"While I appreciate your defending my honour, to do so against three gentlemen twice your size errs on the side of foolhardiness."
John flexed his aching fingers. They were swelling already; they'd be in a hell of a state by morning. "Is that what I was doing? Defending your honour?"
Sherlock quirked a smile. "Isn't it?"
John looked at the three football hooligans sprawled on the pavement in various states of inebriation and unconsciousness and had to share in Sherlock's mirth. "Yeah, well. Next time, when you're not recovering from a knife wound, I'll let you handle it."
Logically, he knew he'd over-reacted to the bone-headed taunts and epithets of the drunken footballers. Logically, he knew that Sherlock's wit could have shut them up long enough for him and John to walk away without resorting to violence. Logically, he was aware that he was being over-protective; Sherlock's wound was healing exceptionally well.
Logic, of course, had nothing to do with it. John was frustrated, and he'd used the excuse of the idiots' mindless taunting to vent a portion of that frustration.
He'd put out the word to Sherlock's Irregulars while Sherlock was still in hospital. So far, all he'd gotten in response to the picture he'd showed around was a lot of head shaking, shrugs, and blank looks. He didn't know if they were hiding the boy because they didn't trust John, or if they honestly didn't know who or where he was. He found either possibility equally unlikely. The network of homeless people in London was as effective as any communications system he knew, so it was doubtful the kid could hide from it for long. And even if they distrusted John, he couldn't believe they wouldn't do everything they could to aid Sherlock.
He hoped something would come of this evening's meeting with Tecks, the homeless fellow with the animal menagerie whom he'd helped with an ailing kitten a while back. The trouble with Tecks wasn't so much that he was likely to withhold information. It was that he rarely said more than a word or two on any given occasion--if that. And, of course, there was the problem of finding out what Tecks might know without alerting Sherlock to what he was doing. As far as John knew, Sherlock was as yet unaware of his clandestine search for the attacker. It was only a matter of time before that changed. You couldn't keep a secret from Sherlock, especially not when you lived with him.
"We should go," said John.
"Normally I'd agree, but that hand looks bad. Are you sure you're all right?"
John glanced again at his right hand. It really was a mess, but nothing was broken. A bit of antiseptic and some ice was all he needed. He'd doctor it up when they got home. "I'll never play the violin again," he answered lightly, "but I'll manage."
That elicited a smile and a low chuckle. "All right."
They found Tecks with his animals in one of the usual haunts. While Sherlock patiently questioned the stuttering man, seeking information on a new case he was working on, John played with the kitten, now almost a full-grown cat, Boots.
Eventually, inevitably, Sherlock called his name and turned to go. Before Sherlock could sweep them both away, however, John smiled at Tecks and nodded to Boots. "He's looking very well. Peggy will be glad to know how healthy he is."
"John," Sherlock called again from several feet away. He had what he needed and was ready to be on his way.
"Coming," John called back. Then he looked once more at Tecks and slipped a few pound coins into his hand. He didn't have a good sense of the going rate for information, but he was learning. "Anything?"
The coins disappeared in a blink and Tecks nodded. "C-C-Cal."
"That's his name?"
A shake this time. No.
"Thanks." He gave the purring Boots one more scratch under the chin, took a moment to flollop the ears of the huge mutt, Tolly, and joined Sherlock.
They were several blocks away before Sherlock asked. "Find what you're looking for?"
There was no need to pretend. If he'd deduced that much, he'd have deduced the rest as well. "The kid's name is Cal. That's all he had."
Sherlock only nodded.
They arrived back at the flat and John went immediately to care for his bruised and aching hands.
"Shame about the violin," said Sherlock dryly. He leaned in the bathroom doorway, watching with those intent pale eyes while John cleaned his scrapes and dabbed anti-biotic ointment on them.
"You'll just have to play for me from now on." John finished up and turned, only to find Sherlock blocking the way. "I need some ice for this." He held up his right hand as if the undeniable evidence would make his friend move. It didn't.
"You're not going after him." It wasn't a question, but neither was it quite a command--as if those ever really worked on John anyway.
"He stabbed you, Sherlock. Don't you want--"
"What?" Sherlock waited. "Come on. What were you going to say?" He caught John's eye. "Revenge?"
John looked away. "No, of course not."
"Then let it go." Sherlock's voice was soft. "This isn't your responsibility, John."
"And it's not your fault."
"Sure. Yeah. Okay." But it wasn't okay with John, and they both knew it.
Sherlock got out of the way, and John went for ice.
John had been having trouble with his mobile all day. The thing was fully charged, so he knew it wasn't the battery. But damned if he could get a reliable signal anywhere he'd been. It was as if all of London was one enormous fucking Faraday Cage. He gave up trying to call Sherlock to let him know he would pick up dinner on his way home and typed up a text instead. It might not arrive before John did, but at least he'd put the message out there. It could deliver itself whenever there was a window. Assuming there ever was a window.
"It's sunspots, you know." A strange little woman looked at him as if she were answering his question. Only he hadn't asked one. He hadn't even consciously thought one.
