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Fighting for Dawn

Chapter Text

Part I

 

            Even though he knew she wouldn’t care, likely wouldn’t even notice, John still took the time to run his fingers through his hair and straighten his jacket a bit before knocking on the door. There was no sound from inside the flat and John checked his watch again. 10:00. Maybe it was too early but John just wanted to get this over with. He knocked again.

            He waited, forcing himself to stay still and almost knocked a third time when the door opened just enough for Mrs. Dobson to look him over roughly. He didn’t bother smiling at her for Mrs. Dobson was not that kind of landlady. She wasn’t the sweet old woman who didn’t mind that rent was 5 days late and who would tut and make him sit down and drink tea. She wouldn’t flinch when she saw his black eye and ask how it happened or, even worse, ask if he was okay. Instead she just scowled at him and opened the door all the way.

            “Fucking Watson,” was all she said as she went over and grabbed the crusty, old notebook she used for “bookkeeping.” “You know he’s six days late, right?”

            “Five,” John corrected. His own voice sounded exhausted and hollow. Given that he hadn’t slept the night before, he couldn’t be surprised by that. He fished the envelope of money out of his inside pocket, wincing a little at the movement and fighting not to jerk back as she snatched it out of his hand. He had to stop flinching when people came toward him. Wasn’t proper.

            “Counting today.”

            John wanted to open his mouth and ask why on earth they would count the actual day that he was paying but he doubted the argument of a 16 year old boy was really going to have an effect on this lady. She would insist that his father could come down here himself and argue and the last thing John Watson needed was his father knowing that he had somehow made enough money to pay the rent. Better to just let him assume he had somehow paid while blacked out.

            “Fine,” he said, clenching his jaw and digging around his back pocket for another 10 pound note. Dobson’s daily late fee. It wasn’t much unless it was all you had. “Fine. Here.”

            He stood stiffly as she counted the money. At least she was quick about it.

            “All here,” she announced after a moment, seeming disappointed. And then her eyes did catch on the bruise spreading across his cheekbone and she smiled. “Still haven’t learned to mind your betters?”

            John was too tired to respond to that so he just nodded and walked out of the flat, feeling a pang of relief that that was all she said. That that was all she’d ever say. So much easier to deal with than questions.

            John walked the four flights of steps up to his flat and then went to unlock the door before realizing that it was already a bit ajar. Any other person who lived in this part of town would be worried about having been robbed but John knew that his father’s temper was well-known enough to keep any potential thieves away. Besides, they didn’t have anything worth stealing by this point.

            Still, he pushed the door open slowly and then locked it behind him quietly, wincing at the noise. He didn’t want his father waking up, probably with a blinding hangover and demanding to know where he had been all night. He just needed to get in, get in the shower, and stand there until he felt some semblance of clean again. Then he could do the rest. Then he could pick up after his father and check where Harry was and try to sleep and see if he could stretch his last few quid into something resembling a meal. Maybe he’d even try to get his dad to show up for his job. Despite everything, he huffed a little laugh at that. It’d been three weeks. There probably wasn’t any job to go to. But first, shower.

            The lounge wasn’t bad so John assumed most of the drinking had gone on in the pub last night for which he was grateful. Less work for him. He skipped past doing any closer inspection and headed for the shower. As he entered the bathroom and closed the door, he let out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. Finally alone. A bit of his self-control broke and he ripped his clothes off with more force than was necessary- angry. And when his shoulder panged in protest, aching from where it had been wrenched backwards the night before, he just got angrier. At Mrs. Dobson. At his father. At himself. At M-

            He stopped that line of thinking. He didn’t think about that. He eased his trousers and pants off more slowly, controlled and then stood under the freezing water. Cold water was good for sore muscles, he assured himself. Just like runners ice their legs after a workout. Determined, he squirted some shampoo into his hands and rubbed at his hair roughly. Then he did the same with his body, trying to get the stench of cigarettes and the feel of dirt off of him. He lost track of time as he stood there, scrubbing, feeling warm despite the temperature of the water. It would be okay if he could just get clean.

           He stopped abruptly when he realized he was scrubbing at his tattoo, as if he could will the black mark from his skin. And, suddenly, he was cold. His arms curled around himself for warmth and he wasn’t supposed to be thinking but he felt something loosen in his chest. A startled gasp tore from his body but he wasn’t going to cry. No reason to. It’s not like this was a new thing. It had been months. Months and it didn’t matter anymore. Over six months. It didn’t matter. He was okay. He was okay. He told himself that even as tears sprung to his eyes and mixed with the shower water and he was okay, he was, he just-

           Exhaustion. An oddly clinical thought pierced his brain. Up for more than 30 hours, difficulty getting control of emotions, lightheadedness, hunger. Sleep.

           It was old information, an old tone of voice, back from the days when he thought he could be a doctor. Back when he thought he could help people and fix problems. Back before he realized that being a doctor took more money than he could even dream of, and you actually had to do well in school, and that giving those with a hangover plenty of fluid did not actually count as “medical experience.” He had realized years ago that that being a doctor was never going to happen. It was just moments like this, when old information gathered by watching the latest hospital drama on the telly or gained in a low level science classroom that his brain sometimes forgot. He wasn’t going to be a doctor. He was going to go to the military. If he made it that far.

           Still, the information helped settled his nerves. He wasn’t spiraling out of control, he was just exhausted. He just needed sleep. He shut off the shower and got out, shivering as his body tried to warm itself. Luckily, his room was right next to the washroom. Though, admittedly it was more like a small laundry closet than a bedroom. Since they didn’t have a washer-dryer, he had space for a twin size bed and a small dresser. He threw on clothes and made a half-hearted attempt to dry his hair before giving in and lying down. He would find Harry in a bit.

           Should set an alarm, he thought groggily but despite the cold and the hunger in his gut, he fell asleep before he could reach for the clock.

           At least he was too exhausted for nightmares.

*^*^*^

            The worst part about Mycroft going to university, Sherlock thought, not for the first time, was that his dear older brother had picked up the habit of arriving home unexpectedly. When Mycroft was living at the house full-time, Sherlock had been able to studies his habits easily enough to be able to avoid him almost entirely. Interactions between the two were brief and usually expected: Mummy’s home and we all must eat dinner together, or I can hear him eating something in the kitchen but I have to check on my experiment so might as well get it over with, or Goddammit all, it’s Christmas again.

            However, once Mycroft went off to uni, it had been harder to predict his brother’s movements. While Sherlock obviously memorized the schedule available online for breaks every year and had his brother’s class schedule deduced within a week or so, Mycroft seemed to make it a habit to randomly interrupt their daily life with a visit, demanding food, kissing-up to Mummy, and smirking that horrid smirk.

            This particular afternoon, on his way home from the lake where he had been working with algae samples, he had thought about turning around when he saw the tell-tale signs of Mycroft’s arrival. But he hadn’t planned for this visit and thus was similarly unprepared to spend an additional three or four hours outside. Besides, he wasn’t going to go avoiding his own house just because his elder brother was incapable of letting go of his past adolescence.

            Also, because he suspected Mycroft visited purposefully to annoy him.

            Nevertheless, Sherlock had entered his house confidently. Now, a mere thirty minutes later, he thought that he would have been better off hiding in the back garden or arranging his own kidnapping.

            “Oh, of course, Sherlock. We are all quite aware that you know everything.”

            Mycroft’s voice made Sherlock believe that thoughtless crimes of passion were possible.

            The argument had started as it always did: with a “discussion” on Sherlock’s refusal to participate in traditional schooling. Of course, it actually started with their father’s death and Mycroft’s delusional belief that being the last remaining male in the house and seven years Sherlock’s senior meant that he was somehow “head” of the household. Barbaric and old-fashioned, Sherlock thought, but Mummy wasn’t nearly interested enough to put a stop to it. It was even worse when, like now, she wasn’t even there to tut and insist that Sherlock was fine.

            “I do know everything,” Sherlock replied, hoping he sounded as bored with the conversation as he felt.

            “I’m not talking about academics,” Mycroft said, huffing. Sherlock was just glad that at least Mycroft acknowledged Sherlock did know everything technically taught in school. Depending on Mycroft’s mood, he had been known to try to argue that point as well. “I’m talking about people.

            Sherlock sighed. They had had this conversation twice already. Both times Sherlock had walked away at this point out of sheer frustration. Seeing as this was becoming truly bothersome, he decided to put a stop to it.

            “I can tell you a man’s occupation by his tie, whether or not a woman is having an affair by her tablecloths, and I know that the cafeteria, which you still insist on going to because you are convinced it is the best way to identify possible interns for the government job that I’m not supposed to know you already have, is using too much garlic in their recipes as you have taken to chewing gum frequently. I know everything I need to know about people.” Sherlock cast his brother a look. “And the gum isn’t working. I would suggest smoking.”

            “Replacing one foul odor with another is not what I would call a solution,” Mycroft said, still looking infuriatingly unruffled. “And what about if they don’t have ties or tablecloths?”

            Sherlock blinked. Mycroft took that as a sign to continue. “You are well-versed in one type of person, that of the upper class background that you are accustomed. However, if your goal still remains to be some kind of ‘consulting detective’-” Sherlock heard the sneer in Mycroft’s voice at those words-- “Then I would note that most crimes are committed by those less fortunate that yourself. I therefore postulate that you not only do not know everything about people, as you put it, but in fact are lacking in knowledge in areas which you will need it most.”

            Sherlock felt a flood of irritation. At the tone of Mycroft’s voice, at Mycroft’s ability to stick his nose in literally everything, and, most of all, at the awful thought that flitted across his mind that Mycroft had a point.

            “Oh, and I suppose pretending to be an idiot and actually taking classes with Britain’s best and brightest at Oxford will rectify the situation. The diversity there is staggering, I’m sure.” He stood up, done with this conversation and done with Mycroft.

            “I go to Cambridge,” Mycroft called after him, self-satisfied. Sherlock clamped his mouth shut and didn’t stop walking.

            Alone in his room, Sherlock made a point not to slam anything around, knowing Mycroft would be listening for it. Instead, he laid on his bed and clenched his hands together.

            People were idiots, Sherlock knew. Even the ones who were supposed to be smart were often offensively slow-minded. They were easy to deduce, easy to embarrass, and easy to manipulate. Mycroft’s theory, that working class people were somehow beyond Sherlock’s grasp of understanding was completely unmerited.

            However… Sherlock did tend to make a habit of testing unmerited theories. Obviously, Mycroft was most likely incorrect, but it should still be tested. For science.

            He needed an experiment. That was good. Sherlock liked experiments.

Chapter Text

        It was a slow day at the corner store. Just a few customers buying the usual items when John noticed with a bit of interest a boy about his own age enter the store. Tall, pale, dark hair in unruly curls, wearing clothes that were not his, pulling things seemingly at random from the shelves. Clearly not from around here was the only thought John spared him before he refocused on what was important: staying awake and making certain nobody stole anything. The manager was a mean, hard old man who somehow kept incredibly concrete records and regularly forced employees to pay for anything that went missing. An incentive, John suspected, to have them keep a careful eye out for shoplifters. It worked.

            As tended to happen, everyone in the store seemed to finish their shopping at once and John barely noticed the line go by until he found himself staring at the tall teen who must be lost.

            “Do you need directions?” John found himself asking, just to be polite. He could probably point him towards the nearest tube station and get this boy back where he belonged. The area wasn’t as dangerous as it would get in the nighttime but he didn’t wouldn’t call it “safe.” Particularly if you stuck out like a sore thumb.

            “Why would I need directions?” The boy asked, crisp, posh accent sounding a bit surprised and a bit angry.

            “Because you’re not from here?” John asked, confused, starting to organize the items into categories to be bagged.

            “I’m not?” the other teen made it a question. And John looked up at him, confused. Maybe he was mentally challenged?

            “Uh… no. I don’t think so. Lost or something? The nearest tube stop is just a few blocks away if you go down-”

           “How did you know that?” the other boy demanded, flicking his head to get some of the curls out of his face. John jumped a bit at his tone and felt himself lean back as he became aware of the dark, angry look directed his way.

            “Know what?” he asked, starting to slide his hand towards the emergency button located under the counter. He was fairly sure he would win in a fight against this stranger. The other boy was taller, but even scrawnier than John himself and John doubted he had ever been in a fight. Still, John wasn’t in peek fighting condition given the state of his wrenched shoulder and general exhaustion and he knew better than most that the mentally unstable tended to have uncanny strength.

            “How did you know I wasn’t from here?” the boy clarified, sounding both exasperated and urgent. “And you’re not going to press the panic button so don’t bother.”

            “I’m not?” John was startled enough that his hand actually did pause.

            “No, of course not. Now tell me how you knew.”

            “I dunno,” John muttered, glancing around to see if anyone else was hearing this strange conversation. Maybe he was hallucinating? “Look, I didn’t mean anything by it. I just-”

            “You are a 16 year old male with an alcoholic father and irresponsible older sister who hasn’t eaten a meal since yesterday or had a proper sleep. Your left shoulder is injured, probably by your abusive father, whose abuse has only gotten worse since your mother died and so you cannot be operating at 100% of your mental capacity-”

            “Oi,” John interrupted, finally getting over his shock to realize he had been insulted. The boy continued as if he hadn’t heard him.

            “And yet.” John opened his mouth to say something but was met with such a glare that he shut it. “And yet, you deduced within a few moments that my disguise was just that and that I was in fact, not from here. And I need to know how.”

            “Wait a mo,” John said, feeling dizzy. “I’m not telling you anything. How did you know all that about me? Who have you been talking to?”

            “No one,” came the disgusted reply. “All that was obvious.”

            “It is not,” John insisted. Maybe the abusive father bit, considering the area of town he lived and the bruise that was now a deep purple across his cheek but the rest- Harry, his shoulder, his mom… that wasn’t obvious. He shut his mouth and clamped his jaw, glaring at the other boy. He was not saying another word until he knew who had been talking about him. And just how much they were saying. The last thing he needed was his personal life getting to be public knowledge.

            The boy opened his mouth, no doubt to complain, but then met John’s eyes for a second and sighed, resigned.

            “The man in front of me bought a pack of beers, which you scanned last even though they were placed down first and thus were closest to you. Points to your distaste of alcohol, giving the customer maximum amount of time to change his mind, put it back. He would never, by the way, he’s not an alcoholic, but his mother is and he’s staying with her for a few weeks. She’s dying and he’s given up and so just wants to make her comfortable. But anyway, distaste of alcohol plus the bruise spreading across your face- easy: alcoholic, abusive father. Before that was a girl who bought tampons. The average teenage boy would be uncomfortable with this purchase, maybe giggle a bit or save that for last, but not you. You mentioned that there were cheaper available if she wanted to save a few- means you not only are comfortable with tampons but know the prices, have bought them yourself. So you have a sister- older than you given your age and the average age when a woman starts her monthly cycle and becomes brave enough to use tampons over pads and irresponsible because no other kind of sister would make her adolescent brother buy tampons for her. Mother can’t be in the picture because if she were, she would handle such purchases as some kind of female pact. So dead mother. Simple.”

            John didn’t remember when his mouth had fallen open. The boy glanced at him, finally taking a breath before finishing.

            “In between customers, you lean quite heavily on the counter- easy, exhausted but also, whenever you look around, your eyes snag on the biscuit cabinet and you swallow unintentionally. Hungry then. Very. But not so hungry that your hands are shaking yet so blood sugar is not completely depleted. Therefore you probably ate as recently as yesterday but not since. The pen you are holding onto is behind your left ear so left-handed but you’ve been bagging with your right even though it makes you a bit stilted and slower. Hence shoulder-injury. Probably from being yanked probably from your alcoholic father. I would guess protecting your sister who you feel personally responsible for but that’s a bit too large of a leap and I don’t like making guesses.”

            “That’s brilliant,” John gasped, before his brain had time to catch up. The other boy looked just as surprised as he did, blinking and seeming to refocus on the present.

            “It is?” He asked, for the first time seeming less than sure.

            “Well… yeah,” John replied.

            “That’s… not what people usually say,” the other boy offered.

            “What do they usually say?”

            “Piss off.”

            John looked at the other boy and to his surprise, felt a small smile working his way onto his face. He supposed that listed out like that, his life sounded sad and pathetic but for some reason the whole situation was so ridiculous he couldn’t get upset.

            Then his brain finally rebooted and he realized that if this boy could tell all of that just by watching him for five minutes in a store, he would surely be able to figure out everything. Maybe he already had and was just too polite to say it. John felt a weight settle into his gut and felt slightly sick.

            “And that’s it?” he asked, trying not to sound nervous. This kid would be able to tell if he was nervous. Oh God, what if he already knew?

            “I thought it was fairly sufficient,” the other boy replied stiffly. “Given I have observed you for only a few minutes.

            “Yeah, yeah, no, I-” John trailed off, making a show of actually starting to ring up the items in front of him, which appeared to be a truly random mix. Shaving cream, a pack of cards… who even needed these things?

            “Was I right on everything?” The boy asked, looking at him curiously. “I don’t actually expect to be right on everything.” John took a breath through his nose and resolutely kept his head down.

            “Mum’s not dead,” he finally muttered.

            “Not dead?” the teen sounded honestly perplexed. “But why isn’t she buying tampons? Medically ill?”

            “She left,” John said shortly, aware that this was no longer funny.

            “Left? Surely she knows abuse only gets worse when there isn’t any sort of stabilizing presence in the home? And with a teenage daughter. What sort of mother-”

            John’s head shot up, more in amazement than anger. He didn’t talk about this. He didn’t think about this and for this stranger to just bring it up as if he knew what he was even talking about was just… His incredulous anger must’ve shown all over his face because for once the other boy snapped his mouth shut.

            “Oh,” the boy said, shifting awkwardly. “Umm… well, that is, I’m sure she…”

            “Please,” John said, hating the pity and confusion that was spreading over the boy’s face. “Please just stop. Just stop talking.”

            They endured an awkward moment as John continued to ring up random items- jar of jam, case of pens, jar of fingernail polish.

            “It seems Mycroft was right,” the boy finally muttered, annoyed.

            “Mycroft?” John asked.

            “My brother,” the boy said, sounding downright miserable. “Horrible human being.”

            “Your brother’s name is Mycroft?” John fought not to smile a bit at the name, glad there was something to ease the tension.

            “Mine’s Sherlock,” the boy- Sherlock- offered. “Old family names.”

            “Sherlock’s better than Mycroft,” John replied.

            “I always thought so.”

            “Maybe that’s why he’s so horrible. Jealous of your name,” John said, his face working once again into an unfamiliar smile. However, Sherlock didn’t smile back, appeared to actually consider the possibility for a moment, staring into the distance. Then,

            “No. No, I think he quite likes his name. Bit full of himself.” John did laugh aloud at that one. Seems it ran in the family. Again, he looked up to Sherlock looking at him as if he wasn’t quite certain John was a human being or some sort of alien.

            “17 pounds,” John said, not wanting to insult Sherlock with his thoughts.

            “So, back to the question,” Sherlock said, rummaging through his jacket for his wallet before finally finding it in the back pocket of his trousers. “How did you know I wasn’t from this area?” He pulled out a 20 pound note and John took the opportunity of getting his change to try and think.

            “I dunno,” he said, shrugging. “It’s just… you.”

            “Your level of specificity is astonishing,” Sherlock said, grabbing his change with an eye roll and shoving it into his pocket. “Do try to be less dull.”

            John knew he should be insulted but for some reason he wasn’t. Instead he frowned and tried to think of what exactly had tipped him off.

            “Umm…” he floundered for a moment and then had it. “Your wallet!” He cried and Sherlock frowned.

            “I just bought it from a homeless man on my way here. There is no way-”

            “No, no,” John cut off him, feeling quite pleased with himself. “You didn’t know where you kept it when you got it out to pay. Had to look through all your pockets. Shows you’re not used to carrying it. You don’t have to pay for your own things. Everyone here knows exactly where they’re money is at all times.”

            Sherlock was frowning at him as if he had just personally insulted him and John felt his own smile falter. But still, he was right and he knew it. “Plus you just tossed your change into your jacket pocket. Didn’t even bother with the wallet.”

            “It’s three quid!” Sherlock protested and it was John’s turn to roll his eyes. What he would do for three quid… his eyes drifted back to the biscuits on display. He caught himself and looked back at Sherlock, worried his thoughts were obvious but the teen was frowning into the distance. Luckily, he was saved from having to interrupt Sherlock’s thoughts by the ringing of the store bell. He half-heartedly waved to the customer who came in but they shot to the back of the store towards without so much as glancing at him. When he looked back towards Sherlock, he found himself once more under the taller boy’s gaze.

            “Still, you knew before you saw me handle money. There must have been other… mannerisms that gave me away.” John shrugged. He was sure there were but there was another customer in the store right now and the intimacy of the conversation seemed to have fled with the arrival of a third party. Even though he’d known the other boy for a total of five minutes, he was slightly worried that if Sherlock opened his mouth around any other normal person, he would, in fact, be punched.

            “What’s your name?” was the demand that came next.

            “John,” he replied. “John Watson.” Sherlock nodded as if somehow he already knew that.

            “Sherlock Holmes. John,” he began. “I would be willing to pay you a considerable amount of money for you to… teach me how to blend in with this… demographic of people.” John thought that Sherlock asking for a favor somehow sounded a bit like a cat being strangled. But still he didn’t even think about it:

            “No,” he said firmly.

            “But,” Sherlock sounded positively scandalized at not getting his way.

            “No, I’ll help you,” John said quickly. He didn’t quite know when he had made that decision. “I’ll help you but I don’t want your money, Sherlock.”

            “Don’t be ridiculous, you clearly need the funds,” Sherlock said and for a moment, John wondered at his own decision. Lord knows he did. He needed “the funds,” as Sherlock put it, quite desperately. And, Lord knows, the things he had done… Well, to be frank, he didn’t think he had any pride left when it came to earning money but somehow… Somehow being given money by someone his own age, someone who knew his name and who was so clearly well off and spoiled didn’t sit right with him. Apparently he still had a line of self-respect somewhere. He was almost glad to find it.

            “No,” he repeated and Sherlock held his gaze for a moment before nodding as if he understood but didn’t approve.

            “Very well,” he said. “As tomorrow you are not working, I will meet you outside your school at the end of the day. Please try to be prompt.” John decided not to bother asking how Sherlock knew he had off or which school he went to.

            “One condition,” John said, watching with half an eye as the customer in the store started to work his way towards the front. Sherlock stared at him for a moment before jerking his head for him to continue. “No… deducing me. Not anymore. No trying to figure me out.”

            “I can’t help it.” Sherlock’s voice was nearly a whine.

            “Sherlock,” John said firmly. The boy’s name, strange as it was, rolled off his tongue smoothly. It even fit the exasperated tone. “You have to try not to. Or I won’t do it. I swear I won’t.” And he was serious. He was not going to have Sherlock find out about Harry’s issues or when exactly his father laid into him or how exactly he made enough money to pay the rent. He wasn’t.

           “Fine,” Sherlock bit off. John kept glaring at him. “Fine. I promise to try not to deduce you, John.” John nodded, satisfied. Sherlock frowned. John put out his hand. Sherlock shook it. His hand was thin and boney and delicate but the grip was firm. John smiled.

           “See you tomorrow then,” he said, whisking Sherlock’s items into a bag and handing it out to him. Sherlock grabbed it and headed for the door. However, he paused and then swirled around and in a way that could only be described as stalking, moved towards the biscuits and grabbed three of them.

           “Sherlock,” John said warningly as Sherlock placed the biscuits in a paper bag on the counter. The other teen ignored him, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his three pounds from earlier. He laid that on the counter to as if pre-empting John’s refusal to take it.

           “For the record,” he said, pushing both the food and the money towards John. “I think your mother is a complete and utter bitch.” Then he was out of the store before John could so much as blink.

           John knew he should be angry. Angry that Sherlock had just bought him pity biscuits, angry that Sherlock was already going against his wishes to not be a charity case, angry that Sherlock had dared to talk about his mother. But instead, instead he found himself reaching for the biscuit, mouth-watering and taking a bite, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Chapter Text

           Sherlock waited, mouth twisting in impatience, watching as the school slowly emptied of students. It had been a whole 15 minutes since the last bell had rung yet still teenagers milled around the courtyard, talking, laughing, pushing and touching each other. Tiresome, Sherlock concluded. Normal people were tiresome, normal teenagers even more so.

            A part of him still couldn’t believe that he was there- sitting off to the side, waiting for a boy his own age. His last encounter with people in his age group had been during his very brief stint at a prep school which had so thoroughly scandalized his teachers and classmates that Mummy had decided against public school altogether. Nominally, he had a private tutor though Sherlock barely bothered attending their sessions and his tutor had stopped complaining. It was for the best. His tutor was an old, over-educated sod who didn’t appreciate being proven wrong at every turn. And Sherlock already knew everything important.

            He frowned a bit to himself. Apparently not everything, actually. He had long since accepted that other people didn’t behave logically and had long since modified his understanding of their behavior to account for this. Then Mycroft had to imply that somehow the logic of the people he was accustomed to observing was but a small subset of people. Which Sherlock could accept, he supposed, it was logical. But it was still galling to have discovered such a weakness in his knowledge base.

            And more than that, it would appear that he was unable to blend with this society as proven offensively quickly by… by one John Watson, who was finally making his way out of the school building.

            20 minutes late. Still zipping up book bag as he walks. Just given extra assignments? Why? Oh, make-up work due to recent abs-

            Sherlock cut his thoughts off abruptly. He wasn’t supposed to do that. He found the condition of his agreement with John tedious to the extreme but he would try to follow it. Not because he cared particularly about keeping his promises, but John Watson… John Watson had seen through his disguise in mere minutes and yet didn’t seem to know exactly how he had done it. To Sherlock, the rest of the world was unthinkingly stupid and so it was… surprising to find someone who seemed to be unthinkingly intelligent.

            Sherlock straightened as he saw John cast his glance around and was pleased when John caught the movement and headed over. As he came closer, Sherlock could see he looked a bit surprised, but not shocked. Good, he disliked when people were shocked at his presence particularly when he had given them enough warning.

