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Understanding

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The heavy, steady tap of his cane against the harsh pavement was a balm on his frayed nerves. It was entirely too late, and John knew he needed to get home but...He was restless.

 

Rosie was growing so much every day and every one of those days was tinged with as much sadness as joy. Every giggle, every smile, every tear, they were meant to be shared with someone other than poor Mrs Husdon. God, he’d be lost without the old woman coming to his rescue.

 

John Watson didn’t have it in him to be a single parent, and yet here he was.

 

Nights like these, when his mind was restless and the aches in his battered body needed to stretch, he walked. He walked the streets of London until his left side aches and the arm supporting his awkward gait threatens to buckle under his weight. He felt guilty every time he had to drag himself back to pick up Rosie from Mrs Hudson, who would no doubt click her tongue and bid him to bed with a fresh cup of tea. But, he needed these moments. How else was he supposed to hide how much losing Mary had affected him?

 

He started down a bridge, eyes drawn down the path in the bleary unfocus of thought. He was two paces past a figure perched on the railing before it even registered. John blinked, turning slowly to see if his eyes were playing tricks on him in his exhaustion. Who on earth would be sitting on such a dangerously high bridge?

 

“E-ey! You alright there?” He called, squinting against the bridge-light to make out the person past the safety divider.

 

The stranger tensed a moment, long, tousled black curls swaying in the cool wind of the night. The light, airy purple dress she wore was too thin for the bite of the night, and there was no sign of a jacket nearby.

 

“I’m fine,” The reply was deeper than John expected, and he had to quickly re-evaluate if he was talking with a woman or not.

 

“Oh, you sure? You’re sitting mighty close there..” John hazarded a closer step to the divider, still at least four feet from the other.

 

The person hunched against another whisper of wind before resolutely straightening their posture, long, pale hand combing back through their hair. “Yes, I’m fine. Because in a few moments I’m going to kill myself.” They stated simply as if the decision had come as a relief to have finally said it out loud.

 

John’s heart stopped, and his cane toppled to the ground.”Shit, I mean. What? You can’t be serious!” He stiffly bent to retrieve the cane and hobbled closer to lean on the divider. “Come on then, get away from there. You don’t really want to be doing that.”

 

The stranger shook their head, “I do though. I’m quite intent on throwing myself off the bridge. The height alone has a calculated mortality rate of seventy percent, coupled with the cold, it is almost certain I’d die before anyone could rescue me.”

 

The harsh snort that puffed from John’s chest surprised both of them, “Well yeah maybe but are you so sure you want to kill us both? Because I’ll be jumping in after you, cripple and all.”

 

The air stills between them, and John is already bending awkwardly to try and untie his shoes.

 

“You wouldn’t, you have a child.” The person smirks, turning to angle their face so John can catch a glimpse of their profile for the first time.

 

Cor, their skin is pale. Like a doll’s. Nearly translucent from the chill, made all the starker by the deep purple lipstick applied expertly against their lips. There was a layer of kohl and shimmery cosmetic around their visible eye, catching the lamp-light. John would describe them as Fae-like, if he had a talent for purple prose.



John paused, lips parting in a quiet gape.”How did —?”

 

A thin, mirthless smile curled on the stranger’s lips.”I have a talent.” Their head turned back to the dark waters below, hand returning to the rail.

 

“You’re wrong. I would.” John pressed, momentarily ignoring the sense of disconcerting that came with the stranger’s keen guessing.

 

“Why?” They prompted,” Because you’re in the medical field?”

 

Again, John was doing to ignore that.”Well, yes, that, and because it’s the bloody right thing to do. So come away! You might want to do this to yourself but you don’t want to take anyone with you, otherwise, you would have already.” He reached out, stretching out his hand to where he could almost touch the person’s shoulder.

 

For a long moment silence reigned again, and for a dreadful moment, John thought he misjudged. At length, the person heaved a heavy sigh.

 

“I suppose.” They mumbled, turning to awkwardly try and get their leg over the railing and back towards safety.

 

John was quick to reach out and offer an arm as the person — Bloody hell they were taller than John thought! They were nearly a full head taller now that they were on their feet, and their skin was even colder than John feared.

