[identity profile] spacemutineer.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] acdholmesfest
Title: The Hungerford Wreck
Recipient: [livejournal.com profile] tripleransom
Author: [livejournal.com profile] mistyzeo
Rating: Explicit
Characters, including any pairing(s): Sherlock Holmes/John Watson, established
Warnings: No warnings necessary.
Wordcount: ~10,000
Summary: The Great Western Railway wreck of 1898 kills twelve and injures nearly two hundred. Sherlock Holmes is among that number and it affects him more deeply than he realises. Fortunately, he’s on very good terms with his physician.

The "up" platform at Westbury Station was crowded when I arrived, physically tired and mentally satisfied by the conclusion of a case. It was the matter of the laundresses’ smuggling ring, the dismantling of which brought several notorious criminals, both men and women, finally into the hands of Scotland Yard. The local constabulary had received a great deal of gratitude from the Metropolitan Police, and I had accepted my own measure of thanks with the appropriate aloof smile and nod, and then set off at once for the train station.

I was looking forward to being back in London, at home in Baker Street with Watson. My dear doctor had been occupied with responsibilities relating to his not-so-recently surrendered practice in Kensington. Two years earlier, when I had returned from my sojourn around the world, I had arranged for the purchase of that practice in order to induce Watson to take up rooms with me in Baker Street once more. Some of his patients insisted on keeping him as their personal physician, and, suffering from a generous nature and a fondness for those patients in particular, he had assented. This meant that he was on occasion not available to accompany me on cases out-of-town, an inconvenience I made sure never to argue about.

So it was alone that I stepped onto the 3.18 local to London, and I will never cease being grateful that I was alone that horrible day. I chose a compartment in the last first class carriage, and found myself sharing with a young couple (courting, on the verge of becoming affianced, he a clerk and she a governess; in Westbury on a holiday that hadn't gone well, a family visit perhaps) and an older gentleman (retired postmaster, widower and grandfather, suffering from arthritis in his knees). We sat ourselves as far apart as was possible, each tucked into another corner of the compartment, and set about ignoring one another as the train whistled and pulled out of the station. My valise contained a yellow-back novel I had stolen from Watson, thinking I might read it on the journey to Westbury or home again, but I preferred watching the countryside roll past. I was facing backwards, the young lady of the couple across from me, but I do not believe if I'd been watching where we were going rather than where we'd been that I would have seen anything that heralded the impending disaster.

The journey from Westbury to Paddington was scheduled to take a little over two hours, with a myriad of stops along the way. Cradled by the compartment's plush seats and the gentle rocking of the train as it sped along on its rails, I crossed my arms, closed my eyes, and let my mind wander. I thought of Watson, and how his arms would feel wrapped around me once more, the way his moustache ticked my lip when he kissed me, and the comfortable, familiar smell of him: tobacco and soap and cologne. I fantasised about how lovely it would be to be falling asleep beside him after a week of separation, how he would embrace me from behind and whisper in my ear about how dreadful the time spent away from me had been. Then the imaginings took something of a detour, and I opened my eyes and adjusted my overcoat as subtly as I could, trying to dispel the tingling of anticipatory arousal that had no business making itself known in an occupied train compartment. Watson would be happy to see me, and I him, and I had to leave it at that.

It was between Hungerford and Kintbury, fewer than six minutes past the former's station, that the journey went awry. Later I learned that it was a combination of several factors: first, it being a week-end, the trains ran less frequently than during the week; second, because of this, engineering works along the line had been scheduled; third, the engineer in charge of these had mislaid the timetables for the day and was therefore working from memory, that memory being the times of the week-day trains; fourth, the signalman who might have saved us had been standing in the wrong place.

What I remember was being jolted suddenly from my absent, not-quite-innocent, daydreaming by the shriek of brakes and the whole train jerking and shuddering. My travel companions and I had time to look at one another in alarm, and then we were thrown first toward the window on the right side of the train and then toward the door on the left. I cracked my head against the edge of the window frame and found my vision blurred by blood and pain as the train carriage left the tracks. All I could hear now was the wail of iron bending and the roar of the train as, I presume, it slid along the ground. My teeth rattled in my skull, and I held onto whatever I could to stay in one piece.

It must have been as little as five or six seconds, but an eternity later, with my ears ringing and my head pounding, I felt us come to a stop. I did a quick assessment of my own person, found it more or less intact, and wiped the blood out of my eyes. The compartment– the whole carriage– lay on its side, the door we had entered by on the ground, and the window we had gazed out of now showing only empty sky. Somewhere, distantly, I could hear screams and shouting. I helped the young couple to stand, and then found that the elderly gentleman was beyond assistance. The young woman felt for his pulse to make sure, but shook her head. The young man was favouring his leg.

We were going to have to break the window to get out. I didn't have anything with me to use. I didn't go about with the intention of breaking windows; I preferred to unlatch them. The transom that let in a little breeze during a warm journey could be pushed upwards to open, but it would permit nothing larger than my forearm to pass through.

The young woman said, "Wait," and found her way to one of the bags, which had been thrown from the rack above our heads. If it had something suitable for breaking glass inside it, we were damned lucky it hadn't killed anyone. She pulled out a single Dutch wooden shoe.

"That'll do," I said, taking it. "Stand back."

The couple shielded their faces and I broke the window. I smashed all of the glass I could out of the frame and then took off my overcoat and draped it over the remaining shards that ringed the opening I had made. I offered my hand to the young lady.

"Let Peter go first," she said. "He's wrenched his knee."

Together, the young lady and I boosted her companion through the window, and he climbed out with some difficulty once he was beyond our reach. Then the young lady accepted my help, and from above Peter clasped her arms and pulled as I lifted. Her dress tore on the glass, great lengths of lace and linen, but she paid it no mind, falling at once to the side of the carriage to offer me her hands. I took them, and Peter's, and together they managed to lift me free of the wrecked compartment.

I lay for a moment on the side of the train, trying to catch my breath. Blood still ran down my face. I touched my head gingerly, trying to find the wound, and hissed in surprise when I discovered it. It was a gash along my hairline, perhaps three inches long; not deep but hellfire painful.

