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Rough - 1/5

Title: Rough - 1/5
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Sherlock/John friendship
Word Count: 5,000 -ish
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to Auntie Beeb and Uncle Moff; Sherlock Holmes belongs to the world.
Spoilers: The Great Game (probably all of them, really)
Warnings: deals with homelessness, street violence, and drug use
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.

This isn't me. I don't belong here.

Sure, most people out here probably think that. I mean, who ever wants to end up like this? Doing things you never thought you'd do, just to...

But it's true. It has to be. Whatever my life is, or was, it can't be this. And some days, knowing that is the only thing that keeps me going.

I don't belong here. This isn't me.


In another world...

Bored again.


It's been five days since they cracked the sex traffic case. Nothing new since. BORING.


Of course, there was nothing to link it to the one man they all knew was responsible, even though the whole thing reeked of him - Dear Jim, please will you fix it for me to have my cheating ex-girlfriend sold into the Eastern bloc sex trade? - and winning the battle but losing the war chafes the young man like a hair shirt.


The ricochet flies wild. The tennis ball obliterates an empty phial on the kitchen counter. Twenty points. John has forbidden any further gunplay in the house, and Mrs. Hudson has warned she'll raise the rent if the neighbours call the London Met one more time to stop the apparent gangland war in 221b. So for now, the fuzzy tennis ball from John's old competition set will have to do.

The young man sniffs. John is late. He went out twenty-eight minutes ago: more than enough time for a pint of milk and some PG Tips. If John were here there would be someone to tut at him for destroying the flat, and at least the scolding would be a distraction.

The young man retrieves the ball. Flings it at the bookcase to see what sort of tangent Psychopathia Sexualis will send it on. In Drawing Room Pinball, furniture is worth ten points; wall hangings, fifteen; twenty for knick-knacks, forgotten experiments, or other countertop effluvia; and fifty for any of John's abysmal cd collection.

"Sherlock, there's someone at the door." An older woman's voice echoes up the staircase as her footsteps follow suit.

THWOCK!!! A crash from the drawing room. Fifty points.

"Well deduced, Mrs. Hudson. Though they did rather give the game away by knocking first."

"Sherlock...you'll want to see this."

Something in her tone gets through. The young man drops the ball and meets her at the landing, where she holds something half hidden in a large padded envelope.

John's cardigan. The one he just left the flat wearing.

The young man bolts down the stairs but he is too late; the carrier is long gone. He returns to his landlady.

"Who was it? Did you see their face? Was there a car nearby?"

"Little ginger lad. None that I noticed. Sherlock - "

The young man rips the cardigan from the envelope and feels a hard edge inside. He wrests a single card from one of the pockets. The paper is heavily textured cotton fibres vegetable dye Belgian weave, not sold locally folded lengthwise, like a posh invitation. Inside there is a message written in scarlet ink no striations probably an Italian brand an impeccable and familiar hand:

No police

No media



The young man kneads the cardigan. "It's dry...he left with no umbrella. The rain started up again nineteen and a half minutes ago, so that means they have at least a - " he checks the clock, " - twenty-two minute lead." He growls deep in his throat. "Did you see which way the boy went?"

His landlady can only shrug helplessly. The young man tosses the the cardigan onto the sofa and dons his coat, attacking the stairs and sailing out the door. His eyes scan the street; scouring it for evidence only he knows how to read. His pulse is racing; his breath harsh and quick.

He is not bored now.


"Excuse me, Miss, spare any change?"


"Okay...thank you anyway. Excuse me, Sir, spare any - ?"

"Keep asking, mate."

Some people come up with a story. You know...stranded here from out of town; my car got towed; just need a few quid to get it back. I don't bother. No one would believe I owned a car anyway, and besides, I'm a terrible liar. It's bad enough taking peoples' money without lying to them too.

"Excuse me, I'm sorry to... Pardon me, but could you...? Please, could you spare any...?"

People don't realise how much it kills you to ask. Every single time. If they knew, they might not be so rude.

"Fuck you!"

"Piss off!"

"Get a job!" I'd love to, mate. Are you gonna hire me like this?