 

“Come on, Jesus, how long have you been out here?” John helped them over the other set of dividers, noting how bruised and battered areas of their legs and arms were where the dress didn’t cover.

 

John’s eyes flicked up to their face, studying the sharp angles of their face. A purpling bruise slightly swelled the flesh of their right cheek, and an edge of their lipstick was smudged to ruin.

 

They shrugged, body faintly quivering, though if it was from the obvious trauma they’d faced or the cold John wasn’t sure.

 

Puffing a faintly frustrated breath, John stripped off his coat and reached up to drape it over the person’s shoulders.”Come on then, the clinic is closed but I can fix you up, my flat isn’t far.”

 

They blinked, reaching to touch the warm addition around their shoulders with a faint note of awe. “Alright, Doctor.” A faintly wry smirk touched their orchid lips.

 


 

 

Getting up the two small steps into the flat feels like more of a struggle than usual, and heat crawls up the back of his neck, conscious of the person behind him.

 

“Oh bugger, that’s right. My name is John, by the way, John Watson.” He must be more flustered than he thought to forget even that level of basic manners. Tonight had been a strange one.

 

“Sherlock.” The person whom John still wasn’t sure was a bloke or a girl yet replied, and John was left more confused than ever. Maybe a crossdresser then? There was odder around London, that was for sure.

 

John let them into the entryway, puffing a soft sigh of relief as he heard Mrs Husdon quietly singing from her slightly-ajar doorway. Still, he didn’t exactly want to bring his child into his flat when there was a stranger about, especially one that could be possibly imbalanced.

 

“One moment,” He flashed a tight smile to Sherlock and eased into Mrs Hudson’s door, wrapping his cane gently against the doorframe as he came in. “Sorry, I’m late.” He whispered, seeing Rosie fast asleep in the old woman’s arms.



“Oh, John! I was getting worried, was about to send someone after you.” Who she would call, John didn’t know, but the sentiment was a sweet one.”What’s wrong? Dear, you look positively knackered.”

 

Shaking his head, John stepped a little closer to whisper.”I’m sorry for the short notice but something has come up. I stumbled on someone needing medical attention but I don’t want to put Rosie at risk, would you mind if she slept over? I’ll double your rate of course.”

 

The old woman made a small snort, looking at John as if he was the biggest fool there was.”Go on then, be a lamb. I use the money to grocery shop for both or us you know.” She laughed softly at the look of disillusionment to come over John’s face. Despite her insistence, she wasn’t his keeper, Mrs Hudson acted like the mother he’d never had growing up. His own never acted like she’d wanted the job to start with.

 

“You’re a saint.” John stiffly bent to kiss Rosie’s soft head and backed out of the apartment, relieved to see Sherlock still standing in the landing.

 

“Sorry, this way.” John opened the only other door on the first level aside from the one that lead to the basement.

 

They entered into a modest flat, the simple layout the mirror of Mrs Hudson’s own. There were still touches of femininity lingering in the house, be it a yellow crocheted blanket thrown over the beige sofa, or the bric-a-brac dotting the occasional surface. They were just little touches John couldn’t bear himself to part with yet, even if it was foolish of him.

 

“Sit on the couch and I’ll get the med kit,” He set his cane down now that he was on the soft carpeted surface of his home, and started towards the bathroom while Sherlock took an uneasy seat in the living room.

 

John returned to Sherlock bent over and unlacing the long ties of faintly-heeled boots that stopped mid-shin on his(?) remarkably long legs. Sherlock’s toes were painted a blood red, startling against his pale feet.

 

John lowered himself down on the other end of the couch and started tugging things out of his home kit to set on the coffee table. “Anything worse than bruises and lacerations?” He asked in what he hoped to be his professional tone for how tired he was.

 

Sherlock stilled, tucking a leg up on the sofa to wrap his fingers loosely around his ankle.”They dislocated my shoulder but I knew how to correct it easily enough.” He made a faint shrug, obviously stiff on his right side.

