Title: Fear Itself
Characters: John, Sherlock, misc. unmentioned (ACD and BBC canon spoilers in second part but unnamed)
Word Count: (this bit) 3022
Warnings: general creepiness, mild snark, shameless h/c and fluff, poetic license with universe-blending...my usual, in other words.
Summary: John is accustomed to being kidnapped at this point in his London residence, though he never expected someone else to adopt Mycroft's signature abductions in order to lure him in without a fight.
A/N: Written for the Challenge 018 at watsons_woes, my first challenge entry in I think well over a year. I set as my goal, to write a fic which fulfilled the requirements of creepiness/scariness without resorting to supernatural phenomena - and without physically laying a finger on any of the main characters.
Also, kudos to any history geeks who know where the title's taken from and can extrapolate from that the probable direction I'm going with this. :)
It's by far the worst day he's had in quite a while; and he's served in Afghanistan, been strapped into a bomb vest, been unintentionally thrown into night terrors by the idiot he lives with, and found a severed finger in the soup last week.
The day itself hasn't been entirely rubbish. The weather dawned crisp but sunny, there's been not a peep on the Moriarty front for over a week, Sherlock put the milk back into the refrigerator last night (a detail, but an important one, God knows he's tried multiple times to drill into the detective's thick skull…the one atop his spine, not the one on the mantel), the surgery was busy but not disgustingly so, he had a decent enough luncheon (a rarity which he had long since learnt to appreciate), and Sarah has promised to meet him next weekend for a brief day trip to the country. All in all, a successful enough day, if what Sherlock would call a study in boring domesticity.
And then the unmarked black car pulls up beside him as he walks home from the surgery in the glowing dusk of late October afternoon.
Mycroft has always had a crap sense of timing, but he knows by now the futility of resisting abduction. So John only sighs and, rolling his eyes at the nearest security camera when one of Mr. British Government's unnamed officials (he calls this one Lurch in his head, because he is vaguely creepy!butlerish looking) looms out to open the back door for him, gets into the car. He's a bit disappointed to see that Mycroft's version of a Bond girl who's perfectly capable of killing him in three different ways with nothing more than a smartphone isn't in the car waiting for him, but he can't expect to have everything his own way – very few things, actually, when it comes to the most dangerous man in London.
But it's the fact that he can smell cigarette smoke (Anthea hates the smell, he found out on the one occasion they idled alongside a crowded corner, and she has Mycroft's permission to sack anyone who tries it in his vehicles) on the car's upholstery the moment he sits down that blares a panic alarm in his senses.
His fingers are on the now-locked door an instant before the dart imbeds itself in his neck, and he doesn't have time to do more than feebly yank on the tarnished handle before he blacks out.
He isn't expecting to wake unaccompanied, unrestrained, and unharmed, but apparently he's all three, because he's staring up at a sunset-streaked sky and free from pain other than a gnawing ache in his bad shoulder from the cold and the general feeling of malaise which follows heavy sedation.
What the point of that aborted abduction was, his brain's still too fuzzy to figure out even if he were capable of deducing like Sherlock I-know-everything-unless-I've-deleted-it Holmes. He blinks several times, until the buildings around him coalesce into singularity instead of blurred duality, and huffs out an experimental breath; possibly the cold (and something wet and lumpy under his left ear; soggy leaves, from initial exploration) which has seeped through his clothing is only numbing some hidden injury.
No, he is apparently unharmed. That in itself is strange enough to be worrisome, and he wastes no time in hauling himself to his feet, hands braced against the brick of some unidentified building. One hand moves to his neck, and he yelps at how cold his fingers are, gloveless. He can't even feel a mark where the dart hit him; and were it not for the nausea curling deep in his stomach and the general feeling of lethargy which he's fighting at the moment he might think it was just a bizarre dream brought on by too much one-a.m.-Chinese dinner and Sherlock playing Flight of the Bumblebee at the top of his voice. Top of his violin. Or…He vaguely realises he isn't making much sense, but has other things to worry about that are more important than his inability to produce intelligent idiom.