We were surrounded on the side of the carriage by other emerging bodies, people pulling themselves out of broken windows like butterflies breaking free of pupae. Looking beyond them, I saw the long snake of the train behind us still sitting on the tracks, the nearest carriage twisted and half-unseated, the rest quiescent, as if waiting for departure. In the other direction was mayhem. The two carriages ahead of us had ploughed great gouges in the earth, and the engine itself lay in a smoking wreck. I wondered for a moment if it were likely to explode. It didn't do so immediately, so I counted myself lucky.

Then I thought of Watson and, insanely, how irritated he would be by the delay. I had sent him a wire at three o’clock assuring him I'd be home by dinnertime, and now I was inevitably going to be late.

Reason reasserted itself, and I knew Watson would be anything but irritated at the result, given the present circumstances.

The young lady and her not-quite-fiancé were making their careful way to the top of the train, where the distance between us and the ground was less, the ground having been churned up into a sort of hill. I went with them, and this time I helped the young lady down first, followed by the young man, and was, thirdly, lowered to the ground.

As soon as my feet met the earth, I stumbled and fell. The next thing I knew I was sitting on the grass some distance away, with a handkerchief that was not my own pressed to my forehead and a middle-aged doctor, also not my own, kneeling before me and peering into my face.

"I'm all right," I said, before I knew whether that was really true. "It's just a little knock."

I was able to get to my feet again soon after that. The bleeding had stopped, though my hair was sticky with it, and that seemed to be the worst of my injuries. I had to help. There were people still trapped in the front carriages, and so I joined the crowd that was clearing debris and breaking windows. I helped an older woman free from the wreckage, mostly unharmed, and later held a baby while a young father, much shaken, wobbled his way down the side of the carriage to the ground. I lifted another child, maybe ten, into her sobbing mother's arms. I gave a man my age a shoulder to lean on as he limped, bleeding profusely, away from the crash.

Three days later, I learned that twelve people had been killed in the accident, and a hundred and seventy-nine had been injured. I couldn't say if that last fellow counted among the former group or the latter.

Soon, or perhaps not soon at all, help arrived in the form of the local inhabitants driving wagons and bringing medical supplies and water. Someone was taking down the names of the passengers. I was given a cup and made to drink, and again my head was inspected. I shook the do-gooders off, exhausted now by the ordeal, and aching to be home. Watson would take care of me, I thought. His was the only fussing I wanted to endure right now.

The young man, Peter, and his companion, were again at my side. The young lady took my hand.

"Mr Holmes?" she said, though I didn't remember introducing myself to them. "We've been offered room in a carriage that will take us to Newbury where we might be able to catch another train. Will you come?"

"Yes," I said, "thank you, Miss…"

"Emily Somerset," she replied. "And my escort is Mr Peter Marsh. We're ever so grateful for your assistance."

"You're not hurt, are you?" I asked. "Mr Marsh's knee?"

Miss Somerset was now leading me away from the wreck and toward a horse-drawn cart that didn't quite earn the title 'carriage.' There were three people already sitting in the back of the cart.

"Not a scratch," she said. "Thanks to you and your coat. I'm afraid that's ruined, Mr Holmes."

I shrugged. "Better that than me," I said, climbing up.

The ride to Newbury took half an hour, and the jostling of the cart made my stomach decidedly uneasy. I was cold without my coat, and when we reached Newbury station I had begun to tremble. A special had been ordered from Reading and was waiting for us, and the station master came out to meet us before we'd even reached the platform.

"Thank God you're all right," he said to all of us, and thanked our driver, a local farmer turned Good Samaritan, for conveying us here. "I could only get two carriages from Reading, but we're nearly full up now so I'm going to send it on its way shortly. You'll have to change there so that I can have the engine back." He laughed, though none of us had it in us to join in.

There were blankets in this carriage, and Miss Somerset saw to it that I was wrapped in one before the compartment door was closed. My head swam. Either I dozed or fell unconscious, for I remember nothing of that ride, only of disembarking at Reading and waiting for the next train to depart. That train was only forty minutes, and it seemed to fly by. At Paddington I assured Miss Somerset that I would be quite all right getting home. Watson was waiting, and he didn't know yet that I was in one piece. I needed to be home. I thought about hailing a cab, but the idea of another journey made up of uncontrolled motion made my stomach turn over.

It was a twenty-minute walk from Paddington to Baker Street, and the night grew colder as I walked. I hadn't kept the blanket and I regretted it. By the time I reached my familiar front stoop, my hands were shaking so hard I couldn't get the key in the lock.

Not that it mattered. I'd only been trying for a few moments before the door flew open and Watson's splendid, rich, magnificent voice said, "Thank God, Holmes!" Then I was enveloped in his embrace, squashed firmly against his chest, my face tucked into the crook of his neck. He cradled me against him, making me feel small despite our height difference, and murmured, "Thank God," over and over. I lifted my head and his mouth found mine; we kissed, hard, both of us shuddering with relief.

Finally he pulled back and held me at arm's length.

"You look dreadful," he announced. "You had me worried sick!"

"I'm sorry," I said.

"Don't apologise, you ridiculous man," Watson said, pushing the door closed behind me and leading me up the stairs to our sitting room. He steered me toward the settee and I sank gratefully into the cushions. "Two seconds," he said, but he didn't have to leave the room, for at that moment Mrs Hudson appeared in the doorway with tea, biscuits, and a basin of warm water. How well she knew me and my habit of getting into scrapes.

"Mr Holmes!" she cried, putting the tray down and bringing the basin at once over to the settee. Watson, bless him, got down on his knees before me and dipped a towel into the water. Mrs Hudson touched my face. "We heard about the accident," she said. "But we weren't sure–"

Watson unfastened my collar for me and said, "Mrs Hudson, can you put that blanket around his shoulders, please?"

"I'm f-f-fine," I said, giving myself away. My teeth were chattering. Mrs Hudson went around the back of the settee and pulled the blanket free, draping it carefully and securely around me.

