John's stomach grumbled, and he shifted on the cold stone fence, wrapping his dark coat tighter against his body to ward off the damp chill. It didn't do much, the thin fabric not much of a defense against the elements. If he got the reward, the second thing he was going to do was get a better coat. The first thing would be getting a huge dinner, with rare roast beef and a lake of gravy.
Shaking his head, he pushed aside the obsessive thoughts of food and refocused on the building beyond. It had been an hour since the man he was following had gone inside. It was very dark out, the gaslight a little too far away to provide much illumination.
Feeling sleepy, John almost missed when the slim man slipped out of the house and along the back fence, carrying a lumpy sack over his back. Jumping up, John silently followed, keeping to the shadows in case the thief glanced back, but staying close enough to not lose him in the twisted alleyways.
The thief kept a fast pace, working his way east. John struggled to keep up, his cold muscles stiff from sitting outside so long. He pushed himself hard. He needed this.
Groomed gardens and high fences gave way to crowded slums on their journey, and John moved even closer, looking for an opportunity to tackle the man. Being slightly shorter and thinner, he would have to surprise and immobilize him fast. He didn't have the strength for a long struggle.
Pulling out a length of rope, John wrapped it around his hand in readiness, adrenaline making his heart thump even faster.
Now, now... he had to move now...
He tossed the loop over the man's head, quickly tightening it against his neck, and yanking him backwards hard. The man let out a yelp, letting go of the sack, leaving it to fall to the cobbled street with a metallic clang as his hands pulled at the rope blocking his airway. John held firm, his hands burning with the ropes fibers shifting against them, pulling the man down onto his back and pinning him.
They scuffled on the filthy street, John merciless as he kneed his groin, and managed to tie the rope around one of the man's wrists, and groping for the other one. He swore as the man surged against him, shifting his body weight off balance, and seconds later the thief was running down a nearby alley.
Shaking his head, John was trembling with exhaustion as he stood up. His coat sleeve was almost torn off, his clothes wet and filthy from the fight, and he didn't have the energy to continue the chase. Opening the sack, he saw the gleam of a silver tray and felt grateful he had something to show for his night's work.
Two hours later, he sat down on the curb and savored the rich aroma of his meat pie. The crust was golden brown and flaky, the gravy inside warm and thick. The meat chunks were small and of questionable origin, but he still gobbled down the whole pastry in under a minute. He took longer with his bottle of ale, sipping the bitter brew slowly, hoping to trick his stomach into feeling full from the small repast.
Finishing up, he ended up walking west, idly watching the crowds that were now bustling along the morning city streets. The fashions got better and better as he went, until his slovenly appearance was getting some looks of distaste in passing.
He found a low stone wall near a park, and sat down, resting his weary limbs. This area of town was so much more peaceful than the one near his bed-sit. He just needed some quiet time to collect his thoughts. Time to look at a pretty green park and to smell flowers instead of being in the slum. It wasn't long until he was listing sideways, leaning against a pillar, as he snoozed lightly.
Sherlock hummed in contentment as he sipped his coffee and flipped to the next page of his novel. The story was becoming quite intriguing.
A shadow appeared across his book, and he flicked his gaze up with irritation. "Oh, it's you."
Unfazed by the cool greeting, his brother sat down on the other side of the table. Attentive staff soon took his order for tea and a croissant. "Sorry that I am late. London is crowded with so much riff-raff these days, my driver had a hard time getting through."
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock leaned back, taking in Mycroft's perfectly tailored jacket, waistcoat and elaborately tied cravat. "Yes, they really should part like the Red Sea when your coach approaches." Needling his older brother was one of his favorite pastimes.
Chuckling slightly, Mycroft stirred some sugar into his beverage. "Come on. Surely you have noticed how overcrowded the city is now. And they keep having more and more children, to share in their misery."
"Don't they have just as much right to be here as you do?" Sherlock tilted his head slightly to challenge his brother. "Aren't all men created equal?" He sipped his coffee, enjoying the rich flavour.
Mycroft's lip curled slightly in disdain. "Oh God, are you an American now or something? Do you truly believe we are the same as that?" He waved at a ragged older man, pushing a cart full of horse manure up the street.
