So, I've had this story floating around in my head for weeks now, and I couldn't stop thinking about it until I got it down on paper, so, here it is! Obviously this isn't the entire story, but it's the first chapter. Don't worry though, I promise I'm still working on The Third Wheel! I love Moriarty too much to forget about that story, lol! As always, thank you for reading, and reviews are very much appreciated, especially for an idea like this, where it's taken a whole new twist on a familiar subject. I hope you enjoy it!
It wasn't the first time that he'd woken up soaked in his own sweat, with his heart beating so fast he thought it would explode, and his breath coming as fast as if he'd just completed the obstacle courses he'd come to hate at basic training. He was still having dreams-nightmares, really, about his time spent in Afghanistan. He dreamed about all the wounded men, who all came to him, bleeding and moaning, some even crying. He dreamed about his hands steadily ripping open their uniform and applying pressure and bandages to their wounds. And, he dreamed about the ones that he could not save. The ones that begged him, "Please, help me". And he couldn't.
He saw their faces in his sleep, saw their wounds, felt their warm, thick blood on his hands. He could hear them crying out and hissing in pain as he would try to patch their wounds-no time for the pain killers, if I don't do this now, they will die!
He really was too hard on himself-he was a good doctor. A very good doctor. He saved more men than he lost, and the ones that he couldn't help were usually far too gone by the time they reached him. He told himself this constantly, yet it never made it any easier to call time of death.
He shivered and pulled his ratty leather jacket tighter around him with a sigh. Christ, it was cold. His coldest night since returning from Afghanistan, that was for certain. It was about eight o'clock, he guessed, seeing as how the sun had just set, yet there was still a bright glow coming out from the distant horizon, blocked mostly by the tall buildings that made up central London.
The air was brisk and, for a change, very quiet. He scooted forward, stuck his head out of his cardboard home, and looked around eagerly for anybody that may be in sight-nope, the cost was clear. He crawled out of his box and pushed himself off the ground, then, with his hands in his pockets, headed towards the nearest line of houses. Normally, he waited until much later in the night to scrounge, but his growling stomach told him that he couldn't wait anymore, or there would be dire consequences.
The first two houses didn't have their rubbish outside-not surprising, with his luck. At the third house, the residents had thrown away a bread bag with the heels still inside, which he careless stuffed into his pockets. A few houses further, he found three apples, heavily bruised, but still edible.
Two hours and two streets later, he returned to his box. He wouldn't looked more, but his leg was begging him to let it rest. He'd found bread, apples, a scarf that smelled like dog piss, a pair of dulled scissors, an unopened can of beer, a half-eaten bag of popcorn, and a takeaway box with some chicken bones inside, some of which still had some meat left on them.
He ducked inside his makeshift home and pulled out the contents of his pockets. His home was actually comprised of three large cardboard boxes, which made it almost possible for him to stretch himself out. His personal possessions now included the clothes on his back-his old, torn jacket, faded gray and white jumper, blue jeans, and brown sneakers-a roll of masking tape, two fat, white candles, his cheap, wooden cane, a box of matches, his Army-issued revolver, a plushy afghan, a cracked hand mirror and a paper-thin pillow. Now, only one thing missing…
He looked at the front of the box with a smile when he heard a soft mewl come from outside. He clicked his tongue and motioned inside the box. "There you are! Come on girl, get in here."
A small cat, emaciated and frail, crawled inside the box, rubbing up against his side and purring almost instantly. He had found her half-starved to death on his third night on the streets, and had subsequently shared any food he found with her. He hated it to admit it, but she was his only friend at the moment. She was white with sporadic black spots on her body and black ears. He had named her Phree. She didn't hang around him constantly, but six out of seven nights of the week, she joined him for dinner and spent the night with him.
"Glad you decided to join me," he said to the animal as he opened the box containing the chicken bones. "See what I got for you?"
As soon as the box was open, Phree had jumped onto his lap and began gnawing away at the bones. He decided to fold up one of the heels of bread and put some popcorn kernels inside, just to give him the pleasant feeling that he was eating a sandwich. God, when was the last time he'd eaten a sandwich? He couldn't remember. He took a bite and grimaced. Both the bread and the popcorn were stale, making the bread hard and the popcorn soft.
Phree looked up from her chicken and stretched her neck up towards his hand, where he was holding the sandwich. He looked at it, then back at Phree, back to the sandwich, then back to his cat. With a small sigh of defeat, he dropped it into the box of chicken bones.
