Title: The Day Before You Came
Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: 3,562
Warnings: AngryJohn, therefore much bad language
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to way more powerful and wealthy people than me. The Day Before You Came
(Get your mind out of the gutter. I couldn’t write porn if I tried.)
(If you don’t know the song The Day Before You Came, you might find ABBA’s version (with lyrics underneath) useful.
However, I personally prefer this cover version by Blancmange.)
It took the world’s most cheerful cab driver to make John Watson realise that he was living an ABBA song.
So far it had been a diabolical day: it had started with yet another ferocious argument with Harry over the phone – the third in as many weeks – during which she said some truly hurtful things and interspersed them with the sort of language that startled even an ex-Army doctor.
The day went downhill from there.
The surgery in which he was currently acting as a locum rang to say that he wouldn’t be needed today after all. The doctor he had been covering for had recovered from his illness more quickly than expected and was ready to return to work. John had been expecting a few more days’ work – and, more importantly, a few days’ pay – and to be told that he wasn’t required was hurtful to both his medical dignity and his pocket.
With nothing better to do, he went out to the supermarket but then Sherlock sent him a text demanding that he join him at Scotland Yard immediately and that it was urgent. When he arrived, having abandoned his almost-full shopping basket at the side of an aisle before hurrying out of the store, Lestrade looked at him in surprise as he burst into his office. When John explained that he had been summoned, Lestrade gave him a sympathetic look before telling him that Sherlock had rung him as well, saying that he was coming over to look at some reports on a cold case – a cold case that was eighty years old and hardly the vital matter which Sherlock had indicated to John – but had then texted five minutes later to say that there was a change of plan and he would come over that afternoon.
“Apparently he didn’t bother to tell you,” he added with an apologetic grimace.
“Obviously not,” John replied tightly. Turning to storm out of the office, he forgot that he had left the door open and banged heavily into it, smacking his forehead against the wood and swearing loudly. Lestrade’s hastily muffled snort of laughter didn’t elevate his mood at all and, rubbing his head ferociously, he stomped out of the office and headed home.
Mrs Hudson intercepted him seconds after he opened the front door. “I need you to do something about the smell,” she told him in an overly-dramatic stage whisper. It was hardly necessary for her to mention it, as John had reeled the moment he stepped indoors. It was equally unnecessary to wonder where the stench was emanating from and after reassuring her that he would deal with it and apologising on behalf of his friend – who was rapidly losing the title of ‘flatmate’ and likely to gain the title of ‘flatbloodynuisance’ any minute now – John charged up the stairs and hurried into the flat, slamming both of the first floor doors closed and throwing open the windows in the sitting room before turning and facing the source of his irritation. Sherlock was sitting at his microscope in the kitchen, apparently oblivious to the appalling stench and not even glancing up as John stomped over to the window beside the fridge and opened it as wide as it would go.
“Finally burned out your sense of smell, have you?” John enquired angrily as he turned around from the window.
“Hmm?” Sherlock asked, engrossed in his latest slide.
“I said ...” John hesitated for a moment and then continued, his teeth gritted against his fury. “... have you finally learned that you’re as dense as hell?”
“Mmm,” Sherlock agreed vaguely, then frowned but still didn’t look up. “Is that your attempt at humour?” he asked.
“No, I think I lost all sense of that about fifty seconds ago when I walked in the front door,” John replied evenly.
Sherlock opened his mouth. He was probably about to correct John over the number of seconds he had been in the flat; and if he did, John was going to punch him very hard indeed and this time he wouldn’t be avoiding his nose and teeth. To prevent the imminent violence, he started talking before Sherlock could speak.
“I don’t even want to know what’s causing the stink in here. All I want is for you to add it immediately to the list of items banned from this flat, and that when you find something equally foul-smelling to replace it as you inevitably will, you open a bloody window.”
Sherlock grimaced in obvious exasperation at the extension of the list to which John was constantly adding items.
“Also,” John continued, “did it even occur to you to tell me that you didn’t need me at the Yard when you told Greg you weren’t going?”
“I did tell you ...” Sherlock started but John interrupted.
“No; I meant did you consider texting me, rather than just saying it out loud and assuming that the words would carry from here to Tesco’s, work their way through the automatic doors, float up and down the aisles until they found me and then wriggle inside my ear?”
Sherlock sighed pointedly, then lifted his head and looked at John. If he registered the fury in his flatmate’s face, he chose to ignore it.
“You went to Scotland Yard?”