It’s the looks people give you that cut the deepest, though. Like you've pissed on their shoes just by speaking to them. Garbage shouldn’t have a voice.

"Spare any change, sir?"

"Not today."

"Excuse me, Miss - "

"Keep walking, Sasha, don't look at him!"

"Excuse me, please, could you - ?"

You have to keep asking, though. You're that hungry. Trust me, after two days of the pangs gnawing away at your gut, selling your dignity for the price of a kebab is a very viable option.

Doesn't make it any easier, though.

"Sorry to bother you, but..."

"I gave at the office."

"Excuse me, sir - "

"Eat shit." Two more days of no food, and I might actually consider it.

"Excuse me, please...sir? Miss? Ma’am? Anyone?"

Keep asking.


The little ginger boy is afraid. The man with the envelope said not to tell anyone what he looked like.

"Then tell me which direction he went. You can do that, can't you?" Hesitation. "I'll give you a hundred pounds."

The man got in a white van that drove away towards the river. There were two more men inside. The one with the sunglasses was holding up the blond one, like the blond man was asleep.

The hundred pounds changes hands. "Thank you." Now the young man has a direction and a target, the quarry is as good as his. He calls up a map of the necessary route in his mind and sprints off.

Cars, faces, buildings all whisk past in a blur of irrelevance. A brief flash of white catches his eye SRV not the van keep going... People glare and shout as he narrowly misses them or doesn't narrowly miss them and sends their parcels flying as he barrels past. He ignores them. They don't matter. And if thoughts of what might be happening to John cross his mind, they don't matter either. Nothing matters but the van: find the van; find John.

Everything else is irrelevant.

He is three streets away from the slip lane when he finally spots it: a dull white shape on rough ground beneath the flyover.

He resists his first impulse to leap down from street level. He finds another route, and when he finally descends, breathless, lungs on fire, the van’s back passenger door is open. Empty. Abandoned. He throws himself inside, scouring every inch for a clue.

He finds it on the driver's seat: a painted wooden duck Mallard markings chipped paint manufactured 1978 at the latest with hooks in its sides to string a joining line through. A hunter’s lure.

A decoy.

The young man pounds the seat. Taped to the duck's underside is a piece of heavy textured paper identical to the one hidden in John's cardigan. Written across it, in the same scarlet ink as before, is one single word:



Lesson number one: if you're going to ask for money, do it near a cafe. And never carry more cash than you need. Once you've got enough to buy a meal, get in and get it down you quick. I learnt that lesson the hard way.

I was still thinking like a nine-to-fiver, that was the problem: the first time I just stood out there all bloody day long. When standing got too painful, I sat. When sitting hurt, I stood up again. By the time the evening rush had thinned out I had enough for a good meal and maybe a clean place to kip. Not bad.

The three blokes cut me off in an alley.

"Here, Grandad, where you goin'?"

"Oi Spaghetti Legs, how much you make out there?"

Stupid, stupid, stupid...I’d seen them across the road, but I thought they'd kept glancing towards my corner because they were looking for a lost friend.

"Hey, come on, don't be like that, we just wanna see it."

"Yeah. All that dosh, someone might try and take it from you."

There were three of them. They were younger, and bigger - well, two of them were - and I clearly haven't got much of a run in me. But I’d just spent several hours degrading myself for the sake of said dosh, and hadn't had a mouthful the whole time.

They took the money, of course. But I didn't make it easy for them. I was actually doing pretty well for myself until one of them landed a lucky kick in my hip and I went down like a sack of potatoes. I heard their laughter bouncing off the bricks as they left me lying there in the damp, under the putrid stink of the rubbish tips.

That was the only time I ever broke down. Well. The only time I remember. It wasn’t the pain - I can take a pounding - and it wasn’t the hunger, which was suddenly about twenty times worse: getting the stuffings kicked out of you really works up an appetite. It was the injustice. I’d worked bloody hard all day for that money. I’d earned it. It was mine. It wasn't fair.

Yeah. Like I said...still thinking like a nine-to-fiver.