"Liberté, égalité, fraternité!" Sherlock exclaimed, causing a few other patrons to look at him afterwards.
Glaring at the brat, Mycroft leaned forward. "Oh, would you please shut up?" He looked around, nodding at a few other customers, trying to smooth things over. "Really, it's probably just a matter of time for something like that to happen here. The poor outnumber us ten to one at least. And they breed more."
"Vive la révolution!" Sherlock said, but not as loud as his previous outbursts, loving how riled up Mycroft was getting.
Sighing impatiently, Mycroft finished off his tea. "Do you want to be hauled out of your comfortable bed in the middle of the night, and have your head chopped off?"
Scoffing, Sherlock gave his imperious brother a glare. "You are the one who is going to inherit everything. You are one of the landowners repressing the poor, not me. My head will stay attached, Thank you very much."
"Surely you realize if something happens to me, you would be the heir, and just as much of a target." Mycroft poured more tea into his cup.
Sherlock shook his head. "We aren't nobility. The rabble has a lot of them to round up before they'd come after us."
"The Reign of Terror rounded up over 300,000, and 30,000 ended up dead. You do the math." He spread jam on his croissant.
Tapping his fingers on the table, Sherlock shrugged. "Accounts I've read say about 1 person out of 50 were targeted."
"Exactly! The top 2% of the population. The royalty, nobility and rich landowners. Wouldn't you say we are in the top 2%?" Mycroft looked quite proud, thinking he had won the argument.
Sherlock looked down at his cup moodily. Mycroft was insufferable when he thought he was smarter. "Well, can you blame the poor, unwashed masses for rising up? They've gotten the short end of the stick for a millennia."
"It's how the world is, Sherlock. We were born to live this way, it is in our blood."
Leaning forward, Sherlock stared into his brother's dark green eyes. Everything about the man demonstrated his life of advantage; his clothes, his health, the proud tilt of his head. "So, you don't think we should help the poor?"
"Charity, sure." Mycroft shrugged. "But to give them much else, they would just waste it on gin and cheap amusements. You might as well throw your money into the Thames for all the good it would do."
Tilting his head to the side, Sherlock gave a small grin. "So, you think the disadvantaged are completely unredeemable? They have their lot, we have ours, and that's that? What about all the industrialists? Many of them came from simple homes with limited education, and now have fortunes to rival anyone."
"There are exceptions to every rule. But I don't think your average London riff-raff would have it in them to make something of themselves, even if they had the opportunity." Mycroft seemed quite sure of his convictions.
Sherlock nodded, steepling his fingers under his chin in thought. "It's the age-old question of Nature versus Nurture, isn't it? Is it in our blood to be the top of our society, or simply that we were born into a wealthy household by pure chance?"
"The former, obviously." Mycroft was dismissive, clearly getting bored with the whole topic.
Rolling his eyes, Sherlock looked around the room at the other customers. All dressed impeccably in the latest fashions by their valets and ladies maids, playing their proper roll in society. Looking elegant and engaged in polite conversations. "We have both been around enough to know how many complete idiots there are in the upper class. Look at the nobility... we have a mad King and a Prince Regent who is constantly running into debt to buy the tightest trousers possible, and needs Parliament to bail him out."
Chuckling softly, his brother couldn't argue against Sherlock's last comment, even though he was a monarchist through and through. "He's getting far too old and fat for half the fashions he attempts to wear."
Sherlock grinned widely as an idea blossomed in his head. "How about a small wager? We surely could find a way to test our differing theories."
Mycroft seemed intrigued. "Hmmm...to prove that the gentry are idiots? Perform some kind of intelligence test?" He shook his head. "It would offend too many people. Impossible." He knew far too well how tactless his little brother could be around quality and already heard enough complaints about him.
"Then how about we do something involving the other end of the spectrum?" Sherlock drummed his long fingers against the tablecloth in thought.
"Yes, yes..." Mycroft leaned forward, and together they worked out a plan.
By the time Mycroft had paid the bill, they were in agreement. "All right, to summarize, we will select a disadvantaged man we mutually agree on, and you will have three months to reform him in any way you deem fit. Then, he will come to a society event and we will see if he can pass as one of us or not."
Sherlock's lip curled at the thought of a society event. "Which one?" They were all mostly loathsome to him.