"Is it just your head?" Watson asked. "Or is there anything else I should know about?" He started to wipe the blood out of my hair, working his way from the crown of my head toward my face.

"Just my head," I managed. I closed my eyes. Again I considered vomiting, but decided Watson wouldn't appreciate it and so I didn't. "Nauseous as well," I admitted, when the urge had passed.

Watson huffed a laugh. "That'll be the head injury," he said. "If you do feel like you're going to be sick, just tell me."

I nodded and then groaned. Watson's fingers were gentle on my scalp, but my scalp felt like it was on fire. My pulse pounded behind my eyes. I reached out and found his shoulder to cling to.

"This is going to need stitches," he said softly. I whined in protest. I just wanted to lie down. "I'm sorry. Stay put, please. Don't fall asleep."

I felt Mrs Hudson's hands on my shoulders, and she was the only thing keeping me upright when Watson pushed himself to his feet and disappeared. He was back a moment later with his medical bag and a glass of brandy.

"This would be easiest," he said, sitting down beside me and handing me the glass, "if you put your head in my lap."

I almost made a remark about that suggestion, but our landlady still propped me up, and though she was selectively deaf at the best of times she wouldn't have been able to help overhearing. I grunted acquiescence instead, drained the glass, and shifted gingerly on the settee until my cheek was pillowed on Watson's firm thigh.

He spent a moment threading the needle and inspecting my forehead, and then he said, "Hold my leg if you want, or Mrs Hudson's hand."

I accepted the hand that was offered me. I didn't want to squeeze too hard: she was a sturdy lady, reliable, but her fingers felt delicate in mine, and I ought not to do her any harm. I barely felt the needle as it pierced my skin. The first time, at least. The next seven times I felt it very keenly. I kept my eyes closed and my breathing steady, as determined not to flinch as I had been not to vomit.

Soon enough it was over, and my head ached worse than before. I struggled up again and sat panting with the effort. Watson's face was pinched with concern. He'd rolled up his sleeves, displaying his strong forearms, so I reached out and gripped them both.

"You should have a little something to eat," he said, "if you can stand the idea. Then straight to bed."

Another remark I almost made. I smirked at him instead. Watson rolled his eyes.

"I doubt that very much," he muttered, and went to accept the tea Mrs Hudson had poured.

"I'll call you if we need anything else," Watson said to her, and then put down the cups suddenly to give her a hug. I stared at them. Evidently my absence had been more keenly felt than I'd expected.

She departed and Watson returned to sit down beside me. He handed me my tea, for which my body decided it was quite ready. I still had the blanket draped over me, and I huddled more deeply into it, leaning against him.

"How are you feeling?" Watson asked, putting an arm around my shoulders. "Tell me what happened."

"It was… so fast," I said. I had a flash of the moment before, the feeling of weightlessness.

"What did you hit your head on?"

"The compartment window, the small one beside the door. The frame, that is. We, er. The carriage left the tracks."

Watson inhaled sharply. "You left the tracks?"

"I was in the last first-class carriage, and the engine pulled all three of them with it when it… jumped."

He had gone pale. He reached out and clasped my knee. I put my hand over his and hung on.

"I wasn't worried, at first," he admitted softly, brushing his nose against my cheek. "I imagined something had come up with the police between the time you'd sent the telegram and the train departing. Or perhaps that it had been delayed." He laughed weakly. "Then the evening paper appeared. I thought–" He stopped and cleared his throat. "I thought you were dead. And then I thought, 'Not again.'"

I managed a smile. "I was very lucky."

"I'm going to have to wake you up a few times tonight," he said. "To make sure that brain of yours isn't irreparably damaged."

"I've been hit in the head before," I protested.

"Exactly my concern." He kissed my temple. "Come on. You're still shaking and I want to get you warm."

I let myself be guided up off the settee and into the bedroom. Watson undressed me of my ripped, blood-stained shirt, my torn and sooty trousers, and manoeuvred my nightshirt carefully over my head. I crawled under the covers, aware that I hadn't cleaned my teeth or even told him about the case I'd just solved. It didn't matter. My head hurt too badly. I wavered in and out of wakefulness as he prepared himself for bed, and rallied again when he climbed in behind me and took me in his arms. I reached back and patted his hip.

"Thank you for coming home to me," he whispered in the dark. He was holding me rather tightly, his arm across my chest.

"Thank you for staying here," I replied.

Watson woke me twice during the night. The first time he asked me who the Prime Minister was, to which he reported I replied, "By Jove, do you expect me to know that?" This apparently assured him I was fine. The second time he asked if I could tell him how to identify a left-handed typist with a gambling addiction. My answer to this was also, I understand, sufficient.

In the morning, my head had improved somewhat but every muscle in my body was taut and protesting. I tried to get out of bed and the pain in my neck and back had me on the verge of tears. Watson came back as I lay there whimpering under my breath and wondering if death would be easier.

"Better that you stay put," he said matter-of-factly.

He spent the day applying cold compresses to every part of me that I could suffer to be touched, while at the same time trying to maintain my core temperature. I was practically immobile, in agony, and covered in bruises that had only begun to form in the middle of the night.

The evening paper had another news story about the wreck.

"There must have been a bloody journalist who survived that accident," Watson said, sitting beside me on the bed, propped up against the headboard. He was holding the paper in one hand and rubbing my back with the other. I had tucked my head against his hip, so my demand for elaboration was muffled.

"FAMOUS DETECTIVE INVOLVED IN HORRIFYING TRAIN WRECK," he read aloud, in a voice meant to sound like the headline.

"Bloody hell," I grumbled.

Watson went on: "'Readers are no doubt familiar with yesterday's tragic and incredible wreck along the Great Western Railway line between Hungerford and Kintbury. Sources report over one hundred and fifty passengers injured, among them the well-known detective and Scotland Yard consultant Mr Sherlock Holmes. The national hero–' goodness, they're keen, aren't they?– 'was seen helping to free women and children from the dangerous wreckage. Mr Holmes stopped long enough to accept water from a local farmer, Mr Giles Gilroy, and had to be persuaded away from the site of the crash for his own safety. The editors of this paper commend Mr Holmes for his bravery and fortitude, but are not surprised by his selfless actions.' You are rather selfless, aren't you? 'Mr Holmes later boarded a train at Reading for Paddington Station, and is now presumed to be safely back in his home at two-hundred and twenty-one B, Baker Street. Wishes for a speedy recovery may be sent to that address.' They don't even ask, do they?"