            “You’re late,” he said in lieu of a greeting. To his surprise, John merely smiled and rolled his eyes rather than outright frowning. Were all people of the working class so patient? Or was John an anomaly? Further research required.

            “Here,” Sherlock continued, shoving a bag into John’s hands. It contained a simple ham sandwich. Given that he did not know John’s favourite meal- and was not allowed to deduce it- it would have to do. He waited as John opened it and then frowned, jaw going square.

            “I told you-” the shorter teen started, but Sherlock waved a hand and cut him off.

            “You’re of no use to me if the mere sight of food distracts you from your work with me. Therefore, it is for entirely selfish reasons that I purchased this and I’m afraid I must insist on your consumption. I need you operating at fully capacity if you are to attempt to teach me anything. So hurry up. I despise time wasted.”

            John glared at him for a bit and Sherlock did his best to hold steady under the force of that glare. What he’d said was true. Logically, it should have been the only reason he had purchased a meal for his newfound assistant. Sherlock decided to ignore the time he had spent going out of his way to one of the better sandwich shops in London. He also decided to ignore his internet query into which sandwich shops in London were reviewed favorably the night before. And he certainly ignored his actions at the end of his first meeting with John. Such displays of… emotional reactions were a waste of time. Millions of people had sadder stories than John in the world and he couldn’t very well go caring about all of them if he was to solve crimes.

            Apparently, John didn’t sense all the things Sherlock wasn’t saying because after a moment he nodded, blowing out a sharp breath. Then, despite his protests, he tore into the wrapping and practically inhaled the first half of the sandwich.

            “’Fanks,” John mumbled around a bite of food. “’S really good.”

            “Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Sherlock replied, ignoring the pang of satisfaction at having been right about John’s nutritional needs. “It’s disgusting.” Eating as a whole was a rather disgusting process, in his opinion. Again, however, John merely rolled his eyes before swallowing and replying,

            “And you’re going to try to fit in around here.” For some unknown reason, that made Sherlock’s mouth twitch up into a smile, which only got broader as John caught it and answered it with a grin of his own. Then Sherlock noticed John carefully wrapping up the rest of the sandwich and his smile dropped. John must’ve felt the glare directed at him as he bent down to put it in his bag. Brief flash of discomfort, Sherlock noted. Injured shoulder. Not allowed to deduce more.

            “Saving it for later,” he explained, daring Sherlock to question him. “I’ve got consumed plenty to be ‘at full capacity.’”

            Saving it for his irresponsible sister, Sherlock’s brain supplied and he huffed a little at that. He sincerely hoped she was worth John’s seemingly unending loyalty. And that didn’t count as a deduction, he told himself. He can’t expect me to become a complete moron.

            “Fine,” Sherlock bit off. He turned and started to walk away, annoyed at how utterly troublesome John was turning out to be. After a moment, John caught up with him and Sherlock shortened his stride slightly so that they matched.

            “Alright, then,” John asked, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. “Where are we going?” Sherlock stopped abruptly. Another minor detail he had failed to account for. All that time on the internet and he had failed to search for a suitable abandoned warehouse or something. Maybe he was coming down with some type of illness.

            “Well,” he said, trying to sound cool and in control. “Since you are more familiar with this area, I’d assumed you would provide directions to a more private location. Or will I have to think of everything in this partnership?”

            “Knew you had no idea,” John replied, again with an easy smile. Sherlock opened his mouth to protest, but John was already moving forward, turning his head to watch for cars as he crossed the street. Sherlock followed.

            “Where are we going?” Sherlock asked after it became clear that John wasn’t going to offer any information on his own.

            “You’ll see.”

            Sherlock sighed. This was rapidly turning into a very annoying afternoon.  

*^*^*^*^

            John heaved a sigh of relief when he arrived back at the flat and heard music blaring even before he opened the door. Just Harry then. His stomach calmed and he felt his muscles relax. It was just past dinner and hopefully his father would be out long enough for John to actually get some work done.

            It had been a long afternoon. It had quickly become apparent that Sherlock was, perhaps, the absolute worst student of all time. He was also, perhaps, the absolute worst person to ever attempt to pass for one of the working class. Every move the teen made shouted “Look at me! I am absolutely marvelous and you are boring and rather pathetic.” It didn't help that Sherlock often said the second part out loud as well. Bloody impossible to work with.

            “Stop glaring at me!” John finally shouted, throwing his hands up in the air.

            “I would not be glaring if you could offer any bit of advice that was not completely, utterly, and incomprehensively useless,” Sherlock bit back. If anything, despite their hour of work, his upper class accent was even more pronounced than ever. John groaned.

            “Okay, okay,” he said soothingly. He took a breath and blew it out of his nose. He took another and reminded himself that this was his stupid decision. His stupid decision to help a crazy wanker he’d never met and his stupid decision to not even get paid. The least he could do was do this properly.

            “Let’s focus on the posture again,” John said. He continued talking quickly as he saw Sherlock open his mouth to argue. “If you know, then fix it.” Sherlock blinked at him and then seemed to turn his attention to himself and realize John was correct. His back had straightened into its tense rod once more and his chin was tilted upward so that he was literally looking down at people. Sherlock frowned deeply.

            “You can’t lose your form every time you get mad,” John noted as Sherlock started to slump back down. Sherlock turned his frown to John.

            “Don’t state the obvious.” John shrugged, holding his hands up but he couldn’t help but smile. Sherlock’s face when he realized he was wrong was hilarious.

            John smiled thinking about it. The entire afternoon had been like that- frustrating, exasperating, and oddly wonderful.

            He didn’t bother with knocking at Harry’s door- she wouldn’t hear it anyway over the music. So instead, he just kicked it open, digging through his backpack for the half a sandwich. Harry’s room was bigger than his and messy in a way that John found comforting for some reason. Clothes, make-up, shoes, not as many school books as there should have been- it was all spread throughout the room. John would never live like it but it was so… Harry he forgave it.

            “Johnny!” Harry cried, spinning around in her chair and John couldn’t help it. He smiled. That’s what Harry did to him. She was his light, his fire. Irresponsible, yes, to be fair, Sherlock was absolutely right about that but… Harry was Harry. She laughed every day and sang loudly off-key and when she actually stayed home long enough, she was the one who would fight back and yell at their father. It didn’t help, if anything it made the man more angry, but it was something John never dared to do. That was Harry- reckless, courage, and joy and light and John would do anything to keep her like that.

            “You’re back from work!” she cried and John couldn’t help but wince at the pitch of her voice, the slightly too high, slightly slurred, overjoyed voice that meant his beautiful sister had been drinking again. It was becoming common, too common and John knew that if he were stronger, he would fight her on it. But he couldn’t. He had tried once, in the beginning, but it had only yielded insults and excuses and tears and he couldn’t fight with Harry. There had to be one person in his life who loved him and it couldn’t be his dad and wouldn’t be his mom and so Harry had to do. So he would keep her happy and healthy and he would forgive her. He would be happy with the fact that, unlike their father, Harry became happier when she drank, laughed louder, loved fiercer.

            “Yeah,” he said, not bothering to remind her that he hadn’t had work today. Never had work on Mondays. There was no need to tell her about Sherlock. Even though he usually told Harry everything, Sherlock was… Sherlock was just his for now. His own little strange event that was completely separate from this world. Even from Harry. “I brought you a sandwich.”

            “Yes!” She cried, jumping up even though she only had one shoe on and leaping to snag it from his hands. “God, you are my favourite brother, you know that?”

            “I’m your only brother,” John supplied as she took a huge bite of the sandwich.

            “That we know of,” she grinned, waggling her eyebrows suggestively. John laughed, feeling his muscles relax further and he walked over and settled himself on the bed.

            “Going out tonight?” He asked, watching in half amazement as Harry managed to put on eye makeup of some kind while still holding part of the food.

            “Mhhmmmm,” she responded, frowning a bit in the mirror.

            “With anyone special?” He asked. He already knew the answer but Harry liked to talk about it. She just needed the push.

            “Welllllll….” She started, taking a moment to shove the rest of the food in her mouth. John should’ve saved more for her. Knowing Harry, that was the only meal she’d had all day. Hopefully she was going out for dinner.

            “Clara is the one who asked me,” Harry supplied and John grinned. It had taken a while for Harry to admit to him that she was attracted to girls. Longer than it should have, probably because Harry had come out to their mother a few days before she had taken off. And John didn’t think that even he could make the argument that the two events weren’t connected. But it wasn’t Harry’s fault. Their mother had had one foot out the door long before hearing that her daughter was trying to date a girl.

            “Just the two of you?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.

            “She didn’t mention anyone else going to the movie,” Harry admitted and though she tried to hide it, she looked thrilled.

            “This is a date,” John declared.

            Harry spun in her chair, laughing and grinning. Then it was a blur of trying to help her pick clothes and listening to how wonderful Clara was and nodding about which shoes were best and ignoring when she finished her beer and opened another and thinking that honestly, this was the best day he’d had in a long time.

Chapter Text

            “This isn’t working,” John declared and Sherlock blinked in surprise.

            It was only fifteen minutes into their session – their fourth one – and Sherlock had thought it had been going rather well. He had waited patiently while John ate his sandwich (a whole one, now that Sherlock had taken to buying two, which had caused a brief argument during their second meeting but he thought that issue was put to bed). He had remembered to not “inspect the area as if he owned it” as John put it when he arrived at their spot, which was a small abandoned lot squeezed between two factories that John said hadn’t been running for a few months. He hadn’t even called John an idiot yet!

            “What?” Sherlock said.

            “This,” John said, waving a hand in Sherlock’s general direction, frowning a bit. “Not good.”

            He doesn’t want to work with you anymore, Sherlock’s brain supplied and Sherlock felt a spike of extreme displeasure at the thought. He had thought that he and John were getting along rather well. Sherlock had even chuckled more than once.

            “I-” Sherlock started, for once unsure of what he was even going to say. He was sorry? He would stop calling John a simpleton? He would try harder? Luckily, John saved him from having to finish his sentence by talking over him.

            “What are you going for here?”

            Sherlock frowned. Maybe John was more slow-witted than he originally thought. In their first meeting, Sherlock had quite clearly laid out his intentions. As a future consulting detective, he needed to learn about the driving motivations of the working class and learn to interact seamlessly when he went undercover. He had been quite thorough. Eventually John had cut him off and told him the first thing they had to do was work on his posture. And his accent. And practically all of his mannerisms.

            “Well, I-”

            “Are you supposed to be poor or homeless?” John asked, cutting him off again.

            “There’s a difference?” Sherlock asked, exasperated. “I’d assumed you could just teach me enough to blend in with either.”

            “Christ, that accent,” John mumbled, rubbing a hand over his face. Then he straightened, looking just as frustrated as Sherlock felt. “Of course there’s a difference, Sherlock! You can blend in with either, but you have to pick one or the other to act!”

            “I don’t see how-”

            “Look, you’ve worn the same clothes every time we’ve met,” John said and a part of Sherlock was pleased that John had thought to notice something like that. John was smarter than almost everyone else Sherlock knew. “Poor blokes at least make the attempt to change clothes as often as possible. To stop from looking homeless.”

            Sherlock glanced at John. This was true. John had repeated trousers three of the days Sherlock had seen him, but so far it had been a different, if still awful, jumper each day. Sherlock supposed they were the cheapest item available at whatever store John shopped at. Obviously, really. He should have noticed that. He would have if he were allowed to deduce John.

            “We can’t do this halfway,” John continued. He seemed to be talking more to himself at this point. Sherlock did not appreciate the sensation. John chewed on his lip a moment more before nodding decisively to himself and finally looked up at Sherlock.

            “What you need,” John declared. “Is a character.”

            “A what?” Sherlock asked. John was looking entirely too pleased with himself than was proper.

            “A character,” he repeated, as if that would help the situation. “A backstory. A good reason why you’re either poor or homeless or whatever. Probably one that explains that ridiculous accent because I don’t think you’re ever going to get rid of that thing completely.”

            “I could get rid of my accent,” Sherlock said.

            “Not quickly,” John challenged. Sherlock sighed. John glared at him.

            “Fine,” he offered. “Perhaps not quickly.” John looked smug so Sherlock moved on.

            “Drugs,” he declared. He would not admit it to John, but this character idea was a good one. It provided focus. That’s what they had been lacking: focus.

            “Drugs?” John repeated.

            “I should be addicted to drugs,” Sherlock clarified, distracted by other ideas and thoughts that were flooding his brain. “Provides a good reason for my sudden downfall and allows me to intermingle with that demographic of people. Useful.”

            “Your father lost his job too,” John added.

            “Why must parents be brought into this?”

            “You’re fifteen, Sherlock,” John said. “People are going to assume you belong to someone. The drugs are good but if you were still rich, you would’ve been sent to a posh treatment center, not thrown into the pits of London. Now we can play it as either quite poor or thrown out of the house completely.”

            “No siblings,” Sherlock stated.

            “An older brother whom your parents love much more than they love you because he’s perfect and you’re a drug addict,” John corrected. Sherlock glared. Then smiled a bit because John was grinning at him. John was a prat.

            “Alright,” Sherlock declared, walking over so he could sit on the concrete steps and steeple his fingers. “Let’s start with my first recreational drug use. Or further back? First time seeing someone else doing drugs. Six years old, I think. Mother? No, too obvious. Uncle. Uncle who was babysitting.”

            Sherlock felt John grab his book bag and open some homework as he settled himself on the stair below Sherlock. Sherlock decided to keep thinking out loud, partly because it was nice to be able to talk out his thoughts, which he couldn’t do at home, and partly because John would pipe up with a good idea every now and then, which Sherlock appreciated.

            Mostly because sometimes John would laugh outright and Sherlock was finding he rather enjoyed that sound. He enjoyed it quite a bit.

Chapter Text

            The thought flitted across his mind that Sherlock was his good luck charm.

            At the moment, as he chased after the long-limbed boy, gasping for breath, feeling his heart pounding in his ears, he tried to remind himself that Sherlock was not a good luck charm, that Sherlock was a reckless force of nature that wise people avoided. That’s what he should have been thinking. But he wasn’t.

            Instead, he was grinning even as he lost sight of Sherlock around a corner and burst into a surprised laugh as a hand suddenly snatched him from his current path and yanked him into a smaller alley.

            John forced himself to quiet and both teenagers listened to see if the store clerk who had been chasing them had managed to follow them this far. John doubted it, as Sherlock had taken them on the most twisting escape route he had ever experienced. Finally, after a few tense minutes, John let his ridiculous amusement rise to the surface.

            “Oh, Christ,” he murmured, leaning against the wall as his heart slowed. “That was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

            “I don’t understand how he caught me,” Sherlock said. His voice was caught between a whine and true annoyance. “I grabbed the candy bar with my left hand while browsing with my right, just like you said!”

            “You were reading the nutritional label of every granola bars,” John said. A chuckle burst out of him. “Every single one!”

            “I was researching whether or not the granola bars actually had significantly more nutritional value than the candy!” Sherlock protested.

            “You can’t research while you’re trying to shoplift, Sherlock!”

            “I got us to safety,” Sherlock replied, a bit sullenly. John shrugged in agreement. They had taken a cab to a different part of London, still dodgy but John had insisted. He was too easily recognizable in the area around his flat and certain people would not take kindly to him drawing attention to himself if he were caught. As it was, teaching to Sherlock to shoplift was a risk. But Sherlock had insisted it would be good for his training and John had learned that saying “no” to Sherlock was to be saved for emergencies.

            “That you did,” he replied easily. The two stood in companionable silence and the thought flitted across John’s mind again: Sherlock is my good luck charm.

            It had been a full month since Sherlock had burst into his life. In that time, Harry had continued to hang out with Clara, John had managed to go to school almost every day, and, in the most surprising twist of all, his father had come into enough money to pay the rent. And then actually paid the rent. He had claimed he had earned it at work; John suspected it was probably a lucky winning streak gambling or some quick illegal “favor” but he didn’t care. The rent was paid, Harry was happy, and John was spending his afternoons running around London. He felt oddly optimistic and quite content to pretend that the other shoe was never going to drop.

            “There’s not,” Sherlock announced eventually.

            “Not what?” John asked, wondering if he had been too deep in thought to hear the beginning of the conversation. Christ, he couldn't very well start spacing out like Sherlock often did. At least one of them should be listening to their conversations.

            “Not any measurable difference,” Sherlock said, rolling his eyes at having to repeat himself. “Between most granola bars and candy. Comparable amounts of sugar, calories…”

            Sherlock stopped talking as John started laughing again. Sherlock looked vaguely unhappy but John couldn’t stop himself. It was ridiculous. Sherlock was ridiculous.

            “I think you should show me again,” Sherlock suggested when John had calmed down.

            John opened his mouth to say no. It was stupid and risky. He had showed Sherlock four times now, pulling up old tricks and strategies from a time when stealing a bit of food was all he needed to do. He didn’t do it anymore, not when he had a more reliable, if awful, method of acquiring money. But…

            But it was clean, simple, and, God help him, a little bit fun.

            Still, he should say no.

            “Alright,” he said, making a show of grumbling. “Just this one last time though.”

*^*^

 

            Sherlock allowed a small smile to rise to his face as he watched John fold into the cab after him. The shorter teen was still flushed and smiling from his latest theft and Sherlock couldn’t help but think that this was how John should look all the time. For a boy who had just risked police action if caught, he seemed unconcerned, alive, and young.

            If he were being honest, that was why he had asked John to show him so many times. Yes, it was useful to observe John’s fluid, casual motions as he shuffled innocently into a store and confidently out but… but more than that was the fact that he could tell John missed it. Loved it even.

            It wasn’t a deduction, Sherlock told himself as John reached into his pocket and somewhat gleefully pulled out a few granola bars and some candy. It was simple observation. John may complain and list the reasons why it was a stupid idea, but the lines around his eyes loosened when Sherlock suggested he go in and shoplift. A smile would flash across his face before he schooled it into vague disapproval. So much subtle happiness, available for only Sherlock to read: relaxed posture, deep, even breathing, foot tapping a slow, peaceful melody on the floor of the cab. Not a deduction, an observation.

            It would be a deduction to try and figure out why John had stopped shoplifting when he clearly was so often hungry. When it was so easy for him But… No deductions. Sherlock reminded himself.

            “Here,” John said, breaking some type of chocolate bar in half. “For you.”

            “No,” Sherlock replied, frowning a bit as John looked over. Chocolate. How pedestrian.

            “C’mon,” John said, taking a rather huge bite of his own half. Sherlock wondered how much John would eat if he had endless food available.

            One day. The thought drifted across Sherlock’s mind idly.One day he would find out. Then he blinked. That made no sense at all. Once Sherlock had the ability to blend in with the crowd, he and John would separate. That’s what people did once they were done working on a project. Wasn’t it?

            “Sherlock,” John said again, waving half of the chocolate bar in front of him. “Eat it.”

            “I fail to see the point,” Sherlock said, looking out the window.

            “Because it’s after 9 and you never ate dinner,” John supplied. “It’s not healthy. Eat, Sherlock.”

            Sherlock almost opened his mouth to unleash a scathing comment on John’s own eating habits, which he suspected were limited to one meal a day. But he decided against it. John was happy. Would be even happier if Sherlock listened to him.

            “Granola,” he ordered, holding out a hand. He didn’t bother to look over but he could practically feel John’s beaming smile on his face. Annoying. John was annoying.

            Sherlock continued to look out the window as London flashed by, absentmindedly opening the granola bar John placed in his hand and taking a bite. He didn’t pay attention to the taste or texture, merely eating to make John smile next to him.

            That was annoying too, Sherlock thought. How much time and effort he seemed to put into making John Watson a little bit happier. John Watson should not matter as much as Sherlock was beginning to suspect he did. He was simple and unassuming and overly calm and hiding something and stubborn- so bloody stubborn and Sherlock still wanted to make him smile every chance he could get. He wanted to make John laugh.

            And he succeeded, he reminded himself proudly. John laughed when Sherlock deduced particularly juicy tidbits about the people surrounding them. That one was easily enough to accomplish- Sherlock had simply stopped keeping most deductions to himself. John laughed after they pulled off physical stunts. Again, easy, Sherlock was sure to land them in situations that resulted in having to chase someone, or being chased, or anything of that nature. And then there were other times when John laughed that Sherlock hadn’t quite managed to figure out yet. But he would. The moment he was allowed to deduce John, he would have all those moments analyzed properly and he could be sure to repeat the behavior. It was an experiment, really. Perhaps his favourite experiment to date. Perhaps he could continue to see John after he was done his studying. At least until he finished this second experiment as well. For science.

            Of course, none of this changed the fact that John was fundamentally bothersome.

            “One more bite,” John prompted.

            “You’re dreadfully annoying,” Sherlock stated. John shrugged. Sherlock huffed. John raised an eyebrow. Sherlock took a small bite.

            At this point, the cab halted and Sherlock paid as John unloaded. John was stretching as Sherlock exited and Sherlock took the opportunity to throw the last bit of his food on the ground. He looked up to see that John hadn’t caught the movement. That was good, knowing John, the teenager would try to make him eat another just to make up for it.

            The two angled towards John’s store, which Sherlock presumed was also closer to John’s house. Presumed, not deduced. They didn’t speak which Sherlock knew wasn’t social etiquette. He’d been told enough times to “try and be nice, dear” and “at least make an effort!”. At first, he didn’t bother because John was just there to give information. Now, he didn’t bother because John didn’t seem to be offended by the silence. It was peaceful.

            Sherlock was just about to open his mouth to tell John about the lady who was about to be dumped, based off her make-up choices when a voice suddenly rang out.

            “Oi! Watson!” Sherlock spun towards the sound, noticing instantly that any signs of happiness drained out of John at once. In that moment, John froze, back tense, jaw clenched, breath forced through his nose in a sharp intake. “Watson!” The voice cried one last time as if to be sure John hear him.

            Sherlock frowned, ready to glare at whoever had stripped John so thoroughly of the peace of the moment before. His target turned out to be a young boy of maybe twelve, who skipped forward from a side street. His clothes were worn and frayed and his gloves were splattered with at least three different kinds of sauces. John had explained to Sherlock what that meant. Doesn’t bother taking his gloves off to eat. Nowhere safe inside to eat regularly. Probably homeless.

            As the boy moved closer, Sherlock noticed a thousand other little signs that confirmed his original deduction- most were small signs that John himself had taught Sherlock. By the time he got close enough so he didn’t have to yell, Sherlock knew he was a runaway from an orphanage, his mother had been some kind of drug addict, he had never known his father, he smoked cigarettes quite regularly, and he had been waiting for John for at least thirty five minutes.

            “Hey, Billy,” John said, holding out a hand for the younger boy to shake. He was trying to sound casual, calm but he wasn’t. Would it count as a deduction to try to figure out why? As if he could read Sherlock’s mind, John turned and gave him a warning glare.

            “Billy, this is Sherlock,” John continued, waving a hand in Sherlock’s general direction. “New in town.”

            Deliberately vague, Sherlock noted. Allowing me to fall into character. Or at least, not enough of a lie to be caught up in it later. Sherlock slouched a bit and ducked a greeting and tried to act, as John put it, “not like a posh public school wanker.”

            “Hey,” the greeting was brief and Billy barely spared him a glance. “Been waitin’ ages, John.”

            “Sorry,” John replied, shifting. “Been out and about.”

            “Jim says ‘hi,’” Billy replied, flashing a grin that looked more like a grimace. “He just sent me to see how you’re doing.”

            “Uh-” John gulped and Sherlock felt his curiosity soar to new heights. Who was Jim? Who was Billy? How did John know both of them? Why was John nervous? “Tell him I’m fine, Billy. Just been busy. That’s all.”

            “Alright,” Billy said, rubbing a hand over his face. He gave a brief nod and turned as if to leave.

            “That’s all he said, right?” John asked, glancing quickly over at Sherlock. “Nothing… else?” More fidgeting. What did it all mean? Why wait for 35 minutes just to essentially just say hello?

            “Yeah,” Billy said and now it was his turn to shift uncomfortably. “Yeah, that’s it. But… you should swing by. He… misses you.”

            “Oh.” John’s voice was small. Sherlock didn’t like it. “Alright then. Ta. Thanks for the message.”

            “All in a day’s work,” Billy replied and his grin was charming and wide. “Of course a tip wouldn’t go unappreciated…”

            “Surprised you didn’t steal it already,” John said and his voice was a bit playful, if still strained. He reached into his pocket and threw one of the last candy bars to Billy. Billy caught it deftly with a laugh.

            “Never from a friend, Johnny,” the boy called and then he tore into his candy bar, dipped his head one last time, and was gone.

            Sherlock allowed the silence to linger for a beat before turning to John.

            “Who was that?” he asked, trying to remember to be polite.

            “Billy,” John replied, staring down the street for a moment. “Good kid.”

            “He’s homeless,” Sherlock supplied after it seemed John wouldn’t.

            “Yeah, well,” John said before fading off.

            Sherlock had questions, questions that he wanted answered and if he asked them, would that count as trying to deduce information? No, no that would just be asking. Was he allowed to ask? Maybe he could catch up with Billy. He was allowed to deduce him. The boy would be moving now, heading back to “Jim” with the message-

            “Right, I’ve gotta run,” John announced and Sherlock blinked. He opened his mouth to say… something but John was already moving, purposefully leaving Sherlock behind. “See you later, Sherlock.”

            And then quite quickly, he was gone and Sherlock was left alone.

            Unacceptable, Sherlock thought, frowning. This is becoming unacceptable.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

            Almost two weeks later, John walked back to the flat, not in any particular rush despite the darkness creeping up around him. Today, they had focused, once again, on trying to rough up Sherlock’s accent. Sherlock had gone silent and paced around for long enough that John had actually gotten out a bit of his work and completed at least a portion of it. Of course, he had had to stop half-way through a math problem when Sherlock suddenly reanimated and asked a thousand questions. But he was a little bit ahead and, despite Billy’s earlier warning, there hadn’t been any other messages or other signs of his employer.

