A/N: Sorry, I know I'm still half-way through my other Holmes fic, A Shadow on the Streets of London, but I read the details of challenge010 on the Watson's Woes forum, and an idea hit me so hard that I had to write it and enter into the challenge. Essentially, it is a challenge to write an AU story... as the 2002 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles was listed as an acceptable existing AU, and I happen to be quite obsessed with the film, I decided that I would re-write the ending and create my AU based around the events of that alteration... I hope that I am successful in my effort to cross-post to the forum to enter, but if I get it wrong, any assistance would be greatly appreciated. I should also be very grateful if you would leave me a review and tell me what you think. Thank you so much for reading this - I hope you enjoy it.
By way of disclaimer, the first chapter is pretty much verbatim from the film, and given here by way of a refresher - I make no money from this and do not intend it as any breach of copyright. Please don't sue me; I lost my job a couple of weeks ago so I've no money anyway.
Darkness surrounded them and the first tendrils of a low-lying mist curled surreptitiously around their ankles as the three of them scrambled down the bank through the undergrowth, and dropped down behind such cover as was available.
"The blinds are drawn," Holmes hissed, "See what they're doing, Watson!"
Without a word, Watson scrambled forwards as quickly as he could, keeping low, as a tawny owl screeched somewhere nearby. His breath misted slightly in front of his face in the cold air, as he peered into the windows of Merripit House. The gaslight from within illuminated the familiar figure of Sir Henry Baskerville, seated at the table, even as Jack Stapleton stepped into view, placing a glass on the table in front of his guest.
Outside, Watson leaned forwards slightly, watching as Stapleton poured Sir Henry a drink. The owl called again as Watson watched Stapleton move from Sir Henry's side; the next window along gave him a clear view of the tall man – how obviously a Baskerville, now that he had seen the portrait of Sir Hugo Baskerville! – Yet he could not think of this man as a member of Sir Henry's family. He still thought of him as Stapleton, and wondered what evil the man was planning…
Stapleton was pouring himself a drink, as Watson glanced quickly back at Holmes and Lestrade; both were still crouched a short distance behind him, watching him silently. He turned his gaze back to the house, and decided to move in for a closer look. Creeping forwards, he brushed aside a hanging branch, and then crouched beside an ancient, ivy-wrapped tree trunk. Craning his neck, he tried to see inside through another window; he had accounted for two of the people he had expected to see, yet there was still someone missing, and worry was beginning to gnaw at him deeply.
He paused, seeing nothing but a gas lamp from his new angle. The owl sounded more distant now, even as a nearby brook babbled passed not far behind him. He backed away from the house, splashed through the shallow stream, and made his way back to Holmes and Lestrade.
"Sir Henry and Stapleton are dining," he reported, quickly, an edge of urgency in his voice, "but there's no sign of his wife."
"There's no other light, except the kitchen," Holmes noted, his eyes fixed on the house.
"She's not in the kitchen!" Watson replied, quickly, "Where the hell is she? I don't like it, Holmes!"
There was a stretched moment of silence, as the mist drifted ever closer. The winds howled distantly on the moors, and, to Watson's ears, it sounded all too much like a woman's scream.
Inside Merripit House, a joint of meat sat on the table and steamed invitingly, as Stapleton set about expertly sharpening a carving knife, dragging the metal blade over a rasp with quick flicks of his wrist. Sir Henry watched as his host began to slice up the meat, placing the choicest cuts on the edge of his guest's plate with a tight smile. Sir Henry had been disappointed to find out that Beryl Stapleton had been called away to attend their sick mother, but he had resolved not to let his disappointment show. Still, the atmosphere was somewhat subdued.
Sir Henry offered Stapleton a quick smile of thanks, as they sat down to eat together.
Watson, Holmes and Lestrade continued to crouch outside in the freezing night air. The mist from the moor was creeping in ever closer, curling slowly towards the house and outbuildings in front of them, drifting down from higher ground with a slow, inexorable descent towards them. Holmes glanced at his watch quickly; the hour was growing late as the two men inside the warm house ate their meal and chatted amicably. He glanced back towards the moor behind them, and Lestrade followed his gaze, seeing the thick mist behind them.
"It's coming towards us!" the Inspector whispered, alarmed.
"It's already ten o'clock," Holmes noted, "it can't be very long now…"
Watson had not taken his eyes from the house; he was intensely worried as to the whereabouts of Beryl Stapleton. The poor woman had been terrified of her husband, yet had done her best to warn Watson of the danger, thinking him to be Sir Henry, trying to save the poor man's life. He felt he owed her the same, if not more. He was also intensely concerned for Sir Henry, a man he had come to think of as a friend.
