ozmissage: (Sherlock. breathing is boring.)
[personal profile] ozmissage
Title: The Unfortunate Absence of Murder on the Orient-Express
Characters: John, Sherlock
Rating: PG
Word Count: 4,417
Disclaimer: Sherlock, sadly, does not belong to me.
Summary: Sherlock has, what one might kindly describe as, unrealistic expectations for his vacation.
Author’s Note: A big thank you to [livejournal.com profile] haldoor for the beta and the expert brit-picking! Any lingering mistakes are my own. Originally written for [livejournal.com profile] pann_cake for [livejournal.com profile] vacationthon.

John picks up the brochures on a whim.

The light drizzle that was falling when he left the flat to pick up a carton of milk had seen fit to turn itself into a torrential downpour and his only choice was to duck into the first place he passed with a decent awning; it’s not his fault that place happened to be The World Traveller Travelling Company (the redundancy was dually noted). His intention was to merely huddle under the rainbow-colored awning until the worst of the rain passed, but then the well-manicured hand of Matilda Oswald had shot out of the door and latched onto his bicep, dragging him into her office against his will.

At least this is how he recounts the story to Sherlock as he stands in front of the fireplace shivering violently and clutching a fistful of damp brochures for a variety of sunny locales.

Predictably, Sherlock’s eyes narrow and John braces himself for the inevitable counterargument.

“The unfortunately named World Traveller Travelling Company is two blocks from our flat; the grocer you prefer is only one block away,” Sherlock observes. “Was it raining so hard that you failed to notice that you had trudged two blocks rather than one?”

“The store was closed, so I decided to walk to the supermarket instead,” John says defensively.

“Perhaps, but I happen to know that your usual grocer is a fifty-nine year old man in impeccable health who only observes one holiday a year, and that holiday is Christmas. Is it Christmas, John?”

“No, but he could have had a death in the family---”

“He has no immediate family members to drop dead and warrant a sudden trip out of town, nor does he have any friends besides the customers he makes inane small talk with like yourself.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

“He lives in the one-room flat above his shop, there’s no wedding ring on his finger, and he often loses track of the day of the week, signifying an unrelenting sameness to his days.

Likewise, he once mentioned that upon his death the proceeds from the selling of his shop would go to charity---something about dogs if I remember correctly, and we both know I always do. He was on the phone at the time. You were buying avocados.”

“That’s quite sad,” John says, momentarily distracted from the fact that Sherlock is eviscerating his cover story. He makes a mental note to call the old man up and invite him round for dinner.

“Not particularly,” Sherlock shrugs. “He’s also a misogynist, a bigot, and he’s prone to sudden bouts of homophobia.”

“What? No, he’s…”

“Oh, I assure you he is. He once charged a university girl double the price of lemons when she asked him if she could hang a flyer for her pro-choice rally in the window of his shop, and when he thought I was your significant other he suddenly had a shortage of rice. I could go on.”

“I have to find a new grocer now,” John mutters as Sherlock reaches out to pluck the pamphlets from John’s hand. He shuffles through them quickly.

“Next time you want to go on holiday, just say ‘I want to go on holiday,’” Sherlock says.

“Will that work?”

“Perhaps; it depends on where you had in mind.”

“Somewhere warm.”

“I loathe beaches. And I don’t tan.”

“Neither do I,” John shoots back.

“Cities are nice,” Sherlock says.

“You’re only saying that because there are murders in cities and because you’re a tiny bit demented.”

John realizes that he’s completely lost Sherlock’s attention. His flatmate unceremoniously drops all but one brochure on the floor. He holds his pick out for John to see; John resists the urge to roll his eyes. It’s not exactly what he had in mind, but at least it would get them out of the flat.

*

“It’s not too late to back out, you know?” John hedges; even though it is too late, at least where the substantial amount of money they spent on the tickets is concerned. Perhaps he could convince Sherlock to feign a sudden illness; if they could convince an ambulance to come, that might be enough to get half of their money back. It could also land them in jail, but surely Lestrade could help them out of that.

