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the island of conclusions

"Nothing Between Us and the New World," 2/3 (Holmes/Watson fic)

the island of conclusions

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"Nothing Between Us and the New World," 2/3 (Holmes/Watson fic)

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sepia H/W
Title: Nothing Between us and the New World, 2/3.
Genre: casefic, romance
Rating: PG, this part; R for the fic overall.
Warnings: none.
Word count: ~3.8K, 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.

Notes: same as before
a/n: super-fast beta, judicious pruning and Victori-picking by [personal profile] calamitycrow.



Nothing Between Us and the New World

part one

III

Holmes’s energy was as bracing as a tonic, chasing the cobwebs from Watson’s head. During those first, grief-laden months, it had been all he could do to pull himself through the necessary motions of the day, never mind the intricacies and dangers of detective work. Holmes had been patient with him, never pushing him beyond his capacity. But now, with a sensation very like relief, Watson felt the old joy in the chase surge through him, the hunger for adventure.

He exchanged his sword-cane for his holstered revolver, donned his jacket, and joined Holmes at the door, all aches of body and cares of the soul forgotten. Holmes placed a melodramatic finger to his lips and smiled; Watson felt an answering grin spreading across his own face.

Holmes did not light the lantern, just stepped out into the silent, shadowy hall, Watson in his wake. The detective seemed to have memorized the floor plan of the inn, because he did not pause to listen or peer into the darkness, but led them straight to a room three doors down from their own suite. Holmes pushed cautiously at the door; it was unlocked, and swung open easily.

They entered a bedroom indistinguishable from any other at a typical country inn. A large bed took up most of the space; a hulking wardrobe stood in one corner, a chintz-covered armchair in the other, near the empty fireplace. The room was obviously unoccupied, only illuminated by the pale moonlight coming in through generous windows.

Watson opened his mouth to ask why they were there, but Holmes held up the same imperious finger, and gestured to the doctor to move behind the wardrobe. Puzzled, he obeyed, and watched as Holmes, with the weird grace that age had hardly dented, slid himself under the bed.

Thus hidden, they waited. And then, just as Watson was about to give up hope of ever finding out what they were waiting for, the door cracked open again, and someone with a light came into the room.

It was Miss Pascoe, as demure as ever, still hunched and slightly faltering, though she must have believed herself alone. She swept her lantern over the room, as if to make doubly sure, and moved not to the bed or to the window, but to a patch of wall two or three feet to the right of the hearth. Astonished, he watched as she slipped her fingers under a large knot in the wood paneling, uncovered a hidden keyhole, and turned the lock with a large key hanging from a ribbon around her neck. A section of the paneling swung inward: a hidden door.

Miss Pascoe eased herself through it, closed it behind her, and was gone.

Not ten seconds later, Holmes emerged from under the bed, and beckoned for Watson to join him. The detective thrust the now lit lantern into his hands, and swiftly picked the lock before extinguishing it again.

“But how--?” Watson whispered, just before they passed through the door.

“Mallick did say it was a smugglers’ inn, Watson,” Holmes jibed, equally sotto voce, “were you not paying attention?”

::::::

At first, they found themselves descending a very narrow, very steep set of stairs, compressed between the walls of the inn. The light of Miss Pascoe’s lantern was barely visible below them. Down and down they went, following the line of the chimney, until Watson was sure they must be below the lowest basement of the Island Prince.

Finally, the steps ended in a packed-earth tunnel, so low that both men had to stoop. The air was dank and chill, smelling of mold and rotting sea wrack. It was completely dark, except for the bobbing point of Miss Pascoe’s light ahead. They followed her, as silently as they knew how, conscious that the slightest sound would give them away.

It soon became evident that the passage through which the young lady was leading them was part of an extensive network of crisscrossing and branching tunnels: a secret concourse that must have allowed smugglers access to all points in the town for generations. Miss Pascoe moved through it unerringly, while Watson tried and failed to spot any signs or landmarks that might help them retrace their steps. He forced himself to at least to calculate the time and distance they had traveled—and fervently hoped that Holmes was doing a better job of leaving metaphorical breadcrumbs than he was.

:::::

After what seemed endless minutes of hunched walking, the light ahead of them stopped abruptly, illuminating a broader than usual space where two tunnels intersected. There were no natural hiding places, of course, and Holmes and Watson had no choice except to flatten themselves against the wall of the tunnel a few paces back, hardly daring to breathe.

From their vantage point, Watson had only a partial view of the scene at the crossroads, and he heard the approach of another party before he could see anything.