“Yes, I went to the sodding Yard,” John told him angrily. “And then I turned around and came home again from the sodding Yard. Because you didn’t go to the sodding Yard. But you didn’t sodding well tell me you weren’t going to the sodding Yard. Which was nice of you.”
“Oh,” Sherlock said disinterestedly, then perked up and looked at John expectantly. “Did you bring the reports I wanted?”
“Do you know what? I didn’t bring the reports,” John said, breathing hard in a rapidly failing attempt to retain the last dregs of his temper. “I didn’t bring the reports because I was too busy being ever so slightly furious about being treated like I’m nothing more than your personal dogsbody.”
For the first time there was a flash of annoyance on Sherlock’s face.
“Did you have something better to do, Doctor?” he asked, the sarcasm obvious in his voice.
And that was when John finally lost it.
“Just for once in my sodding life can I have one normal day?!” he yelled. “For Just. One. Day. can I not get shot at, or have to chase after some knife-wielding maniac because you won’t let the police do their job and will insist on collaring the bloke yourself, or have to apologise to half the bloody world for your stupid behaviour, or get half blown up, poisoned or driven out of the flat by one of your stupid experiments, or have you constantly texting me because you can’t be arsed to walk across the room to pick up a pencil, or sending me off on your errands because you’re too lazy to collect the samples or the bloody reports you urgently need which aren’t urgent at all ...”
He stopped as he ran out of air and stood glaring at his flatmate who was looking at him with infuriating calmness. Again Sherlock opened his mouth but John pointed at him sternly.
“No. Don’t you dare say a bloody word if you want to live beyond the next eight seconds. I’m sick of it, Sherlock. I’m sick of being treated like this; I’m sick of feeling like I’ve got no real purpose in life ... and I’m sick of you.”
Turning on his heel he almost skidded on something wet that had dripped off the edge of the table – quite possibly the whatever-it-was that was rapidly rendering the flat unliveable. Catching his balance before he fell on top of it and ruined yet another set of clothes, he hurled the kitchen door open, went through and slammed it noisily behind him before storming downstairs and out the front door. With no thought of an ultimate destination, he headed in the general direction of anywhere that wasn’t Baker Street.
He walked for several hours, not even aware of where he was going, his head down and his mind full of black thoughts about the bloody awful day he was having and wondering just how much longer he could try to tolerate Sherlock’s behaviour before he had no choice but to save his sanity by packing his bags and moving out. It was only when it began to rain that he took any notice of his surroundings and realised he had no clue where he was. Swearing under his breath as the rain got heavier, he looked around for a taxi but apparently he was in an area of London where black cabs rarely ventured.
It took him another few minutes before he found a parade of shops but he was relieved to see a minicab office amongst them and went inside to request a cab.
“It’ll be at least twenty minutes, mate,” the dispatcher told him. “They’re all out on jobs at the moment.”
John glared at him, breathing heavily.
“Sorry,” the dispatcher shrugged, looking anything but apologetic.
Grimly John sat down on one of the hard wooden chairs, the water from his wet jacket starting to soak into his skin. By the time the dispatcher pointed to the door and told him that his cab was outside, he was feeling distinctly chilled. John hauled himself to his feet, walked outside and got into the back seat of the waiting car.
“Hello, hello, hello!” hollered the driver over his shoulder.
John rolled my eyes. ‘Oh, gods protect me from cheerful cabbies; that’s the last thing I need right now,’ he thought angrily as he grunted a reply.
“Where are we going, then?” the driver enquired in a strong Polish accent.
Opening his mouth to give the obvious answer, John hesitated. He didn’t actually want to go home. Back at the flat he would either face a peeved flatmate who would want to continue the argument, or be greeted with a petulant and silent sulk. Neither of those options appealed to him but now that he considered it, he had nowhere else to go. He definitely wasn’t going to Harry’s; and any of his friends – although they would surely be willing to give him a bed for the night or even for a few days – would either ask pointed questions or keep a diplomatic silence which would be even more irritating.
The driver turned and looked at him as if he was an idiot who couldn’t remember his own address.
“Baker Street,” John told him glumly, adding the post code which the man typed into his satnav.
The cabbie put the car in gear but then scowled at the sight of an elderly man doddering across the road several yards in front of him. The old man didn’t seem to be paying any attention to the traffic and was apparently in a world of his own as he wandered slowly away from the safety of the pavement. The driver looked round at John.
“He’s in my way. Can I kill him?” he asked.