"If he's not out in ten minutes the path will be covered," he said, quickly, "in twenty, we won't be able to see our hands in front of us!"
"I think we should move back to higher ground," Lestrade commented, a trifle nervously, glancing across at Holmes for direction.
"No!" Holmes protested, "We must stay close!"
"I'm calling this off," Watson's concerns were growing with every passing minute, "I'm taking Sir Henry home!"
He started forwards, even as Holmes hissed at him; "Watson! I forbid it!"
Holmes reached out and grabbed him, trying to pull the doctor back into their hiding place.
"Take your hands off me-!"
"Someone's coming out!" Lestrade ducked down even as Holmes and Watson both fell back, their eyes locked on the house.
Sure enough, Stapleton appeared, his tall, lean silhouette striding through the mist towards the stables. There was no sign of Sir Henry, and Watson tensed as he waited for any sign of the young lord. He glanced briefly at Holmes, who was watching the scene intently, his eyes slightly wide with the thrill of the case.
Watson looked back and breathed a sigh of relief when Sir Henry appeared at the gate, as Stapleton led his horse from the stables. His relief turned to dismay when he heard the horse's irregular step, and observed the very obvious limping.
"The horse is lame," he said, concerned.
"Clever," Holmes breathed, "Very clever."
Sir Henry stepped through the gate, watching as Stapleton led the horse forward. He immediately noted the awkward gait, and the way the horse flicked a foreleg. Stapleton gently patted its neck, soothingly, even as Sir Henry came forwards.
"He's thrown a shoe," the young lord frowned, "that's strange."
"And Beryl, of course, has gone off in the carriage," Stapleton replied, "listen, you're welcome to stay…?"
"No, I'll be fine," Sir Henry replied, quickly, as he quickly set his hat upon his head.
"At least let me stable your horse for the night?" Stapleton offered, apparently eager to be of assistance.
"That's very kind of you," Sir Henry agreed, with a quick smile and a concerned glance at his mount.
"Not at all," Stapleton replied, already leading the animal back towards the stable, "good evening."
"Good night," Sir Henry replied, automatically.
He watched as Stapleton led the horse away, frowning slightly, wondering how the beast had managed to throw a shoe while standing safe in a stable… with a slight shrug of his shoulders, he wrapped his coat around himself against the chill of the night. The horse whinnied its distress, as he sighed, turned, and headed back through the gate towards the moor.
Watson had listened carefully; just close enough to have overheard the brief exchange between the two men. He watched, worriedly, as Sir Henry headed off alone and unprotected out onto the moor. This was exactly the situation Watson had been working so hard to avoid!
Inside the house, 'Stapleton' was pulling on a pair of black leather gloves, oblivious to the scrutiny the house was being subjected to from the outside. Had he considered that he was performing to an audience, the thought might have pleased him.
He opened a drawer in the desk in front of him, and removed a well-worn black boot. Holding it by the laces, he kept it held away from himself. The last thing he wanted to do was to contaminate the scent with his own…
"Where's he going?" Lestrade growled, suspiciously, when Stapleton emerged once more from the house a few minutes after Sir Henry's departure.
"We must get closer," Holmes ordered, already standing up in order to move forward.
Watson, however, had concerns beyond apprehending Stapleton; "What about Sir Henry?"
"We must catch Stapleton in the act!" Holmes replied, sparing Watson a quick glance over his shoulder.
Watson met his gaze briefly, and then nodded. He would, of course, follow Holmes. The three of them broke free of their hiding place, scrambling over the rough terrain. Holmes paused, suddenly, seeing the boot in Stapleton's hand, hanging by the laces. Watson and Lestrade stopped as well, behind the detective, and he held his hands out slightly, holding them back, as he watched the scene before him unfold just as he had suspected it might…and then, at the crucial moment, the wind changed direction. The thick fog rolled in front of them, obscuring their vision completely.
Holmes closed his eyes briefly in despair – of all the worst timing!
"Can't see," Watson growled, scrambling past Holmes and Lestrade, "I can't see him!"
"Wait!" Holmes said, quickly.
They froze; there was an odd sound, some sort of presence; everything both magnified and hidden by the roiling fog. There was the sound of the wind, the stream running nearby, and something else – like distant thunder.
"It's coming," Holmes said, ominously, his hand slipping inside his jacket.
Holmes drew his revolver; Watson and Lestrade followed suit quickly, as they went back to back, eyes scanning their surroundings in three directions, though the fog was virtually impenetrable. Shadows curled around them and the movement of the fog distracted the eye with every glance. The tension was almost palatable between them as they scoured the fog, not speaking, barely daring to breathe.
Suddenly, Watson heard it, and started in response; the rumbling noise was coming closer, and a low snarl accompanied the approaching sound. Then he saw it, and his blood ran cold.