“Well, m’dear,” said the rough voice, an edge of menace to the endearment, “what have you brought for us tonight?”

Now Watson could see the speaker: a short, burly man in early middle-age, his broad face creased and grizzled. He was flanked by two younger men—one six feet of solid muscle, the other so short and slight he looked like a stiff wind could knock him over.

The leader stepped closer to Miss Pascoe, cupping her cheek with a gnarled hand. “C’mon, Molly,” he said unctuously, “don’t you have a kiss for your old Da?”

“Don’t, dad” she whined, wrenching her face away and rubbing at her cheek.

The man laughed, and his henchmen followed suit, leering at the chambermaid. “Well, if you’re going to be that way about it,” he said mockingly, “at least give us what we’ve come for.”

Sullenly, she thrust a crumpled scrap of paper at him. The men gathered around it, their leader reading in a halting voice: “Mrs. Georgiana Faversham, widow, of Bayswater Road, Hyde Park, London.” He gave a gurgling, greedy little laugh. “Ripe for the taking, my dears,” he gloated, “ripe for the taking. Did she have anything for the safety deposit box?” he asked his daughter.

She nodded, nervous fingers twisting the fabric of her skirt.

“And where’s that fool Mallick got it hidden now?” Miss Pascoe looked momentarily mulish. “You might as well give it up—I know that old bag of a housekeeper tells you everything.”

“In the breakfront in the downstairs sitting room,” she admitted, grudgingly.

“Stupid, stupid man,” her father practically crowed, “That’ll be your bailiwick, then, Nick,” he said to the weedy man, “limber up those famous fingers of yours. Let’s get a move on, boys!”

And with that the whole crew, Miss Pascoe included, headed down the tunnel on a course that would take them directly in front of Holmes and Watson.

There was nothing for it but to will themselves deeper into the shadows and remain as still as possible. For a few short moments, Watson actually thought it would work. First the ringleader, then his two companions, moved passed them. But when Molly Pascoe followed, dragging her feet and looking miserable, some perturbation in the air caught her attention; she looked up, straight into Watson’s eyes, and her breath hitched in an audible gasp. Her father heard the small noise, and that was all it took: the thugs were upon them in an instant.

:::::

It could have been worse, Watson told himself, almost welcoming the fight. He had always known how to handle himself in a tight place—and this was quite literally a tight place. He might move a little more slowly now, but in a situation like this his reflexes were as good as ever. He drew his revolver—he didn’t dare fire in the enclosed space—but that didn’t mean it was useless—and cracked the butt of the gun across the face of the strapping young man who came towards him, even though he had to reach up to do so. The impact sent the robber crashing to the ground.

He was acutely aware of Holmes at his back, going hand-to-hand with a hulking opponent, probably Pascoe himself. The situation felt so familiar, so right, that it pulled a sharp, joyful laugh from his lips.

Then the shorter henchman—Nick—launched himself on Watson, a surprisingly strong and wiry ball of fury for such a slight man. He got a few sharp punches around Watson’s defenses before the doctor was able to knock his legs out from under him with a well-placed kick. The man sprawled on the ground, breathing heavily; Watson quickly rendered him unconscious with a precisely placed blow to the skull with his gun.

And with that, all three criminals lay insensible at their feet. Miss Pascoe had long since scampered off—back to bed to pretend none of this had happened, Watson hoped, rather than off to alert more of the gang. Panting and grinning, Holmes and Watson faced each other across the bodies, and this too felt so right that Watson reached out and clapped Holmes on the back.

But their elation faded quickly as they tried to think of their next move.

“We’ll have to tie them up somehow,” Holmes said, “or they’ll be away before we send the law for them.” They wrestled a shirt off one of them, tore it into strips, and bound them as securely as they could. It wouldn’t hold long, Watson could tell.

And then another question occurred to them both at the same time, and they stooped simultaneously to rifle through the men’s pockets, looking for a map. To no avail.

“Probably born and bred to this confounded warren,” Holmes said with a sigh, “we will just have to make do with our innate sense of direction.” And he set off confidently down the passage through which they had come.

At least it seemed like the direction from which they had come—the chaos of the fistfight had jumbled Watson’s sense of direction somewhat. After a while he wasn’t so sure. Holmes lit his thankfully undamaged lantern, but its flickering light didn’t make anything more familiar.

They went on and on, each new branching or intersection as unfamiliar as the last, until it seemed to Watson that they had already been walking for longer than it had taken them to come. That might have been an effect of fatigue, however. The excitement of the pursuit and the fisticuffs was beginning to wear off, and his leg ached.