Anyway, after that I toughened up and learned. You can't have normal feelings out here. You can't afford them. Otherwise you'll never last.

So, lessons learned: ask near a restaurant, never carry cash, and if you want to stay alive, make yourself dead on the inside.


"What about that brother of yours? He's got connections; he could help."

"You saw the instructions, Mrs. Hudson. No police."

"But he's not the police, is he? And besides, him and your mother are rolling in it; a search like this; you need resources - "

"I don't. Need. Them." His words cut like icicles. He will not go crawling to his brother. He can cope with this on his own.

Mrs. Hudson looks over his shoulder. "Any word yet?"

"Not yet."

He scoured the field surrounding the van and found nothing. He questioned every vagrant loitering nearby, and their shifty glances and halting replies told him that Moriarty's men had got there first.

He stares at his empty email folder. Come on then. Your move. Tell me what comes next.

He grabs a pen from the holder and chews on the end, suddenly aware that he’s drumming his fingers on the desk. He makes himself stop. Failure is not exactly a stranger to him, but he is painfully aware of how expertly he was manipulated today. Moriarty knew exactly what he would do and when he would do it. He is also aware that his overconfidence might have cost John his life. If he’d stopped to question witnesses instead of racing off to chase the decoy van, so absolutely certain he could track it...but any witnesses will be scattered through the city now; their vital observations long eroded by life’s harsh tide on the sands of human memory.

The young man lets out a long, slow breath and takes the pen from his mouth. It's lucky, he reflects, that he is untroubled by the inconvenient emotions of normal people. If he were the sort to let the thought of what might be happening to John right now distract him, he would be absolutely frantic.

He realises he is tapping the pen on the desk hard enough to dent the woodwork. He makes himself stop.

The laptop chimes.

New message from sender: jimllfixit@foolsparadise.com Subject: Gotcha!





Another chime. This message launches a video window across the screen. Mrs. Hudson hurries up and the two of them lean forward anxiously.

Confusion. Noise. A very bright room. A solitary figure stands at parade rest stance, blinking at the harsh lights in his face. John. Unseen speakers blast a military march which is loud on the computer and must be deafening in person.

Mrs. Hudson puts her hand to her mouth. The young man ignores her. Eyes fixed onscreen, his fingers stab the keyboard. The signal is encrypted. Of course it is. Pressing his lips, he tries again, then again, concurrently and continually observing.

The shot is too close. Too bright. John is dressed as he was when he left the flat, minus his cardigan, of course. He’s exhausted. Drowsy; possibly drugged. Every few seconds his head begins to nod - yes, very probably drugged - and a sudden shrill noise or electric shock jolts him awake again. He maintains parade rest stance throughout, however, as though under orders. Or under threat.

"Oh, the poor dear," Mrs. Hudson murmurs.

"Sleep deprivation," the young man frowns, fingers flying. "Far too slow for interrogation, so they can't want information; they’re trying to break down his resistance. But resistance to what...?"

As though affrighted by the prying question, the video abruptly vanishes. A dark screen replaces it. Bold white letters appear in a scroll:









For a long moment, the young man stares at the message. Then he closes his eyes and leans back in his chair, steepling his fingertips. He looks for all the world like he is meditating.

His landlady clears her throat. "Sherlock..."

"Shh." Things are happening inside the young man's head: images of maps overlapping one another; potential routes taken; weather conditions; fibre optic cable lines far beneath the city. Only when the entire mental process has run its course does he open his eyes and sit up.

"I'm going out, Mrs. Hudson. I may not be back for some time. And I'll need to borrow cab fare, I'm afraid; I spent all my petty cash hunting for leads this afternoon."

His landlady stammers. "But...where are you going? You've no idea where he is; where they've taken him..."

"On the contrary, Mrs. Hudson, I have a very good idea." He dons his long coat, turning up the collar. "The room in that clip is somewhere local, given the timeframe and weather conditions. It's also somewhere private: possibly soundproofed, but more likely underground, or else the neighbours would complain about the noise. The building is remote enough not to attract attention: may be abandoned, but still within range of a wireless network and occupied recently enough to have electricity. I know of roughly thirty sites offhand that fit that description, and if you rule out the ones that aren't near a dairy farm, I put the possible number at five."