"It wasn't just women and children," I said to Watson's hip.

"You reached the pinnacle of your career in shocking me when you turned up unannounced in my surgery," Watson said, combing his fingers through my hair, "but a headline like this does give a fellow pause."

I grunted. "It was that clerk with the girl."

"Clerk with the girl?"

"Emily Somerset," I said. "The man she was with, Peter something. I decided he was a clerk but I must have been wrong." I went over his appearance again in my mind and made a noise of annoyance. "Of course. That was how she knew my name."

Watson laughed. "I can barely hear you," he said.

I couldn't lift my head, so I didn't. I just huffed into his hip and crawled my hand along the bed to grasp his knee. He ruffled my hair.

"You're going to be all right," he assured me softly.

Over the next few days, the tension in my muscles eased and my bruises began to yellow. Watson still told me I looked like hell, and I felt it: the headache was slower to retreat, and my concentration was shot. I spent most of the time either in bed or on the settee, bored and annoyed by my inability to focus. It hurt to think. Watson was beside himself: he loved having me stationary and unresisting for three square meals a day, unable to smoke or drink or do myself any extra harm. He did stop short of suggesting I get into railway accidents more often, however.

The fireplace mantle filled up with cards and notes of good wishes, and I cursed that reporter for recognising me. Then I cursed Watson for making our address so widely known. But he read every one of them to me, and the earnestness with which the public hoped for my speedy recovery softened me somewhat. Still, it was embarrassing to be publicly indisposed. I was just glad no one had dropped by to see for themselves how I was getting along. My brother sent a telegram, which was as much as I expected from him. No doubt Watson was keeping him apprised of my condition.

Three days after the accident, I was finally feeling well enough to convince Watson a little amorous activity might, in fact, speed my recovery. He laughed and didn't contradict me, and I fell asleep naked, sweaty, exhausted, and satisfied, cuddled up to my equally naked, equally satisfied companion. Perhaps it was that release of tension, but I slept more deeply that night than I had been, and at some point I began to dream.

I was back in the train carriage, but now it was empty. Perhaps it was not the same train carriage; they all look alike. This time, I could see the path ahead of us, and I could see, despite the distance, the team working on the rails. We would reach it any moment, and I felt my heart rate increasing as we sped along. There was no signalman, so it was up to me to warn the driver. I hurried to open the window in order to reach the emergency cord, but the window stuck. We seemed to be gaining speed. I forced the window and reached out, but the cord broke in my hand. I heard the terrible scream of the brakes, and I watched in horror as the engine leapt the gap. I was flying, falling, and gasping awake.

Watson sat up as I did, as alert as if he'd never been asleep. He put his hand over my hammering heart and said, "You're all right, it was a dream, you're all right."

I lay back, breathing hard, my head throbbing. I put my hand over my face. Watson rubbed my chest, grounding me, until I could look at him. The little bit of moonlight that came in through the curtains was enough for me to see his face. He was worried and not trying to hide it.

"I'm fine," I said, reaching for his hand. He squeezed my fingers and said nothing, but he stayed awake, presumably, until I had fallen back asleep.

At the breakfast table the next morning, he broke his egg open with his spoon and said, "You'll need to get on a train again soon."

I raised an eyebrow at him over my toast. "Naturally."

"I mean, soon," he said. "Perhaps today."

My stomach had turned over, but I attributed that to the lingering effects of the head injury. I hoped the stitches would come out soon. "Watson," I said, putting the toast down, "I'm not going to take an unnecessary train journey to nowhere in particular just on a whim."

He frowned at me, apparently not buying my casual scorn. "It's not a whim," he said. "You might not have read the recent monographs in the Lancet about 'railway spine' but I certainly have, and the general notion is that it's not a physical injury– though you have your share of those, dear boy– but a psychological one. You underwent a traumatic experience and you need to confront it."

"I need to do nothing of the sort," I said. I knew I sounded petulant. "My head hurts, John; you're the one who has insisted that I be resting."

He narrowed his eyes. "You're not going to get out of this," he said.

I avoided it very neatly for at least a month. My head healed, both inside and out: Watson removed the stitches and pronounced my forehead "lightly scarred but in a rugged sort of way." It didn't matter to me what I looked like, so long as Watson carried on thinking I was charming and clever. My headaches went away and I could read the paper on my own again, or just sit and think, and not end up needing a lie-down in the darkened bedroom. I even took a case: a light one that required no physical activity (Watson's condition) and kept me captivated for a day and a half. Things were looking up, and I thought the whole incident with the train was behind me.

Then there came a case that required a quick trip to Oxford to consult an old professor of mine. Watson expressed shock and awe that I, of all people, would consult an expert that was not myself, but he was teasing me. His sense of humour does very occasionally grate upon my nerves. All seemed to be going very smoothly: Professor MacDonald was very happy to take time out of his afternoon to meet with me, the train left on time, and our compartment was empty. Watson had brought a book to read— I'd admitted the loss of his yellow-backed novel in the accident only a day before my battered valise turned up in the post, returned by a concerned citizen— and I planned on revising my notes from the case before we got there. This was in order to reminisce as little as possible, as much as I had liked Professor MacDonald, and get to the point of the visit sooner rather than later.

I ignored the first twinge of uncertainty as the compartment door was locked and the train began to inch out of the station. I looked out the window and watched the rail yard go by, reminding myself that the accident had been an absolute fluke, and that it was a weekday morning, and we weren't going quite as far, nor as fast, as Hungerford. I opened my journal and tried to read the notes I'd taken, but the letters swam before my eyes. My head hurt. I closed the journal. I was fine. A little tired. Trying to do too much all at once, Watson would say.