            He turned the corner to his flat and started up the steps. Then he froze.

            Shouting. He had started sprinting up the remaining flights before his brain even processed what was being said.

            “Maybe if you fucking went to your bloody job, we would actually have-”

            “Don’t you dare tell me how to run this-”

            “Nothing is running! That’s the point, you bloody-”

            The smack of flesh against flesh was the last thing John heard before he yanked open the door. He dimly processed Harry stumble back and then straighten herself, clutching her cheek but he didn’t stop. He just threw his bag down and rushed to plant himself between his father and his sister.

            Of course, Harry was already up and yelling again. “Oh, that’s useful,” she declared, eyes flashing. John never understood how she did it. He never yelled back. He never got angry. He got scared and quiet and just took it. “Hitting me is really going to help the situation!”

            “You ungrateful little,” their father started and John never yelled or hit back, but he did keep his dad away from Harry. So he planted his feet and pushed, choosing to ignore the fact that his father had a good 18cm on him and at least 25 kilos.

            “Dad, don’t,” he said and then forced himself not to stagger backwards as his father’s fist connected with his jaw.

            “Oh please,” Harry said, angry tears in her eyes. “There’s nothing to be grateful for. There’s no food. We haven’t had warm water in months and now we don’t even have electricity!

            “Well, if it’s so awful, why don’t you just get the fuck out!”

            “Look, let’s just-” John started. He needed to fix this. He just had to get Harry to storm out so he could take the beating from Dad and it could all go back to normal.

            “You’re right,” Harry suddenly declared in a normal tone of voice, sounding calm. “You’re absolutely right. I’m out of here.”

            John’s world went white. His heart seemed to stutter in his chest and his stomach dropped. He didn’t even flinch when his father screamed “GOOD!” and stormed into the kitchen.

            “W-wait,” John said, turning to look at Harry. But she was still glaring at their father, glaring, and then turning and marching to her room. “Harry, don’t.”

            “No, let her,” his father grumbled from the kitchen. “Let her fucking leave. Just like her fucking cunt of a mother.”

            “No,” John said, feeling breathless. It had been a good day. It had been such a good day. Harry wasn’t leaving. She couldn’t. He turned and stood in her doorway, ignoring the fact that she was throwing clothes into a bag. “Harry, calm down. Think about this. Where will you stay?”

            “Clara’s parents told me I could stay over any time,” Harry said, sweeping her makeup into a bag. “I told them I’d think about it but… but I’m done. This is ridiculous.”

            “It’s just a bad night,” John protested. “It’ll blow over.”

            “Bad night?” Harry repeated, finally pausing long enough to look up at him in disbelief. “They turned off the electricity, John. No lights, no phones, no anything. This is not a fucking bad night.”

            “It’ll come back on,” John said, trying to keep his voice calm and soothing. “Look, Harry, I can get the electricity back on.” He wasn’t panicking. He wasn’t.

            “Please, John,” Harry said, rolling her eyes. “He hasn’t been working for weeks. You know last month’s rent was a fluke. He’ll get bloody arrested before he makes that much again. The water bill is probably coming and rent is due. There’s not enough shifts at the store in the world for you to make that kind of money.” She was onto her shoe collection, grabbing and shoving them haphazardly into another bag. John couldn’t make himself move to help her.

            “But-” he started then clamped his mouth shut. What was he going to ask- But what about me? That would sound idiotic. Her mind was clearly made up. She was leaving. He would be alone.

            “You’ll come back if the electricity comes back, right?” he asked. She couldn’t just leave. Not forever. Not like Mum. But his sister didn’t reply right away. “Harry?” he called and his voice did sound pathetic then and he knew it. “You’ll come back, right?”

            Harry must’ve finally heard the tone of desperation in his voice for she paused in her packing and looked at him.

            “John, I’ll be around,” she said, smiling that smile that was supposed to make him forget everything. “Clara lives just a few minutes away. I’ll see you all the time. Promise.”

            He didn’t believe her but he forced himself to smile, forced himself to think that this was true. She would see him all the time. He could go visit her. She would come visit him at the store. This wasn’t like Mum.

            “You should get out to, you know,” she said, zipping up her bag. “Go stay with a friend.”

            “I’ll fix this,” John said, ignoring her statement. He didn’t have any friends except for Sherlock and he certainly wasn’t explaining this situation to him. “You’ll come back if I get the electricity and water up again, right?”

            “Yeah,” Harry said, standing and grabbing the two bags she’d managed to pack. “Yeah, sure. You let me know when it’s all running again.”

            “Okay,” John said, stubbornly ignoring every part of him that told him his sister would not return. She would come back once she realized he’d fixed it.

            When they returned to the main area, their dad had apparently already left and then it happened all too quickly. Harry hugged him and told him to come to Clara’s if he ever needed to and then grabbed the last of the whiskey from top of the fridge because “why the fuck not?” and John winced and reminded himself to buy more before their father came home and then she was gone.

            She was gone and John was alone. For a second that overwhelmed him and he sat down hard on the couch, head hanging as he clenched his hands together.

            How could he have let this happen? The electricity bill. So simple, so bloody simple and he’d just forgotten about it. He’d been stupid. Running around playing at being normal with Sherlock. Forgetting to check the post for notices. Ignoring the days as they flew by. Pretending he wouldn’t have to work again, that his father would somehow handle things. Stupid.

            He shook himself and forced himself to get up. He had been stupid, yes, but he had to fix this. Harry needed to come back so there was no time to sit around and fucking wallow. He headed out, walking swiftly to the nearest payphone. And then he called James Moriarty.

            “Helllloooo,” Moriarty’s voice was, as always, too loud and cheerful and it sent a wave of nausea through John.

            “Hello,” John replied, closing his eyes. “It’s-”

            “John,” Moriarty almost whispered. “You’ve been a very bad little boy. Haven’t heard from you at all. Not even after my message.”

            “Sorry,” John said, quickly. He hadn’t thought the message was a threat, hadn’t paid it much attention at all after the initial freak out and now he wondered if that wasn’t another piece of evidence he was incredibly stupid. He had seen what happened to those who crossed Moriarty. “Sorry, I’ve been busy.”

            “Busy,” Moriarty said, his voice hard and angry. “Busy doing what?”

            “Picked up some extra shifts at the store,” John mumbled. He couldn’t talk about Sherlock. Sherlock was separate from this. From everything.

            “I am going to burn that store to the ground,” Moriarty snapped. John flinched. He told himself Moriarty didn’t mean it literally. Though he wasn’t sure.

            “I’m calling ‘cause it wasn’t enough,” John said, letting himself sound desperate and defeated. Maybe he was.

            “Of course, it wasn’t,” Moriarty purred. “Of course not, my little John. You need real work. Real money. You need me.”

            “Yeah,” John said, swallowing bile. “Yeah, I do.” And it was true. He could get away with a few blowjobs without Moriarty getting mad but that wasn’t where you made real money. For real money, you needed clients with very specific tastes and who were clean and that meant Moriarty.

            “How many nights are you available?” Moriarty asked and John knew that it was only because he came to Moriarty of his own free will that he was asked this question. He didn’t owe the man any money, wasn’t forced to work, was allowed to pick up nights as he pleased. It made the others hate him but he wouldn’t sacrifice it. He was all too afraid that one day it would be taken from him regardless.

            “At least four,” John said. “Maybe more.”

            “You’re so popular,” Moriarty said, still talking too softly, seductively. “You could be rich, John. I have people waiting. Let me do it. Let me take care of you.”

            “Five,” John replied. He could make enough in five. Probably. He could also increase it. He was popular. Wasn’t that good news?

            “Can you start tonight?”

            “Yeah,” John said, ignoring the rush of fear in his veins. “Yeah, I can start tonight.”

            “Beautiful,” Moriarty said. The man was actually giggling into the phone. “Pick up the cell taped to the bench behind you. I’ll text you the address.”

            John didn’t ask how Moriarty set up the phone or knew he’d be calling. The man knew when bills were due to be paid. The man knew John would give in and call. John always did.

            “Okay,” John said and his mouth was dry and his voice was hollow. “Okay.”

            “25 percent,” Moriarty said mildly. John closed his eyes. There was the punishment for ignoring his message. Last time it had only been 20.

            “Tell them I’m charging 200.”

            “My, my, aren’t we getting confident?” Moriarty drawled. “You haven’t worked for over a month, aren’t you worried you’ll be a bit… out of practice?”

            “They’ll like that,” John snapped, hating this conversation, hating himself. Moriarty laughed at his anger, loud and joyful, and then the line clicked dead

Chapter Text

Chapter VII

            No deducing. No deducing. No deducing. No deducing.

            It had become an almost non-stop chant in his head since John had told him he couldn’t meet up until further notice.

            Until further notice. What did that mean? One week? Two? Surely it couldn’t be more than two. That would be ridiculous. What was he supposed to do for two weeks? His training was nowhere near complete. He couldn’t very well work on this on his own- John had proved to be an invaluable resource. He was very thorough in his explanations, at least after Sherlock had trained him to be; he was getting to be at least slightly more proficient than the average person at deducing; he was alarmingly patient. Sherlock knew he was not the easiest person to work with and John put up with that. John made him laugh.

            Sherlock couldn’t believe he wasn’t allowed to deduce this. It was also truly shocking how little he was able to control the pathway of his thoughts. Over the past five days, he had tried to avoid thoughts of John altogether. He had tried to focus on other things- a few of his experiments that he needed to work on, a few case e-mails from people responding to his website, a few cold cases the police had never managed to solve. But they proved to be inefficient distractors. All his thoughts eventually circled back to John.

            It had been five days. Maybe he was hurt? Sick? Missing? Surely if he were in a situation of mortal danger, Sherlock’s promise was null and void. Maybe there was a way to find him and ensure that he was not suffering from any type of lasting predicament.

            No. Sherlock told himself, shaking his head. No he wouldn’t want you to. He just asked for a few days. Until further notice. It was the only thing that John had asked for in their partnership. Sherlock could follow instructions.

            Two weeks. He promised himself without meaning to. If he hadn’t heard from John in two weeks, he was looking for him. No, he was finding him. In two weeks. Less than that. Nine days. Surely he could think of something else for nine days!

            No deducing.

            The phone rang suddenly and Sherlock almost ignored it. It was bound to be someone dull. Mycroft or Mummy or maybe even his tutor demanding that he at least show up once this semester. But… it could be John.

            The thought had barely flitted across his brain before he was reaching for the phone and answering, not even bothering to look at the caller ID.

            “Hello?” he asked.

            “Sherlock?” And for some reason, Sherlock actually felt John’s reply in his stomach. And he smiled.

            “Yes,” he replied, struggling to keep the relief from his voice. “I assume you are ready to continue our work?” John’s familiar huff of a laugh was all he heard over the phone and Sherlock was already moving.

            “Yeah, if you’re free,” John finally answered verbally. “Dropped a shift from work so I’m-”

            “I will meet you in our usual spot in 30 minutes,” Sherlock interrupted. He had no time for this, putting on a coat while still holding a phone would slow him down and that was unacceptable.

            “Alright,” John said. “See you then.”

            Sherlock hung up. For all his concern about getting his coat on quickly, he didn’t actually remember putting it on. As it was happening, he deleted it as unimportant. He also instantly deleted telling informing the cab where he wanted to go. And getting out of the cab. And paying for the cab. And walking the last few blocks to their spot.

            In fact, it wasn’t until he saw John attempting to lean casually against his usual box of crates that Sherlock’s brain came back online and start updating. For a moment, Sherlock simply stared, gathering information.

            John. Shoulder slumped, head down, swaying slightly- tired. No, not tired. Exhausted. Bruises-

            No. No deducing.

            Sherlock gave himself a shake and walked forward, forcing himself not to deduce anything, forcing himself not to notice John’s stiffness as he straightened and gave Sherlock a small half-smile.

            “John,” Sherlock greeted and was he really supposed to say nothing about the finger-shaped bruises spread across the side of his friend’s neck? Because that’s not even deducing, that’s obvious. That’s obvious and dangerous and concerning and-

            “Shall we get started?” John asked and his tone dared Sherlock to say something. The rule was still in place then- No deductions. This was stupid. John was in trouble.

            “I forgot to stop for food,” Sherlock said, holding himself very still.

            “It’s okay,” John said as he shifted. “I ate already. Brain is at full mental capacity.”

            “You did?” Sherlock replied doubtfully.

            “Wouldn’t you be able to tell if I were lying?” John asked, trying for teasing.

            “You made me promise not to deduce you,” Sherlock pointed out, glaring at John to let him know how stupid that particular rule truly was.

            “Look,” John said, his jaw clenching for a moment before relaxing. “It’s been a bit crazy at h- at the flat but it’s handled. It’s handled and I already ate so let’s get started.” He was calm, or trying to be and Sherlock felt a spike of annoyance that John wasn’t telling him anything.

            “It took you five days,” Sherlock persisted. How could John not see how unacceptable this was? It was intolerable and the “no deducing” rule was offensive and the whole situation was utterly ridiculous. “We haven’t met up for five days. I’ve done nothing useful.”

            “Well, I’m sorry my bloody family issues interrupted your little fact-finding mission, Sherlock,” John shot back, voice rising.

            “It’s unacceptable!” Sherlock responded, waving his arm impatiently.

            “Unacceptable? Of all the ridiculous things you’ve said to me-”

            “You’re not listening,” Sherlock interjected.

            “No, you’re not!” The roar that tore from John’s throat actually made Sherlock blink in surprise. “This isn’t a bloody game for everyone, Sherlock. Some people don’t get to just pack it in at the end of the day and head back to some posh mansion where fucking butlers pull four course meals out of their asses and-”

            “Exactly!” Sherlock interjected, taking a step towards John and then stopping abruptly as John took an instinctive step backwards, almost flinching. The other teen seemed to realize what he’d done and blew out a breath angrily. Sherlock’s annoyance fled instantly.

            “Exactly,” he said quietly. “It’s not safe, John. It’s not safe and you should let me deduce what’s wrong and then fix it. I could fix it.” He knew he could. He had himself and Mycroft if he needed him and he could put John’s father away for life. Or kill him. He knew he could. He could fix all of it.

            Even though he wasn’t allowed to look carefully, he saw John think about it. Or at least turn it over in his mind for a moment. But Sherlock watched as John’s jaw set again and his shoulders straightened and knew that his friend had already made his decision.

            “No,” John replied. “No deducing, Sherlock. My problems are my problems. You promised.”

            “Fine,” Sherlock said though he made it clear with his tone that he doubted this was the correct decision. “But that’s not what friends do.”

            “Let’s just get started,” John said after a beat, sounding even more exhausted. And it was because of this that Sherlock nodded and turned his brain to absorbing John’s lessons today.

            It wasn’t until much later that he realized he had referred to John as a friend. His first friend. Ever.

 

*^*^*^

 

            Sometimes John thought he was the stupidest person on the planet.

            For all Sherlock’s apparent faith in his brain and his occasional, casual assertion that John was one of the smartest people the genius knew, John knew just as firmly that he was a complete and utter idiot. He was so much of a moron that he usually didn’t even notice that he was bloody stupid as a pile of shite.

            It was almost funny how stupid he was.

            That was his thought as the belt came down, snapping across his shoulder blades and curling around his left arm. He was an idiot to put up with this.

            He had spent the past five nights giving blowjobs to six men and letting four others fuck him in order to pay the electricity bill and rent. Moriarty already knew to expect him this weekend because the water bill was coming up. He had skipped school to try to catch up on sleep but had spent most of his time in the shower, trying to get clean. Driving that water bill up. And when he did fall asleep, he had nightmares. So most of his days were spent lying staring at the ceiling, trying not to blink or lose his mind.

            To be honest, that wasn’t anything new. He had had stretches like this before, especially towards the beginning when he would let bills pile up like this due to some form of misguided fantasy that it had been a one-time thing. But what made this past week particularly idiotic was that he didn’t even know why he was doing this. Harry was gone –not like Mum though, she was still there a little. She had swung by to see him. Not like Mum-- and his father, who John suspected was not even that drunk this time, was currently swinging a belt around, yelling obscenities, beating the shit out of him.

            The lack of proper reason made it humorous. But what made it fucking hilarious, what made it so fantastically funny was that his friend, his only friend, had offered him a way out. And he didn’t take it. He actually smiled at that.

            Another hit of the belt tore the smile from his face. Right. Not that funny.

            Tears pricked at his eyes so he focused on something good so they wouldn’t fall, so he could ignore whatever his dad was screaming now.

            He’d missed Sherlock. He was actually surprised at how much he’d missed the tall, gangly, demanding teenager. He didn’t notice it the first few days, but by the third day, despite everything he was bored. Bored and tired of everyone around him. By the fourth, he was miserable. By the fifth, he’d decided to call in sick to work and see Sherlock instead. Which was again, a fairly ridiculous decision given that those 50 or so pounds he wasn’t making at the store would have to be made somewhere else. Doing something else. Doing someone else.

            This afternoon, despite its tense beginning, had been quite enjoyable. When faced with a problem or challenge, Sherlock tended to turn all his attention towards that so John had been able to relax as Sherlock focused on mimicking the hand motions of a drug addict. He closed his eyes and thought back to the afternoon now.

            “You’re twitching too much,” John noted as Sherlock’s hands convulsed. “You look like you’re having a bit of a fit.”

            “Aren’t I?” Sherlock asked, frowning.

            “Not with only being clean for 18 hours,” John replied, smiling a bit at the reminder of exactly how long it had been since Sherlock’s last “fix.” That decision in itself had taken a twenty minute conversation in which Sherlock had lectured him extensively on the brain chemistry of addiction and called him some form of dull, idiotic, or stupid no less then eleven times. John had taken it all as a sign that Sherlock was not going to treat him any differently due to their conversation and couldn’t find it in himself to get mad. He had laughed aloud when Sherlock declared that John had “a brain so tiny that it could pass through the head of a needle with room to spare.”

            “This isn’t working,” Sherlock announced after a beat of silence. John sighed. That phrase seemed to be the motto of many of their meetings. “I need more data. Observations. Deducing.” He turned to John with one of his looks that made John certain Sherlock would never fit in with the working class.

            “Find me some drug addicts to observe, John,” he ordered. John blinked at him for a moment, weighing his options. Then,

            “Oh, alright. Let’s go.” He turned and started walking, enjoying the startled squeak that came from behind him.

            “Now?” Sherlock asked, sounding a bit surprised despite himself. “I thought you would require time to find suitable specimens.”

            “You’re not allowed to call them specimens, Sherlock,” John warned. “I won’t take you if you’re going to be rude.”

            Already John knew that this wasn’t a particularly good idea. Not only did he had to make sure Sherlock did not insult anyone to the point of real injury but this was flirting dangerously with the side of John that he was determined Sherlock not see. Molly and the other ladies of 221 Baker Street also worked for Moriarty, and in a much more official capacity than John himself. But at least three of the girls that he knew of were addicted to some form of drug or another and John was close enough with them that he knew he and Sherlock would not be in any real danger. He had no doubt that if he didn’t give in and show Sherlock some addicts, Sherlock would just wander the underbelly of London until he found some himself. Molly and the others were nice and open and smart enough to keep their mouths shut about John’s personal involvement with their trade. Hopefully.

            Sherlock followed him, looking as he always did when he was forced to follow John- impatient, curious, and a bit annoyed. Luckily, the walk was brisk and they were able to slide up to the side door without being noticed. Of course, in the early afternoon there wasn’t too much business going on so they had to wait a moment at the side door. John hoped someone was awake to let them inside.

            “John,” Sherlock finally spoke. “This is a whore house.”

            “Don’t call it that,” John snapped. Maybe this was a mistake. “Seriously, Sherlock. You’ve got to be-”

            “John!” The door opened with a bang and John was saved from having to clarify exactly what he needed Sherlock to be. This was useful as John himself didn’t know what he wanted to say- Nice? Understanding? Patient? Charming? Polite? None of those were words he would use to describe Sherlock and yet he needed his friend to be all of those things this afternoon. What was he thinking? This was a bad idea. But it was too late now.

            “Hello, Sarah,” John said, leaning forward to give her a hug and a polite peck.

            “We haven’t seen you in ages!” Sarah said, stepping back to let him in. “And, look, you’ve brought a-” Her eyes cut to John and he saw the question there. Customer? For us? One of yours? Recruit? Spy?

            “Oh, right,” John said. “Sarah, this is my friend Sherlock. Uh… from school.” Sarah looked startled for a moment, glancing at him in confusion for a moment before masking it.

            “Well isn’t that nice?” she said and reached out to shake Sherlock’s hand as he came in the door.

            “Nice to meet you,” she said.

            “The pleasure is all mine,” Sherlock replied and John jumped. He sounded polite. Polite and proper and a little shy.

            “Well, come on in, you two,” Sarah said. “Molly and a few of the others are just watching a bit of telly.”

            John nodded and followed her into the lounge that he knew customers were never allowed to enter.

            “John!” Molly cried, sitting up as she saw him. She was a quiet, kind, smart girl who, despite her petite size and the fact that she was one of the youngest girls in the house, generally seemed to look after the others. At least as much as she was able. Though John had at one point harbored a bit of a crush on Sarah, it was Molly whom he was closest too. They understood each other. Molly was of legal age now, but she’d started with Moriarty back before she was legal and had the trademark tattoo on her hip to prove it. John could just see it peeking out of her shorts as she lifted her arms to hug him.

            “Hello, Molly,” John said, smiling and returning the hug. Molly squeezed him firmly and then he felt her let go quickly as he tensed. Her eyes looked into his face and, though she was no Sherlock, she knew what signs to look for. He saw her face fall. Molly always hoped he could get out. Then her eyes found the fingerprint bruises on his neck and her mouth compressed into a firm, thin line.

            “Does that need to be iced?” was all she asked, her tone clinical and firm. John shook his head.

            “Already did,” he answered.

            “Of course,” she said. “Future doctor, isn’t it?” John rolled his eyes, somewhat regretting once admitting to Molly that that was his hope for the future. She had never quite given up on it. He just hoped Sherlock hadn’t heard. Speaking of,

            “We’re being rude. Molly, this is my friend Sherlock from school.” Molly blinked once and then nodded and John knew she got it. This was an outsider. This was not the time to tell stories of how she had taught John to give a blowjob on a banana. And then held him as he sobbed after.

            “Well, any friend of John’s is a friend of ours,” Molly declared, turning to give Sherlock a hug as well. “Sherlock, I’m Molly and that’s Gina and Rachel over there.” John glanced over at Sherlock, ready to send the message with his eyes that both girls were addicts but judging from the fascinated look Sherlock was giving them, it seemed the other teenager already knew. Christ, he was quick. He probably already knew Molly was trying to wean them off and that Sarah was a recovered addict and that John worked for Moriarty. What the hell had he been thinking?

            “You boys want anything to eat?” Sarah asked as she glided to the kitchen. “I think we’ve got some cereal or something.”

            “No, we’re fine,” John replied.

            “Bridget and Nicole are upstairs,” Molly said to Sherlock, who was nodding politely. “But here, have a seat on the couch.” Sherlock settled himself on the couch next to Molly and John slid down to the floor, back propped up against the arm of the couch. It was his regular spot when he visited, not that that was very often. Usually, he was too busy trying to make ends meet or catch up on schoolwork and the girls were too busy for them to enjoy very much time together. And, of course, John knew there was more drama and heartache going on in the house than Molly and Sarah let him see. When he’d come to visit last month, he had been greeted by a silent Molly who had merely waved a hand at him, signaling him to head home before he had even come inside. It made John feel slightly guilty because he knew he couldn’t afford to help them. But there was nothing he could do about it. All he could do was deny any offers of food they gave him and hope that his presence every other month or so was enough to brighten up their day.

            “So how did you meet our little John?” Molly asked and John winced. Did she have any idea how protective she sounded? And how were they supposed to answer that question? He was about to avoid the question on the guise of teasing Molly for her interrogation, when Sherlock opened his mouth.

            “He had the misfortune of being assigned me as his partner for chemistry,” Sherlock lied smoothly and again John stiffened in surprise. The tone was not Sherlock’s—all chuffed and shy; but the words and the undercurrent of humor could have been his and John felt himself relax.

            “Why misfortune?” Molly asked, smiling. “Surely you can’t be that much of a bugger.”

            “Well,” Sherlock glanced down at John and John supplied the appropriate response.

            “He’s a prat,” John declared, knowing that Sherlock would want him to pick up the story. So he did, adding enough about the real Sherlock to make it believable. He mostly stuck to their modified history for Sherlock- father lost his job, family just moved to the area, ect. He even included Sherlock’s desire to learn how to pickpocket so he could throw in more of their actual adventures. And Molly and Sarah asked good questions and Sherlock managed to add a few details when he wasn’t subtly staring at Gina and Rachel and John loved it. He loved telling their stories and loved sitting in the warm, worn room, and for the first time in many days, he felt quite content.

            Of course, they had left as night began to fall, as Gina and Rachel had disappeared upstairs to “get ready,” as Molly’s smiles became shorter and smaller. Sherlock had been silent on the walk, barely speaking- processing, John told himself, processing and memorizing the information. After walking a few blocks in silence, Sherlock had declared they would meet up tomorrow after work and swept into a cab, leaving John to walk the rest of the way home in the darkness. And then he had arrived home and his dad had been angry that he was home so late, angry that he’d swung by the store to try to get John to give him free beer and John had skipped work, and, most of all, angry that John offered no real excuse for where he had been all night.

            Stupid, John reminded himself. He was stupid. He should’ve known his father would be in an even worse mood after Harry left, he should’ve remembered that they were completely out of beer and his father would come looking, and he should’ve gone to work.

            He dad paused and yanked him up by the front of his shirt and John bit back a groan as old bruises and fresh welts and lingering pain all ignited with the rough movement. John kept his eyes shut, tense, waiting for the smack to his face that would follow. After a beat, he realized his dad wasn’t moving and he opened his eyes.