When he woke up, he smiled. Phree was laying on his chest, eyes closed, breathing deeply. He pushed her off gently and then scooted out of the box. It was morning, no later than nine o'clock judging by the position of the sun. Thank God for his army training.
After wrapping his new scarf around his neck, he walked the short distance to the nearest fast-food joint, where he slipped into the bathroom and did his business and washed his face. He stared at his reflection in the mirror for a long while-he looked pathetic. Thin, sallow face, grimy skin, thick stubble-he hadn't come across a disposable razor in almost three weeks, and his last one had been stolen from him-and shaggy, filthy hair. His own mother wouldn't recognize him.
Not that that really mattered to him, of course. As far as his parents and sister were concerned, he was still abroad getting shot at. He hadn't bothered telling him that he was coming home. After all, he wasn't particularly close to any of them, especially his bitch of a sister. There was no way in hell that he was going to them for help.
He attempted to wash his scarf in the sink, then returned home feeling slightly better about himself, picking yesterday's newspaper out of a trashcan on the way. He ate an apple for breakfast. Phree had already left to look for prospects of a better meal than the ones he offered her. He had just settled down to read the paper when his box started shaking, and he heard howls of laughter outside.
He crawled out of the box and was greeted with three familiar faces. He stood up and leaned against his cane. He didn't know their names, so he called them Fat, Thin, and Guy-in-Between. Thin was the leader of their little posse, and they seemed to make it a priority to harass him at least three times every week.
He smiled sarcastically. "Why, good morning, gentleman. What can I do for you on this fine day?"
"Can it," Thin said, his voice no more than a growl. "What've you found?"
He looked at them stupidly. If there was anything he was good at, it was playing dumb. "Why, whatever do you mean?"
"Come off it, mate!" Guy-in-Between said with a roll of his bloodshot eyes. "You always find the best shit!"
"That's because I know where to look," he spat. "I've even told you where to, but you-"
"Hold him," Thin interrupted, and soon he felt his arms being held by Fat and Guy-in-Between in a vice grip. "Yeah, Stump, you have told us where to look. And we have. And guess what? We didn't find anything. Total shit, like everywhere else in this bloody town. So, how is it that you always manage to find food, money, clothes? Hmm?"
He shook his head. "I don't know." Trying to break free was out of the question-three men could overpower him; he wasn't the physically fit soldier that he used to be. Now, he was little more than a skeleton. If he did manage to get out of their grip, and outrun them, they would destroy his home and take everything he owned. Except his gun, which was buried under some shrubs in the corner.
"You know what I think, don't 'ya?" Thin didn't wait for his response. "I think you're lying to us. I don't think you even told us the right spots."
He raised an eyebrow. "Think what you want."
"One more chance, Stump. You get one more chance." Thin reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper, which he held out. "Here's my list."
Fat and Guy-in-Between loosened their grip, and he shook his arms free and took the offered piece of paper. "Your list?"
"Yes. You have a week to get that stuff for me. It shouldn't be a problem for you, it's all basic stuff, really."
Boots, size twelve. Two pairs of gloves. Coffee mug. Books. Utensils. Three hats.
He looked up from the list, which he'd only read half-through, and chuckled sarcastically. "You're kidding me, right?"
"Oh no, of course not. You bring me that stuff, and I won't kick you out of your home."
Anger was bubbling up inside him like a volcano ready to erupt. He'd put up with their shit for a month now; it was time to stand up to them, without endangering his own safety or risk losing any of his possessions. "It's my house!"
"Yes, and if you want to keep it that way, you'd better bring me everything on the bloody list. Starting with this." Thin reached out and pulled the scarf away from his neck, then forced him to watch as he wrapped it around his own. "One week, Stump."
They walked away, and he knew he wasn't going to let them go this time. He did not let people walk all over him. He never did before, so why start now? Sure, he was homeless, depressed, lonely, crippled worthless, but still…he had to maintain some of his dignity. He ran over to the bushes and eagerly dug out his revolver, ignoring the thorny stems that were digging into his hand, the shards of glass that were mixed into the soil, the small trails of blood that were beginning to trickle down his hands-he had only one thing on his mind.
He slipped the gun into his jacket and ran out of the alley. He glanced in both directions before seeing them duck into another street, about a block away. He started running trying to ignore the pain flaring up in his leg, with one hand inside his jacket, clenched tightly around his gun. He was going to catch them, then he was going to kill him. If only they knew that he'd been a soldier, if only they knew that he owned a gun-they would have thought twice before messing with him.