He wasn't watching me, absorbed already in his novel. He was sitting across from me and in the middle seat so that our knees didn't bump. He was so calm. How could he be so calm? Didn't he know the power of the vehicle we traveled in? Didn't he realise how wrong everything could go?

I bit down on my thumb and steadied my breathing. That was no good, so I dug in my coat pockets for a cigarette, lit it, and smoked it in record time. Watson glanced up as I flicked the butt out the open window, but said nothing.

We'd been on the move for fifteen minutes. I was fine. Only fifty-five more to go. I calculated our speed by the mile markers, but it felt like my brain was made of treacle. It didn't hurt the way it had, it was just far too slow. What if I'd been irreparably damaged? I gripped the seat beside me and closed my eyes. The mathematics wouldn't come together.

Watson's hand was on my knee. "Holmes," he said, and then louder, "Holmes!"

I opened my eyes. I was breathing too fast. My hands were like claws in the plush cushioning. My heart was in my throat, closing it down.

Watson put his book down, not caring that it fell to the floor of the compartment, and moved over so that he was across from me. He took hold of my arms and forced me to look into his face.

"Listen to me," he said, "listen to my voice. I'm going to take your hat off, and then you're going to put your head down between your knees. There, now bend— Holmes, listen— hush, darling, you're all right— bend your head." His hand was firm on the back of my head, and I grabbed for his thighs as I was bent in half. He rubbed the back of my neck, the base of my skull, and kept talking. I could barely hear him over the rushing in my ears, but bent down like this at least I couldn't see the countryside going past, only the fall of Watson's coat. I could still feel the movement of the carriage, but I was grounded by his hands and knees.

The train whistled and it was like a lightning bolt through me. A moment later Watson's hands were covering my ears entirely. I closed my eyes again, clinging to him. He would keep me safe. We were safe. Here in the dark with the sandalwood smell of Watson's cologne, with his palms cutting out the noise, with his lips pressed to the back of my head, I was safe.

It felt like forever before I was able to lift my head again. Watson shifted his grip to my forearms and we stared into one another's faces. I must have looked dreadful. I felt like I'd been— well, in a train wreck. Watson smoothed my hair back from my face and kissed my forehead.

"All right?" he asked.

I nodded. Then I said, "Sit next to me, will you?"

He did, picking up his novel from the floor, and for the rest of the journey I hung onto his hand.

My meeting with Professor MacDonald was fruitful, though it was interrupted by long periods of fond reminiscence on the Professor's part and polite nodding on mine and Watson's. MacDonald had been one of the only professors who had bothered to put up with me while I was at University, and likewise had been one of the only people I'd put up with in return. He'd recognised a kindred mind, I believed; we tended to think along the same lines. When I'd been sent down during my second year for setting my third fire in as many months in the chemistry lab, he hadn't begrudged me at all, and had even sent a letter of condolence to me and a letter of reference to Cambridge.

When I showed him the notes from my case, he had a dozen ideas at once, which we narrowed down together while Watson quietly documented the process. We spent the day in conversation, and it wasn't until nearly suppertime that I felt I'd gained everything I could from the consultation. MacDonald invited us to join him to eat in the Senior Common Room, and we smoked the evening away.

There was a 10.15 train back to London, but Watson must have felt my hesitation. He suggested that we stay in town little longer and go for a walk along the river in the morning before we left. Sometimes I don't know how to express my gratitude to that man. We found an inn that had two rooms adjoining and booked in for the night.

Usually in these sorts of situations, because we can get away with sharing a bed at home, we don't court disaster by sharing when we're on the road. But I lay in my own single bed for about half an hour before I thought to hell with it and got up. I opened the door between the rooms and found Watson easily in the dark, also still awake.

"Hello then," he said, lifting the blankets for me. The bed was very small for the two of us. So much the better. I wrapped myself around him like some kind of demented octopus and tucked my head into his neck. We didn't sleep well, I admit, but it was worth it.

In the morning, after our walk, leisurely breakfast, and two cups of coffee apiece, I finally felt steady enough to get on the train. This journey was significantly less eventful than the last one had been, but I was still grateful for the empty carriage for it allowed me to crush Watson's hand in mine at every bump and jostle and minor disturbance. When we got home, he poured me a generous measure of brandy and said, "You will be all right, Holmes."

"I bloody well know that," I snapped, and drained the glass.

"It's only a matter of time."

"Will you shut up?"

He raised an eyebrow at me and I flushed, ashamed of myself.

"I'm sorry," I muttered.

Watson graced me with a wry half smile. "I know you," he said. "You'll manage."

The next few months went by with only the occasional summons out of town. I thought I was dealing with the situation rather well. I still grabbed at Watson's arm if I was caught off guard by a change in tempo or a sharp curve on the line, and I only suffered two more episodes of needless panicking in the middle of the journey. It wasn't that I believed we were going to crash: it was that I remembered the last time too well.

I tried not to let it affect my work. I didn't turn cases down because they were out of town: I merely considered them carefully and, if the solution could be given by telegram, that was how I gave it. If it required a journey, we took a journey.

The semi-anniversary of the accident approached: six months since I'd been rattled around in a compartment like a dried pea in a pod. My brain was fully intact, the scar on my head was barely noticeable, and my nerves were steadier every day. Then I was summoned to Southampton to look into a case of a contested inheritance.

There should have been nothing remarkable about the trip: Watson brought along a fresh, new notebook; the day was overcast and humid; the journey was on an express and would take less than three hours. We had assurances of a place to stay when we arrived, and I was actually looking forward to the case itself. It sounded complicated, with lots of moving parts, the people involved lying to one another, and the lawyers irritated to the point of giving up. There was a sense of sinister goings on, but nothing particularly depressing or gruesome. Just a good, old-fashioned family squabble. Watson even went so far as to suggest we could treat it like a little holiday.

It started to rain just after the train left Waterloo. Watson and I sat side-by-side in the otherwise-empty first-class compartment, his support silently offered in the press of his thigh against mine. He was gazing out the window, watching the rain spatter against the glass, while I fidgeted with the contents of my overcoat pockets. I wasn't thinking about the accident, I was thinking about not thinking about the accident. I was trying to think about the case, what little I knew about it. Part of me wished I could let go of my own scruples enough to start speculating about it, but I was more concerned with not contaminating the information than I was with my emotional well-being.