Mrs. Hudson gapes. "How can you possibly - "

"Because John was blinking 'dairy farm' in morse code in the video."

His landlady takes a moment to absorb this. "And what about those letters in the message? The initials?"

The young man’s brow furrows. "I don't know yet. Possibly a scrambled postal code, or a cryptogram. I suspect I'll work it out on the way." He does up his coat buttons. "Cab fare, please, Mrs. Hudson?"

She bites her lip. "I don't like this, Sherlock. What if you're wrong? What if you're right? If they can take poor Doctor Watson, they can take you just as easily. I hate to think what they're doing to him right now..."

"Probably nothing. John’s just the bait. Moriarty's playing a game...he won't want to damage the prize."

His landlady’s face tightens. It’s not a pleasant look. It's the same you-clueless-git look John often gives him when he’s made yet another social gaffe. "And what about you, Sherlock?" she asks, more sharply than she's spoken to him all night. "Is that all this is to you? Is 'the game' on?"

The young man stares at her a moment, trying to piece together the reasons behind her sudden change in tone. Mrs. Hudson is fond of John. If Sherlock is fond of John too, her look says, then he should be as worried as she is. And if he isn't, then there is clearly something wrong with him.

He looks away, busying himself with gloves and cab fare. "If I let myself worry, Mrs. Hudson, I don't think clearly. And I need to think clearly tonight. I'll let you do the worrying for both of us."

He gives her an encouraging smile and a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Then he is off down the stairs, his landlady's warning following him out the door and onto the pavement:

"You be careful, Sherlock. You're not Superman; sometimes I think you forget that. You be careful and bring the both of you back safe."


Being alone out here is dangerous. But so are other people. Alone, you're a target...in company, you're an accomplice. Or an excuse. Or at worst, you're collateral damage.

Say there's a break-in. If you're seen anywhere near the suspects - could be days after the job; and you’re just telling them the time - then you get nicked too. And the police ask some very inconvenient questions. Questions like, "what's your name?" That’s one mess you definitely don’t want to find yourself in, believe me.

Then there are the fights. Even if you manage to avoid the million and one social landmines that might set someone off, others around you may not be so lucky. And when things go pear-shaped, you're bound to get some of it yourself if you're stood nearby, whether you're involved or not. Violence is contagious on the streets. They say there's safety in numbers, but out here, there's a hell of a lot of danger in them, too.

And that's just the people you don’t like. Friendship has hazards all its own. You think you left peer pressure back in the playground? Think again.

"Here, mate, have a little toot of that. Warm you up."

It’s the most amazingly generous thing anyone can offer you: you’re sat there shaking yourself to bits with the cold and the damp, and they volunteer some of their smack - the most valuable thing they own - just to take the edge off. You tell me...is there even a remotely good way to refuse that sort of kindness?

"Oh, cheers, mate, really, I just had some. Don't want to chance it." Well, I said I'm a terrible liar, didn't I?

"No ta, that stuff scares the shit out of me." The truth, but blunt, and always brings the comeback that one little snort can't kill you.

"Yeah, can get you hooked, though." Stupid, stupid answer. What...you think you're better than everyone else out here? Fine, keep your precious nose clean, and don't be surprised when no one warns you about the tramp-bashers headed your direction.

So all things considered, I prefer my own company. Safer that way. Mostly. And not just because of the fights and the drugs. Because of the Agents.

I don't tell anyone about them anymore. Other people can't see them. And it never matters anyway: they always know where I am, who I'm with, what I'm thinking. So it's no use getting chummy, because just when I let my guard down they'll show up with their dead eyes and empty faces and it’ll start all over again: the sting in my neck, the darkness, then waking up in a strange new place with no clue where I am or how I got there.

So like I said...I keep my own company. It's safer that way.



Five abandoned buildings. Five more wooden ducks. The young man searches each location anyway: the decoys could be a bluff in themselves to hide the real lair. But in the end he has no more than he started with, and considerably less of Mrs. Hudson's cab money.