He turned down the same side street that they had, and instantly knocked into something, heard a loud oomph! and fell to the ground. He looked up immediately, but the three men were gone, and he had no idea which direction they'd gone in.
He glanced down to see what he had run into. A man, probably a few years younger than himself, was laying on the cement ground, an intense frown on his face. He had curly, dark hair, very pale skin, and intense, almost alien, blue-gray eyes. He was very skinny, and very dressed for the weather-he was wearing a long, thick black wool coat and a dark mauve scarf was wrapped tightly around his neck. On his hands were black leather gloves.
The man was striking, to say the least. Not that he was handsome, exactly, but he was so…unusual. The expression on his face and in his eyes, his body and wardrobe-fascinating.
The man stood up immediately and brushed himself off, spinning around and looking in every direction. He groaned-not just a disappointed groan, but an angry one, too.
"I hope you're happy!" he spat. "You have just single-handedly allowed the escape of one of the most notorious criminals in London! Why don't you watch where you're going?"
He looked at the man, taken aback by his accusations. "Me? You were running too!"
"I was chasing someone!" the man argued. "There-"
"I was too! And thanks to you, I've lost them!"
There was a beat of silence between them. He'd expected the man to say something more to him and then storm off in a huff…but he was still here. Neither of them had moved. They were staring at each other, as if expecting the other to start a fight at any moment. He broke it.
"You're a Bobbie, then?"
"Hmm?" the man squinted for only a second. "Oh, oh, yes. Yes, I'm an officer. Here's my card."
He pulled a small business card out of his pocket. He took it and read it over, then raised an eyebrow. "Detective Inspector Lestrade?"
"No, you're not…I've seen Lestrade. You're not him."
The man looked at him curiously. "You've been him? Been copped before, have you?"
He rolled his eyes. "I saw him in the papers, actually."
"Ah." The man said with a slow nod. "Well, you're right, I'm not Lestrade." He held out his hand. "Sherlock Holmes."
He stared at the man's hand, reluctant to take it. A moment ago, this man was yelling at him, now he wanted to shake his hand.
Just do it. Don't be a bastard.
He took the offered hand. "John."
Sherlock raised his eyebrows. "John…?"
"I see. Well, just John, why were you chasing somebody?"
John frowned. He really didn't want to go into the whole story, didn't want this Sherlock Holmes character to know that he'd been at the mercy of the thugs, so he'd finally decided to shoot them all in the brains. He settled for a much more general answer.
"They stole my scarf."
Sherlock's eyes widened, surprised. "Your scarf? Is that it, really?"
John shrugged. "Well, Mr. Holmes, when you don't have a lot, it's pretty detrimental to lose something, not matter how small it is."
Now it was Sherlock's turn to shrug. "I suppose." He unwrapped his own scarf, and before John could say "no", the man was holding it out for him.
John looked at the scarf, then back at Sherlock. The man wasn't kidding-he was actually offering the scarf to him. John shook his head. "I don't need your charity."
"Good," Sherlock said aloofly, "because I wasn't offering any. Just take it. I've got half a dozen more at home."
John took the scarf and wrapped it tightly around his neck. "Thank you."
Sherlock nodded. "You're welcome. Now, if you'd like to pay me back, you can let me know if you see this man." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a newspaper clipping, which he handed to John. "That's the man I was after. It took me a week to track him down the first time, but now that he knows I'm onto him, it'll take longer. Let me give you my number; you can text me if-"
"I don't have a phone," John interrupted, feeling a slight blush creeping onto his cheeks. Was this man really so lacking in common sense and social skills, or was he being deliberately untactful? He must have known that I don't have a phone. What homeless man does?
"Right," Sherlock said softly. John thought that, just for a second, he caught a glimpse of embarrassment on the emotionless face. "My address, then. 221B Baker Street. If you see him, I need you to tell me immediately. Understand?"
"Are you stupid?" John asked-he couldn't help it. He'd never heard of someone giving out their phone number, name, and address to a total stranger, especially a homeless one. "Why are you telling me all this?"
Sherlock smirked. "Pretty sure I could take you down if you decided to rob me. You don't have any friends, so you'd be alone. That bum leg of yours doesn't look very intimidating."
"What do you mean I don't have any friends? Why would you-"
"No time to explain," Sherlock interrupted. "I've got an appointment at the prison. Now, what's my address?"
"221B Baker Street."
Sherlock smiled. "Good. I expect to see you there, very soon."