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Rough - 4/5

Title: Rough - 4/5
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Sherlock/John friendship
Word Count: 2,609
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to Auntie Beeb and Uncle Moff; Sherlock Holmes belongs to the world. I'm just playing with him for a little bit.
Spoilers: The Great Game (probably all of them, really)
Warnings: deals with homelessness
Thanks: to my lovely beta/Britpickers bethia , gayalondiel , oncelikeshari and dreamer_easy ...all lingering mistakes are just me being awkward.
Summary: When John is kidnapped, who can Sherlock trust to help find him?

Notes: In both the books and the series, Sherlock has a rather cavalier attitude towards the homeless people that he uses in his work. I didn't necessarily want to change that with this story, but I did want to play around with it a little bit.

Extras: Screencap illustrations.


Part One

Part Two

Part Three



You can't really call it sleep, what happens when you lay your head down out here. You've always got at least half an eye open looking out for danger. But tonight I couldn't even manage a light doze. My head ached and my leg twinged and my ear hurt like hell. So I just lay still and watched the dawn creep up on the night.

Sometimes early mornings aren't too bad. Cities are never still, but sometimes in the early hours, they can be almost peaceful. Until the people around you start waking up, that is. Always best to start your day early.

I didn't hear the tall boozy geezer stagger up. It's a bad combination out here; being gimping and deaf. I was minding my own, folding up my plastic sheet for the morning, and before I know what's happening he runs up and grabs me by the shoulders.

"John!"

Wide eyes ginger hair Holy Mother of God he reeks like a brewery, what in Christ's name...?

"What?! Get off me!"

"John, it's me!" Oh God, he's tearing his hair out, pulling off his whiskers and eyebrows and…there's black hair underneath, just a disguise; what the hell...?

"John!"

"Stop calling me that!!" The name makes my temples throb, makes the flood push against the dam in my brain, and when I open my eyes again the tall bloke is sprawled on the pavement looking up at me with a bloody nose. I claw at the wall, trying to get my legs under me; ready to run or fight.

"Wait! I'll give you two hundred pounds."

I stare down at him. He looks a little less mental without the wig - a little - and much younger without the beard. Very young, in fact. And he's trembling. I've got no idea who the hell this strange guy is or who he thinks I am, but the only thing I can tell for certain is that he's absolutely terrified of me walking away.

Slowly, he pulls a wad of notes from his coat pocket. "There. Two hundred. It's all I've got." I can't count them from this distance, but I can see they're all twenties. "There's a cafe down the road. Probably just opening up. What do you say?" I frown. Two hundred pounds would buy me a good hot dinner and a clean place to sleep, really sleep, for at least a week. On the other hand, I have a pretty good idea what the skinny mental bloke on the other end of the cash wants me to do to earn it.

"Oh, don't be ridiculous!" He seems to have read my thoughts. "Just answer some questions. Nothing more. I swear." He holds out the money...and then adds something that seems odd coming out of his mouth:

"Please."

Slowly, I reach down. I snatch the notes from his hand like the bait from a bear trap and start counting.

"There's a hundred there. You get the rest when you've answered all my questions. Fair enough?"

I've got a hundred pounds in my hand. A hundred pounds. I could shove off and ditch this tall skinny nutter with no one any the wiser.

"Fair enough," I hear myself say, pocketing the cash. The young man gets up. As we head towards the cafe he notices my limp and smacks himself on the forehead.

"Your walking stick! Entryway umbrella stand. There's always something. Ah well, just have to use the wall instead. Coming?"

I stare at him again. This bloke is completely off his head. He's also the only person I've met so far who seems to think he knows who I am. I wonder if the Agents are watching us. The young bloke waits a few more seconds, then trots off towards the cafe without looking back at me.

And, with only a second's hesitation - oh God, why am I doing this? - I follow him.

******

"Those look horrible, mate. Like two eyeballs with sick on 'em."

"Good thing you don't have to eat them, then." The young man digs into his poached eggs with ham over English muffins and Hollandaise sauce, watching John attack his full English like it's done him a personal injury. In between bites the young man peels off bits of the spirit gum that held his disguise in place and holds a napkin to his nose, still throbbing from his flatmate's unexpected left hook.

He finishes first and leans back, wiping his mouth. John catches him staring at the stitches in his ear.

"Ah, s'nothing. You should see the the other guy."

"Already have done."

"What?"

"Nothing." Sherlock finds it very hard not to stare at John...finally there in front of him, yet not there at all. John is still a prisoner. All that remains is to find the key that will release him. "Must be a post-hypnotic trigger," he muses. "A word or phrase, implanted by the hypnotist."

"Eh?"

"Nothing. Just thinking aloud. Those questions I mentioned earlier. Humour me."