Sherlock ignores John in favor of forging ahead on the platform, his face turned toward the train with an expression very nearly approaching awe.

“It’s not the original Orient, but it will do. The cars are all vintage; I believe the one we’ll be sleeping in was once used by King Carol of Romania to entertain his mistresses.” Sherlock pauses to clap his hands together. “There’s adventure in the air, John.”

Funny, all John can see is a crowd of over-excited tourists snapping pictures of an idling locomotive and chattering about how drunk they were planning to get once they boarded. He is beginning to suspect that Sherlock’s expectations for this trip might be a tiny bit skewed. John isn’t at all sure how to handle that. Eccentric as his friend may be, Sherlock is not one to lose his head in the clouds, and quite frankly this level of enthusiasm on his face is obscene when there is no dead body around.

“Sherlock,” John says gently. “What exactly are you expecting from this trip?”

Sherlock lifts one eyebrow, his expression returning immediately to its usual sharpness.

“A lovely train ride to Venice,” he replies.

“That’s all?”

“Of course,” Sherlock says innocently. “What else would happen on a train? Come along, John, it’s time for us to board.”

With that, Sherlock pushes his way toward the head of the queue, an angry mumble from indignant passengers following in his wake. John is left to stare skeptically at Sherlock’s retreating back. He may not be the world’s only consulting detective, but he knows when Sherlock’s lying.

*

Sherlock slides his jacket on with a flourish, making John feel suddenly inadequate for fumbling with the knot in his tie. Their compartment is quite compact, but nice---plush carpet, comfy couch, a bathroom the size of a breadbox. A tentative knock sounds from the door and Sherlock brushes past John to open it.

“Hello,” squeaks a nervous, short fellow wearing a blue hat and uniform that clashes horribly with the shock of red hair on his head. “My name is Robert; I’ll be your steward for the duration of the trip. If I may be of any service to you, just give us a ring.”

Robert smiles up at Sherlock with what is surely his most confident expression, and John inwardly groans. The poor lad doesn’t see his mistake. Then again, he has no idea who he’s speaking with.

“Give us a ring?” Sherlock muses. “Do we have a fleet of stewards attending us this week?”

The boy’s smile falters.

“No, sir…I only meant…” he stutters.

“Give you a ring. Yes, I gathered as much. When will we be setting off?”

“Ten minutes, sir,” the boy says, already backing his way out the door. “Will there be anything else?”

“We’ll give you a ring, if there is,” Sherlock says with false brightness as he shoves the door shut, nearly catching the tail of Robert’s jacket as he makes his hasty retreat.

“You do realize he’ll be handling our food?” John says, but Sherlock merely smirks.

“He’ll handle it well; the boy needs to keep this job. Didn’t you see the state of his shoes?”

“No, Sherlock, I was too busy taking in the state of his dignity.”

Sherlock picks John’s coat up from its place on the floral couch and holds it out to him with an air of impatience.

“Stop worrying about our dear Robert. We’ll tip him well and train him not to use pigeon English; he’ll have a splendid weekend. Now let’s make our way to the dining car, shall we?”

John shrugs his jacket on.

“Did the king of Romania eat there?”

“No, but I passed a fascinating couple when we were boarding. They were arguing over their steamer trunk. This is only a five day trip; they have no need for a trunk that size---”

“Maybe it’s just the first leg of their journey,” John offers, but Sherlock is already shaking his head.

“She looked nervous and he had a smudge of soot on his sleeve. There’s something very interesting in that trunk.”

John does not like the glint in Sherlock’s eye. He doesn’t like it one bit.

“We’re on holiday; Sherlock, please try and remember that,” John pleads as Sherlock slips out into the hallway, John right on his heels.