Watson was about to voice his growing concern when Holmes, no more than a half step in front of him, simply dropped out of sight, like a stone sinking in a pond, a terrifying rattle of loose rock accompanying his disappearance.

Watson tried to stop, but was unable to halt his momentum mid-step. His foot came down on a slanting pile of loose scree. As luck would have it, it was his bad leg, which had no chance of negotiating the sharp angle, and he tumbled, limbs flailing, down a steep slope that finally fell away completely, dropping him at least ten feet onto rocky ground.

IV.

For a moment he could hear nothing but the pounding of his own pulse, do nothing but struggle to draw breath into shocked lungs. Then he tried to open his eyes, and realized with horror that they were already open: they had plunged into utter darkness.

“Watson?” Holmes’s voice, blessedly near. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” he managed, “just had the wind knocked out of me. You?”

“A few scrapes and bruises, but otherwise unharmed.” The detective sounded as cool and collected as if he’d just strolled down the steps at Baker Street. “I cannot say the same for our poor lantern, however,” a few muted taps and rattles emanated from his direction, “I’m afraid it took the brunt of the fall.”

“Where are we?” Watson asked “are we—are we trapped?”

“As to the first,” Holmes answered, “I suspect we hit a place where the smugglers’ tunnel collapsed into an old mine. As to the second—no, I think not.” Watson heard him sniffing the air like a hunting dog, “the atmosphere down here is distinctly fresher than it was in the tunnel; there must be an opening into the outside world somewhere close by.” He was right—Watson could smell the difference now: less earth, more salt. “Come,” Holmes said briskly, “let’s see if we can locate that aperture.”’

Watson tried to push himself to his feet, but let out an involuntary grunt of pain as the overtaxed muscles of his leg refused to cooperate. He collapsed, an ungainly heap, back onto the ground.

“Watson, what is it?” A note of alarm entered Holmes’s voice, “are you hurt?”

“It’s nothing,” Watson got out, through clenched teeth, “just pushed the bloody leg past its limits, that's all.”

“Hmm,” Holmes said, disbelievingly, and Watson heard him moving closer. In the pitch black, Holmes nearly tripped over him, then, kneeling, had to pat his hands down Watson’s body until he could find the affected limb.

“I am a doctor, you know,” Watson protested weakly, “I think I’d be able to tell if something were truly wrong.”

“Ah,” said Holmes, “but would you hide the extent of your injuries through some misguided desire not to worry me? I rather think you would.” His hands moved methodically down Watson’s leg, expertly prodding hip, knee, ankle, before coming to rest, steady and oddly proprietary, on the still-shaking muscles of his thigh.

As he submitted to the examination, it came to Watson, incongruously, that he would have recognized Holmes’s touch anywhere. Even in the total darkness, he would have been able to distinguish his strong, narrow fingers from all others. Somehow, they were as clever as the rest of him, as incisive.

Holmes had a hand on his face now, tapping lightly. “Don’t drift, old chap,” he said, and told Watson what he already knew, “nothing seems to be broken or dislocated, but you should sit up, if you can. You’ll get chilled lying on the damp ground.”

“You missed your calling,” Watson said, only half ironically, as Holmes helped him lever himself into an awkward seated position, leg straight out in front of him, “you would have made a fine medical man.”

“Hmpf,” Holmes snorted, “be that as it may, I think I’ll leave the ladies and their vapors to you. I’ve always had more sympathy for the scheming than the suffering mind. Ah,’ he exclaimed, “I think I’ve located the source of our fresh air. Look up and to your left.’

Watson did, and sure enough, too far above them to be truly comforting, but good to see nonetheless, was a patch of differently-colored black, about the span of a man’s arms across. He imagined he could even see one or two stars dotting its small expanse.

“Now then,” said Holmes, getting to his feet, “let’s take the measure of our situation, shall we?”

And so, while Watson stewed in enforced helplessness, Holmes cautiously explored the high narrow space in which they found themselves. Watson could hear rocks skidding underfoot, and the occasional squelch of Holmes stepping in a puddle. Kindly, the detective provided a running commentary on what he found. They certainly would not be able to get back out the way they’d come: the smugglers’ tunnel was too far above them, the rock face below it too sheer. There was another opening opposite, seemingly another tunnel, but Holmes decided, and Watson wholeheartedly agreed, that it would be foolhardy to set off deeper into the mine—if mine it was—without a light.

“At least,” Holmes said, “the walls here are rock, not earth. Better yet, they are rock marked and cracked by miners’ tools.”