            His father was staring at his neck, at the finger-shaped bruises and for a moment, John was terrified. Terrified that the older man would realize that he had never choked John before, that he hadn’t left those marks, which meant someone else had. Terrified that his dad would ask questions, would find out. John watched as his father frowned a bit and then mentally shrugged, accepting that he had done it while blacked-out.

            “No fucking skipping work,” his dad muttered, stabbing a threatening finger at John’s face. “You bloody well aren’t staying here for free.”

            “Right,” John nodded. “Won’t happen again.”

            “Goddamn right it won’t!” John’s father yelled. With that, he reached into John’s back pocket and John flinched but stayed still. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter.

            “Fucking idiot,” The man muttered, opening the wallet and pulling out what John knew to be almost 40 pounds. No, he thought dimly. That’s the for the water bill. That’s the first part of the water bill. “No more freeloading. With your cunt of a sister gone, you gotta pick up the slack.”

            And that, John thought as his father abruptly released him and threw his wallet down and stormed out of the door, that was the funniest thing John had ever heard. It was so funny he grinned a little and then he laughed, loud and hard. He was still giggling as he gasped and reached down to pick up his wallet and he was still smiling as he got into the shower and waited for the water to change from pink to clear.

Chapter Text

Part VIII

 

            Four days later, which amounted to three sessions with Sherlock and one night spent working, the two teenagers were currently trying very hard to pretend that things were not strained between them.

            After his father’s rather epic beating, John had thought about calling Sherlock and begging off for a few days but John had decided that seeing Sherlock upset was better than not seeing Sherlock at all. Furthermore, John told himself that once focused on the Work (which now had a capital letter in John’s mind), Sherlock really did seemed to ignore John completely so, really, John only had to pretend to be fine for the first and last few minutes of their session. That was the rationale at least.

            In reality, John didn’t think it was going all that well. His body was in such great and various amount of pain that every movement required an effort not to flinch or whimper in some way. His attempts to sound some semblance of normal were wavering, especially as night fell and he could feel his tongue stiffen with exhaustion with each passing yawn. He hadn’t had the energy to do laundry so his clothes were getting dirty and stiff. Even his jumpers were too dirty to wear and so he was down to just a t-shirt underneath his jacket despite the faint chill of London. He was a wreck and he was starting to look it and he was starting to feel it.

            Meanwhile, Sherlock’s glances were getting less and less frequent but, when he did deign to look over, his glares were more and more cutting. John could practically feel the questions vibrating off the teen and the judgment that accompanied those questions made his hackles rise. He felt short and irritable and tired and, as a result, their sessions had been stripped of laughter or jokes to pure business. At the last one, John swore they had almost come to blows. It was tense and exhausting and wrong and John hated it almost as much as he hated Sherlock. Almost as much as he hated himself.

            “Your feet are wrong,” John snapped as he tried to ease himself down into a sitting position without seeming like he was easing himself down.

            “Of course they’re wrong, I haven’t started yet.” Sherlock’s voice was ice that did nothing to settle John’s annoyance.

            “You should be starting as soon as you get here,” John muttered. He decided to ignore the fact that, traditionally, the first few minutes of Sherlock’s visits were spent eating and chatting (well, as close to chatting as Sherlock got- so it was more like the spread of strange and disturbing facts). Sherlock sent him a stare that was as disdainful as any he’d given strangers who dared to interrupt him. John clenched his jaw and said nothing.

            Though all he wanted to do was close his eyes, his anger kept him awake and glaring at Sherlock as the other teenager quietly melted into his character. John watched as the high-brow, posh attitude of Sherlock faded away into a high-strung, desperate, extremely poor junkie. John pushed all thoughts of his life out of his mind and focused on picking up all the mistakes Sherlock made so that he could throw them in the younger boy’s face.

            Except there weren’t any.

            The Sherlock that John knew- loud, pompous, demanding, judgmental- had faded away. He wasn’t gone completely, they had set up the character specifically so he wouldn’t have to- but the things that signified that Sherlock was smart and important and special were gone. In its absence, Sherlock was left a young, snobby boy whose sole purpose was attempting to convince others that he was still somehow better than them on the merit of his parents’ formal financial standing and convince himself that he didn’t need the drugs as badly as he thought he did. To someone who hadn’t helped design the character, Sherlock would look like even less. The hardest people would see him as an immature brat that they could taunt and abuse; those with a kinder disposition would read the desperation in his movements and feel pity. No one would suspect he was anything more than any other teen roaming these streets.

            Wordlessly, John motioned to the street, wanting to see if Sherlock would still slip up when talking to others. Sherlock managed to make his nod of agreement more like a flinch and even started to go around so that John wasn’t in arms reach before checking himself and giving John a glare and purposefully striding past in a display of bluster. John followed behind, watching without seeming like he was as Sherlock engaged in casual conversation to bum a cigarette off of a bloke, attempted to flirt with a girl way too old for him, and, of course, slid into a store to lift a candy bar. It was all flawless and John knew without a doubt that no one would remember Sherlock.

            Eventually, Sherlock headed back to their spot and, again, John followed. He watched as Sherlock took a few breaths and flooded back into himself. The change was startling and John didn’t say anything immediately. He was a little speechless with pride and a sudden dread. Their Work was practically over.

            “Well?” Sherlock drawled as the silence continued and with a start John realized that while he had forgotten they were mad at each other, Sherlock’s voice still carried a challenge.

            “I think you’re ready,” John admitted and he saw Sherlock’s annoyance fade.

            “Really?” Sherlock said, a hint of wonder dancing around the edges of his voice.

            “Yeah,” John said. “I didn’t see anything wrong. You… you were really good out there. I’d say all that’s left is to introduce you to the network.”

            “The network?” Sherlock asked, curiosity rising to his voice.

            “Oh,” John said. Without the anger at Sherlock to keep him going, exhaustion was catching up with him. “The homeless network.”

            “The homeless have a network?” Sherlock asked, sounding startled.

            “Well, not a formal one,” John amended. “But generally there’s a few people who know most people in the area and what’s going on.”

            “They’re in communication?” Sherlock had his fascinated voice on, his “this could be useful to me so you must tell me all about it right now” voice.

            “They don’t hold meetings, if that’s what you mean,” John said, not really seeing Sherlock’s excitement. “But rumor spreads quick around here. Certain people help those rumors along.” He knew better than most how true that was. The moment he had started working for Moriarty, almost all the major players in town knew. John suspected that was why he was tattooed on only his second day. John was only grateful that his father and sister weren’t savvy enough to ask the right questions. Plus his father was pretty much hated by almost everyone so people weren’t rushing over themselves to offer him information. Small victories.

            “Hmmm,” Sherlock replied and John knew his mind was light years away. He took the opportunity to sit down and lean his back against the crumbling wall.

            “If you didn’t introduce me?” Sherlock asked.

            “You would meet them eventually anyway,” he replied. “It would just take longer. You’d have to hang around here more and they’d be more suspicious. More tests that you were actually who you said you were. Less helping hands offered along the way. No guarantee that the right people would end up liking you. You’d have to be careful.” And John knew that that would never happen. Even with a character that wasn’t supposed to cause any trouble, he had no doubt that the younger teen would come close to getting himself killed in a few days if John wasn’t there to ease things over.

            “Tomorrow then,” Sherlock said. “You can introduce me tomorrow.”

            “Yeah, alright,” John muttered, a bit annoyed. Count on Sherlock to just assume John would do whatever he said. Well, at least it wasn’t for much longer. All he had to do was introduce Sherlock to a few people and then the other teen would be on his own. Not John’s problem anymore. John would go back to going to school, work, the flat, and wherever else Moriarty chose to send him at night. He wouldn’t have to hide or pretend around Sherlock bloody Holmes any longer.

            “I’ve gotta go,” he announced, pushing himself up too quickly and barely biting back a groan. Goddammit. Did his dad have to be a certified psychopath?

            “Oh,” Sherlock said, sounding a bit surprised at John’s sudden movement. Probably still thinking about the homeless network or something. “Right then. I shall see you tomorrow.”

            “Sounds great,” John grumbled.

            “Do you want your sandwich?” Sherlock asked and John remembered that they had been snapping at each other too much to bother with pleasantries.

            “No,” he said, annoyed that his stomach chose to rumble in anticipation. He didn’t need to be fed like a bloody pet. He had gotten along just fine without Sherlock’s stupid sandwiches before and he would again. He was making plenty of money. He could buy his own food.

            “You might as well take it,” Sherlock said and the condescending tone set John’s teeth on edge.

            “I just said I didn’t want it,” John snapped.

            “That doesn’t make any sense.”

            “Christ,” John muttered. “It makes perfect sodding sense. I don’t want it. How hard is that for a genius like you to understand?”

            “Fine,” Sherlock bit off, grabbing his bag and picking it up with grace. “Just trying to be nice.”

            “You’re not nice,” John retorted. “You’ve said that yourself, so you’re not 'just being nice.' And I’m not your fucking charity case so just piss off, Sherlock.”

            For a moment, John thought he saw Sherlock look hurt before the taller boy’s face was wiped of all emotions.

            “Very well,” Sherlock said and his voice was icy and unfamiliar and John told himself that this was what he wanted. “Good day, John. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            Then he was gone and John turned and, in a flash of anger, was too hot. So, he tore off his coat, growling at the pain that motion caused, and threw it down and then, unsatisfied with the lack of noise that made, turned kicked one of the scrap pieces of wood lying around and cursed in pain when his toe throbbed and just hated it. Hated everything.

*^*^

 

            As the darkness grew more complete over London, John’s bout of anger had faded into a general sort of misery. He was tired and sore and had left his stupid extra layer behind and unhappy with how things were going with Sherlock and he hadn’t seen his sister in over a week and he just felt… raw. And even though it was almost an hour since he had finished up with Sherlock and what he really wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep, for some reason he found himself wandering the streets idly. Perhaps because if he were out in public, then he was forced to keep himself under control. No melt downs, no tears, no kicking pieces of wood.

            So he walked.

            It was after another forty minutes or so of aimless wandering when he spotted the man. He was standing, smoking a cigarette in a way that could have been casual but for the fact that his left hand was curled so that his thumb touched his fourth finger while his other fingers stayed straight. Clear symbol for blowjob. Left hand meant he wanted a boy.

            John almost walked past, ignoring it completely but he hesitated. And then he walked over. Partly because he had bills to pay, partly because he was hungry, partly because it would be nice not to have to give twenty five percent to Moriarty, partly because he wanted to prove he could do this, mostly because it really didn’t fucking matter.

            Briefly, he considered playing the part- acting coy and smiling and leaning his hips in just so. He could make more money if he did it that way, if he pretended he was into it. But with the lingering bruises on his neck and face, he didn’t think he could really pull it off anyway. So he settled for desperate and professional.

            “50 pounds,” John said firmly as he walked up slowly and the man almost jumped. A glance at the man revealed medium brown hair and a pinched face and John didn’t look any closer. It didn’t matter. Though he wouldn’t forget the face either. For a moment, the man looked completely confused and John wondered if the idiot really was just standing there with his hand like that randomly. John was already leaning away when the man finally responded:

            “30.” Christ, he must look worse than he thought if he was getting offers of 30 pounds.

            “40,” he replied. He had the skills to back up the price. His confidence must’ve shown in his face because the man jerked his head in a nod. The man moved back towards a small alley and John followed, the familiar disgust rising in his stomach.

            The man stopped soon and John was grateful. He just wanted to get this over with. He stuck out his hand and the man fished around for his money for a moment and then he handed it over. John took the time to put it in his wallet and then sank to his knees and reached up to unzip the man’s trousers and then felt cool metal wrap around his wrist.

            “Stop.”

            John hadn’t even had time to process what had just happened but the man was already pulling him to his feet. Then he was spinning around and his other hand was shackled too and it was wrong. All wrong.

            “Wha-” he started, gasping as welts on his back pulled as his arms were pulled backwards.

            “You’re under arrest,” the man said. “For underage and public prostitution. You have the right-”

            John stopped listening. Stopped breathing. No. No, this couldn’t happen. This was a dream. A nightmare. He would wake up. He couldn’t be arrested. People would find out- his dad, Harry, Sherlock, Moriarty. Oh, God. Moriarty. John had seen what had happened to people who threatened to ruin the business. This couldn’t happen.

            “No,” he said and he didn’t even hear that his voice was high and panicked. “No, wait. Please. I- I’m eighteen.”

            “C’mon, kid,” The police officer said, starting to move them back towards the street. John’s legs walked automatically for a moment before John realized where he was going- to jail. Oh God, he was going to jail. Every fiber of his being froze in panic and his legs buckled.

            “Please, don’t,” he tried but the officer just huffed a sigh of annoyance and set his hand to John’s back to propel him along. John hissed and shot forward just to avoid that touch. “I’m eighteen.”

            No. No wait, that wasn’t the lie he was supposed to be telling. Moriarty had told him this back in the beginning. You didn’t try to lie about your age, that was too easy to check. Wrong lie. He was being stupid. He was panicking.

            “I mean, it was a joke,” he said. “A bet. With my friends. I wasn’t going to actually-” He cut off abruptly, not even wanting to say it.

            The officer’s disbelieving snort answered him but the man stopped walking and John skidded to a stop. Maybe it had worked. Maybe it was that easy.

            Then the man spun him around to face him and he was too close and his hand shot out and pulled up John’s shirt and pushed down John’s trousers a bit and John sucked in a breath of air and wanted to scream, wanted to run as one finger gently grazed over the tattoo.

            Doesn’t matter, he reminded himself as every muscle clenched. It’s okay. His eyes had closed and so he didn’t see as the man bent down ever so slightly to get a closer look.

            “Just a joke, huh?” the officer said, letting the shirt fall back down. John tilted his head down and didn’t say anything. There was nothing to say. The officer didn’t seem to expect him to as they started walking again. At least John remembered to move right away so that he only had to feel the hand curled around his wrists.

            The car was in sight now and John knew with horrifying certainty that his eyes were filling tears. He had to stop this somehow. He took a breath. It didn’t help.

            “In you go,” the officer said and John flinched away but the hand that rested on top of his head placed enough pressure to get him in the car. It helped that his entire body felt wooden.

            Please no. He didn’t say the words aloud, knowing that if he opened his mouth he would start crying. He just thought them, over and over again as the car started and pulled away.

            Please no.

Chapter Text

Part IX

 

            His coffee was cold, his back was sore from sitting all day, and his eyes were heavy and tired and Gregory Lestrade was just thinking that it was about time to head home. His wife would be waiting and though he’d tried a thousand times to explain why the title “Detective Inspector” meant longer hours, he thought the transition was not going as smoothly as he’d hoped. When he had been pulling regularly scheduled patrol duty, life had seemed boring and the work had seemed useless. Now that he had gotten his pay raise and his fancy new title, he wondered if he hadn’t jumped the gun a bit on applying. More responsibility and stress at work plus an unhappy wife? Not exactly the intended result.

            But it would smooth over. He just had to swing by the store on the way home, perhaps pick up a bottle of wine, promise to take the upcoming weekend off and-

            “We’ve got one!” Sally Donovan burst into his office with way too much energy and excitement for this time of night. “Anderson’s in holding B now.”

            Lestrade blinked at her for a moment, his thoughts not yet making the transition from a holiday with his wife to whatever had Donovan so excited. Donovan was young, smart, and new, very new, which meant almost anything was a cause for undue excitement. Even though he had only been there about seven years longer than her, she made him feel old and jaded. Although, he told himself, that might because he had always been a miserable old sod.

            “Well, c’mon,” she said, waving a hand. “We knew you’d want to question him.”

            “Wait, hold up, question who?” Greg said, standing and draining the last of his coffee despite himself.

            “Prostitute,” Donovan replied, holding the door open so he could follow her.

            “Prostitute?” Lestrade echoed. Not exactly a top priority in the UK at the moment.

            “Underage,” Donovan clarified. “We think he has ties to Moriarty.”

            Lestrade’s stomach twisted at the familiar name: Moriarty. One of the biggest names in underage prostitution (and regular prostitution and illegal drugs for that matter), known for his ruthless methods against those who challenged him and complete control over his… “employees.” Also known for being almost impossible to directly tie to any case. His workers were too scared and his friends too powerful.

            “Don’t get excited,” he told Donovan.

            “But Anderson says he has proo-”

            “Don’t tell me what Anderson says,” Lestrade said, waving a hand to silence her. He didn’t even like Anderson all that much. The man was an insufferable suck up who wasn’t very impressive at his job. “It’s a long shot with these things and we’re dealing with a scared kid and you can’t go in there looking like it’s Christmas.”

            Donovan shut her mouth and looked quietly furious but Lestrade recognized it as the look she got when she was mad at herself and figured it was better than excitement. He gave her a brief nod and pulled open the door to Interrogation Room B.

            Anderson and the boy—Christ, he was small-- had clearly just arrived. Both were still standing and Anderson turned around at the sound of the door opened, looking smug. The boy was still facing away, head down, hunched over, hands behind his back due to-

            “Really, Anderson?” Lestrade growled. What kind of bloody grown man needed to handcuff a boy who looked ready to collapse at any moment.

            “He was-” Anderson started and Lestrade glared him into silence, already reaching for his cuff keys. Then he took a breath and focused, because he hadn’t missed how the boy flinched at the sudden movement. Victim. He was handling a victim. Resolutely, he pushed all thoughts of tiredness and his wife and his annoyance at goddamn Anderson down.

            “Hey,” he said, forcing calm into his voice. “My name is Detective Greg Lestrade. I’m going to take those cuffs off, alright?”

            There was a beat where the boy didn’t react at all and then he spoke quickly, as if he wasn’t sure that Lestrade had actually been waiting for his answer.

            “Okay,” he said softly and Lestrade felt his gut clench a little bit more. He sounded so young. So scared.

            Slowly, Lestrade moved forward. The kid didn’t flinch as Lestrade touched his hands and pulled them ever so slightly to unlock them, but that was only because he was practically vibrating with the tension of staying still. And Lestrade had been doing this for seven years. He didn’t miss the thin bruise rising above the neckline of the boy’s t-shirt. Belt, Lestrade’s brains supplied and he wanted to linger and look closer but he didn’t. Instead he got his key into the cuffs and pulled them off and stepped back. The boy still took a step away as soon as he was free.

            Then he turned around and Lestrade fought down another burst of anger as he saw the kid’s face. It was bruised and battered and defeated and ashamed and it was trying desperately to hold itself together, to show nothing.

            “Here,” Lestrade said, gesturing to a seat. “Why don’t we sit down?” Then he turned and took a seat first, purposefully ignoring Anderson and Donovan who looked about ready to pop with questions. The boy gave them a glance and then gave the door a longer glance and then sat down. Gingerly.

            “Thanks,” he said softly and Lestrade didn’t know if he was being thanked for anything in particular or if manners were just drilled so firmly into the young man across from him that any offer had to be responded to with a “thank you.”

            “Right,” Lestrade said, folding his hands neatly on the table where they could be easily seen. “So, let’s start at the beginning then- what’s your name?”

            “School ID says John Wa-” Anderson began, his voice too cutting and proud of itself.

            “Anderson!” Lestrade said, his voice rising despite himself. He was too tired for this. Why did it have to be fucking Anderson? “I don’t remember asking you!” A glance backward told him the man was glaring with his mouth still half open.

            “I was just-”

            Lestrade turned and look at Anderson, half disbelief, half rage and at least it had the intended effect of shutting the tosser up.

            “Sorry about that,” Lestrade said, turning back to his victim. “Ignore him. What’s your name?”

            “John,” the teenager’s voice was resigned. “John Watson.”

            “Alright, John,” Lestrade said. “And how old are you?”

            Lestrade saw John consider lying. The thought flashed across his face only briefly before the kid made the smart decision that lying about his age would be useless.

            “16, sir.” Goddammit if Lestrade’s chest give a lurch at that. Because he was so bloody young and Lestrade already knew that unless John decided to testify, there was almost nothing they could do.

            “Right, now you tell me what happened tonight,” Lestrade said, ignoring Anderson’s little twitch of impatience.

            John didn’t consider lying this time, he just took a deep breath and went for it. Lestrade was actually a bit pleased to see the boy meet his eye defiantly and lie with some skill. There was still spirit there, despite everything.

            “I was out with a couple mates,” John started, firm and clear. “And we saw him standing with the sign for a B.J. and so-”

            “How did you know the signs for sexual favors?” Lestrade cut in, not cruelly but firmly. Although he appreciated the spark, he didn’t necessary appreciate being lied to. Not when it meant they were most likely going to have to let John Watson go back to whatever hell he currently lived in.

            “Everyone knows them,” John answered, confidence fading a bit as his story was interrupted. “Anyway, one of the blokes bet that I couldn’t get him to pay me and then leave him there with his dick out. That’s it, really.”

            It was not a bad act overall, Lestrade thought. It was a simple story, hard to argue with and John had even managed to rough up his voice and speak in blunt, boyish terms that would be realistic if his story weren’t a pile of shite. If he didn’t keep flexing his hands under the table in nervousness, if he didn’t keep glancing at the door and Anderson and Donovan as if keeping tabs of where everyone was at all times, if he didn’t look so goddamn scared under all that acting.

            “What were their names?” Lestrade asked, making a show of pulling out a pen and finally beginning to take notes.

            “Uh,” John went rigid for a moment. Then he recovered. “I wouldn’t want to get anyone in trouble.”

            “They won’t be in any trouble,” Lestrade said, voice purposefully light. “We just need them to match your story. There’s no law against pranking those soliciting for sex.”

            “Well,” John was squirming now and a bit of panic was starting to show in his eyes and Lestrade felt bad but this was the job. He couldn’t help John at all if he didn’t at least admit he needed help.

            “If you just give me their names, we can call them up, have them corroborate your story and have you out of here in no time. No use keeping you here for a prank gone wrong.”

            “I-uh, I don’t know their surnames.” John looked pleased at that lie. Confidence returning as he met Lestrade’s eyes and even went for a little shoulder shrug that was supposed to come off as both innocent and in control.

            “Oh for Christ’s-” Anderson spoke up. “He’s lying. He’s got the tattoo and everything, sir.”

            Lestrade opened his mouth to kick Anderson out of the room when his words hit him and for the first time since entering, Lestrade felt the beginnings of hope. He would have previously said that John Watson seemed like the least likely candidate to admit that anything was wrong, but if he actually showed his tattoo to Anderson of all people…

            Looking back at John, Lestrade could see that all traces of spirit had washed out of the teenager in front of him. His eyes were back to staring at the table, his shoulder’s hunched up. He must’ve shown Anderson in the heat of the moment and now regretted it. But if he showed it once, the tattoo that almost all underage prostitutes kept meticulously hidden away, then he might be willing to do it again.

            “Can I see it?” Lestrade asked quietly. John took a deep breath, then another, and then stood slowly, never looking at Lestrade. Lestrade got up slowly as well and went to stand in front of John, staying as far away as possible. He could still see the muscle across John’s jaw flicker as it was clenched. Lestrade understood. This was a big moment. This was as good as a confession. Lestrade waited patiently for John to reach over and pull up his shirt. When nothing happened for a few tense moments, Lestrade ducked his head and tried to see what John was thinking.

            “Do you want me to?” he asked. Maybe John couldn’t bring himself to do it but Lestrade needed verbal consent before he was touching any part of John Watson.

            “Please,” John said through clenched teeth. Obediently, Lestrade reached for the hem of John’s shirt, ready to be quick about the whole thing. His hand had just closed around the hem when John’s voice stopped him cold, “Please don’t.”

            Lestrade snatched his hand away, looking up to meet John’s eyes and felt as if he had been punched. John’s eyes were flooded with tears and shame and fear and Lestrade took a step back automatically.

            “Hey,” he said, keeping his voice level. “Hey, nothing is happening here that you don’t want to happen, okay? You don’t have to show me. You don’t. I just thought that since you showed An-”

            The truth hit Lestrade like a ton of bricks. There was no way that John would have consented to show anyone, much less Anderson that tattoo. No way at all. Which meant-

            Lestrade turned and his voice was lower and angrier and calmer than he had ever heard it.

            “Officer Anderson,” he said, turning to look at the sack of shit who was just now beginning to pale. “Did you receive verbal consent before examining the body of a minor?”

            The look on Anderson’s face was answer enough and Lestrade took a step towards him, honestly unsure if he was going to fire him on the spot, punch him across the face, or some combination of the two.

            “It- His shirt rode up!” Anderson cried, looking a bit wild around the edges. “When I put the cuffs on. His shirt rode up and I saw it.”

            Lestrade opened his mouth to unleash a string of obscenities about what a bloody fucking lie that was when Donovan stepped in and finally made her presence known.

            “Sir, maybe we should take this outside.”

            At first, Lestrade turned his glare to Donovan, ready to scream at her to just for occasionally sticking up for this wanker but then his eyes caught on John Watson, who looked some combination of terrified, confused, and exhausted and realized that they probably should step outside. Wouldn’t look good to punch an officer in front of a civilian.

            “Outside,” Lestrade growled. “Both of you. John, sit down and relax. We’ll be a moment.”

            He strode stiffly out of the room, closed the door to the interrogation room, and then thanked whoever that these rooms were at least partially soundproof because he couldn’t hold it in for another second.

            “You goddam piece of shit,” he growled, turning to stab a finger at Anderson. “You fucking, bloody, piss poor excuse for an officer.”

            “His shirt rode-” Anderson started and then actually stopped as Lestrade took a step closer.

            “If you feed me that lie one more time,” Lestrade said. “I swear to God, I- Get out of here.”

            That was as much self-control as Lestrade had at the moment, to let Anderson walk away. It was more than he wanted to have. Thankfully, Anderson took it. He cast one more pouty look to Donovan, as if she would agree with him or step in and then walked away. Lestrade almost wished he hadn’t.

            He took a breath and looked back towards the glass. John had taken a seat and was taking breaths too even to be natural, one hand carefully loose on the table, the other curled around his stomach. Still, he looked surprisingly put together, as if the events of a few moments before had been forgotten entirely. Or pushed down.

            “It’s not a bad lie,” Donovan finally said.

