A/N: This was a Christmas present for the bestest beta/friend in the world, NoCleverSig. She asked for "Sweet Helen/John with no smut". She is also a football fanatic. I did my best to try and combine all these things in a historically accurate, wintery setting. After receiving her personally printed, bound copy, she said I could post this for all of you as well! I hope you enjoy it as she did
Under a Bright Night Sky
Copyright MajorSam, 2011
October 22, 1878
"John, please," Helen pleaded, "We've been on the train for hours. When are you going to tell me where we're going?"
John Druitt smiled roguishly. "My dear Helen, I told you it was to be a surprise."
"Well consider me surprised; I certainly wasn't expecting to go on such a lengthy journey. I didn't even know what sort of attire to pack. I hope I don't end up making a fool of myself."
John's blue eyes were intense yet soft as they looked down into hers. "You look perfect no matter what you wear," he promised. She smiled and looked down, his praise never failing to make her blush.
She still worried, though. He had not informed her of where they were going, or why. He'd simply instructed her, with a twinkle in his eyes, to pack for two days. She'd resisted quite strongly at first. He was not yet officially courting her, and thus going away with him flew spectacularly in the face of propriety. She wanted to go, surely, but Helen was still trying to come to grips with the feelings John evoked within her. They'd known each other as friends and colleagues for several years now but though there had been a spark between them from the day they met, their relationship had developed slowly. In the beginning she had been entirely focused on her studies. She'd put up with so much to be allowed to even audit classes at Oxford, she was not about to waste time in dealing with suitors, no matter how charming. After several months of persistent attention, however, she had found herself growing close to a few young men, all brilliant in their own way.
She spent most of her time at school, studying, or with her interesting band of friends. Her father was concerned at how much time she spent with them, but could not prove they were doing anything besides the studying and experimentation they claimed to be doing. The first time Helen and John had spent time together away from the group had been entirely innocent. She'd forgotten a book at school, and being the gentleman he was, Druitt offered to escort her back to retrieve it. Watson, Tesla and Griffin each had other commitments to attend to, and so the two of them headed out alone. Druitt offered her his arm, and she took it, noticing for the first time how warm his body was next to hers as they walked.
From that day onward, John had subtly found as many occasions as he could to "escort" the lady Magnus about, for her own protection. In the company of the other men he made a joke of it, painting a picture of Helen as a silly damsel in need of a handsome protector. They would laugh at the thought of Helen being helpless, knowing all too well how false that was. They would roll their eyes and let John play his games. After a few months, however, Helen felt James' eyes following them a bit too closely. After the first time John had kissed her Helen was sure that James knew their relationship was now something more. It was never spoken of but when Helen asked John about it, he confirmed her theory. The couple let it pass; hoping their trust in their friend would not be betrayed.
After John had informed her of their weekend away, he'd told her he was telling James. She didn't know what he'd told his friend, but the budding detective had not confronted her to demand she refuse John's invitation. Watson's acceptance of their relationship nudged her towards accepting John's invitation. John, however, seeing her continued reluctance, finally had to decide to give up his dreams of having a weekend alone. The night before John wanted to leave, Helen's Aunt Beatrice arrived.
"Helen!" Beatrice had cried when the young woman entered the parlour to where she'd been summoned.
"Aunt Bea!" Helen had cried back, shocked at the unexpected visit. Her aunt was a handsome woman of 5'8", with large bones, but a smooth complexion. She raised her chin, her brown hair pulled back in a tight bun, and got straight down to business.
"You're gentlemen friend John Druitt requested my presence," she informed Helen. "I shall be chaperoning you on your journey."
Helen's jaw dropped for a moment, before she remembered her manners and clapped it shut. Her aunt was a strong woman, somewhat of a role model for Helen. She could only imagine what John had said or done to convince her to travel to London to chaperone them.
"I… I am very pleased to hear that," Helen stammered. One of Beatrice's eyebrows rose high on her forehead.
"I shall be sure to never leave your side," the older woman promised, looking knowingly into Helen's eyes. Helen swallowed.
"Of course," she bowed her head.