"Oh. Right." John shoves half a rasher down his gullet. "Carry on, then."

"Moriarty mentioned the police and the media twice by name, in two different messages. Maybe that was significant. Something common to them both; something they both use...?"

"Cameras?" John offers, mouth full of toast; pretending he has a clue what the hell they’re talking about.

The young man studies him thoughtfully. "No...I think when we hit on the right answer, it will be fairly obvious." He sighs and resumes his train of thought. "He's treated this whole thing like a game, taunting me...maybe it's an insult? 'Gotcha'? 'Bingo'?"

"'Game over'?" John suggests.

"Or magic words…'Please'?"

"'Abracadabra'?"

"Mmm. It's bound to be something childish like that. 'Open Sesame'?...'Rumplestiltskin'?...'Ollie ollie oxen...free'...?"

Cutlery clatters. John's chin suddenly drops to his chest as his fork hits the plate, like someone just cut the strings on a puppet. He's asleep. The young man's eyes widen…of course! The email message:

AAA
SF

XXXOO
JIM

Ollie ollie oxen free...a corruption of the original German, "Alle Alle Auch Sind Frei": AAA SF. The final command in Hide and Seek; the call for those still hidden to emerge.

"Oh, that's good. That's very good." The young man rubs a hand over his mouth, excited and agitated both at once. He is close now. So very close. Moriarty's first acronym has put John back into a hypnotic trance; the second will hopefully break him out of it and restore his memories. TNPLH. Only five letters. He can do this.

No he can't.

"Oh, John, why are you asleep?! You're good at stupid pop culture references, not me." The young man ruffles his hair and starts guessing. "Er...'Take No Plain Love, Honey'? 'Thursday Night Please Leave Here'? 'Take No Poison, Live Healthy'?" No reaction. Maybe the phrase is something military; a nod to John's time in the service? "'Terror Never Pales Loyal Hearts'? 'Take No Prisoners...Like Hell!'??"

Nothing.

The young man gives a frustrated grunt. People are starting to stare. Apparently it's not every morning that their favourite breakfast spot is invaded by a lunatic tramp spouting gibberish at his comatose friend across the table.

Think. It's Jim Moriarty. Something taunting; something childish. "'Tinky-winky, Noddy, Po, La-la, Humpty Dumpty'?" Nope. "'Take Nine Ponies Little Holly'?" Apparently not. "'Truly Nobody Picks Lemons Here'?" Damn. "'There's No Point Leaving...Heaven'?"

And then his eyes widen. The image comes rushing up from the depths of a childhood memory: watching telly with Nanny and Mycroft. A young girl in a chequered dress, steeped in tones of brown and white. Lying in bed, her little dog by her side; returned to the bosom of her family after a long adventure trapped inside her own mind. Oh, Auntie Em...

"There's No Place Like Home!"

It's like pressing a button on a remote. John snaps his head up, drawing the fork towards his mouth as though the last few seconds never happened.

But then he freezes. His hand begins to shake. He looks up at Sherlock...and Sherlock sees the exact moment when he remembers.

Later on, whenever Sherlock catches himself starting to admire Moriarty's cleverness instead of hating him properly, he will make himself remember the look on John's face in this moment.

Thankfully, it only lasts a second. Then John claps a hand over his mouth and lurches from the table. He barely makes it out the door before dropping to his knees and spilling his entire full English onto the pavement outside. Sherlock puts some money on the table and follows him, ignoring the glares of the other diners clearly telling him to take himself and his filthy rentboy somewhere else next time.

Outside, Sherlock waits. John is trembling all over. He coughs and wipes his mouth several times before he speaks.

"How long?"

"John, you've  - "

"How. Long?"

The young man lets out a deep breath. "Almost a month. They moved you whenever I got close."

John's reaction is visible only to the pavement. Finally he gives a short nod. "Where are we?"

"Sheffield." John's short exhalation could either be a laugh or a scoff. Sherlock tries to make his voice light. "Just a quick hop on the M-1 and we're home. Whenever you're ready."

John staggers to his feet. Sherlock moves quickly around to his right-hand side...and catches him when he takes the first step and almost falls flat on his face. Always when the danger ends, when they're finally safe...that's when the leg gives out. Like clockwork.

He makes no comment, however. Somehow he doubts John would appreciate it just now. "Car's just across the road. Can you make it?" Of course he can. John Watson has just survived a month on the streets without even the resource of his own memories for help. He can make it a few steps across a car park.

As the shabby-looking pair hobble their way towards the car, the young man wonders if it's socially appropriate to feel this happy right now. Probably not. John is miserable; likely traumatised by his experience...and, judging by the set of his jaw, completely furious with himself and his leg for the indignity of having to lean on his flatmate for support. But he is safe. He is here. And as the young man feels John's hand gripping his shoulder, feels the warm familiar weight of him underneath his arm; he finds himself completely unable to stop smiling.