            “Sorry?” Lestrade said, tearing his eyes away and willing himself to stop thinking.

            “The lie that his shirt accidentally rode up. That Anderson just happened to see the tattoo. It’s believable.”

            “Believable?” Lestrade echoed.

            “To a judge, it might be,” Donovan said.

            “Wait. Wait, what are you saying, Donovan?” Lestrade shook his head. “Are you saying- Are you suggesting that we use that to go to a judge and… and what? Force a strip search of John Watson?”

            Her silence was answer enough.

            “Bloody hell, Donovan,” Lestrade said, wondering if his entire staff was filled with psychotic morons. “He’s a kid. He’s a scared kid who had been forced into underage prostitution and you want to force him to take his clothes off for the police! We’re supposed to be the bloody good guys around here! Has everyone forgotten what the fuck it is we do here?”

            “Sir, I’m just saying-”

            “Don’t ‘just say’ anything,” Lestrade said. “Christ, I thought you had more brains that Anderson but clearly every goddamn officer on this force is a-”

            “Sir!” Finally, Donovan’s voice rose to cut him off. “I’m just saying that… It may be the only way to help him.” That surprised Lestrade enough to cut off his tirade. Donovan took the opportunity to continue. “John Watson is not going to confess to anything and if he doesn’t, we don’t have enough hard evidence to arrest him or to get him help. If we don’t find something, he’ll walk out of here and be back on the streets, working for Jim Moriarty by the time the night is over. Sir, I’m… I’m not saying it’s right, or that he won’t hate us but… maybe we could help him.”

            God help him, she had a point.

            Lestrade took a breath, grateful that Donovan at least knew when to stop talking. He had seen this before, he had worked this before. Poor, scared kid comes in, clearly being abused and it was always so hard to get them to admit they needed help. And they almost always walked. They almost always walked right out of the station and back to whatever crap they had to deal with that they never should have had to deal with and Lestrade hated that. He hated that helpless, lost feeling of not knowing how to help or what to do. He hated those cases where there just wasn’t enough evidence and it couldn’t be solved and the criminals got away. He would do almost anything to catch them, to keep this city safe. He would take extra shifts, and work longer hours, and suffer glares from his wife and disappointed sighs from his family. He would do anything.

            But would he do this?

            He could spin it the right away. He knew he could. He could get a judge to see this exact point of view. He would talk about the greater good and breaking the victim mindset and the likelihood that John Watson needed this more than he knew. Hell, he could think of two judges right now who were overzealous enough to sign without even hearing his full speech. He was trusted and respected and one of the youngest DIs on the force and he could do it if he wanted to.

            But… but he could see how it would happen. He looked back in at John again, at the boy who said “thank you” and “please” and he knew how it would happen.  It would take a few hours and John would sit there waiting, thinking he was going to be let go. Lestrade would make Donovan get him a sandwich and John would eat it slowly and carefully and maybe start to relax a little bit. And then Lestrade would come in with that folded, signed paper and he would try to explain it, he would but John would stop listening. He would stop listening and Lestrade would fade out uncomfortably. Then he would have to force John to stand up and his head would be down and Lestrade would try to be quick about it and John would flinch and maybe the next day they would have to come in with a photographer and do the same thing.

            And then there would be a longer interrogation filled with more questions that John Watson didn’t want to answer about when he started and why and who was “JM” and would he be willing to testify and did his family know and was he being arrested and-

            “No,” Lestrade said, softly and it was the right decision. The bad guy would go free and John Watson would continue being abused and it was still the right decision.

            He hesitated before looking back to Donovan, not quite sure if he wanted to see the disappointment in her eyes, not quite wanting to know such a thing about someone who could have all the makings of a great police officer.

            “Lestrade?” The voice coming from behind him was loud and masculine and slimy and Lestrade hated it even before he even turned around.

            “Yeah?” The man matched his voice. Lestrade frowned. “Who are you?”

            “Sebastian Moran,” the man replied, smirking. “John Watson’s lawyer.”

Chapter Text

Part X

 

            Lestrade blinked at the man in front of him and glanced at Donovan, wondering if he’d missed something. She looked just as lost.

            “That’s not possible,” he said bluntly, moving without thinking to stand between the door to John’s room and the taller man. “We haven’t even processed him yet. There’s no way-”

            “Are you saying that John Watson is not allowed to have a lawyer?” the man asked. His voice sounded vaguely affronted and vaguely threatening but his eyes danced with merriment. He was enjoying this. Everything in Lestrade’s gut was telling him to keep this man away from the teenager sitting on the other side of the glass.

            “He’s allowed to have a lawyer,” Lestrade grunted. “I’m just not sure you are a lawyer, Mr… Morgan, was it?” He sensed more than saw Donovan’s look of surprise. She had probably never heard him act so rudely to a relative stranger before.

            “Moran,” the man said. “Do you really want to waste my time and John’s by calling up the board and verifying my license?”

            Yes, Lestrade thought. Yes, he really would. He would do almost anything to keep this wanker away from John. But it wasn’t practical. It would only take a few minutes.

            “How did you get here so quickly?” Lestrade demanded instead. Because it didn’t make sense. They hadn’t even given John his phone call yet. Which means someone knew he had been arrested. Someone well-connected enough and concerned enough to pay this creep to come bail him out. This was a lead to Moriarty he could follow. Sebastian Moran.

            “I’m his friend’s uncle,” Moran lied. “His friend called me the moment he saw the result of their little prank and asked me to help. He is terribly fond of John. As am I.”

            “Your nephew wouldn’t happen to have a name, would he?” Lestrade asked.

            “Irrelevant to these proceedings,” Moran said, for the first time showing a flash of annoyance. “Now are you going to let me see my client or not?”

            “Funny, John couldn’t tell me his name either,” Lestrade said, glaring.

            “I have a right to see my client,” the man growled. “John will confirm my story regardless.”

            “Fine,” Lestrade bit out, taking a step closer. “I’m going in with you.”

            “Illegal,” Moran snapped.

            “Only if John doesn’t want me to be there.”

            “He won’t.”

            “We’ll see.”

            Lestrade blinked and realized he had taken another step towards Moran. Maybe even more than one. He stepped back and shook himself. Reminded himself that he probably wasn’t going to win this round. Tried to accept it now.

            He opened the door to the holding cell and then walked in first without holding it open, listening with some satisfaction as Moran fumbled to grab it. John’s eyes flicked up to him in wary acceptance and then caught on Moran behind him and there was a flash of terror, shame, and horror and then John was gone.

            Lestrade hadn’t realized how much personality was still shining out from John Watson’s eyes until it was suddenly muted. The teenager’s eyes slammed down to the table and his shoulder hunched lower and his breathing was deep and even, too even to be natural.

            Oh God, Lestrade thought and then Moran was talking.

            “Johnny!” Moran cried, jovial and threatening at the same time. He put his briefcase down on the table, letting it drop with a bang and John jumped. Then he was leaning close, too close to John, smiling. “Jim called me the moment he saw what had happened. We’ll have you out of here in no time. Don’t you worry.”

            Then, to Lestrade’s horror, Moran swung an arm over John’s shoulders, jostling him in what would have been a friendly gesture except Moran’s grin was too wide and his grip was too tight and John had squeezed his eyes shut and Lestrade was just letting this all happen in his own interrogation room.

            “John,” Lestrade started, taking a step forward.

            “This man,” Moran interrupted, mock seriously. “has the entirely wrong idea about you. He seems to think you are some kind of disgusting sexual deviant, getting off on earning a few pounds by blowing random wankers on the streets like some whore.”

            “That’s not what I think,” Lestrade stammered but Moran’s loud, fake laugh directly right into John Watson’s ear probably drowned his statement out completely.

            “Of course, I told him it was ridiculous. No one could be that pathetic. But, he wants to hear it from you. So tell him it’s okay for him to leave so we can work on getting you out of here, alright?”

            “I can stay, John,” Lestrade said. His voice was hoarse and pleading. Please let me stay. Let me help you.

            “No,” John Watson’s voice was empty and broken. “No, it’s okay. He’s- He’s a friend.”

            Lestrade still hesitated, frantically trying to think of something that could excuse his presence. He couldn’t lose this one. He couldn’t.

            “You heard him,” Moran said. “Lawyer-client confidentiality. Off you go.”

            Lestrade ground his teeth together. “I’ll be right outside,” he replied, trying to catch John’s eye and failing. “I’ll be right there, watching.”

            “I always preferred an audience,” Moran answered. John shuddered. Oh God, Lestrade thought dimly. Oh fuck.

           Lestrade took a breath and walked out stiffly. Four steps to get out of the room. Two to get so he was facing the one-sided mirror, staring as Moran leaned in ever closer and whispered in John’s ear. Three more breaths so that he didn’t punch the glass and break his hand.

            “Sir?” He didn’t have the time to analyze how Donovan sounded at the moment. Didn’t care to either. He took another breath.

            “Get me everything you can on Sebastian Moran,” he growled. Apparently he had not calmed down as much as he thought. “Everything. I want to know where he bloody went to school and which fuckers he hangs out with and what fucking goddamn piece of shit firm employs that disgusting little fu-” He bit down again. “Everything, Donovan. Go.”

            Wisely, she didn’t say anything. She simply threw a contemptuous glance of her own at the glass herself, and then assessed him one more time, and then exited.

            Lestrade forced himself to keep standing still, forced himself to breath evenly. He tried not to notice when Moran’s hand rose to idly thread through John’s hair. But he did notice. And when Moran’s grip tightened and forced John’s head slightly to the side, Lestrade felt something inside him snap. Before he realized what he was doing, he had grabbed the only thing he could reach- his cell- and hurled it at the opposing wall, watching with dim satisfaction as it shattered.

            Not good, he thought vaguely, turning his eyes back to the glass. Might need that.

            In the end, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t remember to call his wife for hours anyway. 

Chapter Text

Part XI

 

            John wondered, in an off-hand way, if the detective, Lestrade or whatever his name was, could tell how rehearsed Moran sounded.

            John was barely listening, was trying very hard to hear nothing, to not exist at all. But even he noted that some of the dramatic flair pouring out of Moran was put there by Moriarty. Moran was simpler- he got pleasure from giving others pain. And Moran was fine if it was mostly physical. It was Moriarty that really enjoyed all the other types. Most of this -- disgusting sexual deviant – was Moriarty. Moran had probably practiced. He was good at following orders.

            Of course, John noted, maybe you could only tell if you had somehow acquired intimate knowledge of the man in question. As John had.

            Moran was his first.

            Moran smiled and waved as Lestrade left and then threw his arm around John’s shoulders and as John gasped at the pressure and fought not to flinch, he considered whether Moran had been ordered to do that as well. Probably not. Moran was good at following orders but he was also good at fear and threats and Moriarty liked that. Moriarty gave him free reign and Moran pleased him and John was his reward and seven months ago, he had flinched and then struggled and Moran had laughed as he held him down and-

            Standing on the other side of the glass, Lestrade could probably tell just from looking at him.

            He was going to be sick.

            “Well, you really fucked this up,” Moran said, jostling him a bit as if to make sure he was listening. His voice was more his own now, rougher, less poetic, and still obscenely pleased at the whole situation. “Falling for an undercover cop- you’re a fucking idiot.”

            It was much harder to ignore Moran now that he was being himself. Probably because Moran was using simple, clear language and stating simple, clear facts. Still, John felt his heart start to beat faster. He still didn’t want to believe this was happening.

            “Don’t worry, though,” Moran continued, hand trailing from its spot around his shoulder towards his neck. “We’ll get you out. Did you remember to tell them the prank story?”

            It took John a moment to process that he was supposed to answer but a firm thumb to a fading bruise on his back brought him to reality.

            “Y-Yeah,” he said, nodding furiously. His heart was beating too loudly. “Yeah. I did. That’s good, right?” He forced his eyes to glance at Moran, who was making a show of writing something down. Moran shrugged as if his answer didn’t matter.

            “It should speed things up a bit,” Moran said. “But, I’d be willing to bet that the little inspector out there is going to hold you for the full 24 hours to try and save you or some shit. Christ, that’s hilarious”

            Oh God, John thought. His breaths were speeding up too now and Moran’s hand crept up to thread through his hair.

            “All billable hours, I’m afraid,” Moran said, smiling broadly towards the glass. “And of course, your father will be worried sick so I’ll have to send someone to let him know that you’re okay.”

            “No,” John said, quickly. “No, he won’t care. You don’t have to. He-”

            Moran’s hand tightened and forced his head to the side and John cut off instantly. Thankfully, the pain helped him focus. He took a deep breath. He was okay. He could handle this. It didn’t matter. He felt his muscles relax forcefully. Moran let go as if he sensed the difference. He probably did. Moran had intimate knowledge of him too after all.

            “God, this is going to be fun,” Moran grunted, giving John a last pat on the back that was more like a punch.

             Dimly, John heard something crash outside.

            It was odd, but in that moment, John had another realization, which somehow made the whole situation even worse:

            He was not going to be able to make his meeting with Sherlock.

*^*^*^

 

            Sherlock was having a very bad day.

            In an incredibly irrational way, which he found frustrating, he wanted to break something. But, not just break something, he wanted to break something important. Shooting the walls of his bedroom with darts or knives or screeching on his violin, as he had done before during fits of boredom, was not going to cut it. He wanted to destroy something valuable. Like one of his experiments. Or his violin.

            He stormed into the house and headed for the stairs, intent on giving into the teenage hormones that he often denied. He was allowed one tantrum, he told himself. John bloody Watson had failed to show up for their meeting this afternoon, probably punishing him for his behavior last time and it was just ridiculous.

He was close. So close. So close to perfecting this character and letting John introduce him to the necessary people and being free to wander parts of London and solve crimes and he was so close. And John hadn’t come. For a moment Sherlock wondered if John had decided to be done with him completely but he didn’t think that could be true. John was nothing if not stubborn and Sherlock supposed that John was just stubborn enough to not abandon him right before the end. Not completely. At least, he didn’t think so.

            Sherlock frowned as he tore off his coat, slowing as he considered. His knowledge of fights between peers was a little lacking as Sherlock had never been in a fight before. All other interactions with his own age group fell into the “mutual hatred” category. Was it possible that John would cut him off without a word? Perhaps this was how partners—friends, his mind inserted—ended.

            A sort of uncomfortable feeling rose in his stomach and he had just decided he would have to do some research on this, when a voice rang from the hallway:

            “Sherlock! Is that you?”

            Immediately the discomfort in his stomach was replaced with rage as Sherlock recognized the voice.

            Sherlock wasn’t having a very bad day. He was having the worst day of his life.

            “Obviously, Mycroft,” he sneered, resisting the urge to ignore him completely and just run up to his room. Mycroft had already entered, was already standing at the entry way to the sitting room, casually leaning against the doorframe. Sherlock could hear the tap of his fingers against that ridiculously middle-aged umbrella he always carried around with him. “Mother’s not home yet. She decided to attend a conference in New York.”

            To be honest, he had stopped listening to her as she was telling him that. Not even Mummy was spared Sherlock’s intense dislike of the phone. Communication was boring when you couldn’t see the other person, pick up what they actually were saying. But from the noise in the background of her call, he knew she was already at the airport and given the time and the most common flights travelling out of Rome at that time, he thought New York was very probable. Maybe Washington D.C.

            “Yes, she called me as well,” Mycroft said. “She said you hung up on her.”

            Sherlock frowned. He didn’t quite remember doing that. Must’ve happened when he realized he needed to leave to meet John. Mummy wouldn’t mind but Mycroft would try to use that against him for months. Mycroft was insufferable.

            “Then why are you here?” Sherlock asked. Normally he would just wait in silence but he didn’t have time for Mycroft’s long and winding buildup to conversation. He had to go break something.

            “I’m here to check up on you, brother mine. You’ve been keeping some very interesting company.” Sherlock was going to have to destroy more than one object.

            “I have not been ‘keeping company,’” Sherlock growled. “I’ve been conducting an ex-”

            “An experiment, yes, yes, of course,” Mycroft cut him off, waving a hand. “It’s always an experiment with you, isn’t it, Sherlock.”

            Sherlock clenched his jaw and didn’t say anything. Mycroft made a show of straightening and tutting a bit as he walked forward.

            “Well, given the circumstances, I was just wondering how long you planning to continue your association with Mr. Watson.”

            “That is none of your business,” Sherlock informed him.

            “You’re a Holmes, of course it’s my business,” Mycroft said, being to sound annoyed. “You can’t be known to be interacting with-”

            “John is none of your business,” Sherlock growled, low and angry enough that even Mycroft looked up in surprise, blinking.

            “Now, now, Sherlock. I know you wanted to annoy me but even you can’t think that this partnership is a good ide-” Mycroft cut off abruptly and Sherlock was horrified to see a delighted look spring into his eyes.

            “Oh,” Mycroft said, softly. He had just figured something out. Something big. He was ridiculously obvious and Sherlock was even more frustrated because for once, he had no idea what Mycroft was so excited about. Though it was probably nothing anyway.

            “You called him John,” Mycroft announced.

            “That’s his name, I believe,” Sherlock said. He didn’t sound surly. He didn’t.

            “You don’t know.” It was not a question. Sherlock glared and refused to ask what exactly he didn’t know. Knowing Mycroft, it was something stupid. Something that Sherlock actually did now and Mycroft was too idiotic to realize that.

            “My, my, little brother,” Mycroft said, smiling. “You’ve developed quite a blind spot, haven’t you?”

            “Mycroft, stop attempting to be mysterious,” Sherlock said. “It makes you look like an idiot.”

            Mycroft actually laughed. Well, Sherlock supposed it was more like a brief chuckle from anyone else, but from Mycroft it was as good as a full-bellied chortle. Sherlock knew he was going red from anger, but he knew Mycroft would read it as embarrassment because Mycroft was an idiot and that idiot was laughing at him and asking about John and Sherlock was going to kill him.

            “Get out,” Sherlock said.

            “Are you sure you don’t want me to tell you?” Mycroft asked, his eyes still dancing.

            “No,” Sherlock said.  I already know it, he finished in his head. I know about his dad and his sister’s drinking and his Mum and I knew it within five minutes so there’s nothing you can tell me about John Watson I don’t already know. And he didn’t have a blind spot. John was being stubborn and stupid and maybe Sherlock didn’t know the details but he know the big picture. Because he knew John and Mycroft didn’t. “I will only be working with Mr. Watson one more time so it doesn’t matter. You can leave.”

            “Hmm,” was Mycroft’s only response but he grabbed his coat. His whole body sang with amusement and contentment. Sherlock was going to destroy his room when he left.

            “Be good, Sherlock,” Mycroft said as he opened the door. “Don’t get into any trouble.” Sherlock rolled his eyes in what he hoped was a completely disinterested way.

            Mycroft strolled out the door and Sherlock glared after him, angrier than he had ever been.

            One more day, he promised himself. One more day and then he could be done with John Watson, who was frankly ridiculously unreliable, and go back to working alone and he would solve crimes and piss off Mycroft and if seeing John at times would piss off Mycroft more, he would do that too.

            For now, he was going to go run an experiment. On how deduce which objects were of most sentimental value in a room. And how to destroy them.

Chapter Text

Part XII

 

            He could handle this, John assured himself on his walk, because it was entirely predictable.

            It had all gone as expected. Lestrade had kept him at the station for as long as he could, looking pained and stressed the whole time. Neither he nor Moran had put up much of a fight to get him out earlier. Moran because he wanted to drive the amount John owed Moriarty up as high as it would go; John because he knew Moriarty didn’t give a shit about how many hours Moran technically worked or what John actually owed. And, besides, the entire time, Lestrade had stayed close, but not too close, and had brought him two sandwiches and fresh fruit and a Coke and once John had realized this was all very predictable and calmed down, he found that he was quite hungry.

            Even leaving the station had gone as he expected. Lestrade had looked slightly ill and shoved his card into John’s hand, begging him to “please, please call if he needed anything” and John had nodded and tried to smile even though they both knew he wouldn’t. Moran had grinned too widely and Lestrade had scowled and fingered his gun and John had the insane wish that Lestrade would just shoot him, or that maybe he should reach for the gun and shoot him, but that didn’t happen because of course it didn’t.

            After had been predictable too. It was quick, with a knife pressed to his throat because Moran liked that, but it had only nicked him a little so that was okay. And his father had thrown him out but he’d only hit him once and had actually let him get his stuff so that was a little unexpected bonus, so that was okay too.

            John was handling this. He was doing just fine.

            He knew how this next part would go. He would knock and Clara would answer the door and call for Harry before he even said anything. His face warranted that much at least. Then, Clara would leave as Harry arrived, because she was respectful like that.

            Harry would be upset. Harry would step outside and slam the door shut behind her so that Clara’s parents wouldn’t hear as she started to curse their father and pace back and forth. She would launch into a fantasy of killing the man herself, which would probably loop around to their mother at some point. For most of it, Harry wouldn’t even look at him, too busy shouting at the sky. John imagined he would have a few minutes to lean against the doorway of Clara’s flat and let Harry’s anger wash over him and make him feel better.

            Finally, he would interrupt her as she lost steam and tell her that he had left. He would hoist his bag up a little for her to see and she would doubt it at the beginning (He threw you out, didn’t he? That bastard.) but he would convince her (No, no but you were right… no point in staying.) That would make her happy. She would grin at him and pull him into a hug that was too tight because Harry never knew how to be gentle. But he would brace himself to avoid flinching and it would be worth it. That hug and the knowledge that Harry was there would make all that came later okay.

            Clara would be painfully sweet and her parents would be painfully awkward. John frowned a little at that, but it couldn’t be helped. He would take a shower right away, in part because that was perhaps his primary goal at the moment, mostly because it would give all of them a chance to discuss the situation. John knew that Clara and her parents knew at least part of truth from Harry. At least, they knew that their mother had left and their father didn’t approve. Maybe they didn’t know about the drinking and the hitting. But John knew that with one eye completely swelled shut, there was no way to hide it. Or to make it seem like it wasn’t that bad.

            The plan ended there, John admitted to himself. He could stay a few nights at Clara’s but Moriarty would be looking for him, and he couldn’t stay with them forever and so he didn’t think about that. One step at a time.

            John arrived at Clara’s and took a moment to squint at his smudged reflection in the window next to the door. He didn’t look too closely but he knew it wasn’t good. There was nothing he could do about it now.

            He knocked and stepped back, shoving his hands into his pockets, glancing down to make sure no blood had gotten onto his pants. He probably should have changed them.

            He heard the door open, and looked up, ready to ask for Harry.

            But it was Harry. There she was, wearing a bit more makeup, looking less thin, smile still playing on her face as she listened to something being said over her shoulder. His heart thudded and the smile that rose to his face was not nearly as forced as he thought it would be.

            Harry turned, saw him, and the smile dropped off her faced. Quickly, she stepped out of the flat and closed the door behind her, tripping a little. John automatically reached to steady her and that’s when he realized it:

            She’s drunk.His smile faded and he felt concern rise up. She wasn’t supposed to be drunk. She was living with Clara. She was supposed to be better. This wasn’t part of the plan.

            Harry had refocused though, had her megawatt smile back in place.

            “Johnny!” she cried, reaching for a hug that wasn’t supposed to come until later. “How are you? It’s been a while, huh?”

            “Umm-” John said over her shoulder. This was not what he expected. Maybe she hadn’t seen his face? Or noticed his book bag hanging over one shoulder?

            “Things have been so lovely here. It was just Jill’s birthday- that’s Clara’s mum, she told me I could call her that, isn’t that nice? We-”

            Harry had pulled back and continued to talk frantically, words slightly slurred. But John didn’t miss how her eyes caught on his face. She had noticed. He knew she had noticed at least that.

            She isn’t going to say anything. John realized. She was ignoring it. She was just going to keep on talking about a surprise party that John didn’t care about and ignore it.

            He felt his throat close. This wasn’t Harry. Harry got mad- she always got mad. She talked big plans about stabbing their father with a meat cleaver or poisoning his whiskey or reporting him to the police. Harry was wild fantasies and angry stomping and grand gestures. She never ignored it. That was Mum’s job.

            There was a beat of silence and John realized that Harry expected him to say something. “Uh- yeah,” was all he could manage. That was all she needed. She was off on the next story, swaying and not looking directly at him and Oh, God, this wasn’t the plan.

            Finally, after her second story was winding to a close – something about a stray cat – John interrupted her: “So, are you going to invite me in?”

            He tried to make it a joke, or at least sound casual. Tried to hide the exhaustion in his voice or the way that his hands shook as he readjusted his bag. Harry would take the hint, surely. He had to get inside. He had to get inside and take a shower and sleep and-

            “God, do you know how awful it is?”

            Harry voice broke through his rising panic. It was different. It was small and scared and heartbroken.

            “What?” John said, terrified that he had missed something.

            “Watching you!” Harry cried. “Watching you get hurt over and over and- and you just take it! You just pretend nothing is wrong and act like it won’t happen again and you never fucking do anything about it! You don’t even try- yell or fight or hide. Y-you just-”

            Harry was crying. She was furiously wiping at tears as they slipped out of her eyes but they were still coming. John could only stare in horror.

            “You just let him, John. I- I got home early one day a-and I watched you take off your shirt so he could hit you with a belt.”

            Less blood, John thought dimly. Save the shirt. He didn’t feel like this was happening. It was all very far away.

            “Look, I-”

            “That’s not normal!” she interrupted, blinking back more tears. “It’s not! You aren’t supposed to just let him. And I had to watch. Over and over and I thought if I left, it would get better or I wouldn’t have to see but whenever you come visit, it’s the same thing!”

            She waved a hand at his face helplessly.

            Tell her you left, John thought. Tell her you ran away. You agree. You’re done. Tell her anything. He had to get in the flat. He had to take a shower. Then he could fix this. Show her the bag. You’re packed.

            “Harry, I-”

            “I can’t do this anymore,” Harry said, softly. Softly but firmly. She was shaking her head already as if to answer all his pleas. “I can’t watch you get hurt anymore. It’s too painful. I’m so sorry. I can’t do it.”