“I fail to see how that is an advantage,” Watson said sourly, anxiety starting to gnaw at him.

“Oh, it is a great advantage,” Holmes replied, “it betters the odds of my scaling them to reach that opening considerably. Still,” he admitted, “we had best wait until the light’s better. I don’t fancy even my chances in this infernal gloom.”

Watson didn’t fancy his chances, full stop. But he had learned not to doubt his friend, at least not out loud. And it was better than having no plan for escape at all.

Holmes made his way back to Watson and tugged at his arm. “Come on,” he said, “there’s a dry patch near the wall over there. We have a few more hours ‘til the sun rises—nothing to do but wait it out.” He pulled Watson heavily to his feet, shouldering some of his weight, and helped him negotiate the short distance. The doctor sank down gratefully against the chilly rock face, cautiously arranging his leg in front of him again, and Holmes sat down beside him.

They rested in companionable silence for a few minutes, until Watson noticed a noise he’d missed amid the scrabble and talk of Holmes’s investigation: a kind of rushing sound, but rhythmic, rather than steady, rising and falling almost like the beat of a heart.

“Do you hear that?” he asked, “what do you think it is?”

“I believe it’s the sea,” Holmes replied, oddly hushed. “Some of the tunnels in these old Cornish mines go right out under the water. We must be hearing the waves reverberating through them. Soothing, isn’t it?”

Watson thought it more eerie than soothing, but held his tongue. As was his wont, Holmes had settled himself very close—so close their bodies were pressed against each other from shoulder to hip. Watson smiled inwardly, thinking of the many nights they been stuck in unsavory places—nights that usually ended with Holmes finding some way to use Watson as a pillow. And yet somehow this time—this night—was different. Under his weariness, under the continued ache of his old wound, he could feel the faint but unmistakable stirrings of arousal, his cock beginning to harden against the fabric of his trousers.

He pushed the feelings down, a little shocked, willed himself soft again. Maybe it was all those years with Mary, he thought, a bit desperately, all those years of companionship both mental and physical. Maybe he was still open to things—to desires, needs--he hadn’t yet been able to excise, like the residual pain of a missing limb. Because in all the years he’d lived intimately with Holmes he couldn’t remember feeling this before. And he was quite sure the detective didn’t now, he told himself sternly, dragging his mind to safer ground.

“Tell me,” he said, glad his face was obscured by darkness, “how did you know the Pascoes were to blame for the robberies?”

“Oh,” Holmes replied, “there was nothing particularly ingenious to that. Before we left London, I simply went through copies of the local papers at the British Library, and made a list of all the worst criminals who had served their time and been released from Her Majesty’s prisons in the past few months. Among them was one Ian Pascoe, a notorious robber, and known associate of Nimble Nick Jordan, the infamous safe-cracker. Thus, when we reviewed the servants, and found poor Molly Pascoe among them, I knew we had our culprits. When I saw in the guest registry that Mrs. Faversham had arrived today, I knew Miss Pascoe would arrange to meet her father tonight.”

“So it was no more complicated than you expected,” Watson said resignedly, “You might have simply sent the list to Mallick, let him see if there were any connections to his staff. It is as I suspected; you undertook this adventure only to indulge my whim.”

“Not entirely,” Holmes demurred, “I did not know how Pascoe and his crew were entering the inn until I studied the building plans tonight and noticed the double thickness of the wall in the third bedroom. But—“ he paused, seeming to consider whether to go on, “but yes—it had been so long since I’d heard you wish for anything—anything at all—that when you said you wanted to see Boscastle—well—I won’t deny that a—a certain desire to give what you wished for may have had some bearing on my decision.” He fell silent, perhaps exhausted by the uncharacteristically personal speech.

Watson froze. Holmes’s admission that he had thought—had acted—to promote Watson’s happiness was so unexpected, so unlooked for, that it set those sparks of arousal flaring again, fiercer now and harder to ignore. He shivered.

“Are you cold?” Holmes asked, clearly glad to have something more practical to think about.

“No,” Watson protested, too forcefully, perhaps, but Holmes wasn’t listening, was already shrugging out of a layer of clothing.

“Really, Holmes,” Watson said uneasily, batting away the proffered jacket, “I’m perfectly comfortable—there’s no need for gallantry”

“I assure you it has nothing to do with gallantry. You know my researches into the effects of cold on human physiognomy. I may soon publish a monograph myself on the subject.” Startled, Watson recognized the Holmsian equivalent of babbling, realized he wasn’t the only one discomfited by the situation. “It is a well-established fact that pain makes the body more vulnerable to cold—and you, dear boy, through not fault of your own, are in pain. Thus, reason dictates that you need this more than I do.” Holmes settled the jacket over Watson’s lap, and pulled close enough to him the meager fabric seemed to cover them both.