Disinterestedly, John said, “Yeah, do it,” but then sucked in a panicked breath as the cabbie happily said, “Okay!” before beginning to accelerate towards the unwitting pedestrian. However, the driver slowed down again a second later and allowed the old man to wander out of the way before driving on.
John sank back in his seat and let out a relieved breath. The driver grinned.
“I would have been doing him a favour, you know,” he informed John airily. “With all the pensions being cut, and the National Health Service no good any more, it would be a good thing. I should talk to Dave about it. That’s the Prime Minister, isn’t it – Dave?”
He glanced round to see John’s answering nod. “Yes, I’ll talk to Dave about it,” he continued. “He could pay me a small fee for every old person I run over because I’m saving him some money.”
It was obvious from his expression that he was only joking but John allowed himself a small smile. ‘It’s a good job I know you’re not serious,’ he thought to himself. ‘The last time I knew a cabbie as murderous as you, I shot him dead shortly afterwards.’
In an attempt to forestall any further conversation he took his phone from his pocket and pretended to be checking his texts but the cabbie had other ideas.
“Get out of the way, silly Land Cruiser,” he told the vehicle in front of him which was apparently committing the ultimate sin of blocking the cab’s progress by waiting to turn right at the T-junction ahead. He looked over his shoulder again.
“So, which way are we going, then?” he asked cheerily in his heavy accent. “I can turn left and go up the main road, or turn right and go through the village. Which way do you prefer?”
“I really don’t care,” John replied without looking up from his phone. “At this time of day it’s going to be busy whichever way you go.” He chose not to mention that he didn’t know the area, concerned that the cabbie would take him a deliberately roundabout and expensive route.
“I think we’ll go left,” the driver said, switching on his indicator, then added, “No, we’ll go through the village.” He changed the direction of the indicator, then pursed his lips. “No, we’ll go left.” Again he flicked the stalk on the steering column. “But it’s busy down the main road. But then it’s busy in the village too ...”
‘Jesus,’ John thought as his temper began to rise again. ‘We’ll be here all bloody day while he makes his mind up.’
The Land Cruiser finally found a gap in the traffic and turned right and after another bout of indicator-changing, the driver finally settled on turning right as well. “It’ll be busy in the village,” he said happily over his shoulder. “But never mind; we’ll get there eventually.”
‘Just let me die,’ John thought morbidly even as his mouth twitched a little. The driver was so cheerful that his mood couldn’t help but rub off just a little no matter how grumpy John was feeling.
Nevertheless he kept his head down and continued to pretend to peruse his phone and the driver seemed to take the hint and turned on the stereo. John grimaced. He didn’t often take minicabs – usually only when he was coming home from Harry’s house in the suburbs – but they always played the most banale of radio stations, the ones which seemed to have a playlist of only four bland pop songs which were repeated ad nauseam. So his eyes widened a moment later as the music began to pump through the speakers.
‘It’s ABBA!’ he thought to himself. ‘It’s bloody ABBA!’
From the quality of the sound it was clear that this was a CD rather than a radio station and John ducked his head and tried not to laugh out loud. Never a big fan of ABBA’s music, he had nevertheless been inflicted with it a great deal during his childhood because his mother had loved the band and would often have their albums playing while she was doing the housework. He and Harry had heard them so many times that they had known many of the lyrics by heart and, despite declaring that the songs were old-fashioned and rubbish, would frequently sing along without realising what they were doing, much to their mum’s delight.
John had rarely heard this music since he had left home almost twenty years ago but as the lyrics of Does Your Mother Know began he felt a mad urge to sing along in an overly fake Swedish accent in the way that he and Harry always had. Mercifully the driver also refrained from singing but when the track was followed by Super Trouper John – still keeping his head lowered – couldn’t help silently miming “Su-pa-pa Trou-pa-pa” along with the chorus. He grinned to himself, imagining Sherlock’s reaction if he ever caught John singing such a ludicrous set of lyrics. But that reminded him that he was mad as hell at Sherlock and that this was the reason he was in this cab with a crazy cabbie and his ridiculous music in the first place. He scowled, the mood spoiled.
And then the third track began and John felt a reminiscent pang. The Day Before You Came had been Mum’s favourite ABBA song and even though he hadn’t heard the song for almost twenty years, the entire lyrics immediately sprang back into his mind. As he remembered the theme of the song his eyes widened in shock ... and in recognition.