 

Frown renewed, John took a closer look at Sherlock now that they were in the light of the flat. Sherlock looked bruised and battered, the bruising originally hidden by his long, tousled hair apparent when Sherlock’s head was turned. John had no doubt his shoulder would be a mess of ugly bruises if he was to brush the thin dress aside.

 

“Well, let’s see what I can do.” John offered a small smile and poured a little antiseptic onto a cotton ball. “May I ask what happened?” He asked, staying carefully away from the bridge topic, instead choosing what he felt was the lesser of two evils. He just hoped whatever happened hadn’t been horrible enough for Sherlock to lead him to contemplate suicide on a bridge.

 

Sherlock breathed a low, tired sigh as John began to dab over the scabbed cut and bruise over his cheek.”Fools. It’s always fools.” He smirked, ”A bunch of drunken chavs with something to prove. They mistook me for a girl they could strong-arm into going with them, and upon learning they were wrong took it upon themselves to ‘teach me a lesson’.” He smirked, ”One of them should be in Hospital, most likely with a lateral force break to the nose.” There was an obvious vein of satisfaction in Sherlock’s voice.

 

John patted Sherlock’s cheek gently, clearing away a bit of dirt and blood from the small wound.”Cheek doesn’t seem to be fractured, you’re lucky. Arseholes like that...they can be terrible to people they don’t understand. Seeing a bloke in a dress is likely to make their heads implode.” He chuckled, pausing when a funny look comes over Sherlock’s face.

 

“You’re wrong as well.” Sherlock pointed said, tilting up his head a little as if he expected a second fight.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“I may not be a ‘girl’, but I’m not a ‘bloke in a dress’ either. I identify as Genderqueer, or gender ambivalent.” Sherlock pressed, blanching when John rubs a cream into the small cheek-cut with a cotton swab.

 

Those were words John had never heard of, and he was at a loss for what to do with them.”Excuse me if this makes me sound like an arse or the dumbest man in London, but I don’t know what either of those two things mean.” He admitted.

 

Sherlock took a steadying breath, looking moments away from saying ‘screw it’ entirely.”Just know I don’t answer to male or female and I prefer pronouns of a neutral variety. They and them will suffice.” Sherlock corrected, barely resisting the urge to reach up and touch their freshly doctored cheek.

John’s brows furrowed deeply, trying to parse out what in the hell Sherlock was talking about. Still, he wasn’t going to argue when he-..er.. they talked with enough conviction to let John know this was important to them.

 

He took care off the obvious lacerations before eyeing Sherlock’s shoulder, ”May I? I know you said you knew how to pop it back in, but I’d rather get a feel for it just in case.” Despite still viewing Sherlock as someone masculine, the air of femininity around them still made John cautious to touch them.

 

Sherlock eyed him a moment before undoing the top few buttons of their airy dress and shoving the shoulder aside to reveal the boney curve of their bruised shoulder.

 

“Bloody...hell, that looks like it hurt.” John winced empathetically, reaching out to gently touch over the warm swelling. “Doesn’t feel like anything is broken, but I’d feel better if you went to get it X Rayed.” His eyes trace up the pale length of Sherlock’s neck where he spied the glinting surface of a small stud in their ear.

 

“It’s not broken,” Sherlock replied with absolute certainty as they shrugged their dress back into place.

 

Not wanting to argue, John began to pack up his supplies. “Should you call anyone? Can I call a cab to get you home?”

 

Sherlock went silent for a while, tucking their legs up under them once more.”I let my lease run out last night and put everything in storage for... them to sort out. I planned to die today, after all.” They smirked, reaching to gather a pillow to their chest.

 

That showed a disturbing amount of forethought. That meant whatever unsavory business that had happened to Sherlock tonight hadn’t been the catalyst, but rather their contemplation of suicide had been a long-time coming.  

 

“Mrs Hudson is always looking to rent the room upstairs. It’s cheap since Old man Whittaker died up there, not that you can tell.” John wasn’t sure why he was saying this, but he was desperate to find something to fill the void left by Sherlock’s frankness.

 

Silence stretched long enough that John feared he’d been too forward. He set the last bit into his kit and looked up, only to find Sherlock fast asleep leaning against the back of the couch, unruly curls hanging in front of their eyes.

 

Well, that settled that then.