmes’s ankle; the detective shot him a glance, and Watson quickly bent it again.

Finally, Holmes seemed to be satisfied, and Mallick offered to show them to their rooms.

“Certainly, my good man,” Holmes said, “as soon as we have met the staff.”

“I thought—But wouldn’t it be better done in the morning—“ Mallick spluttered.

“No time like the present,” Holmes replied, clapping him on the back. Mallick sighed again.

:::::

“Well, Watson, did any of them strike you as criminal?” Holmes asked later, as they settled into their suite. Mallick’s lack of business had been their gain in this regard; he had ushered them into the best rooms in the house—two bedrooms with a well-appointed sitting room between them, complete with a roaring fire in the grate. Even more generously, he had left a decanter of whiskey on the table.

“I thought the barman might be suspicious,” Watson ventured, “his clothes looked too new and expensive to have been bought on his salary.”

“Well-observed, my dear,” Holmes said approvingly, “but I don’t think robbery is his vice—just a good day at the horses.”

“And how did you discern that?”

“Really, Watson, did you fail to notice the smudges of ink on his right index finger from filling out race cards when he served us our food? I am surprised at you.“ Holmes chuckled in his self-satisfied way, filling a pipe

“And you?” Watson asked defensively, “Who did you pick for the criminal mastermind in that unprepossessing lot?” For truly, Watson had never seen such a collection of earnest and reputable souls as the staff of the Island Prince—in appearance, at any rate.

Holmes poured them both a generous measure of whiskey, and smiled his cat-with-the-canary smile. “Ah,” he said, “I rather fancy our culprit might be the youngest chambermaid, Miss Pascoe.”

“You’re joking, surely,” Watson couldn’t help exclaiming. “Youngest” in this instance meant not a day under thirty-five. The lady in question had been, to his eyes, the most demure and timid spinster imaginable. “I’m afraid I missed the light of criminal genius in her eyes.”

“Ah,” said Holmes cryptically, “it is not her intelligence that concerns us.”

Before Watson could press for more information, there was a knock on the door, and Holmes sprang up to answer it.

“Thank you,” he said to the boy who handed him a box piled high with papers. “Now we shall get someplace, Watson,” he continued, placing the box on the table and digging in. “Here, as I requested of our host, we have a list of the current guests, and here a set of plans for the inn, and records of work that has been done to the building going back fifteen years.” He gave a satisfied little grunt.

“But Miss Pascoe--” Watson asked.

“Shhh,” Holmes said peremptorily, “I need to concentrate now.”

So Watson nursed his drink and let the warmth of the fire ease the ache in his leg, while Holmes plowed through the stack of papers at a prodigious rate, feet tucked up in his chair again, pipe hanging from his lips.

Watson imagined he could smell the salt air, even in the enclosed room, and he couldn’t help thinking of the seaside town he and Mary had visited on their honeymoon—Devon in that case, not Cornwall. He was pleased to find that the memory caused him very little pain now, casting instead a dull glow of lost happiness, and he let himself sort through the moments of their time together, savoring the images.

After a while, he pulled himself out of his reverie, and was surprised to find Holmes watching him, with that same unreadable look that Watson always took as pity. He had evidently finished with the papers—had sorted them into untidy piles on the table.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Watson manufactured a yawn. “Well,” he said, stretching, “if you’ve finished, we should probably turn in—it’s growing late.”

“On the contrary, my dear Watson,” Holmes replied, so wide-awake he looked positively gleeful, “my research indicates that this is precisely the hour we should investigate the nefarious happenings at this establishment. I believe there are evil deeds afoot as we speak.”

He unfolded himself from the chair and began digging in his valise, eventually unearthing a covered lantern. Watson must have looked doubtful, because Holmes turned to him and said, “provided your leg will hold up, that is.”

“Yes, yes, of course it will,” Watson reassured him.

“Good,” Holmes answered, “then let’s away—I trust you have brought your service revolver?”

part two
  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
    • *tacklehug*

      I'm so glad you liked the Holmesian phrasing and pretzel positions--they were pretty much my inspiration for the fic!

      Thanks again for the beta'ing and hand-holding--wouldn't have happened without it!
  • This is excellent! Can't wait for more.
  • Very nice! The interactions are great :D
  • very interesting chapter!
  • An intriguing beginning. I look forward to more.
    • I'm glad it got you intrigued *g*--the next part should be up in a couple of days!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • This may have been written for someone else, but it's definitely a nice present for the rest of us too. :D
  • Great beginning! Their voices are perfect, and I'm very intrigued to see what happens next - with the mystery as well as Holmes and Watson.
    • Thanks! I'm so glad the voices are working for you--and the mystery too!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • do post the rest soon! i like the characterization, especially Watson's barely-lingering grief.
  • I love when a criminal case is involved within story about Holmes and Watson relationship
    • Me too--I really wanted them to be doing what they do best, even while they're thinking about each other--

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I like this a lot - Watson in particular is spot on. Can't want to see what happens next! :)
    • I'm so glad you're enjoying it! I'm hoping to have the next part up in a couple of days *crosses fingers*

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Awesome! Loved how you write them (and how you've merged movie and Mary's canon death)!
    • Hey--I didn't know you read Holmes fic! :D I'm so glad you're enjoying it! I was terrified to go outside the movie 'verse, but the story kind of demanded it--I'm glad the merge is working for you!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • VERY nice start! I really enjoy your writing style and think that you have a nice grip on the characters. I'm looking forward to seeing more. ^_^
    • Thanks so much for the lovely feedback! I'm hoping to have the next part up in a few days *crosses fingers*
  • So I was hesitating between commenting on each part or waiting until it's over, then I couldn't stand it any longer so here I am.

    I am very much intrigued, I think you've set something and even though I may have an inkling of the end result, the fact that I have no idea just HOW you'll take me there is very exciting.

    Can't wait to read more!
    • I may have an inkling of the end result,
      Sorry! I guess that's the peril of reading your own prompt *g* Hope I provide some twists and turns, though!

      I'm so relieved that you're intrigued so far! Don't feel you have to comment on every bit though--it will only be three parts, and finished by Sunday at the latest--

      thanks again for being so nice about the protracted nature of this!
  • Moar!

    I promise to add this to memories if you update.

    (^_^)/
    BEM
    • hee! glad you're enjoying it!

      I will certainly update, but *shakes fist at rl* it may not be 'til Thurs. or Fri.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Your voice is perfect! It's like Conan Doyle wrote another story from beyond the grave (where, naturally, he learned about slash). Looking forward to more!
    • (where, naturally, he learned about slash)
      hee! (though some would say he invented slash ;) )

      Thanks for the lovely feedback! there should be more by the end of the week--
  • Amazing! I was hanging on every word. I can't wait to read more!
    • I'm so glad you're enjoying it--thanks so much for reading and commenting! (there should be more by the end of the week)
  • I love the beautiful, illustrative details scattered throughout. The bit about Holmes' gray hairs grabbed me first and the rest lived up to the promise that showed in the beginning.
  • The inn sounds charming, just like the boys! :)

    Holmes being so aware of Watson's feelings is delicious! And expressed in a very Holmesian way. :)

    *off to read the next part*
  • hmmmmmmmm
    Watson is fallen for holmes.. i can see in how he reacted to close to him!
    i'm curious how this will lead! *going to the next part*
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