But if the previous conjecture were the case he'd be awake by now, because he always wakes up when he gets cold enough or his stomach is upset enough; he's had enough nightmares that this has become habit more than reaction. Therefore he's just been drugged with substances unknown by persons unknown, and left in locations unknown.
Fantastic. It's no wonder he can't get a decent life insurance policy.
His head clears a bit with some deep breathing, and with the arrival of oxygen comes the knowledge that this is a bit beyond Not Good, that no one randomly kidnaps citizens off the streets without a reason and then leaves them places without a reason. He fumbles for his mobile, which is (miraculously) still in his jacket pocket, along with his wallet and all its contents including identification and loose change. Curiouser and curiouser.
He accidentally dials his voicemail before his half-numb fingers can abort the call and press the 2 instead of 1 on his speed dial. Sherlock's phone rings out, and he is told by too-cheerful computerization that the man's voicemail box is apparently full. This, John knows, is because while Sherlock deletes from his brain anything he deems unworthy of attention he has a bad habit of not extending that cleanout to his mobile or email inbox. Sherlock, in short, is an e-packrat.
He swears a little at the dial tone before ending the call. He pulls up his messages, and there are seventeen new ones. One from Sarah, a clarification about a prescription he'd written for a hypochondriacal woman earlier in the day (his handwriting is as bad as any doctor's), and sixteen from Sherlock.
The first eleven of those sixteen are, simply, BORED.
He deletes them and opens #13.
Despite the nausea which flares up as his eyes try to focus on the small screen, he laughs hoarsely, and deletes the message.
Metatarsal stuck in kitchen disposal.
He does not want to know.
Out of drain cleaner. When are you coming home?
Bring drain cleaner. Also biscuits.
John txt me plumber's phone #.
Why is his life so weird? His mind wails hysterically, as he does a Sherlock and firmly deletes all thoughts of what his flatmate has gotten up to during the…he checks the time on the phone…more than twelve hours since he left this morning. Nine hours at the surgery, one and a half walking time, and he's been out cold for apparently almost two.
That's a long time to be unconscious and drugged, especially in October evening weather and when he's wearing his shabbiest coat and shoes.
He puffs out a breath of frustrated crystals, and re-dials.
Sherlock, unsurprisingly, again does not answer. Probably the phone is stuck in the drain as well; he would not be surprised. John's stomach is settling now, though he still feels sick and off his game, and as he does not appear to have sustained any conditions which would prevent his moving he believes that getting to a main road and figuring out where in the name of sense and sensibility he is would be prudent before he calls anyone else.
Five minutes' walk (he's moving slowly, chilled through and still a bit unsteady on his feet) brings him out of what was a tenement district into something resembling a road through slightly less-dilapidated residences, though it doesn't take more than thirty seconds for him to realize he has absolutely no idea where he is.
And the GPS feature on his phone is mysteriously not working. Nor is his internet browser.
A chill seeps down his neck and spine that has nothing to do with the bracing wind which whips about him, scattering orange and ochre leaves in its wake.
His mobile beeps.
New Message: 1/1
Have you lost Oyster card or something? Three hours, John? A record for dawdling, even for you.
He chokes on what threatens to be a half-sobbed giggle of pure nerves and hastily presses the call button. It rings one and a half times.
"Answer your bloody phone once in a while, will you?" he fairly snarls, while eyeing with wariness an unmarked black cab which saunters past in the gloom.
"I was busy," is the lofty reply.
"Stopping up the disposal unit?"
"Where are you?" The change of subject has all the subtlety of a brick to the head, but John ignores it in favor of more important things.
"I have no idea. Can you track my phone?"
There is a short, significant pause, in which John knows every possibility is being rapidly churned through that magnificent brain. Then there is the sound of hurried typing, and Sherlock's muttered talking to himself filters through the background noise.