*

The truth comes out over lunch as Sherlock pokes sullenly at his very expensive salad, completely ignoring the picturesque scenery rolling by outside their window. Of course, this is after he’d got himself and John caught in the Easterbrooks’ room. It turned out Mrs. Easterbrook designed shoes and had brought along a number of samples to show to designers in Venice. The soot on Mr. Easterbrook’s arm was still a mystery, much to Sherlock’s chagrin, but one John had convinced him must remain so if they didn’t want to spend the rest of their journey in handcuffs.

“I talked us out of trouble, didn’t I?” Sherlock says in answer to John’s glare over the dinner table.

“That’s not the point. We wouldn’t have been in trouble if you hadn’t been rifling through the Easterbrooks’ drawers. They think we’re perverts now.”

“They more likely think we’re cross-dressers.”

“Because that’s better?”

“Certainly,” Sherlock replies without hesitation.

John sighs and rubs a hand across his forehead. He can feel a migraine starting.

“What’s gotten into you, Sherlock?”

“These people are dull,” Sherlock complains just loudly enough for their nearest neighbors to hear. “Dull and normal.”

John takes a sip of his wine and wipes his lips on a linen napkin. Aside from the breaking and entering, he’s quite enjoying the trip himself. He’s never been one for luxury, but the more their steward plies him with wine, the more he begins to see its merits.

“Of course they are, they’re people. People on holiday. There’s nothing more normal than that.”

“Dull people shouldn’t vacation on the Orient-Express. They should be packing onto planes like cattle to see that mouse at the Disneywonderpark---”

John nearly chokes on his wine.

“Disney wonder… you mean Disneyland?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Sherlock says darkly. “That’s the point. It’s a silly, frivolous vacation for silly, frivolous people. This is the Orient-Express, John.”

“You keep saying that, but it’s not, is it? You said so yourself, it’s just a bunch of old cars repackaged to play on people’s faux nostalgia. Which was a brilliant idea, if you’re any example. Honestly, I never expected this sort of thing from you.”

Sherlock falls silent; never a good sign.

“Sherlock?” John prompts hesitantly.

He stabs at his salad with such viciousness that his china plate rattles in protest.

“We’re taking a plane back to London when we arrive in Venice,” Sherlock says before cramming the bite into his mouth. “I’m not spending two extra days trapped with so much inanity.”

John sighs again and downs the last dredges of his drink. It’s going to be a long forty-eight hours; he can feel it in his bones.

*

A shot rings out in the drinks car, causing the patrons to gasp, and the lights to go dim. When they come back up, there’s a body sprawled across the floor with a rapidly spreading blood stain inching across his back. It’s the body of Robert the steward. John recognizes the hair.

“There’s been a MURDER on the Orient-Express,” intones a man wearing a tuxedo straight out of the 1920s.

The passengers begin to murmur excitedly and John observes a few of the older women literally clutching their pearls. Beside him, Sherlock tosses back his martini in one go and strolls to the center of the room where he kneels down to examine the body.

The murmuring abruptly stops. For a moment, it seems that every person in the room is watching him. He stands suddenly, his eyes scanning the crowd until they come to rest on a buxom lady in an ill-fitting violet dress. He points a finger lazily in her direction and she looks down-right panicked.

“She did it,” he says, and the woman lets out an exasperated sigh.

“We’ve only just started,” she protests. “He cheated.”

“There’s fake gun residue on your glove,” Sherlock says. “It’s not my fault you planned your make-believe murder so poorly. A five year old could have figured it out.”

Robert sits up, now miraculously alive again. He’s staring up at Sherlock as if he’s a superhero. John wants to tell him not to encourage the insanity that’s clearly gripped Sherlock since they boarded, but he’s too far away. He settles for ordering another drink instead.

“That was brilliant,” Robert says in a hushed voice. “We hadn’t even gotten to the story bits yet. You didn’t even need to hear the motives.”

“I seldom do,” Sherlock replies.

The now disgruntled tuxedo-clad man clears his throat to get the slack-jawed audience to return their attention to him. John can see a few of their fellow passengers whispering in each other’s ears; no doubt debating if there was a nutter or a genius in their midst. John could guess which side of the argument the Easterbrooks would fall on.