Her father had been requested for a surgery in Leeds and wasn't expected to return until midway through the next week. Her housekeeper had still been reluctant to let her go, but with Beatrice's stern glare following John's every move, she felt it would be alright.
As promised, Aunt Beatrice kept a close eye on the young couple throughout the train ride. At first Helen had been tense, worried about whatever assumptions Beatrice was making about them. They weren't courting, really, they had done nothing wrong! After an hour of tense small talk, Beatrice's voice rang strongly through their compartment.
"Helen, child, stop frowning, or you'll ruin your pretty face with wrinkles."
John couldn't contain a chuckle as Helen's cheeks reddened.
"I know you two aren't having at it in your chambers when your father's not around," her aunt barreled on. John's laughter stopped, and he grew stiff beside Helen, his own cheeks seeming slightly red.
"Though it might be good for you if you did…"
Helen's eyes whipped to her aunts, scarcely believing what she had just heard her aunt mutter softly.
"I beg your pardon?" Helen demanded, forgetting for a moment to respect her elder.
"You spend far too much time with your books, Helen," her aunt replied, nonplussed at Helens' tone. "I think it's high time you spared a little of your attention for a fine young gentleman."
John sat up higher in his seat.
"I'm not saying it's you," Beatrice shot at him. He wilted slightly. "But I am willing to let you prove yourself this weekend."
John nodded solemnly.
"And Helen, my sweet," she continued as she observed Helen's face. "I don't disapprove of your studies."
Helen looked up at her hopefully.
"I admit I'm… rather proud."
Helen grinned, her heart swelling. Beatrice sniffed and launched into a lecture about the art of embroidery. A while later, Helen excused herself to the facilities. When she came back, John and her aunt were sitting side by side, heads bowed, talking fervently. She frowned suspiciously.
"Excuse my interruption," she said politely as she entered the small room.
"Welcome back," Beatrice said graciously. Helen's eyes darted between the two people. John looked pleased as punch. Beatrice was giving her a strange look.
"Were you discussing our trip?" Helen asked.
"We were indeed," John said, his voice laced with humour.
"Are you going to finally tell me where we're going?"
Beatrice just smiled.
Helen huffed. If she were prone to paranoia, she would think the two were up to something.
Several hours later, John and Beatrice still refusing to tell Helen where they were going, they finally arrived at their stop.
"I'll get the luggage," Beatrice volunteered, surprising the young couple. She left, and John escorted Helen to a waiting area. She was nervous, holding his arm. Surely people need merely look at them to know they were supposed to be chaperoned, that they were doing something illicit.
"Helen," John chuckled softly, leaning down to speak into her ear. "No one here knows us. For all they know we are a happily married couple!"
Her stomach flipped at the thought.
"I promise I have no intentions of taking advantage of you while we're here."
Her stomach dropped at his confession. She instantly reprimanded herself. They had only kissed a few times, mere brushes of their lips. She could barely admit even to herself that she'd thought about going farther with him. When Beatrice returned with their luggage, John took it from her, and started to lead them out of the train station.
"We're in Manchester?" she asked, astonished at seeing the signs stating as such.
"Indeed we are."
She examined his smiling face. He obviously had a distinct plan, but for the life of her she couldn't fathom what he would want to bring her to Manchester for.
"We're going to Salford," he said, but offered no more. The statement only furthered her confusion.
John hailed a carriage, telling her about the city as they travelled towards their next destination. Beatrice let him talk, and Helen allowed herself to be carried away by his deep voice. How did he know so much about the town? He seemed to have a great knowledge on many subjects. She often wondered about his life before she'd met him. She suddenly shivered. The day was chilly, and a sharp wind buffeted their carriage. John wished he could wrap an arm around her. Beatrice had let them sit on the same benches throughout the trip, but with her sitting right across from them, observing their every move, neither had dared try anything. Helen rested her head lightly against the back of the carriage, cushioned by her thick curls. The train ride had been lovely, but the unexpected length of it had left her somewhat wearied. They arrived at a small hotel and Helen's curiosity grew. When they spoke with the receptionist, who only offered two keys, she became worried. Beatrice swiftly took one of the keys.