Somewhere in the distance, a dog howls. He shivers.
"John." Something's wrong, he can tell even without Sherlock's intuitive abilities. "How did you get there?"
"Looked like one of Mycroft's specialty kidnappings, turned out it wasn't," he answers, clipped and void of extraneous details which Sherlock doesn't need until and unless he asks for them. "I've been drugged with something, don't think it's serious; no residual symptoms other than nausea and disorientation. Woke up alone, unharmed, mobile and identification still in my pocket."
There is the sound of a crash, and Sherlock's frustrated swearing overlaying it.
"Sherlock." He is calm, because he really has no other option at the moment. "What is it, what's the matter."
"The…entire mobile network's website is apparently down." He can hear suspicion tingeing the frustration.
"Meaning, you can't access the phone trace feature."
"Meaning I can't access the phone trace feature," is the echoed agreement.
"The GPS and internet browser aren't working on my mobile, either, Sherlock," he says quietly. "And there's nothing else wrong with the phone."
"Start walking," Sherlock orders, and he can hear the tapping of keys. "It should be simple enough to locate a street sign; from there I will of course be able to direct you. Find a point of reference, John, and call me back when you have."
He sighs, lowering the disconnected phone, and picks a street at random (the sun has set, now, but he vaguely remembers the glow fading to his left and so sets off in that general northwesterly direction. His knees still feel shaky but lead-heavy at the same time, and this is the worst possible time for his leg to start playing up, but of course play up it does, and his progress is slower than he'd like.
Plus it is absolutely freezing. He would much prefer to keep his extremities, thank you.
Ten minutes later, he still has not seen a street sign, and has only passed through street after alley after mews after street of houses, low to mid-income residential neighborhoods, and the occasional row of shops and businesses which could be any of a thousand streets in London.
Or anywhere else, since he was out for two hours. He might not even be in London anymore, though he suspects he still is just judging by the number of CCTV cameras which dot the streets despite the lack of other visual markers.
The leg twinges as he crosses an uneven pavement, and he grits his teeth, persevering on.
Another twenty minutes later, he pauses for breath on what appears to be the edge of the housing district, the streets merging seamlessly into rows of flats over top of small businesses. Street lamps are fewer in number and farther apart than he'd prefer, given the circumstances, and outside the odd loiterer lingering by barred windows he can see no other signs of life.
He sighs, breath puffing frostily into the air, and decides to head to his right as that street is better lit than the one he had previously chosen. Also, there looks to be a main intersection in that direction. Much as he is wary of getting into a cab this time of night (plus he has only five pounds on him), it is at least an option to consider.
His phone rings out with the Imperial March from Star Wars, shrill and bone-jarring, and he regrets his idiocy in letting Sherlock assign his own ring tone to John's phone.
"Why have you not called me back?" Sherlock's lack of greeting shows him more clearly than words would have that something is Not Good about this (besides the obvious).
"Because I haven't seen any street signs, Sherlock!" he snaps, setting off at a brisk pace. His well-worn shoes scuffle along the broken pavement, kicking up leaves, and the smell of half-rotted vegetation curls into his nostrils, unpleasantly reviving his nausea.
"That is patently impossible, John," his flatmate lectures severely.
"Obviously it isn't," he grunts, stumbling over something in the dark between two street lights. "I can't even see the city skyline, Sherlock. I've no idea where I am, somewhere within two hours' driving distance of Central London."
A decrepit stone church looms out of the night, gothic and macabre, leaning headstones dotted like teeth along the lip of the ground.
He turns the corner of a hedgerow and nearly jumps out of his skin, adrenaline shooting the burning ice of instinctual terror through his veins like a drug. He does not scream. Though he does sort of choke on a yell of reactive fright. A very masculine, very soldierly yell.
Oh, who is he kidding, he sounded like a ten-year-old girl.