Mycroft's eyes glowed with amusement at his brother's discomfort. The idea of his rude brother acting like a finishing school for a broken down drunk or village idiot was just too delicious. He pondered the possibilities. "I know. Almack's."
Visibly shuddering at the thought, Sherlock sighed. The private club had been the acid test of society for decades, and those who didn't follow their strict dictates were denied admittance. "Fine."
"And he must dance with at least three debutantes." Mycroft added in, unable to hold back his grin as they left the restaurant.
"Fine." Sherlock held out his hand, and they sealed the deal. "Now, where shall we find my subject?"
Mycroft glanced around the posh neighborhood. "Well, certainly not around here." But then his eyes landed on a man tucked against a stone wall, in dirty, torn clothes, and obviously completely out of place. "Hold on, I think Fate is smiling on our plan."
He stepped briskly towards the man, walking stick rapping on the cobbles, and his brother following in his wake.
A tapping noise that was growing louder roused John from his nap, and he reluctantly blinked up at the well-dressed gentlemen standing in front of him.
Oh no. This was not good. It was best to be invisible around this type.
Shrinking down into his raggedy coat, John tried to appear as meek and harmless as possible. It wasn't too hard. He was already a smaller man than most, and frequently had people underestimate his strength.
"You there." The taller man looked down his nose at John, his voice strident and demanding attention. "Sit up straight so we can see you properly."
John was shocked at the request, and even more so when the man prodded him sharply with his walking stick. He sat up reluctantly, just hoping to satisfy them quickly and getting out of their attention soon.
"Perfect, perfect..." The other one was looking him over thoroughly, his light green eyes missing nothing.
John felt intensely aware of his shoddy appearance. Only a few years ago, he had worn his military uniform so well, enjoying the flirtatious looks from many ladies in the months after Waterloo. Even having his arm in a sling hadn't diminished their regard. There was a certain appeal to fighting so hard for one's country that you risked life and limb.
Now, he was in ill-fitting clothes, covered in mud and unmentionable other things, and he knew he stank. His hair was shaggy and unwashed. Whiskers covered his lower face. He was exhausted and knew his eyes probably reflected his struggles of recent years.
The taller one was nodding. "Yes, I concur." He gazed down at John. "What is your name?"
Confusion swirled around John's mind. Was he in trouble? What did these two want? What answer would make them go away? He regretted coming to this part of town now. Likely there had been some robbery nearby and they were seeking to pin it on the first person that looked out of place. His stomach clenched at the thought, and he glanced around, looking for a quick way to escape.
The one with darker hair tutted at the other. "You've scared him, Mycroft." He squatted down to be more at John's level. "Look, we mean you no harm. In fact, I'd like to offer you a rare opportunity."
"Opportunity?" John managed to croak, his voice sounding rough.
Nodding, the man's eyes met his directly. "I would like to offer you a three month stay in my home. You will be provided healthy meals, clean clothes and access to my library."
John shook his head quickly. "Oh no, sir. I don't do that sort of thing. Maybe try along Ratcliffe." He shrunk back.
It wasn't unheard of for the rich to take home a prostitute from the lowest classes. He had seen his share of dandies walking the slums. Likely taking advantage of the class difference to live out their basest urges. These men must be quite corrupt to be propositioning him so blatantly in a neighborhood like this in the morning hours.
The taller one scoffed. "He thinks you have designs on his body, Sherlock."
The man still squatting nearby looked surprised at the comment, and gave John a swift shake of his head. "I assure you it is a respectable house, and I only want to clothe and feed you. I have three people on staff. You will be quite safe and free to leave if you do not deem it so."
John's brow furrowed. "What's in it for you?" He looked over the man, who was dressed well, and seemed a few years younger than John. His clothes, while well tailored to his slim frame, were not overly fussy and his neckcloth was tied simply. The other man's was an elaborate structure that had likely taken his valet ten minutes to create.
Tilting his head to the side, the man shrugged. He shifted to sit beside John in the low stone wall. "I will be frank with you. My name is Sherlock and this is my older brother, Mycroft. Like all brothers, we squabble about everything and today we made a rather silly wager. One that involves you."
"A wager about me?" John's head was spinning. How the hell had he brought on their attention?