"I'll expect you in our room in 5 minutes," she informed Helen, then marched away down the hall. She was leaving them alone again! Was she simply being careless? Helen highly doubted it. Could it be possible that her stern aunt had a romantic side that she'd never been privy too?
Helen and John walked slowly down the corridor, finding his room, all the way down the hall from where the two women would sleep.
"You need not be so tense," he teased her.
"I'm afraid I cannot help it," she admitted. She suddenly felt like giggling. "I can't quite believe you convinced Aunt Bea to chaperone us on such an excursion!"
He grinned smugly and she wondered if she could refuse anything of him. The thought was rather unsettling.
"We have a few hours before we must head out. Rest for a while, and tend to anything you need. I shall be at your door at 5 O'clock to take you to dinner."
She glanced about the hallway quickly, confirming there was no one in sight before she leaned up on the toes of her boots to lay a quick, soft kiss to his lips. She was blushing as she pulled back, quickly turning about and hurrying down the hall to her room. She didn't see the broad grin that blossomed across John's face. He waited to make sure she safely entered her room before whirling about and jauntily entering his.
At 5 O'clock exactly, John knocked at the ladies' door. Helen answered, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of her deep blue dress. It was simple and elegant, tailored perfectly to her slim form, and brought out the shining blue of her eyes. He felt he could spend hours simply gazing at her.
"I hope this will be ok for where we're going," she said.
"You are beautiful, Helen," he replied. It was the first time he'd told her so outright. She smiled, her cheeks pink, and he knew he could see her a thousand times and not get tired of her smile.
"We don't want to miss dinner," he stated, composing himself and offering her his arm.
"We don't indeed!" Beatrice said, ambling up and breaking through the serene moment. She handed Helen her coat. "Best be off."
Two hours later, full of delicious warm food and a few glasses of wine, Helen wished she hadn't brought her coat. The wind had died down, and while it was still a brisk Autumn night, she found herself wishing she had an excuse to sit closer to John. They had left the restaurant and set off towards yet another destination, and in the privacy of their carriage she found herself growing bold. Aunt Bea was still sitting across from them, but the light inside the carriage was dim. Though their bodies did not touch as they sat, she hesitantly reached her hand out to John's, obscured by their coats. When their hands met, his eyes flew to hers with such hope that she grasped his fingers confidently between hers and squeezed. Their hands remained clasped until the end of the ride. Beatrice didn't say a word.
The mystery of their journey soon began to unravel.
"Yew Street Grounds?" Helen asked as they walked towards a looming stadium. Beatrice's mouth grew tight. She had not approved of this part of the journey, but when John had explained his reasons, she had reluctantly acquiesced. She had a soft spot for her tall niece, though she tried to never let that on. This young man was intelligent, attractive, and charismatic. She would normally be wary of such a charming lad, but when he was with Helen he was nothing but gentle.
"Rugby," John replied. "Broughton versus Swindon."
Helen's brow furrowed. "You brought me all this way to attend a sports match?"
It wasn't that she was against sports, like many of her lady 'friends' were. She didn't think it crass, overly violent, or solely a man's business. She just didn't know a lot about it, finding that biology and medicine held her interest far better.
"John," she suddenly piped up, "I don't know much about rugby, but don't the games last several hours?"
"They do indeed," he nodded as he helped usher her in. The man attending tickets gave the women a strange look, but a sharp glare from Druitt put a stop to it.
"But John, it's already so late." She glanced up at the swiftly darkening sky, thankful the wind had stopped as the temperature dropped. "They can't possibly play at night. The moon will scarcely show tonight; they won't be able to see at all."
A knowing smile spread across his face.