Since his enforced return from Afghanistan, John’s life had been pointless, mundane, meaningless. Similarly, the song listed the singer’s daily boring routine and how it had never varied until someone came into their life and changed it for the better.
I must have kept on dragging through the business of the day.
Without really knowing anything, I hid a part of me away
He had avoided the well-intentioned attempts of his friends to include him in their social lives, choosing to politely thank them while turning down their invitations. Eventually they had given up trying and the phone calls had become less frequent.
Oh yes, I’m sure my life was well within its usual frame
The day before you came
He had spent nearly all his time in the miserable bedsit, only venturing out to walk aimlessly around London, not wanting to leave the town but knowing that eventually he wouldn’t be able to afford to stay. That knowledge had made him feel even worse. No friends, no job and soon no home – at least not one in an area he knew.
It’s funny, but I have no sense of living without pain
The day before you came
John’s leg twitched and a spasm ran across his left shoulder. Suddenly the hand holding his phone wasn’t entirely steady. Life before Sherlock had been nothing but boredom, unhappiness, frustrating psychosomatic discomfort and a sense of despair at the pointlessness of his existence. He had had nothing to look forward to, little chance of a career that meant anything to him, and utter loneliness as he repeatedly rejected his therapist’s well-meaning encouragement to embrace civilian life again. Ella’s insistence that he write a blog of his daily life had only made him more painfully aware that he had no life; and taking his laptop out of the drawer every morning had only drawn his attention to the pistol hidden in there. If Sherlock hadn’t come into his life and given him something worth living for, John felt it might only have been a matter of time before he had reached for the gun instead of the laptop.
And rattling on the roof I must have heard the sound of rain
The day before you came.
But now ... now his life was insane, and annoying, and frustrating ... and fun, and enjoyable, and utterly unpredictable. Every day was worth getting out of bed for; every adventure filled him with excitement; every near-death experience made him feel alive. Even the irritating moments – no food in the flat, running aimless errands for Sherlock, being dragged away from work and all the subsequent arguments – were worth getting annoyed over. Because he had a reason to be alive. He had a reason to live. He wanted to live. And the complete change had happened the day Mike brought him into the lab at Bart’s.
Sherlock had saved his life.
Sherlock had given him a life.
John didn’t want to be anywhere else; didn’t want to be with anyone else. The day before Sherlock Holmes came into his life, John had had nothing to live for. Now, with that crazy and infuriating man in his world, John had something worthwhile, something which made him feel important and worthy of existence. John had a life.
The cab had turned into Baker Street and was approaching 221B. In all the time that he had lived there, John had never been so happy to see it.
“Pull over on the left here, please,” he told the driver.
“If that’s where you want me to stop, that’s where I’m going to stop!” the man replied cheerfully. He pulled up at the pavement, then turned and frowned at John as if surprised he was still in the car. “We’re here. Get out,” he told him mock-sternly.
Grinning, John climbed out and walked around to the driver’s window.
“You are without doubt the best cab driver I have ever had,” he told him as he paid the fare and added an overly-generous tip, “and I love your choice of music.”
“It’s better than all that boom-boom-boom,” the driver said, waving his arms around before beginning a frenetic bout of air-drumming.
“Thanks for a brilliant drive,” John said, then stood back and watched the car depart before turning and gazing up at the first floor window of his flat. He could faintly hear Sherlock’s violin, and recognised it instantly as the classical piece which he had once told Sherlock was his favourite.
Smiling, John took his door keys from his pocket and went home to the only life he had ever wanted.
Oh, and just to keep certain readers happy, especially chocolamousse, (and, apparently, verityburns, who insisted on having her name added here when she beta-read the draft):
The optional epilogue:
And then they dun sex.
Hey, look, I did write porn!
Author’s Note: If you think that the Polish cabbie was crazy and unrealistic, I agree. And that is the man who drove me home several days ago after a painful and uncomfortable hospital visit. All I wanted was to sit in the back of the car and feel sorry for myself, and my driver did and said exactly the things that I have related here – including almost running over the old man who got in his way, and playing an ABBA CD all the way home (including The Day Before You Came). By the time I got home he had cheered me up so thoroughly that I wish I had got his name, cos I want to adopt him! Or possibly marry him. Or keep him in my sock drawer.
Many thanks to mirith, who suggested – after I emailed her and other LJ friends about my day – that the driver was so brilliant that I should incorporate him into a fic. It was only then that I realised that The Day Before You Came was perfect for John, and this story was the result.