"I'm going to need that hundred pounds back."

"Oh?" John seems grateful for a distraction from the fact that he's having to use his flatmate as a makeshift crutch. "Welsher."

"Well. Some of it. There's hardly any petrol left in the tank."

"You said you had two hundred pounds."

"I lied."

John smiles at this; genuinely smiles...and later on, whenever Sherlock catches himself wondering if the mundanity of existence is worth all the boredom, he will make himself remember the look on John's face in this moment.

Yes. Yes, it is.

******

It was a long drive back. Probably seemed longer than it was. I wanted to get home. Get out of these filthy rags, have a bath, slip into a proper bed, and sleep for about forty years. Even Sherlock's sofa would seem like heaven right about now.

"Harry's called. Several times."

"Oh God. I can't deal with her right now. Tomorrow, maybe." I think for a minute, half-hoping. "And Sarah?"

"Called the police, most likely. I believe she suspects I've done you in."

I almost smile. "What did you tell her?"

"Nothing. I hacked your email account and made excuses for you not to meet her. Also mimicked your voice on the phone. She bought it for a while, at least."

I stare at him, thinking of the damage control I'll be facing next time I see her. "Thanks a lot, mate. Appreciate that."

In reply, Sherlock cuts into the outside lane, and a BMW nearly rear-ends us. That's when it finally dawns on me.

"...Sherlock?"

"Yes?"

"Since when do you drive?"

"Since I saw you on the news. Mrs. Hudson's nephew had a car he wasn't using and she let me borrow it."

"Uh huh. And you just...taught yourself how to drive?"

"Mmm. Only took an hour. Don't see why people make such a fuss."

I nod like this conversation is in any way normal. "And your licence? Insurance?"

He gives me a look. "I had more important things on my mind."

"Great. We'll just tell that to the copper when he pulls us up." I can practically hear the door of our jail cell slamming shut. "Two homeless-looking blokes driving a car in someone else’s name. I'm sure he'll understand."

Sherlock sighs. "If you'd rather I'd used public transport to rescue you, John, I'd have been happy to oblige. In which case I'd have found you in roughly three hundred forty-seven years and eighteen months."

That shut me up. I hadn't meant to sound ungrateful. All that time, looking for me...it was amazing of him. Really brilliant. I just wish I hadn't been so useless that he'd had to go and do it.

"The boy's going to be fine, by the way."

"What?"

"The boy who attacked you. Saw him in hospital. Might lose the sight in his eye, but other than that he'll be fine. If he's clever, which he isn’t, he'll take it as a lesson to find better friends in the future."

I look quickly out the window. Wow, great news: I didn't kill him; just crippled him for life. He's alive, though. I'm not a murderer. But I could have been. God, if his mate hadn't stopped me, I might have...

"Yes. But you didn't." I've told Sherlock that little mind-reading trick of his is bloody annoying, but he always says it's not mind reading, so there's really no point arguing. "And John?"

"Yes?"

"Thank you."

I look round. Sherlock Holmes never says thank you to anyone. "What for?"

"For not jumping off that bridge."

We drive the rest of the way in silence. There's really nothing else to say after that.

******

221b looks like heaven. Mrs Hudson meets us on the step…and, dirty and disgusting as I am, she grabs me and hugs me like a long lost son.

"Oh, Doctor Watson. I am glad to see you."

She smells like soap and shampoo and lotion. I must reek. Gingerly, I hug her back - she's so tiny, like a little bird - and for a moment, it feels like she's the only thing in the world holding me up. Oh no...not here. Not now. I don't want to do this in front of everyone; please, Mrs. Hudson, let me go...

"I need a wash," I croak, breaking free and wiping my eyes. I grab my walking stick from the umbrella stand and hobble up the stairs.

"Mrs Hudson's made us some food,” Sherlock says. “You should eat."

"In a minute! I'm stinking." It sounds sharper than I'd meant it to, and my voice finally breaks on the last word.

Somehow I make it to the bath. I strip off and turn the shower to hot, hotter, scalding; and then up a notch higher. I have to burn it off...the stink of damp pavement and wet cardboard and sweat and hate and fear, plastic sheets and dirt and shame and rage and guilt and horror.

And then I can't hold it in anymore. I curl up and hug my knees, shoving my fist in my mouth. I hope the water's loud enough that they can't hear me sobbing downstairs.



On to part 5

Note: screencaps are from the ITV series Boy Meets Girl - you can see a clip of the first three and a half minutes of Episode 1 here (worth it just to hear Freeman doing a Northern accent, imo).

EDIT: Hooray! Some kind soul has uploaded the whole series to YouTube - hurry and go watch before it gets taken down.



Q

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