Sherlock gave him a small nod. "He is rather old fashioned in his ideas, and I seek to prove him wrong with your assistance. All you need to do is be my houseguest for three months. Surely you would like that?"
It sounded too good to be true, and John was sure there was more to it than that. "What is the wager?"
Chuckling, Mycroft patted Sherlock's shoulder. "My dear brother has those months to polish you up, and then bring you to Almack's. If you pass muster, he will win the bet."
John was familiar with the famous club of the elite. He let out a surprised laugh at the thought of trying to enter it.
Mycroft smirked at his brother. "See, even your subject thinks it's ludicrous."
Shaking off the comment, Sherlock looked even more determined. "Besides room and board, you will get to keep all the clothes I buy you."
John looked back at the light green eyes, trying to read them. A spark of hope burnt deep in his chest. "The clothes, a letter of reference from you, and a £100, whether you win or lose the bet." These rich fools could be a chance for a new beginning. He could use the reference to land a good job, and get a regular income. The money would carry him over until he was established.
He was a little surprised to see Sherlock's reaction to his counteroffer. Instead of acting offended that a lower class man had challenged him, he got a nod of begrudging respect instead. "Fine, but it's £20 if we lose, £100 if we win. You need to have stakes in this as well." He held out his hand, his gaze steady and sure.
John wiped his against his coat before offering it to Sherlock, knowing it was still filthy. The tall man shook it firmly and let go, standing up gracefully.
As John tried to follow him, his muscles refused to comply. The sleepless night, the scuffle, and sitting on cold stone had made him sore and stiff. He stood, knowing it wasn't very straight, feeling weak and ashamed.
It was even worse at Mycroft's soft chuckle. He was probably seeing how awful John looked, and considered his wager already won.
"Good luck, Sherlock." Mycroft said, patting his shoulder before striding over to his elegant carriage. Liveried servants helped him inside and he was soon on his way.
"Come along. We can get a cab the next block over." Sherlock said, waiting for John to start walking before matching his pace.
As John walked along with the tall, well-dressed man, he just shook his head at this strange turn in his life. So many times, big events had changed his life suddenly like this. Hopefully, this undertaking would be a positive one.
-Disclaimer: I own nothing.
-A/N: Eeek! Another historical Johnlock story. I’ve been diving deep into the research. Please excuse any errors I make about European history or british-isms. Feel free to let me know if I make them, so I can learn.
-This is a WIP and I’ll hopefully be posting 1-2 times a week if my muse allows it. I’ll add character tags as they come up.
-This is very loosely based on ‘My Fair Lady’ (or the Greek myth of Pygmalion). I will be using the same general structure, but everything else will be original.
-John’s job: Sorry if this is a little confusing/vague in this chapter. More details will come about it in the next chapters. Bear with me.
-"Liberté, égalité, fraternité!": This is the slogan of the French Revolution meaning Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The Revolution started in 1789, which was just 30 years before this story takes place. "Vive la révolution!" means ‘Long Live the Revolution’.
-King George III: He reigned from 1760 – 1820. In the later part of his life, he had periods of recurrent, and eventually permanent, of mental illness. It wasn’t well understood then, and current theories suggest it could have been porphyria. After 1810, it was bad enough that his eldest son ruled in his place as the Prince Regent.
-Prince Regent: George IV reigned as King from 1820 – 1830, and as Prince Regent for the ten years before then. He lived an extravagant lifestyle, patronizing the arts in many forms and supported the founding of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The Regency period was a time when literature, art and architecture flourished. He wracked up huge debts, reaching £630,000 (equivalent to £58.7 million today) by 1795, and had trouble living on an yearly income of £60,000 (£5.6 million today) granted him by Parliament. His self-indulgent behavior and many mistresses made him an unpopular ruler during the post-Napoleonic era.
-Almack’s Assembly Room: This was an elite social club from 1765-1871 in London. It was a place to see and be seen, and where debutantes met gentlemen seeking brides of suitable ton.
-Ratcliffe Highway: It’s a long street in the east end of London. In 19th century, the 'Society for the Suppression of Vice' estimated that between the Houndsditch, Whitechapel and Ratcliffe areas there were 1803 prostitutes; and between Mile End, Shadwell and Blackwall 963 women in the trade.