She looked harmless, if a little batty, with a scarf over her grey hair and a shopping bag full of cans slung over one arm. John reassessed the harmless part. If she got a good swing with that bag, she could cause someone damage. He took half a step away.
"The phones, dear. It's sunspots messing with the wireless towers."
"We used to blame everything on the stars. Nowadays, it's sunspots. Or terrorists," she went on and John couldn't help but wonder first who the "we" were that she referred to and second when the light was going to change so he could cross the street and escape this bizarre conversation.
She turned a knowing eye on him and the blue clarity behind the old-fashioned spectacles was both startling and familiar. A tiny smile turned up her lips and she suddenly looked old as the moon and young as the spring flowers that had started popping up in people's window boxes.
"I'm sorry. Do I know you?"
The light changed and before he could get an answer, the waiting crowd of foot commuters surged forward into the street, cutting him off from the woman. He lost sight of her in the busy crush of people.
The old woman was in his mind the rest of the way home. Riding the tube. Waiting for his take-away order of lamb vindaloo, naan bread, and saag paneer. Walking the blocks from the Indian restaurant to Baker Street. She was in his mind, too, when he saw the kid come around the corner diagonally opposite where John stood, once again waiting for the light to change.
The kid was running hard. He wasn't paying attention to lights or traffic, so it was a minor miracle that the Peugeot managed not to hit him. John watched it all in slow motion. The car swerved, the combination of honking horn and squealing tyres sounding like a harpy's mythical cry. The kid turned toward the car as it stopped suddenly inches from him and so didn't see the Citroen that barrelled around the corner until it was too late.
All traffic in the intersection came to a screeching halt. John heard the crunch of a few fenders, but nothing to match the thud of the car that hit the boy. He tried to call 999, but his phone still wouldn't cooperate. People were getting out of their vehicles, some looking stunned, others looking angry--until they caught sight of the kid in the road.
Damn it! Why wouldn't his phone work? Sunspots! It was absurd. John shoved the mobile in his pocket with a curse and dropped the takeaway bag on the sidewalk before dashing to the fallen form.
"I never saw him!" It was the Citroen driver. A boy not much older than the one now sprawled on the pavement, and probably with a brand new driving license in his wallet, if John didn't miss his guess. "I never--"
"Call for help," John ordered him, and the kid nodded. John could only hope he had better luck at it.
He knelt down, felt for a pulse, found one. It was erratic, but identifiable. There was chaos around him, but John tuned out the noise and focused on the injured boy. There was blood on his face and hands where they'd scraped the street when he fell. His leg was twisted at an angle that guaranteed months of physical therapy once it finally healed. He could only guess at internal injuries without further examination. Examination that should be left to officially recognized emergency workers.
He listened, but there was no sound of sirens approaching yet.
He looked closer at the boy's pale face, and froze.
This wasn't how John had wanted to find him. This wasn't why he'd been searching for him since that night. He'd just wanted to catch him and turn him over to Lestrade. See him face fair punishment for what he'd done. For what he'd done to Sherlock. John didn't want revenge.
He. Did. Not. Want. Revenge.
All he had to do was nothing.
That was never really a question, though. John couldn't do nothing. He could never do nothing.
The boy groaned a little, coming to. His eyes opened and John flashed back to that moment, weeks ago, when he'd stared into them last. They were terrified now as they had been then. Wide and dark and lost.
"Stay still," he ordered. "Help's coming." I hope, he added silently.
"Yeah. I know. Can you tell me your name?"
"Callum." His voice was strained and he clenched his eyes shut.
"All right, Callum. Hang in there." John went through the standard litany of questions one asked an injured person, and got enough information to convince him that the kid's head trauma wasn't as serious as it appeared. All those questions and the only one he wanted to ask was the one he couldn't: Why?
"Callum, is there someone we can contact for you?" he asked instead.
"Can you tell me why you were running?"
"Fuck, it hurts!"
Finally, in the distance, John heard emergency sirens.
"Help's nearly here, Callum. They're going to take you to hospital."
A flurry of activity followed the arrival of the aid cars. Police appeared and began taking statements while additional EMTs saw to the minor injuries. John stayed with Callum, giving what information he had to the aid workers, until the boy was loaded into the ambulance.
"Are you a friend?" the aid worker asked him as her partner closed up the back of the vehicle.
"No. He's on his own, I think. I'm Doctor John Watson. I was here when the accident happened."
"Well, you've been a great help."
"Can you--" He hesitated. He needed to be quick. They had a job to do and Callum needed proper medical attention. "Can you contact me whenever--? I'd like to see him. Make sure he's okay." He scribbled his name and mobile number on a scrap of paper from his pocket.
"I'll let the hospital know."
He nodded and she was gone, light and siren blaring as the aid car forced its way out of the kluge of the intersection.
John stood for several moments, staring blankly after the vanished ambulance. It was Sherlock's quiet voice and gentle hand on his arm that finally pulled him from his reverie.
"Sherlock." John looked at him. "I was bringing dinner."
"I found it." Sherlock held up the paper bag with the take-away containers inside.