His mind races on the journey back. Maybe John was wrong about the dairy farm. Maybe he’d been forced to blink the code as a ruse. Or maybe he was right, and his captors had moved him just after the video was sent. But then there would be evidence; more footprints and tyre marks...

He pounds the cab door in frustration, ignoring the driver's dirty look. His mind feels like John’s tennis ball, bouncing around inside his skull: all motion and no result. He always thinks better out loud. His best ideas come from someone else bouncing questions back to him.

Usually, that someone is John.


One of the social workers reckons it's traumatic amnesia. Says it's not all that uncommon, really. Lots of people on the street end up there because of something they can't cope with: an illness; the loss of a job; their home burnt down; their children killed by a drunk driver...and maybe that drunk driver was them. No wonder the poor bastards don't want to remember.

Makes me wonder what I'm trying to forget.

It's weird, though...when you don’t know who you are, all you've got to go on is how other people react to you. And you don't want to judge from the looks you get on the street, believe me. Too much of that and you're ready to top yourself. But you do learn to see yourself through other peoples’ eyes.

To those blokes in the alley, I was a gimping old man. To the charity workers, I’m a paradox: a well-spoken educated bloke begging and sleeping rough. The girls who give me dirty looks when I ask for change see a creepy old tramp, but the older gentlemen who drop me coins see a little lost lamb...or possibly a tasty lamb chop, depending on their particular bent. It’s almost funny: I can nearly feel myself physically changing whenever someone new looks at me.

There’s one other thing I am, though: dangerous. No one ever seems to guess that one.

I learnt that the hard way, too.


"So you're willing to lose the best friend you’ve ever had just to save your stupid stubborn pride?"

Mrs. Hudson has a very simple and direct way of putting things sometimes. It is one of her less endearing qualities.

The young man finally relents because John has been missing for three days: three days of no sleep, no food. No results. Mycroft answers his knock, eyebrow raised; that insufferable smirk in his voice.

"Well well well. Sherlock. This is an unexpected - "

"He's got John."

"...Ah." The eyebrow drops. The voice softens. No need to ask who 'he' is. "In that case, I think you'd better come in."

The heavy marbled oak door shuts behind the brothers, closing out the world, the thick plush hallway carpet keeping the secrets of whatever they discuss inside.


I don't know what made me do it. The noise must have woken me. I could see the edge of the crowd off down the road: picketers. News crew. A lady with a microphone.

Maybe it was the cameras that did it. I had a brief flash, almost like a memory - bright lights noisy room red dot camera lens - and then it struck me: someone out there knew. Someone knew who I was and where I belonged. And if I took my chance now, there wasn't a damn thing the Agents could do about it.

I got there just as the anchor was wrapping up.

"This is Stephanie Cross, reporting live, back to you in the - "

Now or never. I broke free and lunged at the camera.

"WHO AM I?" The anchor was so surprised that at first she didn't react. "Please! Someone out there knows - !" I could see security guards pushing through the crowd, but this might be my only chance. "Please...who am I???"

The guards grabbed my arms. I didn't fight them once they had me; I'd already done what I needed to do. They took me as far as the corner and gave me a shove that nearly sent me sprawling. "I'm sure your mum will be very proud, sir. Now run along and don't cause any more trouble."

The headache started as I made my way back. By some miracle no one had nicked my plastic sheeting, and I was just folding it up to put it back in my bag when another bloke down the alley propped himself up on his elbow.

"...Military man?"


"Were you in the service?"

"I...what makes you say that?" My temples gave a dangerous throb.

"Me brother-in-law were in Iraq, an' 'e folded up his kit like that every morning. Drove me sister mental."


I looked down. My hand was shaking. The bloke must have noticed because he said, "Aw, sorry mate, didn't mean to pry. Just what with your dodgy leg and all, I thought you might’ve took a bullet. Get a medal or anyfing, did ya - ?"