The rain was coming down harder, pattering noisily against the glass. I looked past Watson at the blurry landscape beyond and felt my heart rate start to pick up.

"God damn it," I muttered, throwing the coat to the other side of the compartment and reaching for Watson's hand. I closed my eyes and laced our fingers together, and he gave me a gentle squeeze of reassurance.

Then he quite deliberately disengaged his hand from mine.

I opened my eyes in surprise.

Watson took off his own overcoat and stood to hang them both from the rack. He straightened his waistcoat, cleared his throat, and sat down again. This time, his hand was on my thigh.

"Holmes," he said, turning in his seat to look at me, "I think we need to change our tactics. Your anxiety about traveling by train has not really abated—"

"I'm fine," I interrupted.

"You're about to hyperventilate," he said, "again, and it's really quite difficult to watch that happen, my dear fellow. I'm proposing we try an alternate solution."

"What do you propose, then?"


I snorted, my face suddenly hot. "Watson, really!"

"Really. I think the distraction of a carnal encounter will pass the time, for one thing; for another, I believe an orgasm will do you a world of good right now—" This was said with a sly little smile that made my heart skip for the right reason— "and I'm of the opinion that if you associate the train compartment with a different sort of experience, a pleasurable one, you might let the traumatic memories go."

"You," I said, "are a very wicked man."

His smile grew and he leaned in to kiss me. My lips parted in anticipation, despite the worry that churned my gut, and the moment before his mouth touched mine he stopped and murmured, "I'm a very practical man."

I huffed and closed the minute distance between us. His lips were warm and dry, a little chapped, but I wet them with a quick swipe of my tongue and felt as much as heard him moan in approval. His hand came up to cup my face, his fingers curling against the corner of my jaw. I dipped my tongue into his mouth again and he tipped his head to accommodate this. His moustache tickled the corner of my mouth.

I was still aware of the rocking of the train and the sound of the rain on the windows, but most of my attention was taken up with the warm, wet movement of his tongue against mine, the cool tips of his fingers on my neck, the familiar and comforting smell of his cologne. I found my own hands lifting to cup his face in return. I slid my fingers into his thick, fair hair. My body, already excited by the danger of the journey, was apparently on board with the new plan, and was now humming with erotic arousal. I could feel the heat gathering between my legs: the heavy throb of my prick starting to take interest.

We were going to have it off in a train compartment.

"John," I said, still kissing him, "is this really a good idea?"

He pulled back to grin at me, and pecked my mouth sweetly. "Of course it is," he said. "When are my ideas ever bad ones?"

I couldn't think of an example. I pulled him back in. This time his kiss was deep and hungry, demanding, and I heard myself making little, cut-off noises of excitement. Once I would have stifled them, keeping evidence of my carnal humanity under wraps, but the years as John's lover had loosened me somewhat. He was always so quick to demonstrate his approval and enjoyment; I strove to share as much with him as he did with me.

John's other hand crept up the inside of my thigh, rubbing and stroking, his palm hot through my trousers. I spread my legs as he advanced, and in a moment he was covering my half-hard cock with his whole hand. I pushed my hips up into his grip, moaning into his mouth. He broke the kiss to put his lips to use along my jaw and down my throat, at the same time massaging me slowly. I stiffened under his ministrations, swelling and hardening, and I clung to his shoulders. His teeth scraped over my pulse.

I tugged at my tie and fumbled to unfasten my collar to give him room. He murmured a word of gratitude and kissed lower down my neck.

"Wait," I said, pushing him back, "pull down the curtains. We might have an hour 'til our next stop, but we'll be going through stations all the same."

"Very astute," John said, and sat back to pull down the curtain closest to him. I reached across for the other one. In a moment, we were shrouded in a kind of twilight, the lamps in the compartment unlit for the daytime journey and only the suggestion of sunlight coming through rain-streaked, shaded windows.

"Now, then," I said, opening my arms again. John smiled and leaned in, kissing my mouth while he unfastened my waistcoat buttons. I shook my jacket off and helped him with my shirt. With my top layer gone and my middle two hanging open, John had free access to my neck and shoulders, and he at once went back to kissing my sensitive throat. He worried the dip of my clavicle with his teeth until I was squirming, and soothed the abused spot with a gentle tongue. I did my best to undress him while he worked.

Together we divested ourselves of waistcoats, braces, and shirts, and were in vests and open trousers when John put a hand under my knee and tumbled me sideways on the plush compartment seat. He fetched his jacket, folded it, and tucked it underneath my head. I stretched my arms up, reaching as high on the wall as I could, giving him room to settle half on top of me, his thigh pressed between mine and his hands braced on either side of my ribs. He pushed my vest up under my arms and then lowered himself to kiss my chest. The muscles in his arms bulged, so I gripped them.

His lips were warm and delicate on my tightening nipple. I arched, whining, and pushed my prick against the firmness of his thigh.

He had been quite right: I'd almost forgotten about my nervousness. It still lingered at the edges of my consciousness, flaring up at every bump and rattle, but it subsided again quickly in the face of John's hot mouth dragging across my skin. He licked and nibbled his way from one nipple to the other, paying each one a great deal of attention, until I was writhing and gasping his name, begging him to go on. I couldn't survive on that alone. He rubbed his nose against the sparse hair on my chest and mouthed at my ribcage.

"John," I said, letting go of the wall long enough to give the top of his head an impolite little push. "Don't waste time."

"No time spent with you is wasted," he replied.

I blushed. "Please," I said, more softly. "You're driving me absolutely spare."

"Good," he said, grinning, but he relented. He plucked open the remaining buttons on my trousers and shifted down the seat to nuzzle his face into the open gap. His breath was hot through my drawers, and I felt myself twitch against his cheek. I hid my face beneath my bent arm and with the other hand slid my fingers through his hair.