“Let’s give the man a round of applause,” the man says gamely, one hand shoving Sherlock not so gently back toward the bar and away from the ‘crime scene.’

A few half-hearted claps echo through the carriage as Sherlock returns to his place beside John.

“They’re going to go again,” Sherlock says. “He asked me to sit this round out.”

“And can you do that?”

“No,” Sherlock replies honestly.

John motions for their blood-covered steward.

“Then let’s call it a night.”

*

Robert tugs at the lever to the top bunk so ferociously that his face turns the same shade of red as his hair. John and Sherlock join in, the three of them pulling with as much force as they can muster, but the top bunk refuses to budge. It figures, John thinks. Given the way this ‘relaxing’ vacation has gone so far, it only makes sense for him to end up sleeping on the floor of a railway car like the world’s most upscale hobo.

“It’s jammed,” Robert says, stating the obvious. Sherlock opens his mouth to speak and John can practically see the bitter comment forming on his tongue. He cuts Sherlock off with a curt shake of his head and for once, Sherlock complies.

“This has never happened before,” the boy continues. “Maybe if I find a screwdriver…”

“Don’t bother,” Sherlock cuts him off as he sprawls across the bottom bunk.

“That’s easy for you to say; you’ve laid claim to the bed,” John hisses.

Sherlock folds his hands behind his head casually.

“Don’t be silly, John, we can share.”

Robert and John look equally uncertain.

“That bed is quite small, sir,” Robert points out.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Sherlock replies. “We’re mature adults and we share a flat; what’s one night in the same bed?”

John tries to come up with a good argument, but nothing comes to mind… at least nothing that’s not a bit insulting to all involved.

“Yes, fine; we’ll share.”

Robert looks quickly from one to the other, not at all sure what to say.

“I’m very sorry about the inconvenience; I’ll get a reduction applied to your bill in the morning.”

“Very well,” Sherlock says, his eyes already closed.

An awkward silence fills the room as Robert leaves and John takes a half-step toward the bed and then an even larger step back, nearly bumping into the door of the bathroom.

“You can have the shower first, if you like,” Sherlock offers with a hint of amusement in his voice.

“Right,” John says, trying not to stammer. “Thank you.”

He gathers his toiletries quickly and makes a hasty retreat for the bathroom. He turns on the shower and clamors in under the cool spray of the water to lean his head against the smooth tiles. It’s official: he’s never going on holiday with Sherlock again. He’s clearly cursed. Or maybe they both are. John’s too tired to work it out.

*

He can hear Sherlock puttering around behind the closed door; the sound of the shower turning on and then six minutes later, going off. John turns to his side and scoots as close as humanly possible to the wall. Once again he thinks he really ought to sleep on the floor, but Sherlock has already waved away his offer once. If he proposes it again, it will just irritate him.

There’s laughter out in the hall and John imagines a tipsy couple slinking off to make use of their cabin in a way the former King of Romania would no doubt appreciate. The bathroom door opens and Sherlock exits, a puff of steam following him out. He likes his showers scorching.

He rubs a towel across his damp hair and settles on the edge of the bed to apply a fresh nicotine patch to his arm.

“Shouldn’t you be weaning yourself off of those by now?” John asks.

“I’m down to four a day,” Sherlock replies, smoothing the patch onto his skin. “Well, six when I’m working a case.”

He leans back, putting his face in very close proximity to John’s. John feels his body tense suddenly.

“I never cared for cigarettes,” he says quickly, in hopes of keeping things as normal as possible. “I snuck a few when I was in school, but they always made me feel a bit green.”

“Sneaked,” Sherlock corrects. “You’re not an American; you can afford to speak properly.”

John laughs. With a shock he realizes that’s the first time he’s laughed since they boarded.
Sherlock joins in as well and John seizes the opportunity to ask Sherlock the question that’s been nagging at him all day. The one Sherlock seems determined to dodge.

“Why the bloody hell did you want to take a train trip? And don’t tell me it was for the vintage carriages again.”