            She was moving to the door. Then opening it and stepping in. John just stood there, dumb.

            “I’m so sorry,” she sniffled again. She wasn’t looking at him. She was closing the door. “Don’t- don’t come back like this. Please. I- I can’t.”

            Then the door was closed and she was gone.

            John stared. His heart was pounding and his mouth had gone dry and he couldn’t believe it.

            That wasn’t the plan, John thought dimly. He took a half-step towards the door as if he could knock and Clara would answer and it would all go differently. Or Harry would come back and he could explain everything. He had to explain. It had to go differently. He had to get inside. He couldn’t go back to his dad’s and it was Harry. He only had one bag. He wouldn’t take up much space. He didn’t need a blanket or pillows or anything. He didn’t even need the couch.

            He raised his hand to knock again.

            Don’t come back.

            He snatched his hand down. What if she didn’t answer? What if she knew it was him and just didn’t answer? Oh God.

            He turned and walked away almost as soon as the thought crossed his mind. He couldn’t handle that.

            But he could handle this. She was drunk. She didn’t mean it. Tons of people slept outside in London every night. He could probably find Billy and- He would go back in the morning. She would calm down by then. and Billy could show him a safe spot. He would be fine. It wasn’t even that cold. He could talk to Clara. She would let him in. And he had all his clothes so he could layer. Billy probably even knew a gym or something he could sneak in to take a shower. Even if she didn’t, that was okay.

            He took a few more steps away from the flat before realizing abruptly that he didn’t know where he was going. He wanted to find Billy but if he asked around, Moriarty would hear about it and he needed at least a night. One night before he had to handle that.

            Technically, he thought idly, he didn’t have to go anywhere. If he was going to be outside for the night, it didn’t really matter where. But… but that seemed too much like not having a plan.

            Our spot. He decided firmly. The small lot where he and Sherlock met was unoccupied and the roof from one of the adjacent buildings covered a corner so he wouldn’t get wet if it rained and it was a plan.

            He turned and started walking, taking deep even breaths and assuring himself over and over that this was all okay. He was handling it. He was fine.

End Part XII

Chapter Text

Part XIII

            Sherlock paced back and forth along their usual meeting spot and still couldn’t believe that John had failed to meet him yesterday. That had forced him to go home and see Mycroft and talk to Mycroft and that was John’s fault. John was annoying and stubborn and if he didn’t come today-

            It didn’t matter, Sherlock assured himself. John would come today and Sherlock would pass and everything would be worth it. He would prove Mycroft wrong.

            Sherlock wasn’t sure if he heard or merely sensed John arrive but he didn’t bother saying hello. If their last meeting was anything to go by, John wouldn’t appreciate the pleasantry anyway.

            “I think we should start with-”

            “Sherlock, I-”

            Sherlock felt his mind stutter as John’s voice hit him. It wasn’t John’s voice. It was exhausted and broken and… not John.

            Slowly, Sherlock turned to look at his friend. He had been avoiding looking directly at John for their past few meetings; he told himself it was out of respect for John’s privacy, more because he hated everything that he could read without even trying.

            But he looked now and felt his stomach clench at the information that poured into his brain- same clothes as two days ago, fresh bruise that was causing his left eye to swell shut completely, dried blood dribbling down the side of his neck that hadn’t been cleaned off, exhaustion, shame…

            “John,” Sherlock said and stood frozen. “What-” he cut himself off. John didn’t want to talk about it, never wanted to talk about it but what was he supposed to do? He had to do something.

            “Deduce it.”

            He almost missed John’s statement over the frustrated growl that grew within his throat but John’s voice was firm enough that he heard it. And just like that, he realized, for the first time, he didn’t want to deduce the answer. He didn’t want there to be an answer. It was a mistake. It was all a mistake.

            “No.” It came out breathless and Sherlock was already shaking his head. He didn’t want it like this.

            “Oh, come on,” John said, a cold, bitter laugh filling the air between them. “All these weeks and now you want to say ‘no’? Go on, deduce it.”

            Sherlock was still shaking his head. “John, I-” He stopped. He didn’t know how to finish that sentence. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to deduce this. I’m following your instructions. I don’t want to. I can’t. I won’t.

            “Please, Sherlock,” and the bitterness was gone, leaving behind it only hollowness. “I don’t have the energy to pretend with you anymore. Deduce me.”

            Sherlock looked at John for a moment longer, wondering if he should start here, with what was in front of him before looking to the side. The beginning, he thought idly. Have to start from the beginning. It wasn’t an excuse to not look at John right then. It wasn’t because he needed distance. It was because you always started at the beginning. He took a breath. The beginning then.

            Almost as if his brain had been waiting for this moment, his memories of John seemed to be stored in a tight container near the front, if memories had a physical location. He barely had to think John’s name and do away with the “No Deductions” rule and he was flooded with John.

            Meeting at the store. John, smart, too smart, seeing through his disguise. Abuse. Exhaustion. Older sister. Hungry, staring at the chocolate biscuits. Polite, saying hello to every customer who walking in despite no one bothering to reply. Dependable.

            Old data, Sherlock thought, biting his lip. Useless. Need clues. Look for clues.

            The question. “And that’s it?” Presumed sarcasm based on previous encounters. Even those who were moderately impressed could never show it, therefore, chose rudeness. Familiar. Except… John could not be analyzed based on previous data. Not sarcasm then. An honest question. A clue there was something more John was hiding. Something Sherlock had missed. His first clue. Missed it. And then the promise.

            Sherlock closed his eyes. He could do this.

            Next day, first meeting. John, late because he was picking up extra assignments from the school he missed. Why did he miss school? Hardworking, driven, so not slacking for no reason. Didn’t work at the store during school hours. Why was he skipping? Helping his sister? Taking care of his father? Not enough data.

            Focus. John eating the sandwich, clearly enjoying it though he bent down and put the rest of it in his bag for his sister. Flash of pain, consistent with shoulder inju- No. No it wasn’t from his shoulder. The grimace occurred before he reaching to open the bag, it occurred when he was squatting down. What would cause that? Knee? Ankle? Calf? No, no real sign of distress when they were walking, just that flash, that quickest flash when he bent over or sat down. Hip? Bum? Why would-

            No. Sherlock’s thoughts fled abruptly in another direction.

            Sessions with John. Characters. Working on accent. John relaxed. Happy. Excited when shoplifting. Why had John stopped shoplifting? Clearly still needed the food, clearly talented at it, clearly enjoyed it. Why stop? Why insist that he and Sherlock go practice in another part of town? Obviously couldn’t be caught by his own store but is he well known enough in this area of town to warrant leaving it entirely? How would he be that known? Keep in mind.

            Billy. The next big clue. They had exited the cab, happy and relaxed and John had forced him to eat and Billy had called his name. And John had frozen. Jaw clenched, back tense, hands still except for where his left hand had reached and pulled at the hem of his shirt as if to make sure it was down all the way. Nervous habit? Something more?

            Billy. Homeless, message from “Jim.” Jim clearly some sort of employer. Misses John. John hadn’t been working. John didn’t want to work. Not then. Not until later.  John’s phone call that he couldn’t meet up had occurred on the 17th. Some electric and water bills due mid-month. Needed to make money. Called Sherlock at night, sounded resigned, ashamed, had to leave quickly to get to work, presumably with Jim. Who worked at night? Illegal. Theft? No, would stop getting such a rush from shop lifting. Drugs? Too young and short to be truly threatening to that crowd.  Prostitutes-?

            No. Sherlock closed his eyes tighter and reached his hands up to thread them through his hair.

            Next meeting. John looked awful, sore, tired, finger shaped bruise around his neck. No defensive marks, John hadn’t fought back so father most likely. Except, no… no, that didn’t fit. Judging from John’s most frequent bruises, John’s father’s hands were large, beefy, overweight. These fingers weren’t as thick. Couldn’t have been the father but then why no defensive wounds? Why would John not have fought back? The bruises weren’t even smudged. Had let it happen. Why? Erotic, Sherlock’s brain supplied. Common kink, especially amoung domineering men who would enjoy the company of younger-

            Sherlock didn’t finish the thought, growling in frustration. He had to do this right. Had to get this right. But-

            Molly had noticed the bruises right away. Almost the first thing she asked about but she wasn’t surprised- resigned, sad, disappointed. She asked if he needed to ice them. John said he already had, introduced Sherlock, Molly smiled and hugged him too, reaching down afterward to pull down her tank top which had ridden up to reveal a tattoo on her inner hip. Tattoo was of two letters, initials? She didn’t like it, tried to cover it, yanking down on her tank top just like John had smoothed down his shirt when he heard Billy. Same motion. Same tattoo. Same pimp.

            No, no, no, no. Sherlock growled. No, that’s wasn’t it. Couldn’t be it. Focus. He kept his eyes closed, but skipped forward to John as he was now.

            Missed yesterday. Usually called if he couldn’t make it. Polite. Dependable. Unexpected then. Bruise, consistent with father. Slight bruises around his wrists. Consistent with handcuffs. Arrested. John had been arrested. Arrested but let go, hard charges to get to stick. Wearing the same clothes, father had thrown him out because he’d been arrested. But John’s father did illegal things all the time, not much of a moral compass, wouldn’t be mad at much except-

            Sherlock took a sharp breath but kept his eyes closed, trying desperately for a minute more to come up with a better answer, an answer that didn’t make his stomach drop and his heart turn to ice. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t but it was. Oh God. John. It was so obvious, so obvious now and Mycroft had been right. He had a blind spot.

            It all made sense. The exhaustion and skipping school and John’s friendship with Molly and the shame that flooded his eyes whenever he had his guard down. It made perfect sense but Sherlock didn’t want it to.

            “John,” he said, finally opening his eyes. He wasn’t even sure what he was going to say. What was there to say?

            In the end, it didn’t matter because when he looked around, John was gone.

*^*^*^

 

            When he had fled, he hadn’t really been thinking of much of anything.

            He had seen Sherlock close his eyes and watched as the taller boy frowned, and then growled, and seen him figure it out only to deny it with a shake of his head. Watched as Sherlock’s closed eyes twitched to the side as he went down a different path of thinking and knew with certainty that Sherlock would arrive at the same result. There was no way for him not to. It was the truth.

            And suddenly, John didn’t want to be there when Sherlock’s eyes opened. He didn’t want to see the pity or the disgust or even that blank look of disinterest when Sherlock actually found something incredibly interesting but didn’t want to show it. And even if somehow, somehow Sherlock managed to scrap together something resembling understanding, John didn’t think he could handle that either.

            John Watson was a prostitute and it was all out now and whores did not associate with Sherlock Holmes.

            So he left, grabbing his book bag from the ground and slinging it around his shoulder, thinking only one irrational, ridiculous, idiotic thought:

            Mum.

            He kept walking, trying to banish the word from his mind. It didn’t make any sense. He should wish that his dad was normal, or that Harry wasn’t with Clara, or that Sherlock ran after and stopped him. Or that last night- the night before?- had never happened. But that was not what he was thinking. Instead, his thoughts circled around one name and every cell in his body seemed to cry out one simple fact: He wanted his Mum.

            His steps faltered as the thought crystalized into longing and he turned abruptly down some sort of alley and sat down hard and curled his arms around his bag.

            This wasn’t the first time. 7 months ago, limping home with a new tattoo that had stung and bled, he had been struck by the sensation that if Mum was home, she could fix this. She could wipe it off because she was his mum and mums fixed things. She would make the men stop and she would hold him and it would all be better. She would tell Moriarty that it was all a mistake and not even Moriarty would be able to stop her. It would be like all the stories he’d heard about or read about when a mother’s love conquered all.

            Even then he’d known it was a stupid idea. She couldn’t fix anything, couldn’t even stop his dad, and she didn’t even want to try. She wasn’t home and wasn’t coming back and so he had pushed any thought of her out of his mind.

            Until now. Now, he sat and tears caught in his throat and his heart pounded in his ears, the thought repeated itself: Mum could fix this.

            It didn’t make any sense. He hated her and she had left and he hated her but… but he wanted his mom. He wanted to throw his arms around her and tuck his face into her shoulder and cry and beg her not to leave. Or if she had to, he wanted her to take him with her. Or if she wouldn’t, he wanted her to leave earlier. So he didn’t remember.

            Because he remembered everything about her. He remembered when they were happy and she hummed whenever she did the wash. He remembered learning to count by the apples on her apron and learning to read in the magazines she would steal from doctors’ offices. He remembered when Harry would go play with her friends but he would stay, stay and help her clean and she would thank him even though he couldn’t help that much when he was that young. He remembered her soft blond hair that she usually wore in a braid down the center of her back. He remembered when she wore it down and loose on special occasions like birthdays. He remembered the way her nose crinkled when she smiled.

            He took a breath and tried to force himself to stop thinking about her. Or at least stop wanting her. Because he remembered the rest of it too. He remembered having less and less and smiling less and less. Her hair migrated from her neat braid to a messy bun at the top of her head. He remembered the fighting and the yelling and he remembered when she sat on the couch and let his dad beat the shit of him for the first time and he remembered looking into her eyes and seeing only defeat. And then he remembered looking again later and seeing nothing at all. He remembered wishing that she would say something, anything only to have his wish granted when all she could say were horrible, hateful things about Harry. He remembered the feeling of emptiness when he returned from school almost a year ago and the feeling of dread when he realized her things were gone. He remembered feeling a sense of relief when she left that at least she hadn’t told their father about Harry. He remembered wondering why she had bothered to take the two picture albums they had.

            He didn’t remember hating her. He didn’t have to. He hated her every day. He hated her without thinking about her. It was only now that he needed reminding that he brought this hated to the forefront of his mind. Or at least he tried to. He had to stop thinking about this. She wasn’t there. She was a complete and utter bitch. Sherlock had said so. Sherlock was always right. Sherlock was gone.

            He forced himself up again. And then he walked, mind on autopilot, to Molly’s. He took a breath and pushed all thoughts down and knocked on the door. He could do this. Appear casual.

            “John,” Molly’s voice floated down to him while he was still staring at his shoes and it was sad and worried. She knew. Probably everyone knew. Sherlock would be pleased at the homeless network’s effectiveness.

            “Hey, Molly,” he started, clearing his throat. “I- I-”

            “Shh,” she said and then reached out and caught him by his hand, pulling him without pause to her upstairs bedroom. He dropped his bag unceremoniously and collapsed on her bed, holding his head in his hands and taking deep even breaths.

            “Did your dad throw you out?” Molly asked, her voice clinical and caring at once.

            “Yeah,” John nodded, stilted. His father’s voice rang in his head: Oh, no you don’t. No cocksucking faggot is going to live under my room. “Yeah, he did.” It hadn’t been unexpected and it hadn’t been that bad. His father had only managed to get one real punch in and John had managed, maybe for the first time in his life to say something back: You weren’t complaining when I was paying the rent.

            It had been quite a thrill, his first time fighting back. But then his father had snorted with laughter and shot back with a Don’t pretend that’s why you did it and John hadn’t been able to say anything at all.

            “He let me get my stuff though,” John said, gesturing to his bag. “So… there’s that.”

            Molly tried to smile, she really did, and John appreciated that. For a moment they sat in what could have been comfortable silence.

            “He’ll find you here, you know,” Molly finally said softly and John nodded wordlessly. He did know. He knew what was next for him. Molly came and sat next to him and tentatively put an arm around his shoulders.

            “Can I- do you think he’ll let me stay here?” John finally asked.

            “No,” Molly said, sadly but firmly. “He keeps tastes separate. Only girls here.”

            “Okay,” John replied, taking a sharp breath. “Okay. God. Yeah.”

            “But you can stay until he does,” Molly said and it was that act of kindness that did him in. Because John knew what Molly was risking by letting him hide here from Moriarty. He knew she was risking the wrath of who he thought to be the most deranged person on the planet. He knew what could happen to her. He knew what this said about their friendship.

            And it was too much. John felt his breath hitch and he curled his arms around Molly and sobbed.

            And she wasn’t his mum but her shoulder was soft and she whispered that it would be okay and she understood and somehow that made it better.

End Part XIII.

Chapter Text

Part XIV

 

            For the first time in his life, Sherlock willingly searched out Mycroft Holmes.

            If he stopped to think about it, he probably would have convinced himself that the presence of Mycroft was never worth it, but he didn’t stop. He merely took a moment to process that John was gone and then heard Mycroft’s sneering “Blind spot” in his head, realized that Mycroft had known and headed out. The time he spent travelling had only solidified the idea that this, as with almost everything in his life, was Mycroft’s fault.

            “You knew,” he declared as he swung Mycroft’s office door open, noting dimly that it was slightly too large for an entry level government employee. Moving up the ranks quickly, Sherlock’s mind supplied. Impressed the right people but being kept relatively hidden from view. Back channels. Away from the public. Probably planning and running more than is in his official job description. Will never be a figurehead. Too fat.

            “Ah,” Mycroft looked no more than pleasantly surprised at the interruption. “Hello, Sherlock. Lovely to see you.”

            “You knew,” Sherlock repeated, slamming the door behind him. He was going to make Mycroft admit it, going to force him to acknowledge that-

            “Well, of course I knew,” Mycroft said, leaning back in his chair. “I thought you would have known as well.”

            “I-” Sherlock floundered for a moment, not quite expecting Mycroft to give in so easily. Then he refocused. “If I had known, I would have done something about it.”

            Mycroft smiled. “So you admit you didn’t know?”

            Sherlock scowled. John had run away somewhere and was homeless and Mycroft seemed to be content to brag like this was some sort of game.

            “I promised John his privacy,” Sherlock growled. God, he hated Mycroft.

            “Since when do you keep promises to anyone about anything?” Mycroft asked, for the first time looking confused. Sherlock bristled further. Why were they still talking about that? He had to find John.

            “It doesn’t matter,” Sherlock said. “What matters is you knew and didn’t do anything about it.”

            “Oh? And what exactly did you want me to do about it?” Mycroft said, hints of the Holmes anger in his voice. “Mr. Watson is participating voluntarily. He won’t admit anything to the police, nor would he ask for help from any other child protective services.”

            “You could have made it unnecessary for him to-” Sherlock cut off, waving his hand. He didn’t want to say it.

            “How? Hire his father, who, by all accounts, is a non-functioning alcoholic? Simply give the money to him? John would never see heads or tails of it if I could even find a proper excuse.” Mycroft’s voice was biting now. He always got angry when Sherlock refused to be practical. “Or maybe you’d like me to just give it to John. Yes, that would work, because John seems like he would just love being given charity money from some random stranger.”

            “You could arrest his pimp, you idiot. Surely that is illegal,” Sherlock glared at Mycroft, who sighed.

            “Even if I could arrest Moriarty,” Mycroft’s face took on the slightly pinched look that meant he was mildly annoyed he was admitting he wasn’t God. “There’s no guarantee that Mr. Watson would not end up working for some other individual- or worse, attempting to get clients on his own.”

            Mycroft finally stood, stiffly glaring at Sherlock. “So please, little brother, tell me exactly how you would like me to help.”

            “Moriarty,” Sherlock repeated, finally smiling. This was what he needed. Something he could work with. A clue. His first clue.

            “What?” Mycroft asked, looking stunned by Sherlock’s change in tone.

            “Thank you, Mycroft,” Sherlock said, already turning to go. He had things to do. “You’ve managed to be useful for once.”

            “Now wait a minute,” Mycroft said, moving faster than Sherlock would have thought possible to stand between him and the door. “Sherlock, you cannot start poking around Moriarty’s empire. It’s not safe and you are only-”

            “I’m not going to ‘start poking around’ as you say,” Sherlock said, calmly moving around his brother as he opened the door. Mycroft looked relieved and calmer now that the door was open. Image mattered to Mycroft.

            So Sherlock made a point to stand in the hallway and pitch his voice just loud enough that people knew they had been fighting.

            “He has John,” he said, glaring. “I’m going to destroy him.”

            Then he turned and left, not bothering to listen to his brother’s protests or his half-attempt to follow.

            He had a name: Moriarty. Jim Moriarty.

End Part XIV.

Chapter Text

Part XV

            Five days later and Molly was still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

            She sat, absentmindedly gnawing on a fingernail – one of her last ones – staring blankly at the telly. She hadn’t even bothered to turn it on. The other girls were out so she didn’t even have to pretend she wasn’t worried sick. It was nice, in a way.

            It had only taken Moriarty two days to find John. If she was being honest, Molly suspected that it had actually taken him less than that and he had just waited two days for some reason. Maybe he was being a bit more careful because of the arrest, maybe he wanted to let John settle a bit before ripping the rug out from under him again, maybe he wanted to add to Molly’s punishment by increasing the time she owed him. Probably it was some awful reason that Molly couldn’t even think of.

            She tried not to think like that, tried to stay positive and not get too upset. It wasn’t good for the other girls. Or for John.

            It’s not like there was a real reason to be concerned. Moriarty hadn’t come busting in with thugs, hadn’t dragged John away kicking and screaming, didn’t even destroy anything. Instead, he had walked in the side door – their side door – like he always did when he picked up his cut and had merely waved at John, snuggled in between Molly and Sarah on the couch.

            “Hello, hello!” He called. John stiffened for a moment before taking a breath. Then he calmly put the bowl of cereal Molly had forced on him down and stood. “Vacation’s over, Johnny. Time to go. Go get your things.”

            Molly and Sarah stood as John left the room, nodding and clenching his jaw and trying to act like he wasn’t a scared teenage boy.

            “He could stay with us,” Molly blurted. Moriarty moved toward her and Molly flinched, sure she was going to get hit, but all he did was gently pat her on the cheek.

            “Oh, Molly, darling,” his voice was as gentle as his hand. “Don’t be an idiot.”

            Molly opened his mouth, maybe to offer him something- anything- if he would let John stay, but Sarah poked her in the back and, more importantly, John came back down the stairs. She wished it had taken him longer. She wished he hadn’t known to only bother unpacking his toothbrush. She wished they had more time.

            “I’m ready,” he said quietly but firmly. Moriarty turned to grin at him.

            “Wonderful!” Moriarty said and then without so much as a backwards glance, he had thrown an arm around John, who somehow didn’t flinch, and they were gone.

            It had all happened so fast that Molly didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye. And Moriarty seemed to have forgotten her punishment entirely.

            Maybe that’s what still had her nervous three days later. The thought that maybe Moriarty was coming back at any moment rather than just his semi-usual pick-ups, or that he was taking it out on John instead, or that-

            No. Stop that. Molly snatched away her hand from her mouth. There was no point worrying. She had learned that lesson years before. Things happened and you dealt with them and that was that. That was life.

            Still, she should see if she could track down Billy and at least find out where John was staying. Things were different for young boys- usually they had their own flat for the privacy of the customer so it should be easy enough to pop over and say hello. Make sure he was okay.

            The knock on the door startled her and she glanced at the clock, wondering if she had somehow lost track of that much time before realizing it was from the side-door. No one knocked at the side-door. Unless-

            She was up and at the door in an instant, face falling when she realized the boy there was too tall to be John. And his dark hair fell in unruly curls rather than John’s light hair that he made her cut regularly. His coat must’ve been nice at some point though it was now dirty and threadbare. She was about to tell the boy waiting that he had the wrong house, or was the wrong age, or would at least have to wait until nightfall when she realized-

            “Sherlock?” she asked, surprised. She had no idea what John’s friend from school was doing on her doorstep.

            “I need to come in,” he announced. Molly didn’t move. She didn’t know how much Sherlock knew about John but Molly was not about to start spouting John’s business to people. Especially people she knew John cared about. Five minutes of listening to his stories about their adventures had proven that fact to her. If Sherlock didn’t know about John’s situation, she wasn’t telling him.

            “John’s not here,” she told him. John wouldn’t have been in school all week. That must be why he was here. “Sorry. Try his flat, maybe.”

            “We both know he’s not there,” Sherlock said, frowning in annoyance. He took a step closer and Molly squinted, trying to figure out what he knew. “I waited until the others were gone. I need to talk to you.”

            Something in his gaze convinced her. Molly stepped away from the door, pushing it open. Sherlock burst through impatiently, heading straight for the lounge. He glared around the room for a moment, walking closer to inspect the bookshelf a bit more and then peering into the trashcan before announcing:

            “John was here.”

            “How did you…?” Molly faded out. She realized she didn’t really care how. So she switched her line of questioning. “He was- He left three days ago.”

            For an instant, Sherlock looked gutted. He shoulders slumped and his head went down before he straightened again.

            “You don’t know where he is,” Sherlock said. It wasn’t a question.

            “No. Now what are you doing here?” Molly gestured to the couch and then found herself asking: “And would you like a cuppa?”

            “I’m going to find John,” Sherlock replied. And then seemed to recognize her second question and looked uncomfortable. “And no. Thank you.”

            “Find him and what?” Molly asked. As far as she was concerned, finding him would be the easy part.

            “Save him.” Sherlock said it as if it were the simplest thing in the world. As if she was the idiot for even asking the question. As if it wasn’t impossible. Molly couldn’t help but smile, even as her heart broke.

            She had never been that young. Not with a dead father she no longer remembered and a sick mother who no longer remembered her.

            “Sherlock,” she said gently, reaching to touch his arm which he drew his attention. He stared at it as if it belonged to a different planet. “I don’t know how much you know but it’s just not-”

            “I know everything,” he informed her, shaking off her hand and meeting her eyes dead on. He paused for a moment, then clarified: “I know everything about John. I don’t know everything about Moriarty. Not yet. But I will. Starting with you.”

            At the sound of Moriarty’s name, Molly had flinched and instinctively looked around. They couldn’t talk about this. No. Everyone knew what happened to those who tried to cross Moriarty.

            “No,” she said, probably too loudly. Her heart was pounding. “You are not going after about Moriarty.”

            “I am,” he said, not stubbornly, but firmly.

            “If you wanted to help John,” Molly said, ignoring him because what else could she do? She had to change the subject. “You should have been here three days ago.” Sherlock’s mouth twisted.

            “Running away took longer than expected,” he muttered, glaring. “Besides, John still wouldn’t be safe. I have to take down Moriarty.”