"Have faith in me," he requested. She nodded slowly. This whole weekend had been strange, but she was far too intrigued to back out now. They took their seats in the bleachers, and Helen's eyes swept over the field. It was the first time she'd been inside such a stadium. She was surprised to see seating enough for 8000, perhaps even 10,000 people! She wondered what the two tall poles flanking the field were for. They were about 30 feet tall, and supported large domes on the top. The night was already sufficiently dark that she couldn't see them properly enough to analyze. Instead she keenly observed the other patrons as they took their own seats. They were all men. Her dark coat thankfully hid most of her blue dress, but she hadn't thought to cover her hair. The gold strands stood out like a beacon in the growing dark, and she could feel the shocked stares pointed in her direction. Beatrice made sure to sniff loudly and stare back at any man who looked at her. There was a distinct lack of patrons on the bench next to her and Beatrice, no one wanting to be near women during a sports game. They simply didn't know how to act. They wouldn't be able to yell and curse and smoke as they usually did. Helen clenched the arm of the man at her side.
Magnus wasn't so much afraid as wary. She did not want an incident to occur, nor did she want John's reputation tarnished for breaking the unspoken societal rules that dictated who should attend sports matches.
"Oh dear," Beatrice suddenly spoke. Helen looked to her aunt, whose brow was creased, her body hunched.
"I'm afraid that dinner was a little rich for me. My old body can't quite take such luxuries these days."
Helen reached out and touched her arm, worriedly.
"Need we take you to a doctor?" she inquired.
"Don't be silly, child," Beatrice admonished. "I just need to rest for a while. I'll fetch a carriage back to our Inn."
"I shall escort you," John declared, standing up.
"Nonsense! You came here to watch a match, so you'll watch your match." The three continued to argue, but Beatrice's indomitable presence beat them down. With a last wave, she stood up tall and strode away through a crowd of surprised men.
And then Helen and John were alone.
Helen looked around the crowd, now more worried than ever. When John looked down at her, however, his dark hair framing his face, she knew he was completely unafraid. She frowned at him, communicating silently. His gaze rose to the crowd, slowly scanning the disapproving scowls. His face remained calm, a half smirk always gracing his features. If anything, the hostility only made him happier. He looked down at her again with nothing but pride in his face. She slowly began to decipher what all this was about. He wasn't just trying to pull a stunt, showing off his courage by bringing a woman to a rugby match. He was trying to show that it shouldn't need courage to do so. To show that women were just as free to attend as men were. He was showing acceptance. He was telling her she was his equal, in every way.
Helen's throat grew tight as the idea washed over her. She'd fought, and would continue to fight, her entire life to gain the respect and privileges that were granted without thought to a man. She had to work twice as hard as any man to gain less than half the reward. Shouldn't the world be happy to accept more women into the medical field? To know there were that many more people working to cure disease and heal the sick? She'd only recently begun to truly voice her opinions on such matters in front of her friends. They were certainly more forward thinking than most of the fools at Oxford, but she never knew when she would hit upon some odd quirk, and their gentlemanly hackles would be raised.
With John, though…
They weren't even courting, yet he was displaying a level of personal knowledge of her that many married couples did not even possess. She looked at him with wide eyes, wondering what to say. He could see the understanding dawning in their blue depths. He smiled softly, taking her hand in his again, and squeezing.
"John," she finally began.
"Hush, dear," he whispered. "You'll want to see this." He nodded his head towards the field, bathed in darkness. She peered into the black, trying to find whatever it was he was so anxious for her to see.
Suddenly the night sky exploded, light bursting forth and blinding her. She gasped and for a moment was stunned. Then her eyes adjusted. The high poles on each side of the field were lights, tall towers with domes that shone like two miniature suns, illuminating the green, grassy field. It was like the night had been pushed back by a shield, the field now encased in its own, magical bubble of light, the stars twinkling hazily beyond. The crowd erupted in excited chatter. Helen whirled to look at John, her white smile dazzling in the brightness.
"They're calling them floodlights!" he informed her, taking both her hands in his, rubbing his thumbs across the chilled skin as he spoke. His own steely blue eyes shone under the artificial light.
"But the power requirements must be enormous!" she pondered.
"Indeed they are. I'm sure our dear Tesla would love to get his hands into this," John laughed. "But in the meantime, imagine what it means! Teams can practice or play games all through the day! Their skills shall skyrocket with all the extra time!"