John spent a few long minutes just breathing there, rubbing his face against my still-covered prick. He was smelling me, I knew. It was intensely embarrassing and devastatingly arousing, and I could never convince him not to carry on like that. When he finally lifted his head, ready to move on, his eyes were dark as pitch and his face was flushed. I knew his how stiff his erection would be, too. I met his eyes and swallowed hard, and he freed me from the confines of my drawers.

I was beginning to leak, fluid gathering at the tip of my prick. John put his first finger and thumb into his mouth to make sure they were warm enough, and then began to manipulate my foreskin, drawing it away from my swollen head and then pushing it back up again. I was breathing heavily, my heart hammering, and when he leaned up to lick me I half-shouted. John's tongue twined wetly, deftly, around my cock head, and stroked me carefully when he took me between his lips.

Again I was tempted to give his head a push, but I knew better than to pester the man with my prick in his mouth. Instead I stroked my fingers through his hair, rubbing his scalp and behind his ears and murmuring nonsense about how good it felt. He shifted on his elbows, finding a better position, and began to move his head up and down over my groin, taking me deeper each time. His hands were not idle: one was wrapped securely around the base of my cock, twisting in time with the slow rhythm of his sucking; the other was between my legs, cupping and massaging my bollocks. I tried to spread my legs apart and was trapped by my trousers.

"John," I said, giving him a tug, "John, I need to—"

He understood me. He pulled off, wiped his mouth, and helped me get out of my trousers and drawers. We left them hanging off one ankle, and I braced my stockinged foot on the seat. Now John had all the room he needed between my thighs, and his fingers began to wander as he took me in his mouth once more. They dipped behind my bollocks and into the damp crevasse of my arse, brushing temptingly against my entrance. I bucked up into his mouth, quickly losing both my composure and my patience.

He pulled away to say, "I have some scruples to taking you like this. I think you'll be too uncomfortable, later."

"You can pull out," I offered, squirming, trying to entice him to press inside.

He grinned and kissed my knee. "I still think you'll be uncomfortable."

"Oxford fashion, then," I said.

"That's what I was going to suggest."

"Well, stop suggesting and do it," I snapped.

John laughed and bit me sharply. I yelped, sufficiently chastised, and rubbed at the tender skin of my pale inner thigh. He nibbled my fingers, licked them, and murmured when I sank them back into his hair.

He sat up to push his trousers down, just enough to bare the tops of his thighs and allow his prick to spring free. He was stiff and ruddy, gleaming with wetness, and I wished that he would give in and bugger me in the compartment. I swung my leg over, pressing my thighs together, my hips tilted to one side as I lay upon the seat. John produced a little jar of Vaseline from a coat pocket— had he planned ahead or was he always so prepared?— and anointed himself. Then he took hold of my legs, hooking my knees over his elbow, and eased his cock between my thighs.

"Oh," he said, quite involuntarily, his eyelashes fluttering. I grinned and squeezed my thighs tighter, tensing my muscles around him. His cock wasn't long enough to poke out in front, even when the curly hair of groin tickled against my buttocks, but against my skin the slow slide of his tool sent illicit pleasure arcing through me. Sure, he was helping my own anxiety, but he was certainly getting something out of it as well.

I braced my hands against the wall and pushed back against his thrusts as he found a rhythm. Sweat prickled under my arms and behind my knees. The movement of the train was now a help rather than a hinderance, and we rocked together easily.

John leaned down to kiss me, managing not to break his stride, and I licked sloppily at his mouth, gripping his hair once more to keep him captive. He bit my lip, groaning into my mouth.

"Touch yourself," he said, gasping. "Please, we've only a quarter of an hour at most until the next station stop."

The reminder of our risk made my cock jump, and I took myself in hand at once. I jerked myself quickly as John fucked my thighs, and he pulled back to brace himself on the wall above my head. I clutched at his back with my other hand, my thighs near to cramping from being held so tight. I was close, my fear forgotten and my body surging with desire. John could see it in my face, and his lopsided grin told me as much.

"I'm going to have you like this every time we ride," he said. "I'm going to ride you—"

"Shut up," I groaned, on the edge. My cock swelled in my fist. John laughed and grit his teeth, and then I felt the slickness of his emission between my thighs. I peaked at once, my orgasm rushing through me, and streaked my belly with my own ejaculate.

John was still laughing breathlessly as we came down, and I swatted him with my clean hand as he let my thighs fall apart. I was a sticky mess, wet with semen and sweat.

"This was a disgusting idea," I said against John's mouth, but I kissed him all the same. His lips were sweet and possessive, his tongue gentle and proprietary.

"Better than inside you," he said.

"Ugh!" I made a face and pushed him away. Chuckling, he fetched his handkerchief from his jacket pocket and a thermos from his overcoat. The thermos was full of fresh water: he had planned this in advance. He wet the handkerchief and wiped me down. The water was cold and I squirmed in protest, but I took the handkerchief once he was done, dampened another corner, and mopped the sweat from my brow and underarms.

"Thank you very much," he grumbled.

"I'm sorry, is that worse than your own—?"

"Get dressed, for heaven's sake," John said, tossing me my trousers. He was grinning. We dressed in a hurry, no longer certain how much time we had, and I was just buttoning my sleeve cuffs when the train began to slow. Watson finished with his waistcoat and helped me with mine, and by the time we came to a halt we had drawn the curtains, cracked the window to clear the air, and were sitting at our ease across from one another, pretending to read whatever we’d been able to find.

No one opened our carriage door; no one so much as looked in. We pulled away from the station again entirely uninterrupted.

Watson started to giggle as soon as we'd picked up speed, and I couldn't help but join him. I was sated and still tingling from my orgasm, and I could feel streaks of drying come on my thigh that the handkerchief had missed. He leaned across the compartment and kissed me, disarranging my hair. Or perhaps he was smoothing it down. I hadn't the slightest idea what I actually looked like. We might have been the most obvious pair of inverts, but no one gave us a second glance.

I was still a little unsteady on my feet when we arrived in Southampton, but it was for an entirely more pleasurable reason than the last few times I'd wobbled on the platform. The case was as satisfying as I'd hoped, and we spent a very enjoyable week undoing mental knots and chasing criminals.