Sherlock smiles his strange, cat-like smile and looks away.

“It was my favorite book,” he says, a quietness to his voice that John is fairly certain is entirely new.

“What was?” he asks.

Murder on the Orient Express. I read all of Agatha Christie’s novels from cover to cover. She’s the only fiction writer I’ve ever cared for, and even though her mystery novels are rote and predictable at best, I enjoyed them when I was young. I still enjoy them now. On a slow day.”

John shakes his head in astonishment. He’s never once seen Sherlock read for recreation. In fact, he’s never seen Sherlock do anything recreationally. He does enjoy dissecting things, but John is reluctant to consider that a hobby.

“So it really was for sentimental reasons then?” he asks.

“I was a boy once, John,” Sherlock says dryly. “Hard as that is to believe. That book was very special to me. There were twelve murderers, in the end. Can you imagine? I’ve always wanted a case like that.”

This is the first John’s ever seen of this side of Sherlock. He never would have imagined his friend would have a favorite author, let alone the desire to act out a childhood fantasy. He likes this side of him. It’s very human. Almost sweet.

He reaches over to rest a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder and Sherlock looks up at him curiously.

John realizes he’s not feeling tense anymore. It’s not so odd, being this close to Sherlock. Maybe it’s not odd at all.

“I’m very sorry that there wasn’t a real murder for you to solve,” John says sincerely, and Sherlock snorts.

“I made quick work of the fake one though.”

“Yes, you did, and you pissed off half of the passengers and the staff in the process.”

“It’s not my fault they’re slow,” Sherlock says, leaning into John’s touch until his side is pressed right along John’s stomach. John doesn’t worry about squirming away; in fact, he drops his head to Sherlock’s shoulder, telling himself it’s not like there’s anywhere else for it to go.

He closes his eyes, feeling the steady rumble of the train rolling against the tracks beneath them.

“I suppose that’s true,” John slurs, already half asleep.

*

He awakes alone and blinks, bleary-eyed, as he glances around the empty cabin. He yawns as he sits up, wondering where Sherlock is and how many rooms he’s broken into while John was sleeping. Groaning, he stands and stretches, ignoring the majestic Alps as he passes the window in favor of looking for his pants. He dresses and brushes his teeth in record time and half runs to the dining car.

His mind keeps dreaming up horrible scenarios that Sherlock could have gotten himself into by now. The man should not be trapped in an enclosed space for this long. He goes stir crazy when he’s in their flat for more than an hour. John’s only comfort is that Sherlock couldn’t bring his gun on the trip; at least none of these vintage carriages will be riddled with smiley-faced shaped holes anytime soon.

As he opens the door to the dining car, John hears a familiar peal of laughter. He can just make out Sherlock’s mop of curly, black hair peaking out from behind the sea of tourists surrounding his table. John freezes, moving only when a man physically shoves him out of the way.

“You’re blocking the entrance,” the man says angrily and John feels abashed.

“Very sorry, sir,” he says, just as Sherlock catches sight of him.

“John,” he calls, motioning for John to join him. John crosses the length of the car quickly and the small crowd parts to let him through. He slides in across from Sherlock.

“This is my blogger, John Watson,” Sherlock introduces him.

“Hello?” John asks rather than says. This is all much too strange.

The lady nearest to him, tall and quite good-looking to be honest, shakes his hand.

“I’m Doreen,” she says. “Your friend has been telling us the most remarkable stories. Is it true about the cab driver?”

John pales and glances quickly at Sherlock; wondering what exactly he’s been telling these people. Sherlock gives the tiniest shake of his head and John relaxes.

“Yes, all true. That was our first case together. The Lady in Pink,” John offers.

“That’s what he called it,” Sherlock replies with a hint of irritation.

“Well, there was a lot of pink,” John insists. Again.

The man beside Doreen touches her shoulder.

“Our breakfast has arrived,” he says, and Doreen’s attention seems to instantly turn from Sherlock to her waffles.

“It was nice to meet the both of you. I’ll be following your blog from now on; I want to keep up with this one’s adventures,” she says with a laugh.