"Well they've always been able to practice inside," Helen protested logically. He smiled and raised a hand to her soft cheek.
"That's not the same as being outside on the field itself."
She pursed her lips.
"But it also opens up so many other options!" John quickly proceeded. "Theatre, for one!"
A spark went off in her eye and he knew he'd said the right thing. He grasped her hands in his once more. "Theatre under the stars, a soft wind blowing, the sounds of nighttime creatures wondering at this new, second day…"
Of course torches had been lighting up nighttime events for hundreds of years, but John did have a point. If one could maintain steady, electrical power for such expansive lights, a host of opportunities arose. Plus the savings in raw fuel would be immense.
"I look forward to what your brilliant mind postulates from this," he told her affectionately, "But we can discuss the matter after the game."
"I promise you'll enjoy it!"
For the next few hours, lit up by the incredible feat of human engineering, he expounded upon the rules of the game, telling her of touchdowns, field goals, and a myriad of other details she hadn't known existed. As she witnessed the historical match, Helen found herself, to her surprise, appreciating the sport. It really did require a high level of fitness, and a sharpness of the mind. Despite her interest in the game, however, she found her gaze travelling more often to the face of one John Druitt. She was entranced. The way his eyes would crinkle at the sides when he smiled, the energy in his voice as he talked about this sport he loved. The trip had been worth it, just to see this side of him.
Every so often he would glance down at her, and she would be forced to avert her gaze. The light, however, was unrelenting, and she was unable to hide the glow of her cheeks. She couldn't even blame the cold, for John had produced a small blanket from within his coat, which he'd wrapped carefully around her. His arm had happened to stay about her waist once he'd finished.
"To hold the blanket in place," he'd said.
When the home team of Broughton scored their first touchdown, the mass of spectators roared, and Helen jumped in surprise. She blushed, and quickly shook off her unease. Once the game was in full swing, the men around her diverted their attention, their sneers now directed at the opposing team rather than her. When Broughton scored next, she clapped. As their lead steadily grew, she found herself even daring to cheer, her higher, feminine voice lost amongst the cacophony of happy fans. She was now just one of them. As the game progressed, a man who'd drunk a bit too much started a tussle. The crowd around the fight seemed to ripple as men stood, cheering, taking bets, or trying to tamp the action down. Such rowdy behavior continued, but she never felt afraid with John by her side. She allowed her wide eyes to drink in every sight, her ears to soak up the sounds. It was like a whole new world had been opened up for her, highlighted in stark relief by the two towers. The seething crowd, the roaring of coaches yelling instructions to their teams, the odd radiance of the sky, the strong presence of the man beside her… the entire night was surreal. By the time the game was finished, she was flushed with spirit, passionate and emboldened.
"John!" she yelled as the game ended and the happy home crowd cheered louder than ever before, the whole stadium on its feet.
"Yes, my dear?" he yelled back.
"I shall go to bed tonight and wonder if this evening wasn't a dream!" she laughed, grasping his arm tight to stay steady as the crowd, which had closed in on her as they became accustomed to her presence, jostled about.
He looked down at her, his deep, rich laughter joining her own. "I ask myself if I'm dreaming every time I look at you."
Her heart fluttered and her eyes grew even wider. A sudden impulse took hold of her and she dashed her head back and forth, blonde curls bouncing as she checked to see if anyone was watching. Then she decided she didn't care.
As the fullback of the winning team threw the ball into the crowd, Helen Magnus threw her arms around John Druitt's shoulders. She pulled him down so that their mouths met, not caring who witnessed the scandalous act. The sound of the crowd melted away until it was but a soft, humming din that now seemed to be cheering them onwards as John's warm tongue ever so lightly caressed her lips.
Light that was not man-made erupted behind her closed lids as she opened her mouth and for the first time, let the taste of John Druitt flood her senses, and set her body alight.
I hope you liked it :) Please tell me your thoughts. Aunt Beatrice was named in honour of Beatrice from "Much Ado about Nothing" my favourite Shakespeare comedy! What a gal.