            “You can’t take down Moriarty,” Molly said, but she sounded less firm, even to her own ears. The gangly boy staring her down was different from the cautious, polite friend who seemed shy and content to let John do the story-telling. This boy was all stilted arrogance and determined desperation. This boy believed he could do it. Even though Molly knew he couldn’t.

            “I can and I am going to,” Sherlock said. “With or without you. So are you going to help or not?”

            No was the answer. Absolutely not. She was not going to help this boy get himself killed or worse. She was going to keep her head down and work off her debt quietly and help the other girls and stay safe. Sherlock was just an impatient, arrogant, scared, teenage boy and she was too sensible to be playing this game.

            “Upstairs,” she said. “The others can’t know.”

            Sherlock didn’t smile, but he nodded in appreciation before turning and marching towards the stairs.

            “First, I’ll need everything you know about the homeless network,” he called over his shoulder. “Then, how you make payments to him. Who is on the title of this house? Do you make any payments to the bank? Ever get any notices here? Billy! I’m assuming you know Billy. How much-”

            His voice faded as he went up the stairs and Molly simply stood.

            She couldn’t tell if the feeling at the pit of her stomach was terror or excitement.

End Part XV.

Chapter Text

Part XVI

 

            This was taking too long.

            Sherlock growled a little and wished he hadn’t broken his violin (the bow, just the bow) last week and glared at his bedroom wall.

            It was just taking too long. Four weeks- a month, his brain helpfully supplied. Now it’s been a month – and he had nothing to show for it.

            Well, that wasn’t true. He had lots to show for it. He had dead ends and fake names and witnesses too terrified to ever testify and now he was going to have to start telling time in months. He frowned. Even making the mental switch from days to weeks had been distinctly unpleasant. Now, if he didn’t get his act together, he was going to have to start counting in months.

            He had Moran. He tried to be proud of this fact as his eyes flitted over to the adjacent wall. Sebastian Moran, John’s lawyer, was as good as dead. All Sherlock had to do was pull the trigger. The metaphorical trigger. Molly had managed to convince him that personally killing the man was unrealistic. But he had Moran on accepting bribes and drugs and rape (at least, he had the rape charge of the judge wasn’t a complete idiot, something Sherlock could not guarantee). He should feel good about that. That wasn’t nothing.

            He had Anderson too. Nothing major, but a list of bad judgments long enough to get him off the force for being a complete and utter piece of shit. Sherlock frowned a bit longer at the police officer’s section of the wall. He could find something more substantial if he had the time.

            But he didn’t. He had barely enough time to establish that Lestrade and Donovan were clean before moving along in his investigation. He had to focus on what was important. Especially now that everything was starting to unravel.

            He had managed to stay undercover for two weeks, falling easily into the character that he and John had so painstakingly had created. But it was like John had predicted. People didn’t like him (obviously) and since Molly’s connections with the homeless network were much weaker than John’s, the bigger issue was that people didn’t trust him. It had taken most of two weeks just to get people to acknowledge his existence, much less talk to him. And then, fifteen days after he started, Mycroft had arrived.

            His detestable older brother had quite literally yanked him off the streets one night and dragged him home. Though, at least he had shown some decorum- he had worn a disguise and actually used public transport. Sherlock’s cover wasn’t completely blown. He had managed to make it back to his old haunting grounds four nights later.

            Now it was a precarious balancing act. He’d had to enlist some of the younger kids to watch Mycroft’s office and warn him when Mycroft was heading to the house so he could meet him there and pretend to be sulking. The cover story was that Sherlock was avoiding some form of home-made rehab and he thought the kids bought it but… but it was risky and-

            Sherlock’s gaze briefly left the wall to snag on his arm for a moment. There was still a slight bruise. He would have to put on long sleeves before Mycroft arrived. John would not be pleased that his commitment to the character had gone quite so far. He wasn’t particularly pleased either. Although the experience had been…. interesting, to say the least, it had cost him almost fourteen hours. Precious hours that he was supposed to be filling with something useful.

            Like getting Moriarty. Liking finding Moriarty and connecting him to his empire and taking it down and destroying him.

            But it was proving difficult. Sherlock took a step closer to the bedroom wall (a spare bedroom on the opposite end of the house. Mycroft had taken to barging into his old room unannounced). He had so many strings, so many different parts of a web that he couldn’t quite get together.

            He had a name. He knew how it was all connected. It should have been easy. But the word ‘Moriarty’ either made people violent or terrified and Sherlock was forced to admit that the man was good. He was really good. Sherlock would go as far to say as fantastic. He was completely fantastic and from a distance, Sherlock could almost appreciate how intelligent this man must be. Maybe even as intelligent as Sherlock.

            But he had John. He had John and so any admiration Sherlock might have felt was burned out by rage and desperation in turn. It was taking too long.

            Finally, slowly, Sherlock turned to the opposite wall. It was the most empty of the four and it made Sherlock the angriest. For the key thing that Sherlock had failed to do was find John.

            Moriarty must be moving him, Sherlock had long since deduced. Billy had started off knowing a general area of where John must be, based on where the two boys met up for brief chats. But, over two weeks ago, Billy had lost contact and they hadn’t been able to catch a glimpse of the teenager since. Billy wanted to call in the rest of the homeless kids, but Sherlock had decided against it. The more people who knew that they were looking for John, the more likely that Moriarty would hear about it. And based off stories he had been told and the few people who had dared to answer his questions (one of whom was missing all the fingers on his left hand), Sherlock had grown to appreciate that Moriarty was not one to be trifled with. He could see why Mycroft had threatened to inform Mother of his actions if he didn’t stop. He could see why Molly refused to get any of the other girls involved. He could see why it would be safer to stop.

            According to all reports, John wasn’t in any truly life-threatening danger. He would be allowed to work off his debts and would eventually be let go. Moriarty was too smart and too careful to let bodies pile up on his watch. Unless you caught his eye, he seemed content to let people pay off what they owed and leave the business. In fact, from all Sherlock could tell, Moriarty seemed rather bored with most individuals, more interested in other, more profitable, more dramatic methods of crime. Most prostitutes were fine.

            Unless they weren’t.

            John would not be fine.

            That’s what Molly and Mycroft and Billy and the others who had tried to dissuade him from his course of action had failed to understand. John would not fly under the radar. Moriarty would become interested in John.

            Because John was interesting. John was strong and smart and noble and interesting and Moriarty would figure that out eventually.

            That’s what he had tried to explain to Molly when she insisted that she had been working for Moriarty for over three years and that while it wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t dangerous. He’d tried to tell her that that was because she was boring and not interesting and not John. She had looked vaguely hurt but it had quickly shifted to something that looked like pity and Sherlock had given up. Everyone was so stupid.

            Except Moriarty. Sherlock looked from John’s wall to Moriarty’s and growled again. Moriarty would figure it out and he would hurt John and it was all taking so bloody long.

            Sherlock turned and left the room. All the pictures were distracting and Mycroft would be arriving for dinner soon and he had to go think.

            And he had to find John. He had to.

            Because John would not be okay.

 

*^*^*^

 

            John was okay.

            Despite everything that had happened, and was currently happening, John was completely okay.

            It had been three – four?- weeks and he was living in what was essentially a string of brothels run by James Moriarty and he had worked almost every night and he was sore and tired, but really, he was surprisingly okay. It was just as Molly had told him: you got used to it and you stopped thinking about it and it was fine.

            His days were almost fantastically free. Without school or working at the store to worry about, he spent his time either seeing the odd day costumers for Moriarty or swinging out to talk to Billy (though, now that he thought of it, it had been a while) or just lying about reading books (paid for with precious tip money that he probably should have been saving but he couldn’t bring himself to do that). He wasn’t sleeping very well or eating very much but for once it wasn’t because he didn’t have time or food. He just wouldn’t fall asleep and was almost never hungry so… all was well.  

            The key had been to stop thinking. It had taken a week or so to get used to it, but then it was surprisingly easy. He just didn’t let himself think about his dad or his sister or Sherlock or himself. Every urge to make sure that his father and Harry were surviving without him was dealt with firmly by anger at first and then just by the dull sense that they were gone. Or he was. Either worked. Every time he would find himself glancing at someone and trying to pick them apart as Sherlock would, he just told himself that Sherlock was fine without him, probably already off solving crimes even faster now that John wasn’t there to slow him down. Every time the word ‘bored’ crossed his subconscious in Sherlock’s voice, he simply started reading another book or willed himself to fall asleep. No thinking. That was the solution. No thinking about the nights or when he wanted to be a doctor or school or his future. None.

            He wasn’t even thinking now, as Moran panted and grunted above him and Moriarty watched from the corner as he always did. Every once and a while, the vague thought would cross his mind that this didn’t matter, but for the most part he didn’t have to remind himself because it really didn’t.

            It would be over in a moment anyway, John knew. He could tell from the noises above him and the thrusts into him and his knowledge of Sebastian Moran.

            “Goddamn it,” Moran grunted, grabbing John’s shoulder hard enough to bruise. John’s breath caught in his throat for a moment but he closed his eyes and held it down and one, two, three, there. It was over. Nothing to worry about. He just rolled onto his back and lay there, knowing that Moran was one of the ones that didn’t want him to clean up right away. So he just took a few deep breaths and listened to Moran panting next to him and stared uncaringly up at the ceiling.

            “He’s getting boring,” Moran told Moriarty, his voice nearly a whine. Moriarty wasn’t paying attention today, he was staring at his phone and had been the whole time.

            “You’ve had him almost every day,” Moriarty replied, not looking up. “Of course he’s getting boring.”

            “No, no, look at him,” Moran said. “He’s not interesting anymore.”

            “Johnny, be interesting,” Moriarty replied.

            “Yes, sir,” John replied, trying to put some life into it. It didn’t work. It came out vaguely dull and inherently defiant. It was the wrong move because Moriarty looked up, suddenly attentive. The man frowned a bit and then stood and danced closer, swaying on his tip-toes.

            Then suddenly he was too close, face hovering mere inches from John’s own, breathing the same air and watching with fascinated eyes. John wasn’t sure if he was supposed to look cowed or scared or disgusted so he settled for just looking back.

            “Oooooh,” Moriarty breathed. “Oh, Sebastian, you’re almost right.” Moriarty giggled. Moran looked pleased with himself. Moriarty leaned over to kiss Moran deeply, his hand trailing across John’s chest and John did shift at that. Moriarty never used him, he just liked to watch and wank himself off occasionally but the idea of Moriarty actually inside him was repulsive, even to John. Just thinking about his high pitched giggle and cruel hands and-

            No. Don’t think.

            As if he could sense John’s shut down, Moriarty pulled back, staring at him again.

            “He’s not quite boring,” Moriarty declared, skimming his hand lower. “Not quite. Not yet. He just thinks he is. Don’t you, little Johnny-boy?” John concentrated on not reacting, not even as Moriarty’s soft chuckle washed over him.

            “You will be though,” Moriarty told him softly, his hand reaching up to cradle John’s chin. “You don’t know it but I have soooo many plans for you. And it’s going to break you. It’s going to shatter that pretty little skull of yours and you’ll be gone and used and I’ll sell you for 50 pounds a fuck and that’ll be okay because it will be sooooo… funny.”

            Moriarty laughed at that and John felt a tendril of fear in his gut. That couldn’t be true. Don’t think.

            “Oh, it will be fun, John,” Moriarty said, eyes bright. “It will be so much fun. I can hardly wait.”

            Moriarty stayed still for another moment, mouth frozen in a wide grin. Then he leaned in and softly, very softly, kissed John on the lips for the briefest instant.

            Then he was gone, flying across the room.

            “Come on, Sebastian,” he announced and Moran obediently jumped up. “We have things to do.”

            Moran dressed and Moriarty hummed to himself, dancing a waltz with an invisible partner until Moran was finished. Then Moran left and Moriarty followed him, only leaning in one last time to wiggle his fingers in a wave and announce,

            “You’re not working tonight, sunshine. Toodles!”

            John gasped in a breath and told himself it wasn’t true. Couldn’t be true. Moriarty couldn’t take anything from him. There was nothing left. 

End Part XVI

Chapter Text

Part XVII

 

            It was a Tuesday night, just after the sun went down, almost three weeks later when a hand reached out and grabbed Sherlock.

            He stiffened and flailed and tried to shout before a dark bag fell over his head and a hand choked him into silence and all he could think was: Finally.

            Finally. Finally. Finally.

            Whoever was behind him grabbed him and shoved him into a car and Sherlock predictably tried to lash out and was entirely unsurprised when that failed to elicit any sort of response except an irritated grunt.

            “Keep causing trouble and you’ll regret it,” a rough voice said from his right and Sherlock heard the click of a gun.

            He went still, in character but a bit startled despite himself. The gun was… not a shock, exactly but Sherlock was prepared to admit that he had assumed the abduction of a teenage drug addict did not necessary warrant such a display of force.

            Still, he had a plan and this didn’t change it. He just had to stick to the plan and it would be okay. He would get John back.

            The ride was long and there were enough turns that Sherlock couldn’t follow exactly where they were and he wasn’t stupid enough to think that that was unintentional. Still, when the car stopped and he was pulled out, he closed his eyes and strained his ears to listen for sounds that would clue him into his location

            There wasn’t much. Sherlock sighed. How unfortunate.

            He was half-dragged up three flights of stairs into a flat and then the bag was torn from his head and he was staring at Sebastian Moran. Sherlock hoped the rage and disgust that twisted his mouth could be taken as simple displeasure at being kidnapped. Whatever it looked like, it made Moran step back with a wide grin.

            “Hellllooooo,” the sing-song came from the other room but the man stepped out and Sherlock finally got his first glimpse of James Moriarty.

            “Who’re you?” he asked, because he was supposed to. Moriarty tsked and him and wagged a finger back and forth slowly.

            “You’re in trooouuble,” Moriarty said. Sherlock kept the pleased smile from his face. He was in trouble- financial trouble, as he had planned. He had taken out loans from some of the seedier dealers in town, taken out more than was practical. This put him in debt to some dangerous people and, if he were really destitute and a drug-addict, would put him in quite a desperate situation. The kind of situation which drew Moriarty’s attention.

            “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sherlock said, drawing himself up and sounding conceited. Moriarty laughed at him. Sherlock pretended to deflate. “I don’t owe that much.” The mutter was petulant and in character and distressed and Moriarty should’ve loved it.

            But he didn’t.

            “Shut up,” Moriarty said, disgust and boredom laced through his voice. “I don’t want to talk to you yet. You’re being boring.”

            Sherlock opened his mouth to protest but Moran stepped forward and the gun was pointed at him and again, Sherlock felt the pressure in his head that told him something wasn’t adding up.   

            They waited in silence for a few minutes, Moriarty humming a bit and smiling before suddenly spinning to glare at Moran and speak with a slightly rougher accent that he had before. Sherlock suspected it was closer to his natural one:

            “You did send the message, right?” The force of his impatience had Moran nodding eagerly. Sherlock frowned. Message to who? One of his dealers? The police? Someone else? There wasn't enough data.

            “I did. Should be any minute.”

            Moriarty huffed, looking very much like a child. Sherlock frowned but kept his mouth shut. Observation was always best.

            “Ah, finally, finally,” Moriarty said, gesturing to the small, dirty window. “The entertainment arrives.”

            Sherlock stayed where he was, trying to quiet the unsettling feeling in his stomach that he had misjudged the situation. The plan was to be captured, threatened, and given the sales pitch for working for Moriarty. Molly herself had said that that was generally Moriarty’s method. He grabbed desperate youths, painted an ugly picture of their future without him, and then left them to contemplate and eventually break on their own. Of course, most waited until it was too late, until they had made a mistake and owed somebody and then Moriarty took control of their debt and, as a result, their bodies as well.

            This was supposed to be simple. Act scared and haughty, get a good glimpse at Moriarty, deduce what he could about his operations and the location of John, and get out. Of course, Molly had insisted it was idiotic and Billy had frowned at him but it had been almost two months. He needed to do something. And sometimes simple was best. Surely someone important had said that once.

            “Come! Come!” Moriarty called, waving his hand frantically enough that his whole body was in motion. “Come look!”

            Sherlock threw a glance at Moran, who stayed where he was but grinned. Then he walked to the window and looked out, stiffening when Moriarty reached across to put an arm over his shoulders.

            At first, he saw nothing but then the door to a cab across the street opened and out walked-

            John Watson.

            Sherlock blinked twice, squinting and wishing that he wasn’t three floors up so he would have a better view. Because at second glance he couldn’t be sure it was John. The boy currently checking both ways for traffic and then darting across the street was thinner than Sherlock remembered and John was too sensible to go without a coat in this weather and John didn’t walk with a slight limp, even when Sherlock knew he wanted to, and John looked around confidently when he moved, not with his eyes glued to the ground and-

            “You’re right,” Moriarty spoke, finally sounding serious. “You don’t owe much. In fact, I dare say you could quite easily pay off your debts whenever you wanted. Or your brother.”

            Sherlock’s heart jumped even as he tried to look at Moriarty in apparent confusion.

            “But John Watson has debt. And I think you should help him pay it off.”

            Moriarty drew him away from the window and glared at him.

            “Don’t you think so, Sherlock Holmes?”

            Interesting, Sherlock thought dimly, flexing his fists. I’ve made a mistake.

 

*^*^

 

            It probably said something about him that John no longer really bothered with coats or jackets because the most he ever travelled was from a cab to the door of a flat.

            He wasn’t really sure if he was even allowed to go out anymore. He suspected he wasn’t but hadn’t bothered confirming. Groceries and books had simply started appearing at whatever dump Moriarty put him in which had taken away the only real incentive to go out. Then one day when he went to go out, there was a huge man standing by his door. The man hadn’t said anything, simply glared, but John had known.

            “If I’m on-call all the time, I better be paid accordingly,” was all he had muttered. He felt a little better after this weak show of rebellion even though the man hadn’t even bothered to grunt and he suspected Moriarty never heard of it. He didn’t think about it too much.

            The air was cool and it was drizzling but John just kept his head down and headed for the door, which was thankfully unlocked. Then it was up the stairs to the third floor and a quick turn to the left – and he was fairly certain he had come here before, maybe a repeat? – and then he paused at the door. Took a breath. Fought nausea. Reminded himself that the only bruises he was currently sporting were simple fingerprints around his hips and shoulders and - oh, right, his knee. That had been messed up for a while though - but still, he looked almost presentable. That meant this would either be someone who didn’t get off on the half-beaten-to-death look or liked being the one doing the beating.

            He shuddered and then scowled at himself. Then before he could think of anything, he reached up and knocked, glancing down the hallway even though he knew no one would be there.

            The door wasn’t locked or latched and swung open at the force of his push. He paused, frowning a bit but then decided to step through the door. He knew he had the right place. Clients didn’t like to be kept waiting.

            He took the time to turn and close the door, making sure it latched obviously, and then turned and finally saw

            “Sh- Sherlock?”

            His hand was still caught on the door knob and his world sort of tilted.

            He never doubted for an instant that it as Sherlock. He was even taller and thinner than John remembered and his hair had outgrown its already dubious cut and his clothing was worn and old and he looked dirty but he knew it was Sherlock. He could feel it in his gut.

            His first thought was that Sherlock was the client.

            Just because it had been almost two months and that was the only thing that made sense. Sherlock had gone through Moriarty and told him what he wanted and accidentally been assigned John.

            Or no. No, that didn’t make sense. Sherlock was too smart for that. He had to have known John’s profession and his pimp and so it only made sense if he had requested John. In fact, maybe that’s what the whole friendship had been about. Just Sherlock getting to know him and getting in his head just to fuck with him at the end because that’s what people did, they fucked with John and Moriarty and Sherlock probably thought this was hilarious and John was still staring, in horror now, and-

            “John!” Sherlock’s voice was relieved and joyous and nervous and exhausted and John knew immediately that he’d been wrong. There was no way Sherlock was a client. Never.

            John took two steps towards Sherlock who was also moving and John was fairly certain they were going to hug and he was going to burst into tears and it wouldn’t even matter because his friend, Sherlock had found him.

            But then he stopped.

            It still didn’t make sense.

            “What’re,” his voice caught in his throat. This wasn’t right. “What’re you doing here?” Sherlock stiffened and opened his mouth and then the sound of clapping came from the bedroom doorway to the left that John hadn’t bothered looking at. He didn’t need to look now to know who it was.

            “That. Was. Beautiful.” Each word was punctuated with a clap as Moriarty walked into the lounge area, shadowed by Moran. “So touching. I thought you were going to embrace. You should’ve, you know. I would have enjoyed that immensely.”

            “Wha-” John didn’t even get the word out.

            “Shut up, John,” Moriarty ordered. “You’re being an idiot. Anyone with half a brain could figure out what Mr. Holmes’ role is tonight.”

            John felt more than saw Sherlock stiffen and, as predicted, it drew a laugh out of Moriarty.

            “Yes, yes,” Moriarty waved a hand, sounding bored. “I know it’s you, Sherlock- you’ve got to stop getting so excited about these things. Mother is the famous physicist, though she uses her maiden name to avoid attention. Abroad at the moment, partly for work, partly because she’s taken a younger lover-”

            Sherlock shifted. Moriarty noticed and smiled.

            “Now, now, Sherlock. Don’t be alarmed. He’s not that much younger. Nothing improper. Nothing like John here, you must know that.”

            “He’s an associate professor at Columbia hoping to earn tenure by next year who fancies himself quite in love and owns three dogs,” Sherlock suddenly cut in and when John looked again, he was standing tall and regal and it was almost like when they first met. John felt himself sag with relief even as more alarm bells sounded in his head. “If you are quite done pretending you can offend me through my mother, I’m prepared to move on. I’d suggest my brother if you’re searching for topics of discussion.”

            Moriarty laughed. Long and loud and John glanced to the door even as Sherlock remained unimpressed.

            “Oh, there you are!” Moriarty sing-songed, stepping close enough to poke Sherlock in the chest. “I was wondering when the apparent genius would show up!

            “Of course,” Moriarty continued in a stage whisper to Moran. “He can’t be that bright if he didn’t even think to CHANGE HIS FUCKING NAME!” The last words were shouted, Moriarty’s façade of control was shedding. John took a step forward. He knew what that meant.

            “Sherlock, you’ve got-” he was cut off again as Moriarty continued.

            “Seriously, Sherlock. Sherlock. That’s your bloody piss excuse for a name and you don’t even think to change it? You’re supposed to be a genius, Sherlock. A genius. ‘Almost as smart as you,’ someone told me. Do you know how exciting that was for me? For me to hear that out there was someone maybe on my level? Maybe at least playing in the same league?”

            Moriarty’s eyes were fixed on Sherlock, shining with tears.

            “I had so much hope for you, Sherlock. Once I knew you existed, I was so happy! So wonderful! I jacked off to Moran fucking John three times just thinking about it. About you.”

            “Sherlock, you’ve got to go,” John finally insisted, stepping forward to grab him. This wasn’t going to end well. John knew it. Knew it in his bones.

            “No!” Moriarty snarled and then Moran had pulled out a gun and pointed it at John. John stared at the barrel, mouth dry, wondering when this had all gone to shit so quickly.

            “I knew all about you,” the man continued, turning to Sherlock as if he knew John would stay put. “I was waiting for you for months. But I didn’t think you’d come so soon. I thought you’d wait till you were older. Years, Sherlock. I was prepared to wait years.

            “But I didn’t have to. You started ringing warning bells so soon and at first I was so bloody excited. Here it was. The start of our beautiful relationship. But you… you were a disappointment. You didn’t bother changing your name. You didn’t bother trying to hide what you were doing. You went after all the most obvious players and used the stupidest people to help you and it was all… it was all so disappointing. The great Sherlock bloody Holmes was playing with me at last and it wasn’t even a good game. It was just the work of a pathetic, stupid teenager who wanted his little friend back.”

            The numbness John usually felt was either disintegrating or intensifying. He couldn’t say for sure which.

            “You probably couldn’t even tell me what’s about to happen right now,” Moriarty said, spitting the words at Sherlock. “Can’t deduce a bloody thing!”

            “Please,” John tried, taking a step forward and feeling the gun track the movement. “Please just let him go. He’s not special. He doesn’t know anything. You can just-”

            “Shut up!” Moriarty snarled, face transformed into something evil. “Shut! UP!”

And then, as if he hadn’t spoken: “Sherlock’s going to be brought into the business!” Moriarty crooned, rubbing his hands together eagerly. Then he glanced at Moran who turned so his gun was trained on Sherlock.

            “And you, Johnny,” Moriarty said, smiling. “My good little boy, you’re going to fuck him first. Or I’m going to kill him.”

End Part XVII.

Chapter Text

Part XVIII

            John knew what he was supposed to do.

            He was supposed to feel faint and mumble “No, please, God, no,” and promise them anything, anything not to make him do this. He was supposed to fall to his knees and beg and flinch at Moriarty’s high giggle and Moran’s swift kick to his side. He was supposed to cry and shake his head and hyperventilate a little. He would ask for it to be switched, for Sherlock to do him instead because he was already ruined. He was supposed to plead and panic and-

            And then he was supposed to do it. Because he understood better than anyone that none of those things had any effect on Moriarty and he knew better than anyone that he would do whatever it took to keep Sherlock Holmes alive, even if it meant destroying him in the process.

            After almost two months (and 7 months before that), John knew that’s what he was supposed to do. He knew that that’s what was expected.

            However, it would only be later, much later that John realized that this was how he was expected to act.

            At the moment, he didn’t even process those expectations; he only did two things.

            First, he looked at Sherlock. His friend was thinner than before and dirty and his hair had outgrown its cut, but John wouldn’t notice that until later either. For now, he just saw that Sherlock’s eyes held an unfamiliar uncertainty and perhaps even fear and that was all he needed to know.

            No, was the second thing he did.

            The word “…him” was still occupying some small space in Moriarty’s mouth when John moved. After months of not thinking, every cell in his body suddenly came screaming to awareness and though it was only one syllable, NO proved to be a powerful stimulus.

            He was charging Moran before he even remembered that he was supposed to be defeated.