"It's probably cold by now."
"We can reheat it. Let's go home."
John rang off and set his mobile on the table. "That was the hospital. Cal's going to be released tomorrow. He's going home...at least for now." He turned to Lestrade who was seated on the sofa, drinking coffee. "You're sure he'll be all right there?"
Lestrade shrugged. It was his team that had finally identified Cal as a run-away reported missing back in January and tracked down his parents in Sussex. He'd been staying in the back room of a pub where he was working off the books. Thus far, Cal's criminal record consisted of one shop-lifting charge that had eventually been dropped. "I hope so. Figgins is the one to ask. She's been liaising with the parents. She could tell you more."
Lestrade set his empty mug down and rose. He turned to Sherlock. "You're sure you don't want to file charges? The kid did stab you."
"Allegedly," Sherlock said pointedly. "I'm not at all sure now that he's the same bloke."
"Suit yourself. I should get going. Thanks for your help busting that forgery ring."
"It was obvious when I identified the chemical scent on the forged documents," Sherlock replied.
Lestrade gave a little harrumph, but made no further comment.
The flat was quiet after Lestrade's departure. John's mind was a muddle and he sat down on the sofa. What-ifs, could-haves, and if-onlys twisted his thoughts and his stomach.
"You're thinking about Cal."
"Of course I am. Sorry," John said. "I didn't mean to snap at you."
"You did the right thing, you know."
"I know. This time, I did."
Sherlock sat beside him and John met his pale gaze. "You can't beat yourself up for what was out of your control."
"But if I hadn't forced you to agree to see that movie you wouldn't have been in that alley with him that night and you wouldn't have been--"
Sherlock chuckled. "Do you really think you can force me to do anything I don't want to do?"
"But it was my plan. The movie, the deli, the date."
"And the route I took was my choice. Bad luck. Chance. Call it what you will, but you can't keep dwelling on it. You might as well ask what would have happened if you hadn't been there when the accident occurred?"
John deflated. After weeks of anger and tension and frustration and searching, to have been there at that moment was too coincidental. To be given the opportunity to make that choice--to stay there and help or to walk away--was more than just chance.
A thought struck him and he rose abruptly.
"What are you doing?"
"I need to check something." He darted in to his bedroom and went to the closet. He'd put Winnie's basket there again once it was empty of herbs and tinctures and tisanes. By all logic, it should still be there.
He was unsurprised to find it gone.
"Did you lose something? Your mind, perhaps?"
John turned to him. He'd told Sherlock as little as possible about Winnie and her mystical shop, knowing it would be impossible for him to explain who she was and why he trusted her in a way that would convince his eminently logical friend. And he'd said nothing at all to him of the kindness he was destined to return.
John smiled. "This won't make any sense to you, but I think I've just repaid a debt."
"I was right. You have lost your mind. Come on." Sherlock left the room and John followed. "I have something for you."
Sherlock ducked into his room and came out again with a DVD. "I owe you a date and since it's apparently a day for evening up debts, I offer this and Chinese food for dinner tonight."
John took the DVD and laughed. Bruce Campbell in Elvis shades pointed at him from the cover. "'Bubba Ho-Tep'? Really?"
Amnesty Prompts from Watson's Woes: I'm not actually competing in the Watson's Woes Prompt Fic Challenge, although I've had great fun playing. Therefore, I feel perfectly justified in utilising some of the August Amnesty Prompts to continue a multi-part story that I started during the July Prompts. Here are the ones I've adapted for use in this fic (and that makes all ten).
1. Begin your prompt fill with one of the following:
Icy pavements and oblivious pedestrians were not ideal conditions for active pursuit of a criminal.
Mr. Mycroft Holmes was not appreciative of being roused from his slumber a full three and one-half minutes prior to his customary seven o'clock a.m.
"While I appreciate your defending my honor, to do so against three gentlemen twice your size errs on the side of foolhardiness."
3. Pivotal plot point, aka The Road Less Traveled. Take a scene, either from a known canon or one of your own stories, and re-write that scene into an AU, with one or more characters making a radical change from their previous behavior. Show how one decision can swing the pendulum completely the opposite direction.
7. Playing in another sandbox. We all have those crucial stories we've always loved and which shaped our perceptions of characters, those ones we read over and over and love just as much the hundredth time through as we did the first time. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and now's your chance to flatter someone. Choose a fanwork (anything from published pastiche to something right here on LJ or ff.net) and write a scene inspired by it, missing from it, or in that universe. It's fanfic of a fanfic, in other words. (Huge thanks to methylviolet10b for the loan of Tecks and his menagerie. And if you haven't read the marvellous How Much For That Kitten? by methylviolet10b, all I can say is, 'What the hell are you waiting for?!')
ETA: And now there's a Tecks sequel from methylviolet10b, Shelter. SQUEEEE!
8. Natural disaster and its consequences. Whether that's flood, hurricane, forest fire, earthquake (San Fran, 1906, anyone?), volcano, or whatever - use a natural disaster in some way.
10. Alpha/Omega - write a fic in which there is a beginning of something, and an end of something.