"F-fine," he manages, giggling in the aftermath.
"Passing an old church yard," he explains, raking a shaking hand across his mouth and then clammy forehead.
"Superstitious?" Incredulous, and sardonic. Idiot probably has never been frightened in his life, he's too careless of life itself to be.
"No, just a Doctor Who fan," he answers. He casts a look over his shoulder and then, shuddering, hastens his pace.
Obviously clueless silence. "John?"
"There's a bloody stone angel guarding the entrance to the church yard," he explains, feeling like an idiot now that he's not turned the corner straight into the outstretched hands of what had to be The Scariest Creature of his childhood telly. His hands and brow are clammy now in addition to being cold, perspiration from nerves indicating the adrenaline rush was seeping away.
He isn't even halfway to what looks to be a main intersection when he freezes, lips pressed tightly together.
Keeping the phone pressed to his right ear because his left hand has decided to start tremoring again, he swings round to look behind him.
"John? John, talk to me," Sherlock is demanding imperiously into his eardrum.
"Sherlock," he says slowly, eyes flickering to each shadow. His chin is freezing, partly numb, so he thinks he can be forgiven the unsteadiness of how the name sounds when it's spoken.
"What is it?"
"The CCTV cameras on this street."
"What about them?"
"They all just…switched off." He swallows, looks again behind him, as his skin crawls. "No red lights means they're not recording, yeah?"
Sherlock is silent for a significant moment.
"Move. I don't care where you go, just move – get to a populated area, a street with people, vehicles, anything – just go, John!" Sherlock's bubbling panic is definitely. Not. Helping. He sets off at a brisk trot, almost a half-jog, kicking up a storm of leaves in his wake. "Stay in the light of the street lamps."
"Not stupid, Sherlock," he pants through gritted teeth, because really power-walking on a bad leg is not pleasant, and besides that he still has no idea what he's been drugged with; it could be slow-acting poison for all he knows and increased circulation could be spreading it more quickly. Charming thought. "Still no idea where I am?"
"How can I have, if I can't trace the phone! Talk to me, tell me what you see. Anything."
"Church. Graveyard. Weeping angel out front. Street lamps father apart than they are on Baker Street and they look older, does that help?"
"Heading toward what looks like a well-lit intersection, but it's several streets down," he continues, breath coming in short, measured puffs of ice crystals. "Passing a…Lebanese restaurant," he reads off the sign as he trots past, "antique shoppe…no idea what that says, it's in Chinese…cash point…red phone box…alley, rubbish bins…launderette…"
"Bus stop? Bicycle rental?"
"If I'd seen one I'd be there waiting for the next bus or I'd have a map and know where I was, Sherlock," he snaps shortly, because the man should know by now that he's not an idiot in its true sense of the word (not Sherlock-sense, that's another standard of measurement entirely).
He's only gotten another hundred yards before he jerks to a halt, his heart thudding wildly from exertion and the sudden chill which freezes him in his tracks.
"John," Sherlock snaps, almost waspishly, and he can hear the frantic tap-tapping of laptop keys in the background. "Why've you stopped?"
"The…street light behind me just went out." He is quite proud of the fact that he doesn't sound nearly as freaked out as he feels. His heart's pounding out his pulse in his ears, throbbing a steady beat of chill and terror that war had never been able to produce. He isn't afraid of things he can see, put a name to, defend himself against, or at least see coming. But this? The second lamp behind him goes out, plunging the street behind him into a yawning chasm of darkness. Maybe he's watched too many late-night movies on the telly, but even in real life he can't see this as anything but Very. Very. Bad.
"Keep moving." Sherlock's voice is an anchor, and he tethers his nerve to it like the lifeline it is. "Keep moving, John."
He starts forward again. The light ahead of him flickers – he hears the static fizzle of faulty circuitry – and then goes out.
His shaky exhalation tells Sherlock everything.