            He saw the man turn towards him as he moved, swinging the gun with him, and heard it go off, and saw out of the corner of his eye, Sherlock tackle Moriarty at almost the same moment. Then he was on Moran, the force of his tackle carrying both of them to the ground. John ended up on top. The gun was shoved in his face for another moment, before he growled and slammed Moran’s hand into the ground until he dropped it. Then it was just a matter of hitting and kicking and punching until Moran ceased to continue trying to get up.

            Actually, John would have to piece together these events at a later date as well.

            For now, his mind failed to record any information on what his body was doing. He knew simply No.

            He didn’t know how much time had passed when he finally heard Sherlock. Later, he would ask Sherlock and Sherlock would fail to give him a straight answer.

            “John!” The voice was fading in and out and John initially ignored it in favor of bringing his right fist on Moran’s face again. “John! Stop!”

            No, John thought, or maybe growled.

            “John! Please!”

            That… wasn’t right. John paused and shook his head, the words starting to come into focus.

            “John, please, you’ve got to stop now,” It was Sherlock, John’s brain finally processed. Sherlock was there.

            Had to protect Sherlock. Had to stop Moran.

            He must’ve said that bit out loud because Sherlock’s voice responded to it.

            “I’m fine, John! I’m fine but- but you’re hurt. You’ve got to stop. John, stop it.”

            John finally turned and felt a tendril of concern when his vision didn’t seem to be working. But the voice sounded so relieved that he responded so he slowed down and blinked until the darkness cleared and Sherlock came into view. His hands were up as if showing that he wasn’t a threat and John wondered vaguely why that would be necessary.

            “John, it’s me,” Sherlock continued and the relief was evident in his voice. “You need to come over here and sit down.”

            “Wha-?” John’s head felt fuzzy, his tongue numb. He shook himself, gasping as more of his sense seemed to come back online.

            He was sitting, he realized as Sherlock’s voice once again faded out. He was straddling something and his right hand was throbbing and-

            Sebastian Moran. He was straddling Sebastian Moran. Sebastian Moran, whose face was a mess of bruises and who was clearly unconscious and all John could do was stare and absently wonder how that had happened. There was a lot of blood.

            “John?” Sherlock sounded worried. Worried, bordering on frantic.

Things weren’t making sense, John thought. How had Moran been knocked out? What was Sherlock doing there again? Was his father drinking again? Where was Harry?

“John, I’m going to touch you now,” some of the panic had faded from Sherlock’s voice, leaving it full of grim determination.

            That didn’t make sense, John thought. Sherlock was always shaking his shoulder when he thought he had a particular good idea, or dragging him down alleys by his arm without notice or poking and prodding him for a hundred different experiments that John was beginning to suspect were made up. Sherlock didn’t come with a warning.

            “Sh’rlock?” he asked, not sure what the question was. Sherlock’s response was to carefully grab his wrist, tentative at first as if he couldn’t be sure how John would react, and then more firmly when John accepted it.

            “You’re going to be fine,” Sherlock said, pulling and John nodded absently and obediently started to stand. “Don’t worry. I have everything handled. You’re going to be okay.”

            “Okay,” John repeated. Sherlock nodded. John’s legs burned as he stood but it seemed to go smoothly.

            Then he reached up to grab Sherlock with his left hand, looking for balance and sharp pain lanced through his chest. He gasped and stumbled and Sherlock barely caught him. Then he turned to try and look at the problem and Sherlock stopped him.

            “Now, don’t be an idiot,” Sherlock said in his familiar sharply fond tone as he lowered him to the ground a few steps away from Moran. Then he seemed to reconsider. “Uh, I mean- you’re going to be fine.”

            “Sherlock, I-” he arched his neck to look again and hissed as the fire hit again. But he ignored it until he caught a glance of his chest. His vision was fading again but he couldn’t miss the blood that was darkening his shirt.

            Huh, he thought as he slumped back and Sherlock’s voice faded out. I’ve been shot.

*^*^

            If asked the previous day, Sherlock would have said that he did not believe in luck.

            Luck was a ridiculous concept created by feeble-minded people which had absolutely no basis in reality. It was simply an excuse for idiots to blame their self-inflicted misfortune. Or a crutch used by successful persons who still lacked the self-confidence to take credit for their accomplishments. Luck was rather like the concept of a higher being: a leftover superstition the dredges of humanity couldn’t help but cling to.

            Of course now, through no conscious thought of his own, the concept of luck had shifted in the past half hour or so.

            Because despite what Sherlock wanted to admit, he knew they had gotten lucky.

            Sherlock had had a plan. Obviously. But even now as he pulled out the mobile phone he had picked off Moriarty when the man put his arm around him earlier that evening, he knew it would have been very unlikely he would have managed to make the call if things had not somehow, quite miraculously, worked out as they had.

            “Track this GPS,” Sherlock said brusquely into the mobile, leaving it on but throwing it away from his ear. He had more important things to worry about. Like the fact that John Watson had slumped over unconscious moments before and was still bleeding quite heavily from his shoulder. Hurriedly, Sherlock took off his coat and pressed it to the wound, wishing that he could believe the calm, rational voice in his head that told him it was a simple through-and-through, that the blood flow was already slowing, that, for all intents and purposes, it was an incredibly lucky shot.

            It was ridiculously lucky, Sherlock thought.

            No, he told himself. He needed to calm down and think rationally.

            They had variables on their side. There were factors that could be accounted for that made what had happened conform to mathematical logic.

            John Watson, primarily. Sherlock knew he was special, had known it from the very first moment that he met the other boy. Sherlock knew all about John Watson: the patience that was all but legendary (or would be), the dry sense of humor that had confused Sherlock for a good three weeks because Sherlock never knew anyone who joked with him before, the pool of strength and steadiness and loyalty that was at John Watson’s very core. Sherlock knew everything there was to know about John Watson.

            And still, even he was surprised when John had gone red instead of pale and charged Sebastian Moran, who had been holding a gun.

            There hadn’t even been a howl of rage to accompany the movement. Just a sudden, sharp flash and John had been on the other side of the room.

            Sherlock had tackled Moriarty because he knew he had to take advantage of the man’s surprise. And because his brain had already registered (and recorded) the gun shot, even though John seemed to barely slow, and it gave him something to do.

            Trying to keep an eye on John had cost Sherlock his fight, which was stupid. He should have stayed focused but when he had twisted to look, Moran was pointing the gun at John’s face and Sherlock made an aborted motion towards that, knowing in his heart that he was too late.

            Then, they had gotten lucky again.

            Because Moran, for some unknown reason (though there were many options, Sherlock thought, pressing harder on John’s shoulder, continued shock at John’s viciousness, unwillingness to shoot and murder a teenager at close range, misplaced affection based on previous sexual encounters), had failed to shoot right away, giving John the opportunity to growl, grab the hand, and shake the gun loose.

            And then again, it was luck that caused the gun to skid away from Moriarty, who then had Sherlock fairly well pinned, and under a couch where it was inaccessible.

            Then Sherlock had gotten one lucky hit to Moriarty’s face and Moriarty had looked at Moran and John and decided to flee.

            That wasn’t luck, Sherlock knew. Just as John winning his fight against the bigger, more muscular, healthy Moran wasn’t luck. Sherlock looked up at John’s face, which was bruised and beaten once more, and then down to his knuckles, all of which were swollen and bleeding, and knew that whatever force had caused John to win the fight wasn’t luck. Sherlock wasn’t even sure it was healthy.

            But it had stopped the situation and knocked Moran unconscious and convinced Moriarty to leave and for that, Sherlock was grateful. Though of course, Moriarty had to have the last word:

            “Oh, this will be fun,” Moriarty had said as he stood, grinning. “See you in a few, Sherlock. I can’t wait.”

            Sherlock frowned. He hated when people were deliberately vague with their wording. A few what? Minutes? Days? Weeks? Years? It was insufferable. However, he quickly decided, that for right now, he couldn’t afford to think about it.

            Sherlock glanced to the window, certain that he should see flashing lights by now. He hadn’t bothered to explain on the phone but surely someone had to have figured out the obvious conclusion of who he was and what he needed.

            He pulled away his coat briefly to try and get a look at John’s shoulder. John was breathing a bit more shallowly now and Sherlock frowned. He hadn’t been allowed to extensively experiment with guns before now (he would one day) but he was fairly positive the excessive movement after the moment of injury had not done John any favors.

            Sherlock cut his eyes to Moran, just to make sure the man was still breathing. For a few moments after Moriarty had fled, Sherlock had supposed John would stop. Then he had assumed he would stop when Moran blinked sluggishly and stopped fighting back. After Moran had stopped moving completely, Sherlock had just hoped John would stop before he killed Moran. Not that Sherlock would blame him or judge him, but having John forced into trial for manslaughter, even when acting under duress and self-defense, would be unacceptable.

            Again, luckily, John had seemed to recognize him before he did any permanent damage. Though, it had taken far too long for that to happen and Sherlock had not appreciated being so ignored or feeling so hopeless. Still, it would all work out. Sherlock had a plan. He knew enough to put Moran away for good, and John would be safe, and then he would focus on Moriarty- and, oh, John would probably want to check in with Molly and-

            “What the bloody hell happened here?” the voice was curt and angry and amazed and Sherlock would have turned to meet him if he wasn’t preoccupied with keeping pressure on John’s wound.

            “Ah, Lestrade,” he said, glancing up to see the grey-haired man waving more people into the room. “Finally. We have work to do.”

End Part XVIII

Chapter Text

Part XIX

 

            “Bullet passed through the left shoulder, missing both the subclavian artery and brachial plexus, thank goodness. We can expect him to regain full use of the arm and hand within a few months, hopefully less. Other injuries include two broken fingers, multiple lacera-”

            Lestrade tuned out the doctor, as he was spouting information that Lestrade was already aware of, and took advantage of the relative silence to take a deep breath.

            It had been approximately six hours since his personal mobile had interrupted what was turning into a proper welcome home from his wife, and the arrogant instructions: Track this GPS, had him frowning, then groaning, then apologizing, and then racing back to the station.

            It was almost dawn now, or at least he thought they were getting close. The oppressive darkness seemed to be lessening, though the florescent lighting from the hospital made it almost impossible to actually see the outside. Still, Lestrade looked determinedly out the window, continuing to take deep breaths and remind himself that he should not arrest Sherlock Holmes.

            Lord knows, he wanted too. The kid was insufferable. Lestrade had hoped that somehow obtaining his personal mobile number and then calling and leaving curt instructions to pick them up would be the end of Sherlock’s interference. Instead, the teenager had all but ran the clean-up: barking orders to deputies, demanding evidence be bagged, calling on someone to send squads to discreetly go to a brothel and ensure its residents were safe. And he did all this while steadfastly refusing to leave John’s side, bullying his way onto the ambulance and then into John’s hospital room. Even though visiting hours were over. Had been over for hours.

            Lestrade really should arrest him. For tampering with police evidence or obstruction of justice or impersonating a police officer. Maybe just for being an insufferable prick.

            He didn’t though. And he wouldn’t. For two reasons.

            One, Sherlock’s information was good. When Lestrade had finally managed to get Sherlock to leave John’s room so the doctors could make sure John didn’t need surgery, Sherlock had immediately launched into detailed descriptions of all the evidence he had to put Moran away. Then he went on to a few of the other henchmen. Then Anderson (though Lestrade had had to point out that most of that evidence did not justify an arrest). Finally, he touched on Moriarty (though he did seem frustrated by how little he had on the man).

            And it was annoying and arrogant and the amount of times Lestrade was called an idiot was truly astonishing, but… but it was really good. Lestrade found himself listening despite his exhaustion and headache. Then he was taking notes and nodding and adding filling in the technical legal details (because he didn’t think “being a complete and utter moron” was technically against the law). It should be embarrassing, particularly when Sherlock’s evidence overlapped with his own file on Moran and Lestrade felt proud of himself, but it would be enough to put Moran away for years, maybe even life. So Lestrade decided to suck it up and listen and told himself he should probably not arrest Sherlock Holmes.

            “Other injuries and bruises are consistent with sexual abuse, though there are no signs of any tearing or-”

            Lestrade swallowed, feeling nauseous, and watched as Sherlock’s jaw clenched. The teenager didn’t look away from where he was staring fixedly at the corner, but Lestrade saw his hand rise to fiddle with the sleeve of John’s hospital gown. He plucked at it fitfully, pulling off dirt or fuzz that wasn’t there and, really, that’s all it took to convince Lestrade not to arrest Sherlock.

            When Sherlock had approached Lestrade almost two weeks ago, striding up to him at the station, demanding his help, Lestrade hadn’t known what to think. Sherlock had announced he was going to bring down Moraiarty, Lestrade had told him he was going to do no such thing, and the meeting had gone from there. Sherlock had insisted he was serious, Lestrade had asked questions and doled out warnings, and Sherlock had waved him off. Sherlock had all but refused to tell him his plan or his reasons, just wanted him to “be ready,” Lestrade had realized he was high on something and offered to get him help, Sherlock had laughed and left.

            Overall, it had been a very confusing and frustrating ten minutes.

            Sherlock had left an impression though. Lestrade didn’t doubt the boy would try, had kept an ear to the ground, dreading the day when he would hear about a teenage body in a ditch or floating in the Thames somewhere. But, if asked, he would have said the boy’s mission was the result of overconfidence and some delusion of grandeur, a mission to prove he was a genius and could outsmart one of the greatest villains of London.

            Lestrade had had no idea it was personal. To be honest, the idea of someone being friends with such a conceited and disdainful person hadn’t even crossed his mind. Sherlock was an annoying drug addict that Lestrade had absolutely no chance of saving and that was that.  He was so convinced that Sherlock must be alone that when he had first come on the scene, he had assumed the body lying beneath Sherlock was some sort of low-level henchman caught in the crossfire.

            “The gun is beneath the couch,” Sherlock informed them after they had half-carried, half-dragged Moran out of the room. Sherlock frowned when no one moved right away. “Lestrade,” the boy said, with a hint of a whine in his voice. “They’re not getting the gun. It’s beneath the couch.”

            “Alright, alright,” Lestrade grumbled. He was going to get a headache. He could feel it. “The ambulance should be here any second. What are we arresting this one for?”

            For once, Sherlock was staring at him as if he was the one who didn’t make sense, so Lestrade took advantage of his silence to finally bend down and peer around Sherlock to see who it was the teen was holding together.

            Lestrade felt his heart stop when he finally saw the face. He knew that face.

            “That’s John Watson,” Lestrade gasped. He had been in this room for a whole five minutes and he had somehow missed that the boy he hadn’t stopped thinking about for months was lying right in front of him.

            “Of course it’s John Watson,” Sherlock snapped. “Why else would I be here?”

            Lestrade hadn’t processed that. “Oh God,” he said, kneeling beside Sherlock. “Is he okay? How did he get shot? Where has he been?” Where was that ambulance? He reached, unthinkingly, to lift Sherlock’s hands to get a better view of the wound.

            “Don’t touch him!” Sherlock growled and Lestrade snatched his hand back at the sudden vehemence in his voice. Lestrade stared at the glaring teenager and finally took note of the gnawed bottom lip and shaking hands. Sherlock Holmes was scared.

            Once he had figured out what to look for, there were dozens of other signs that Sherlock’s primary concern was not actually the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of a mystery, but rather, John Watson. Bullying both the ambulance drivers and the night nurses into staying by John’s side could be seen as arrogant rudeness, but Lestrade hadn’t been a police officer for over seven years for nothing. He knew desperation when he saw it. He reminded himself of that many times during their debrief in the hospital waiting room.

            Sherlock had been mid-sentence when the doctor returned and said they could see John again. Sherlock had been gone by the time Lestrade had managed to stand up. Lestrade hadn’t needed another reason to not arrest Sherlock.

            But, Lestrade noted, flicking his eyes over, if he did need a third reason, it would have to be the man standing at the foot of the bed, glaring at the doctor as he gave his report.

            Mycroft Holmes had strode into the room a few minutes ago, waved his brother into silence in a way that Lestrade envied, introduced himself by name only, handed the doctor a letter of some kind and demanded a full report. The doctor protested, Mycroft agreed to give him thirty seconds to read the letter, and then the doctor started talking.

            Lestrade had raised some protests as to doctor-patient confidentiality of course. Mycroft had given him such a look that Lestrade had closed his mouth. It also helped that midway through his sentence about needing parent or guardian permission, he had realized he had no idea who was technically operating in that capacity. The whole interaction had been more than a bit embarrassing, but Sherlock had shot him a somewhat grateful look (even if he seemed unsurprised that it had failed) so Lestrade counted that as a win.

            Mycroft was taller and wider than Sherlock and Lestrade probably wouldn’t have recognized them as family at all except for the intelligence behind their eyes and pride in their stance. Lestrade thought that no one should be allowed to look so well put together at such god-awful times of the night. Or morning. Whatever it was. He knew he was supposed to be asleep. But he had to see to John and then the paperwork for Moran and keep an eye out for Moriarty and Sherlock hadn’t sent him to a brothel for no reason, so there were probably people there he had to help so-

            “Yes, and how long will it take to achieve a complete recovery?” Lestrade abruptly realized that the doctor had finished talking, allowing Mycroft to start asking questions.

            “If I had to guess, 5-6 weeks,” the doctor said. “Though we would have to keep an eye on his diet and nutrition to avoid any possible complications.”

            “Hm,” Mycroft grunted. To Lestrade’s ears, the sound was completely neutral, but Sherlock looked up and frowned.

            “Inspector Lestrade, I would like to talk with you outside for a moment,” Mycroft announced. Then he turned and walked out of the room. Lestrade blinked after him.

            “He’s always like that,” Sherlock offered from John’s side. “Arrogant sod.”

            That was enough to get Lestrade out the door, if only so Sherlock wouldn’t see the grin that threatened to take over his face.

*^*^

            As usual, John jolted out of sleep, heart beating wildly, and felt the urge to gasp and fight for breath. As usual, he had the sense not to. Staying calm and still when you woke up was essential, not only for his line of work, but for surviving mornings at the Watson household.

            His first thought wasn’t that he was in an unfamiliar bed because that was no longer a surprise. His first thought was that there was no one next to him and his second was that it smelled too clean.

            He frowned slightly, wondering with his eyes still closed what that could possibly mean.

            Then he finally remembered what had happened and Sherlock and that had him opening his eyes and trying to sit up.

            That proved to be a mistake. Agony spiked through his chest and he sucked in a gasp and barely contained a groan.

            “Hey,” the voice came from his left and John was just kicking himself for not realizing that someone else was sitting next to him when he recognized the face.

            Lestrade. Of all the people John expected to see (Sherlock, Moran, Moriarty, or Sherlock), he was maybe most surprised to see Inspector Lestrade sitting next to him, silver hair rumpled in different directions, eyes tired, mouth quirked into a small half-smile. To be honest, he had almost forgotten the man existed. Over the past two months, the detective had been reduced to a dirty, worn business card that John sometimes stared at in the middle of the night even though he had long since memorized the number.

            “Sherlock?” John asked, wincing at how exhausted and weak his voice sounded. Lestrade didn’t answer right away, but instead came and pressed a button to ease John into a sitting position.

            “He’s fine,” Lestrade replied, reaching over and grabbing a glass of water without John asking. “His brother came in a dragged him home about an hour ago. He wasn’t happy but he didn’t really have a choice. Mycroft wasn’t taking no for an answer. But he’s okay.”

            John nodded and took a drink of water. Then shuddered as he realized how many shoulder muscles apparently were used when swallowing.

            “How are you feeling?” Lestrade asked.

            “Fine,” John answered without pausing to think about it.

            “Good to hear,” Lestrade replied and John was suddenly absurdly relieved that it was Lestrade who was there with him. Because any doctor or nurse would have demanded a more detailed answer and any other police officer would have demanded a more truthful answer. Harry would have fussed. Molly would have blinked sadly and looked vaguely guilty. And Sherlock, well Sherlock would have never asked the question because he would have read the answer in the way John was holding the water glass.

            But right now, John didn’t want any of that. He didn’t want questions or guilt or knowing looks. He wanted Lestrade’s casual acceptance of the lie, the way the man leaned over to pour himself a glass of water as well and then sat back and just drank it.

            For a moment, John allowed himself to do the same. He simply sat and sipped his water in small gulps and enjoyed the rare peace of the moment. He was alive and no one was bothering him, but he wasn’t alone either and, for just a few minutes, life wasn’t so complicated.

            Lestrade was entirely done his water and John was almost does his when the man finally spoke again.

            “We have to talk,” he said simply and John nodded silently. He knew this was coming. He just didn’t know what they were going to start with- working for Moriarty? His fight with Moran (which he didn’t quite remember)? His blatant lies when he was arrested? Hell, with all the different options, they would probably be here for hours.

            “You haven’t been living with your father, have you?” Lestrade asked.

            For a moment, John could only stare. He hadn’t been expecting that. He’d barely even thought of his father in months. It was a ridiculous question, not only because the answer was obvious, but because he couldn’t see how it mattered to a police investigation.

            Then he looked around his hospital room and it hit him. All this medical care probably wasn’t free. At least, not entirely. And he couldn’t stay here forever. Eventually he’d have to leave and go stay with someone and Lestrade was just making sure he had a “someone” even if-

            “No,” he said softly. “No, not for a few months.” Lestrade didn’t look surprised.

            “And your sister?” he asked. John swallowed.

            “She’s living with her girlfriend and her parents,” John replied, keeping his eyes fixed on his lap. “She- uh, she doesn’t...” He stopped and took a breath. “She can’t deal with,” he waved his hand vaguely at himself. “This.” He snuck a glance at Lestrade, whose jaw had clenched, but said nothing.

            “Well,” the older man said after a beat of silence. John was just grateful he knew not to ask about his mum. He wondered if Sherlock had told him not to or if it was in his file somewhere. “We have options.”

            He sounded so calm and hopeful that John risked looking at him again.

            “We can go to your father and ask if he would be willing to house you again.” John slammed his eyes back down. That was not an option.

            “Or,” Lestrade continued, barely even pausing. “You can officially become a ward of the state and we will seek to place you in a foster family as soon as possible.”

            John kept his face hidden so Lestrade wouldn’t see what he thought of that option. He couldn’t imagine living with strangers. Particularly not when he’d heard the stories from Billy and the others. But he wouldn’t have to, he told himself, he could run away and stay with Billy as long as Moriarty stayed gone, or maybe Molly. He could figure it out.

            “Or,” Lestrade said, pulling out a file. “You can have me sign this and stay with Violet Clarke.”

            “Who?” John asked.

            “She is the mother of Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes.” Lestrade was smiling now, looking delighted. “She kept her maiden name when she married.”

            “What?” John told himself that he must be on some type of drug. That’s why his heart had started beating faster and none of this seemed to be making any sense.

            “This form says that Violet Clarke is to be your legal guardian until you reach maturity. She takes full responsibility for your housing and medical care, including any expenses incurred by your hospital stay now or in the future. It is effective immediately.”

            “She really,” John stared at the papers Lestrade put in front of him even though the words were making no sense. “She really would do that?”

            “She’s already agreed,” Lestrade told him, pointing towards the bottom of the page. “Apparently Mycroft finished drawing these up and cutting through red tape a few days ago and she signed immediately.”

            “Mycroft?” John repeated. This didn’t make any sense. He hadn’t even met Mycroft or Sherlock’s mum.

            “Wait,” John said, interrupting Lestrade’s pleased nod. “Wait, does Sherlock know about this?”

            John felt the excitement, which had been rising despite himself, dim. He couldn’t do this. If Sherlock didn’t even want him there, which was understandable given all the trouble he’d been, given that Sherlock had always implied they would go their separate ways once “The Work” was complete, then there was no way that John would impose like that. The last time he’d really seen Sherlock, he’d walked away without so much as a goodbye and the two hadn’t been on the best of terms before that. Maybe Mycroft thought he was being nice to one of Sherlock’s friends, but John knew better. He knew better and he wasn’t going to go live with Sherlock and his mum and ruin his perfect life.

            “John,” Lestrade said, seriously. “The only way Mycroft got Sherlock to leave was to tell him that they had to go set up your new bedroom. Sherlock walked out of here talking about how you thought your favorite color was green but it was actually a slightly gray-blue and how they had to stop at the grocery to ensure your favorite foods were available in the kitchen.”

            “Oh,” John said, feeling a rush of warmth in his stomach that for once wasn’t painful.

            It’s too much, he thought idly. He shouldn’t accept it.

            “Let me sign this,” Lestrade said. “I have no idea how Mycroft got this written up. I have no idea how this is even possible but I wanted to sign it the moment I saw it. But you have to be okay with it, John. You have to decide.”

            “I,” John started and then stopped himself. He didn’t want to think about this. He just wanted it to be over, to have a place to go to and to see Sherlock every day and to be done. “Yeah. Yes. Sign it.”

            Lestrade had grabbed a pen from an inside pocket and scribbled his signature on it before John had even finished speaking. It seemed too easy.

            Then Lestrade was standing and John knew it was too easy. They hadn't even talked about Moran. Or Moriarty. Or how exactly Lestrade even knew to be there.

            “Wait,” John said, blinking up at him. “That’s it?”

            “For now,” Lestrade said. He looked solemn for a moment. “We will be talking much more, I’m afraid. About… everything. But, yeah, for now- this is all I need.”

            John nodded but didn't relax. Maybe this was a dream?

            “Go back to sleep, John,” Lestrade said, pushing something so that John was once again lying down. “It’s almost dawn but you should sleep a few more hours.”

            John was surprised to find that he was still tired, that somehow, just by laying down, his mind had stopped spinning with worry and questions- at least for now. He was going to live with Sherlock. He was going to be okay. His eyes slid shut only to pop back open as Lestrade hit the lights off and spoke.

            “Fair warning,” Lestrade said, standing in the doorway. “Sherlock was also asking when it would be appropriate to do experiments on you so… don’t get too comfortable.”

            John was too tired to grin. But as he shut his eyes, he thought the smile that slid onto his face came pretty close.

The End.