Sherlock grins.

“Of course; we’d be honored.”

The rest of the crowd drifts away as well, unable to resist the call of Belgian waffles and unrecognizable egg dishes, leaving John alone with Sherlock, who John can’t help but stare at as if he’s sprouted two heads.

“You’d be honored?” John asks, clearly baffled. Sherlock’s grin has completely disappeared and he’s ignoring his breakfast in favor of his coffee.

“I was bored and they were impressed by my display at that horrid excuse for dinner theatre last night,” Sherlock shudders. “I was merely patronizing the locals. I was beginning to think you were going to sleep all morning.”

“Sorry,” John says. “I was a bit knackered after chasing you around all day.”

Sherlock taps his fingers irritably against the table, staring at the mountains as they roll by almost as if each one was hurling insults at him.

“I know what it feels like to be cattle now,” he says. “You eat, sleep, then eat again. We actually paid for this, John.”

John stifles a laugh and pours an extra dollop of syrup onto his golden waffles.

“This is what happens when you plan trips around your favorite book, Sherlock. I loved Tom Sawyer when I was growing up, but I’m not planning to raft down the Mississippi any time soon.”

Sherlock ignores him and checks his watch.

“Three more hours,” he says to himself. “Only three more hours.”

*

Sherlock shoots off the train the minute the doors snap open and bounds onto the platform in Venice with such relief that John is reminded of a puppy taking his first step on land after a long day of waiting for its owners to come home.

He catches John by the arm and nearly spins him about.

“Sherlock, calm down,” John hisses. People were beginning to stare.

“A paper,” Sherlock replies nonsensically. “We need to find a paper.”

“What? Wait, why?”

Sherlock is already galloping off in the direction of a vendor. John jogs to catch up with him; by the time he gets there, Sherlock is already grinning like a mad man and holding up the front page.

“Three men found dead in hotel rooms across the city over the past three nights; all of them supposedly strangled, even though there were no marks on their necks,” Sherlock says happily.

John shakes his head and Sherlock clasps his shoulders as if that might make John process the information faster.

“Strangulation without the marks. That’s brilliant.”

“And terrifying…”

“Come on, we need to get to the Hotel Rialto,” Sherlock says.

“That’s not where we’re staying, Sherlock.”

“That’s where the crime scene is,” Sherlock says as if that was painfully obvious.

“Sherlock,” John warns. “Sherlock!”

He’s already hailing a cab.

John sighs heavily and hopes Venice has an Italian equivalent to Lestrade. He slides in beside Sherlock and the cab lurches into traffic.

“Never again,” he hisses to Sherlock who passes him the paper.

“I need you to use your phone to find out everything you can about the victims,” Sherlock says.

“Do you think we can talk our way into the morgue?”

John catches the cab driver staring at them in the review mirror; the man looks away quickly when he meets John’s eyes. John sighs and resignedly pulls out his phone.

Never again, he thinks. Never, ever again.

Date: 8/1/11 03:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mollivanders.livejournal.com
“You’re only saying that because there are murders in cities and because you’re a tiny bit demented.”

I. LOVE. THIS.

I realized halfway through this - and this is not you not getting the characters right at all - that Sherlock and John are like Sirius and Remus. With the insanity and the bounding and the long-suffering companion. And we get it on TV! How even more excited am I now for S2? Squee! Anyway, I obviously loved this. Your voices are amazing and I laughed through the whole thing. Poor Sherlock, kept up like cattle. Poor John, sharing a bed with Sherlock ;) Like I said, I love this. You nailed the whole train concept, I don't know what you were worried about.

Date: 8/1/11 04:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ozmissage.livejournal.com
Aww, thank you so much! You know me, I have to freak out over everything. ;)

Dude, they totally are like Remus and Sirius and I never would have thought about that if you hadn't mentioned it. Weirdly, they also look a lot like the Remus and Sirius in my head. Now I'm going to be flailing for an entirely different reason next season.

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