Pain exploded behind my eyes. The bloke kept talking but I couldn’t hear him over the sound of my own panic incoming! Man down man down we need a medic! oh God there was something in my head something HUGE pounding POUNDING to get out like a rush of floodwater battering a dam and if the floodgates broke I would go mad with the sun on white sand flashing in my eyes shit SHIT where the hell is the fucking medevac??

Somewhere through the pain I felt a sting. My neck. I opened my eyes and finally saw it across the park: the white van. Two shapes that looked like men. Dead faces; empty eyes. Coming to make me disappear.

I tried to warn the other bloke but I was already falling...falling down a long dark tunnel to wake up who knew where, who knew when.

Or maybe not to wake up at all.


After four days with no sign of John, the young man throws his laptop against the wall. Mrs. Hudson quietly calls in the plasterers. After a week, she and Mycroft threaten mutiny if he will not eat or sleep for more than five minutes at a time. He relents just to shut them up, nibbling an egg sandwich on the sofa...then wakes up several hours later in a blind panic. No need, as it happens: no new clues have presented themselves while he was asleep.

He works at Moriarty’s cryptogram.





He extracts twelve possible postal codes from the first five letters (counting the blank space as a letter “O”), and the remaining five, TNPLH, give him the encrypted names of three possible towns within them. He visits each and finds nothing.

When the cheeky XXXOO signature line is added, every cipher he can find yields nothing but gibberish. He tries a different code for each individual line of text and still gets nothing. He tries different languages, different ciphers; different ciphers within different languages. Still nothing.

He is used to things making sense. He is used to his methods working. The thought that perhaps he is losing this game because his opponent keeps changing the rules has only very lately occurred to him. Along with the thought that John might be dead. That would suit Jim’s sense of humour, alright: making his nemesis dance like a puppet while John lay cold in the ground. Other cases are piling up, and with Sherlock Holmes off on a wild goose chase, London’s criminals are free to roam undeterred. Perhaps it would be better to...

No. He will not think that. It’s his fault that John was taken - as revenge, or as a warning - and it will be his efforts that bring John safely home again. As increasingly unlikely as that is beginning to look.

Finally, on the twelfth day...salvation.

His email chimes. Mycroft.


The text describes a time, date, address, and details of a local Midlands news station. A video is attached.


Protesters picketing a furrier. A newslady interviewing them. And then, from the crowd -

“WHO AM I??”

A face he has not seen for twelve days breaks from the throng and rushes towards the camera, a miracle in pixel form.

"Please! Someone out there knows - !"

The limp is very bad, worse than he has ever seen it. But the haggard face beneath the grime and stubble is achingly familiar.

“Please...who am I??”

Two security guards drag the figure away. The clip ends. The young man repeats it, then again, and again; frantically scribbling down information as he watches.

“Of course...brilliant.”

It all makes sense now: the first video; drugging John; the sensory and sleep deprivation. Hypnosis. For twelve days he’s been running in circles based on the assumption that John was a prisoner somewhere. Which he was, but not in any physical place: in his mind. Hidden from himself. Genius. And yet, even with his own mind a hostage, John Watson still had the wits to recognise a chance for rescue and grab it by the throat. Sherlock could quite literally have kissed him.

He closes the laptop and runs from the flat. He has a focus now. And a direction.

With those two things, the quarry is as good as his.

On to part 2

Note: non-Sherlock 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.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 15th, 2011 12:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is very intriguing so far! Looking forward to more!
Feb. 15th, 2011 06:29 pm (UTC)
Feb. 15th, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
Brilliant! Looking forward to more of amnesiac!John and Sherlock trying to find him. Quite clever & desperate of John with the news crew there. And well done you for incorporating the screenshot of MF from Boy Meets Girl!
Feb. 15th, 2011 06:32 pm (UTC)
Cheers! I hope to incorporate a few more as the thing progresses - that series provided much of the spark of inspiration for this story.
Feb. 15th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
Enjoying it so far!

I really got a kick out of this line "and fifty for any of John's abysmal cd collection."

Feb. 15th, 2011 07:41 pm (UTC)
Poor John isn't going to be pleased when he gets home to discover he needs a new Best of Ry Cooder cd. :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )