It goes ding when there's stuff (cleflink) wrote,
It goes ding when there's stuff
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When the Road Looks Rough Ahead (BBC Sherlock/Doctor Who crossover, gen)

Title: When the Road Looks Rough Ahead
Fandoms: BBC Sherlock, Doctor Who
Characters: John Watson, the Doctor, Canton Everett Delaware III (gen)
Rating: G
Word count: 4400
Warnings: Reichenbach feels
A/N: Written for the Spring 2013 round of intoabar for the prompt: John Watson walks into a bar and meets... Canton Everett Delaware III! Takes place in Doctor Who canon between 'The Angels Take Manhattan' and 'The Snowmen'. Takes place in BBC Sherlock canon before 'A Study in Pink' and after 'The Reichenbach Fall'.
Title is from 'You've Got a Friend in Me' from Toy Story

Summary: The Doctor decides that John needs a friend. Luckily, he knows just the man.

John first met the Doctor while he was at uni.

It was in the May of John's second year. He'd been half-killing himself revising for his exams at the time, and there'd been little on his mind besides a frantic swirl of facts and figures shunted alongside the bone deep exhaustion that came from weeks of subsisting on caffeine and far too little sleep.

John had been on his way to the library to do some last-minute revising that wasn't regularly interrupted by the drunken antics of the blockheads down the corridor when he'd come across three of the blokes from the school cricket team attacking one of the maths teachers. And perhaps the sensible thing would have been to get some help - three against one was never good odds and John wasn't exactly an intimidating-looking person - but John had never been one to back down from an unfair fight and he'd always had a chronic inability to stay out of trouble.

He learned later that the cricketers had actually been shapeshifting alien assassins called Gizou, but that was only after he'd driven in with a flying tackle his rugby captain would have approved of, nearly got eaten - eaten! - by the aforementioned aliens and then got saved by the timely appearance of a madman in a bow tie. Said madman introduced himself as the Doctor and promptly enlisted John's help in preventing the Gizou from killing half the population of the school for reasons John failed utterly at comprehending.

It was, understandably, one of the strangest and most exhilarating nights of John's life. After the dust settled and King's College was safe again, however, he realized, to his considerable panic, that his exam was less than an hour away and he didn't even know what had happened to his study notes in the mad dash, let alone how he was going to pass well enough to keep his scholarship.

Which was about when John Watson's world changed forever.

"Come with me," the Doctor said, with a hopeful little smile that John would remember for the rest of his life. "We can go wherever you want. Whenever you want. Ever ever you want. A quick pop round the universe, followed by as many days as you need to study and then the Tardis can bring you back to now. What do you think?"

John didn't hesitate for a moment. Chronic inability to stay out of trouble and all that. "Yes. Absolutely, yes."

---

So John started traveling with the Doctor. And, oh, it was brilliant. The Doctor took him forwards, backwards and sideways through time to a dozen different planets and managed to get the both of them into trouble in a hundred different ways. John had never felt more alive.

"That," John said, after a particularly memorable bit of running through the Gamma Forests. Seriously, there had been an awful lot of running. "Was absolutely mental."

The Doctor looked pleased. "It was, wasn't it?"

"Seriously," John said, trying without success to put his clothes to rights. Running through trees was clearly not good for his wardrobe. "Nothing is ever going to top that."

"Nonsense!" the Doctor said. "You've got loads of life to do ridiculous things with. Never underestimate yourself. You know, when I was young, I thought that being crowned Queen of the Amazons was about as strange as my life could get, and here I am still proving myself wrong."

John stared at him for a moment, then doubled over laughing.

"Oh, Doctor," he managed, through breathless giggles. "Only you could be so impossible. I could travel the entire universe twice and never find someone as mad as you to do ridiculous things with."

John expected a bout of the Doctor's particular brand of self-deprecating boasting in response and was surprised when his words were met with nothing but silence.

Stifling his giggles, John looked up to find the Doctor watching him with a strangely blank expression, as though he was seeing something in John for the first time.

John's smile faltered. "Doctor?"

The Doctor startled like he'd just got an electric shock. "Sorry, got a bit muddled there for a moment. Happens sometimes, you know."

"I do know," John said. He straightened up and walked over to where the Doctor was standing. "Everything alright?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes, yes! Things are always alright." The Doctor paused thoughtfully. "Except when they're not. Which isn't now, obviously."

"Obviously," John agreed. "So what's alright about right now, if you don't mind me asking."

"Do you know what you need right now, John?" the Doctor asked suddenly. "I mean what you really, really need?"

"I have a feeling you're going to tell me."

"What you need," the Doctor said, reaching out to poke a deliberate finger onto the middle of John's chest, "Is a friend."

John stared at him, nonplussed. "I've already got friends."

"And I won't hold it against you. Now!" The Doctor whirled around to the console. "I'll do the piloting and you do the packing. You might as well bring your books; it'll be a good time to revise."

"Packing?" John asked, as the Doctor flitted around flipping switches and turning knobs and pumping pumps with gleeful abandon "Exactly how far away are we going?"

"You mean how long are you staying," the Doctor corrected. He paused to throw a critical look at John's stationary position. "You're not packing. Why aren't you packing? At this rate we'll have been parked there for a week before you're ready to leave the Tardis."

John pinched the bridge of his nose. "And how long are we staying, then?"

"Don't know yet. I try not to make plans. They never seem to go the way they're supposed to. Long enough to require packing." The Doctor made a shooing motion with one hand. "Off you pop."

"Doctor, I don't think-"

"John," the Doctor said, in his 'I'm a very, very clever man and you had better be listening' voice. "This is important. Please."

As if John was going to be able to resist that. He sighed. "Oh, alright. Let's go find this friend I need. I don't really fancy tromping around the universe looking for someone who wants to be my friend, though."

"Don't worry," the Doctor said, which usually inspired the exact opposite reaction in John. And pretty much anyone who'd ever met the Doctor, come to think of it. "I know just the man."

---

John packed as requested, bringing a variety of clothing since God only knew where the Doctor was taking him this time.

"So?" John said, when he was back in the console room with his bag at his feet and excitement rising in his blood. He always loved this bit. "What strange and exotic planet are we on now?"

The Doctor grinned at him. "New York."

Well, that was a letdown. "New… York? The city?"

"Mmm. But I can assure you, New York has perfectly acceptable levels of 'strange'. Come along."

The Doctor bounced over to the door and John followed along behind, because that was how it worked with the Doctor. The door opened onto someone's sitting room: the walls were papered in browns, the furniture was paisley and the space was cluttered but tidy.

A man who looked to be somewhere in his forties was sitting on a couch a scant foot away, a newspaper forgotten in his hands as he looked up at the Doctor and John. John braced himself for the inevitable confusion that the appearance of a magical police box always seemed to create, and was surprised when none was forthcoming.

"Doctor," the man said calmly, in a whiskey-gravel voice. The only other person John had ever met who never got the least bit thrown off by the Doctor's random comings and goings was River Song. John had to admit to being impressed.

"Canton Three!" the Doctor exclaimed, delighted. He stepped forward and grabbed the man's hand, pumping furiously. "I do love it when I find people on the first try!"

"Good to see you too, Doctor. I hope you don't have any more aliens for me to shoot."

"Not this time. John!" the Doctor said, breaking the handshake to grope for John's arm and haul him forward.

"Uh," John said.

The Doctor looked like a proud parent introducing a favoured child. "John, this is Canton Everett Delware the third, formerly - is it still formerly?" he asked Canton, who nodded with a wry little twist of his mouth, "-still formerly of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence." The Doctor frowned. "What, really? But it's been ages since I was here! Hasn't it?"

"Depends on your definition of ages," Canton said, looking somewhere between amused and resigned. "More than long enough for the President to decide that I ought to stay fired."

The Doctor huffed. "Well that's a fine way to reward someone who's helped save the world from an entire species of aliens that you forget about as soon as you look away - oh, don't worry, John, we fixed it. You'll never even notice killing them. I'm not thinking too highly of the FBI right now, Canton, I'm very sorry to say. They should be counting themselves lucky to have someone like you t-" The Doctor's brow furrowed. "Wait, what's the date?"

"June 3, 1972," Canton said, shaking out the newspaper to show him the masthead. "Shouldn't you know these things when you're the one traveling through time?"

"Oh well that's alright then," the Doctor said, ignoring the question entirely. John was mostly stuck on the fact that 1972 meant he was alive as a baby on the other side of the world. "It's a rubbish year to work for the American government. You're much better off."

Canton arched an eyebrow. "Am I?"

"Yes! Well, I suppose the FBI comes out of things okay, but still mostly yes. Where was I?" He clapped his hands. "Right! John! This is Canton. He's a lovely chap. Canton, this is John Watson. He's also a lovely chap. Medical student from the future. Bit young, but we're working on that. We're here because he's going to need a friend."

John felt his face heat. "Make me sound a little more pathetic, could you, Doctor?" he said, with all the dryness he could muster. He was gratified when Canton looked more amused at the Doctor's expense than John's.

"Hmm? Oh, don't worry, John. Canton doesn't mind. Right, Canton?"

Canton shrugged. "Why not. Haven't got a lot else on my plate."

"Excellent, I knew I could count on you. Well, must dash," the Doctor said. "I'm late for a harvest festival on Apalapucia. No time to chat. Have fun!"

"Wait-" John started, too late to do anything as the Doctor dashed into the Tardis and pulled the door shut behind him.

John exchanged a look with Canton. "Erm-"

"Actually," the Doctor said, door banging open again so he could lean his head out. "I don't really have to dash. She is a time machine, after all. I could go to any harvest festival I wanted to. I could go to all of them, if it came to it. Of course, that sort of thing always seems to end up with me being declared a god, which is flattering but a little disturbing. And, much as I love potatoes, there is such a thing as too many of them. There are only so many bowls of potato stew a person can eat before they-"

"Doctor," Canton cut in, with a calm sort of equanimity that John very much envied. "I think you were using it as an excuse to leave without being ruder than usual."

"Oh! Right! Yes!" The Doctor aimed a grin and a pointed finger at Canton. "I knew you were the man to come to. Even if you are American. Still, can't have everything, hey?"

"Goodbye, Doctor," Canton said firmly.

"Bye Canton! John, have a lovely time, I'll be back in a week or so."

The Doctor disappeared back into the Tardis, only to pop back out again before he'd even got around to shutting the door. "Well, I say a week. Probably a week. A couple of weeks. An amount of time that can definitely be counted in weeks. I hope you packed extra pants."

"I-" John started, and didn't get any further before the Doctor flashed him one last grin and closed the door. The familiar vworp vworp of the engine filled the air and John was left staring at the empty space where the Tardis had been, feeling decidedly shell shocked.

"Well," Canton said after a moment. "Good to see he hasn't changed." He turned to John and held out a hand. "Let's try this again. Canton Everett Delaware the third at your service."

John took the offered hand; Canton's grip was firm but not aggressive. "John Watson, hi. Sorry about this."

Canton snorted. "The Doctor bringing me a friend from the future is far better than him appearing in the Oval Office and demanding cookies. Come on," he said, while John tried to figure out if that was a joke. Knowing the Doctor, John was betting on 'no'. "Let's get you settled. Sounds like you'll be here for a while."

---

Canton was more than right on that count. John couldn't say he was surprised. After the amount of time - linearly or otherwise - John had spent traveling with the Doctor, he was well aware of just how loose the man's ability to keep track of time tended to be.

("The irony in that is staggering," Canton said, when John mentioned it one night over some dreadful American beers at the pub.

"Oh, you have no idea.")

This time around, 'week' apparently meant something closer to 'three months'. John moved into Canton's guest room and his life dwindled into revising for his finals, wandering around the city and spending time with his new landlord.

The whole situation should have been dreadfully awkward and not only because the Doctor had dropped John off like a parcel and promptly buggered off.

For what John thought might actually be the first time in his life, however, the Doctor had come up with a plan that worked exactly the way it was supposed to.

As the weeks passed, John found that he and Canton had a surprising amount in common: hobbies, moral views, taste in books and film - aside from the extra few decades of material John knew -, dry, slightly dark sense of humour. John found himself enjoying his time with Canton considerably more than he expected to and, for his part, Canton seemed glad of John's company, which made John feel less like a surprise guest and more like a proper mate.

And John might not have needed friends as badly as the Doctor seemed to think, but he was certainly happy to have found one in Canton.

The pub around the corner became a familiar haunt for them, where John complained about the shit beer, Canton regularly beat him at pool and they both swapped stories about their lives.

They visited the gun range several times - America was a very strange place sometimes - and Canton proved to be a very good shot and as patient a marksman as he was in every other aspect of his life. He was also a capable teacher, which John benefitted from immensely.

John eventually badgered Canton into taking him sightseeing. Canton agreed very reluctantly.

("Even if I come back in my time, New York won't be the same," John argued. It wasn't the first time they'd had this conversation.

Canton raised an eyebrow at him. "You really gonna make me do the sightseeing thing? Because I am not above abandoning you in Central Park."

John grinned back. "Bollocks. Go get your coat.")

John met Canton's boyfriend and had to spend a ridiculous amount of time convincing the both of them that he really was okay with it.

("I don't know why I was expecting the 1970s to be a little more… progressive," John said.

"Because you obviously never studied history," Canton said, covering his boyfriend's hand on the table. A smirk curled his mouth. "And you're kind of an idiot, sometimes."

"Why do you put up with this prick?" John demanded of Canton's boyfriend and got laughter in response.)

Dinner was usually a group affair for the three of them; John joined the rotation for cooking duties, to varying degrees of success. In the evenings, John took to bringing his books down into the sitting room and revising while Canton and his boyfriend watched telly or listened to the radio. It was comfortable and strangely domestic and John wished that his flatmates at uni were half so easy to live with.

The whole experience was all surprisingly fantastic.

When the Doctor finally blew back into their lives - right in the middle of an episode of Columbo, the inconvenient git - John found himself surprisingly ill-prepared for the idea of leaving.

Luckily, the Doctor apparently wasn't ready take John back home just yet. Instead, he carted the lot of them a few years forward and a few states over to terrorize Washington. John went back to living on the Tardis and tried to ignore the mayhem. Which was never as easy as it sounded.

("Spies, John!" the Doctor exclaimed, bright eyed and delighted as always. "Isn't this exciting?"

"You do know that spies aren't actually like James Bond?" Canton said. "I've worked with spies. Not that exciting."

The Doctor pouted.)

And John definitely didn't get involved in Watergate. Honestly. Had nothing to do with it. It was hardly his fault that the Doctor's favourite hobby was tripping headfirst into trouble.

All John could say what that it was a good thing there was so much secrecy surrounding the whole Deep Throat thing. His picture in the history books was not John's idea of a good thing.

Eventually, though, John decided that the Doctor had messed around enough with White House affairs and that he had better go back to real life again before all of his mates had to wonder how he'd aged several years over the course of the night. John could only blame premature wrinkles on med school for so long.

Saying goodbye to Canton was harder than John had expected, not in the least because Canton made it surprisingly obvious that he was going to miss John as well.

("It's been good, John," Canton said, smiling in a way that John very rarely saw. "Don't let this idiot get you killed."

"I'll do my best," John said. "I'll miss you, Canton."

Canton smiled. "I know.")

And then John was hurtling back to his own time where he had an even harder goodbye with the Doctor.

("Will I see you again?" John asked, not caring one whit that he was acting like a big girl's blouse. Two goodbyes in a row was hard on the heart.

"Oh, probably," the Doctor said, with an airiness that John didn't buy for a second. The man was such a shit actor. "Dropping in uninvited is one of my favourite things. Always good for a laugh."

"Well," John said, around the thickness in his throat. "You're always welcome."

The Doctor smiled. "Thank you, John. For everything.")

The Doctor closed the door one last time, and John stood and watched as the Tardis vanished, gone as though it and the Doctor had never been there. And John took a few deep breaths, then went to go find his exam hall.

Time for a different kind of adventure.

---

The post-Doctor period of John's life suffered from a distinct lack of alien encounters - strange events at Christmas notwithstanding - but still included more than its fair share of ridiculous, wonderful, memorable moments. John managed not to fail out of school, joined the army, proved himself to be a bloody good doctor, got invalided out of the army and, ultimately, met another brilliant, impossible man who was mad enough to give even the Doctor a run for his money.

Meeting Sherlock Holmes turned John's life on its ear when John needed it the most. John could never find it in himself to be anything other than grateful for that, even if the man drove him to distraction as often as not. Sherlock wasn't the Doctor, and London would never hold the appeal of a blue box with all of time and space beyond it, but John was happy with his life at 221B Baker Street. Some days, he wasn't sure he'd ever been so happy.

But then came Richard Brook and the roof of Bart's and a tombstone with Sherlock's name on it and John knew, with a certainty that nearly drove him into his own grave, that his days of doing ridiculous, wonderful, memorable things were over. Because the Doctor was gone. And now Sherlock was gone too.

The world turned empty.

What few friends John had worried about him in the aftermath, John knew. They thought that he had lost touch, that he was letting grief destroy him, that he might follow Sherlock, either or purpose or by wasting himself to nothing. They thought John didn't know what was happening to his life.

They were wrong.

John knew that he shouldn't cling to Sherlock's memory like a drowning man with a rope, as though that was the only thing keeping him afloat (or, at the very least, that he ought to do a better job of pretending he wasn't). He knew that it was only Mrs. Hudson's continued forbearance and some unasked for financial support from Mycroft that kept a roof over his head since he definitely wasn't working enough to keep himself alive. He knew that people who looked at him saw a hollowed-out shell of a man who made the wreck he'd been when he'd first returned from Afghanistan look like a pillar of physical and mental well-being. He knew he needed to move on with his life.

John knew all that.

The only thing John couldn't bring himself to do was care.

The grey months slipped by at a speed that was either too fast or too slow; John never bothered to look at a calendar long enough to decide one way or the other. His clothes hung progressively looser on him and the sitting room gathered dust. The skull stayed on the mantle.

He imagined the sound of Sherlock's violin, on the rare occasions that Sherlock played it like something other than a strangled cat. He looked at the fresh plaster on the wall and wondered if the bullets were still embedded in the holes underneath. He stood at the door to Sherlock's room and wondered how on Earth the man had kept it so tidy. He sat alone in the dark and didn't think about anything at all.

John had once watched a black hole devour a star system. It seemed an apt comparison.

He wondered if the star system had ever wanted to be devoured.

When the walls and the quiet got to be too much, John typically walked around the streets until his feet ached, then stopped somewhere for a lonely pint before making his way back to the walls and the quiet to start all over again.

Time passed, probably.

A year and a day after Sherlock's death, John spent the entire day walking the streets of Sherlock's London, not seeing much of anything at all. When his walk had turned into a limping stagger, he wandered into a random pub for the end of his ritual and was brought up short by the sight of a bald, white-bearded pensioner sat at a table near the bar. He was nursing an amber-coloured drink. There was an untouched pint at his elbow. The man's dark eyes were watching John with an calm expectancy that seemed neither impatient nor indifferent, as though he could wait all night for John to come to a realization that he'd had ages ago.

John recognized him immediately.

"Hello, John," Canton said, with the same steadiness that John had always envied him. "It's been a long time. I'd say something about how much older you look, but you've got better ammunition than I do. Sit down already; I don't like it when you're taller than me."

John stumbled towards the table, feeling the greyness slough away from him for the first time in months. "Canton?!" he demanded. "How did, why- what are you doing here?"

Canton smiled at him and held aloft an envelope in a very familiar shade of blue. "I heard you could use a friend."

John stared, a wild jumble of precious memories crashing through his head.

I could travel the entire universe twice and never find someone as mad as you to do ridiculous things with.

John, this is important.

This is Canton Everett Delaware III. Formerly… is it still formerly? Still formerly of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence.

This is John. He's going to need a friend.

You really gonna make me do the sightseeing thing? Because I am not above abandoning you in Central Park.

Why do you put up with this prick?

It's been good, John. Don't let this idiot get you killed.

I'll miss you, Canton.


John huffed out a sound that wasn't quite a laugh, more touched than he thought he could be anymore. He sat down at the table and picked up the pint Canton had bought for him. "You seriously came all the way to London just to drink with me?"

Even amid the wrinkles and scars of age, the sparkle in Canton's eyes was exactly as John remembered. "Doctor's orders. I can see why. You look like hell."

John stiffened. "I'm entitled."

Canton's answering nod was grave. "I know. I read your blog. Seems like this Sherlock was quite the character."

"You would have liked him," John said, meaning it. He almost managed to smile. "He was absolutely barking, but God he was brilliant. Like standing too close to the sun."

"Another impossible man," Canton said.

"Yes," John answered quietly. "Yes, he was."

"It's hard, losing impossible men." Canton leaned back in his chair, adopting the pose he always took when he was listening to one of John's stories about traveling with the Doctor. "Tell me about him."

So John did. And it was just what he needed.

What you need is a friend.

The Doctor always did know best.

~fin

Also available on AO3
Tags: challenge: intoabar, fandom: bbc sherlock, fandom: doctor who, pairing: none, y hallo thar new fandom
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