Watson, never one to give up an opportunity when he'd found a way to manipulate my behaviour, propositioned me again on the way home, and we ended up doing inventive acrobatics in the first-class compartment in order to suck one another off at the same time.

From then on, every time we were alone in a train compartment, we made love. It became so regular that I started to have an involuntary physical reaction to the sound of the door locking, and I laid my overcoat across my lap if ever we had to share with an old parson or a pair of country ladies. Watson and I blushed our way through those journeys, studiously avoiding looking at one another, hoping against hope that the return journey would offer another clandestine opportunity. It didn't matter the length of the journey, either: long ones saw us half-naked, risking our reputations for mutual satisfaction; short journeys usually involved Watson's hand down my trousers, teasing me to the point of orgasm over and over as we stopped at station after station and finally bringing me off just before we reached our destination. The worst, and most exciting, was when we would be involved in a bit of heavy petting and then suddenly be faced with traveling companions. There were days that I had to ride home with my cock aching for a want of release. Once, I was so desperate that I dragged Watson into the Gents' toilet at an empty country station and demanded that he finish me there and then. It was not my proudest moment.

My anxiety about traveling by rail had been replaced entirely by this mad eroticism. It wasn't, perhaps, the most sensible solution, but it was certainly an effective one. Over time our liaisons decreased in frequency, once Watson determined his experiment had succeeded, but we still had the occasional dalliance in an empty compartment that resulted in me greeting my client with a most inappropriate grin on my face, and Watson with a soiled handkerchief in his pocket.

We were never caught.

Date: 2015-05-04 06:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tripleransom.livejournal.com
OhMyGosh! You came through in spades.
Plenty of h/c! (scary train wrecks!)
Humour! (I love the image of Holmes clinging to Watson like some "demented octopus" -ooh almost tentacles!)
A strong female character! (Emily with her handy wooden shoe!)
And finally, hot trainsex! (I cannot tell you how much I love the idea of Watson unable to suppress his fit of giggles until Holmes finally had to join him.)
Even a hug for Mrs Hudson!
Thank you, anon, for this most wonderful fic!

Date: 2015-05-04 07:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saki101.livejournal.com
This gives new meaning to the concept of personal physician (and one very up-to-date with his medical journals)! ;-) A lovely look at the part of their lives not directly related to solving cases.

Date: 2015-06-02 08:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Haha yes, it's good to have a doctor in the house! Thanks so much.

Date: 2015-05-04 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gardnerhill.livejournal.com
A marvelous tale of Watson taking care of Holmes - both his physical injuries and his PTSD after the tragedy. A tender relationship that is as snarky and adorable as Nick and Nora Charles, and with enough sex to satisfy the most ardent H/W shipper.

(Cue the Hitchcock scene of the train shooting into a tunnel, fade to black.)

Date: 2015-06-02 08:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Thank you! I love Watson as the keeper of Holmes. It's so important.

Date: 2015-05-04 09:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jcporter1.livejournal.com
Holmes Watson and trains. The best!

Date: 2015-06-02 08:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm doing a lot of research on trains these days, and it permeates everything.

Date: 2015-05-05 07:30 am (UTC)
hardboiledbaby: (Default)
From: [personal profile] hardboiledbaby
Hee, I suspect my grin is quite inappropriate as well! :D A wonderful read, thank you!

Date: 2015-06-02 08:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
So inappropriate. Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-05 01:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] stellinia.livejournal.com

Lol, whatever works, am I right? I love Watson here, his humor and care for Holmes are both essential parts of his character. Lovely H/C and very well portrayed PTSD. Thanks :)

Date: 2015-06-02 08:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Thank you! I like to imagine Watson, even if he's not in practice full time, is at least a full time doctor when it comes to Holmes.

Date: 2015-05-06 06:14 pm (UTC)
ext_1620665: knight on horseback (Default)
From: [identity profile] scfrankles.livejournal.com
I'm rather in awe of your ability to use description to create such a vivid world and sense of reality. I love your Watson, and I love the endearing affection between the two men. Oh, and a particular favourite part was Watson's questions to check Holmes hadn't suffered serious damage to his brain ^^

Date: 2015-06-02 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Thank you so much! I'm in a heavy established relationship mood right now; their snarking and love is my lifeblood.

Date: 2015-05-08 03:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] garonne.livejournal.com
Lovely balance between pathos and humour. I had to laugh out loud at that line about the Prime Minister!

Date: 2015-06-02 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2015-05-08 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rachelindeed.livejournal.com
Wow, your portrayal of the wreck seemed so authentic to me that it made me wonder if you were basing this on a real historical incident -- you did a wonderful job, and I especially enjoyed Holmes's interactions with the other passengers in the aftermath of that tragedy. Thank goodness he has such a good doctor to come home to! :)
Edited Date: 2015-05-08 11:40 pm (UTC)

Date: 2015-06-02 08:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Thank you! As a matter of fact, it sort of is. Charles Dickens was involved in a train wreck in Staplehurst in 1865, the after-effects of which plagued him until his death five years later. That was the starting point for this.

Date: 2015-05-20 09:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] obstinatrix.livejournal.com
Oh mysterious author, I'm so glad I made enquiries because this was glorious. Watson is a bad bad man, which is as it should be, especially when it's in the name of science. Or something. POINTS FOR OXFORD STYLE. POINTS INDEED FOR OXFORD. But mostly points for really vivid train wreck descriptions and also smut.

Date: 2015-06-02 08:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
MORE OXFORD STYLE. <3 And trains.

Date: 2015-06-02 08:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Date: 2015-06-01 02:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tripleransom.livejournal.com
I must say, I guessed correctly "my" author was this time, [livejournal.com profile] mistyzeo! No one else can write that particular combination of tenderness and smut along with historical accuracy like you can.
Thank you so much; as I said before, I loved it!

Date: 2015-06-01 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mistyzeo.livejournal.com
Ahh, I give myself away! Thank you so much, I'm really happy you enjoyed this. It was such a blast to write. I'm the lucky one!
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