“Thank you,” Watson said finally, into the dark, feeling a pang of shame for all the grief-befuddled months he’d spent at Baker Street, and for the treasons of his body now. “I don’t know why you put up with me sometimes.” He meant the words lightly, but they came out strained, too much like a real question.

“Don’t you, my dear?” Holmes murmured, almost sadly, “don’t you?”

Holmes’s query, too, sounded all too real—and one to which Watson found that he had no idea how to respond. He felt as if he were drowning, losing his footing in his old life as new sensations, new possibilities sucked him under. Exhaustion fogged his brain, the pooled body heat under the jacket releasing all the weariness of their long day.

And so, although it was but a very imperfect answer to Holmes’s barely voiced question, he simply pressed his hip more firmly against his friend’s, leaned a little more heavily into his shoulder, and allowed himself to doze.

When he blinked himself awake again, he found the detective standing in a small pool of wan light, examining the pocked stone walls that led to the scrap of pale dawn sky high in one corner of the mine shaft.

part three

  • yeah! Update! Eagerly anticipating the next chapter.
  • “I don’t know why you put up with me sometimes.” He meant the words lightly, but they came out strained, too much like a real question.

    “Don’t you, my dear?” Holmes murmured, almost sadly, “don’t you?”


    Eeeep! What a cliffhanger!

    Greatly looking forward to the next instalment. :)
  • Aw, very touching! It's nice to see Holmes express some feeling.
    • It's nice to see Holmes express some feeling.
      It was hard figure out how to get him to do that! glad it worked for you--

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • This is lovely. (They need to be trapped in dark mines more often.)
    • They need to be trapped in dark mines more often.
      IKR? Good to have a handy dark mine around ;)

      I'm so glad you're enjoying it--thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Oh, what a lovely image to end this chapter with! I'm eagerly anticipating the next chapter, too.
  • Loving this!!!
  • Oh, this is getting better and better. ^_^ I love the way you write their interactions and general air of understated affection that the two carry for one another. Looking forward to more!
    • general air of understated affection that the two carry for one another.
      I'm glad this works for you! I can't seem to write them any other way but understated--and I worry sometimes it's not enough...

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting--I'm really glad you're enjoying it!
  • Mmmh, delicious! (I love all the smuggling shenanigans too!)
  • The easy friendhsip in this is lovely :) And I like your Holmes' deductions; they're believeable, not contrived. Also approve of the smuggling :D
    • The easy friendhsip in this is lovely :)
      I'm glad you're enjoying that--I figure that a lot of their relationship is pretty angst-free, for all it's hard to take it to the next level ;)--and very glad the "casefic" part is working for you!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • *hugs them*
  • So beautiful- can't wait for more!
  • Oh, I'll be watching for part three of this one all right! Most excellent! A mystery that hangs together, and an emotional story that has me hanging by my fingernails.

    Wonderful!
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback--it's much appreciated! I'm really glad you're enjoying the fic!
  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
  • Watson froze. Holmes’s admission that he had thought—had acted—to promote Watson’s happiness was so unexpected, so unlooked for, that it set those sparks of arousal flaring again, fiercer now and harder to ignore.

    Ummm...::blush:: Ditto?

    Startled, Watson recognized the Holmsian equivalent of babbling, realized he wasn’t the only one discomfited by the situation.

    This whole scene was so elegantly done; it was both extremely believable and extremely hot.

    Besides just the one scene- this whole story has been most elegantly written. In your character voice and choice of vocabulary you have hit upon the perfect blend of canon beleivability (with a smartly written Doyle-esque mystery plot) and angst-ridden sensuality that is (to me, at least) the quintessential Holmes and Watson. Brava, my dear- well done!

    p.s. Please try not to delay the waiting on tenterhooks you have so deliciously precipitated (^_^).
    • Oh goodness, thank you for the lovely feedback! *blushes*

      blend of canon believability (with a smartly written Doyle-esque mystery plot) and angst-ridden sensuality that is (to me, at least) the quintessential Holmes and Watson.
      This comment just made my day--that's pretty much exactly what I was hoping to do!

      I'm so glad you're enjoying the fic--the last part should be up tomorrow-- :D
  • The connection between Holmes and Watson is so perfect I don't even have words for it. Waiting for an update :)
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