A/N: So... its been a while but I thought it was time I stopped neglecting my poor account.
This fic is technically a WIP, but it is nearly complete. Just one pesky part left and I hoped that posting would get a fire under me to finish the thing once and for all. As I mentioned in the summary, this is neither slash (nor het, for that matter) despite the dubious title.
Please enjoy & comments/constructive criticisms are, as always, most welcome... and tend to spur my muse on. *grin* Should be updating with the second installment within the next few days.
Having just partaken of a particularly hearty breakfast of rashers, toast and coffee, I drew up the chair at my writing desk, intent on taking advantage of Holmes' absence from our flat to make some much needed advancements on the most recent narrative I was penning for The Strand. My deadline fast approaching, I was grateful for any opportunity to escape the relentless hail of castigations aimed at my poor scribblings; verbal beratings that had, of late, assailed me mercilessly should my eyes so much as wander to the general vicinity of my writing desk.
Retaining ones sanity was no little accomplishment when living under the same roof as one unemployed, world-weary consulting detective. I prided myself that I'd not yet been tossed into an asylum for all I put up with on a daily basis. One of my greatest achievements, I dare say.
So it was that when I came down to breakfast one unseasonably warm day in late March, I found a hastily scribbled note explaining that he'd a telegram from his elder brother Mycroft, which warranted his leaving at the break of dawn. Seeing as my Holmes had been summoned to Whitehall and expected to be away for some hours, I took it as a dual blessing. Obviously, it was official business rather than a social call, for setting aside the fact the elder Holmes had no use for anything so petty as all that, were this only an excuse to have a tête-à-tête with his brother, he would have been sent to the Diogenes or his Pall Mall lodgings, and surely at a more reasonable hour. No, it was a case, and if Mycroft's past dealings in such matters were any indication, it was one of great import, at that. Therefore, the morocco case - which one world-weary consulting detective resorted to so frequently of late I had, over the past fortnight, taken the desperate measure of occasionally diluting its contents with sugar water – would be free to collect dust while I might have the chance to complete my account in relative peace.
I passed the remainder of the morning and a fair bit of early afternoon immersed in my work, the words flowing out of me as though the very foolscap were enchanted. To claim that I produced some of my best material during this session was no mere exaggeration. Consequently, I was in a bit of a jovial mood as I rubbed my hands together and once more took up my pen after a brief pause to allow relief of a writer's cramp. Yet no sooner had I dipped my pen back into the open bottle of ink, was I interrupted by a gentle tapping upon the sitting room door.
"Dr Watson?" inquired Mrs Hudson as she peeked inside.
"A visitor for you. He claims to be an old acquaintance."
"By all means, send him up," said I, distractedly. While I must admit to being more interested in polishing up my manuscript, I was curious as to who should care to pay me a visit, seeing as I'd no close associations from my past or present, with the single exception of Holmes.
Not bothering to turn at the sound of the door creaking closed, it was then an utter shock to hear that well remembered thick Scottish burr.
"John Hamish Watson?"
"Can it truly be - Alastair Rawlings?" I cried, rising to take his hand. The burly, flaxen haired fellow before me wrung my own hand enthusiastically in turn, patting me on the back, his eyes alight with mirth. He wore a modest grey tweed suit that complimented flawlessly his dashing figure and fresh complexion. For all appearances, Rawlings was handsome now as he was in our bygone University days, embodying still that rare combination of brilliance and eye-catching good looks. I could not help but notice just how much even now resembled that strapping youth etched in my mind's eye, the athletic Lothario who caused the fair sex to swoon - and was the unmitigated bane of our fellow male schoolmates.
We had both shared an affinity for Rugby, which was the root of our quickly struck, though rather short lived camaraderie. For a while, we both had found ourselves teammates playing for Blackheath, until such time as I left for London to obtain my medical degree. This was, however, the extent of our relations, so suffice it to say despite my unfeigned delight at seeing old Rawlings again, I confess to being somewhat bewildered as to why the fellow should care to call on me after so many years.
"You haven't changed a whit!" Rawlings lied mightily as he backed up to take in the sorry sight I must have presented to a man who, with the exception of a slight hitch to his gait which appeared the result of some recent and as yet unhealed injury, retained the hale form of his youth.
"Surely you exaggerate! I am not entirely sure how kind the passage of time has been to me, but you seem well. Whatever have you been up to all these years?"
"Oh, nothing noteworthy," said he with a shrug. "My life is as mundane and dull as can possibly be expected with my line of work. That is, I inherited the family vocation, if you will. I am a banker in Surrey, but seeing as I've business down in Kensington to-day, it struck me that my old friend Watson was residing here in London, and would it not be congenial of me to pay him a visit.
"Well, I certainly am glad to see you." I offered Rawlings a brandy, though he declined, stating that due to pressing engagements, he was only able to stay but a few moments.
"I hear," said Rawlings, who had leant back on our settee, legs crossed and arms insouciantly folded behind his head, "that you have made something of a name for yourself, assisting the celebrated Mr Sherlock Holmes."
I sunk into my armchair, suppressing the urge to bite down on my tongue, my bright mood of the morning dimming. A natural curiosity about my distinguished friend was only to be expected, but I dreaded this line of inquiry to my core, for in my experience, it was naught but a precursor to that inevitable question. Did I do the thing to gain notoriety for myself, to ride on the coattails of someone far greater? Oh, mind you, they were never quite so forward, but the undertone was there, regardless of how tactfully they managed to word it. I suppose I'd none to blame but myself for publishing our adventures in the first place, but I would not take back the rightful recognition my humble scribblings gained for Holmes for all the presumptuous queries in the world.
"Well," I willed my voice into neutrality, "Holmes has been kind enough in allowing me to offer what service I can. If my name has become well known as a consequence, so be it, but I'd rather the entirety of credit go where it is due."
"I see, I see. You are quite loyal to him." There was, for a fleeting instant, an unreadable gleam in his eye. "Yes," said he, sitting forward with hands clasped between his knees, "though from your tales, he does not strike one as being inclined to take up the confidences of just anyone. You must indeed be a rare friend to him."
"I suppose…" I trailed off, fumbling with my words.
The thought was never destined to be completed, for at that very instant, the sitting room door swung open with such excessive force the coat rack nearly toppled over, and I feared we should have our share of explaining to do when our redoubtable landlady came across the cracked indentation I was positive the knob had left in our wall.
"Watson!" Sherlock Holmes bounded into the room as though all the hounds of hell were nipping at his heels, maintaining this breakneck momentum until he came to a grinding halt before the fireplace, narrowly avoiding toppling into the coal scuttle in his fervour.
Bracing his sinewy fingers around the mantel, he turned to where I remained sitting, dumbfounded, mouth agape at the profound state of dishevelment so contrary to his habitual neatly groomed appearance and primness of dress.
His face was flushed, strands of sweat soaked hair clinging to his brow. Unfathomable as it was, his collar was undone, and somewhere along the way (for I did my own deducing based on the way he was gasping for a full breath of air in the manner of an asthmatic and came to the conclusion Holmes had been running some distance) his waistcoat had been carelessly discarded, so that he was attired in no more than an un-tucked shirt and braces.
My senses having returned, I sprang out of my chair and was at his side in an instant. He was as yet leaning over the mantel, did not so much as steal a glance at me from out of the corner of his eye, though he reached out, gripped my wrist with a crushing strength, and suspired.
"Ah, Watson, you're here. Thank heavens.
To Be Continued...