The day after the reaping ceremony was an errand day for the Watson family. While John’s father was working in the coal mines of District 12, John’s mother woke John and his seven-year-old sister, Harry, up early in the morning to get dressed and accompany her to the shops of the District to get what they could afford.
Every year after a reaping (even though John and Harry were too young to be chosen as tributes), Mrs. Watson would treat her children with a loaf of cinnamon bread to distract them from the fact that two kids were being sent to die and that, in a few years, they would be eligible for the same fate. This year was no exception, so outside the fruits shop she gave John money to pay for a loaf of cinnamon bread and a loaf of white bread, and sent her children to the bakery next door.
John and Harry went inside the shop and got in line behind a boy about John’s age as he approached the desk. The baker looked down at the boy sympathetically.
“Could I possibly be allowed a roll?” the boy asked, and John realized he recognized the voice to be Sherlock Holmes, a boy from his school. He almost didn’t recognize him out of his school uniform – even though it was summertime, the boy wore an oversized grey hoodie over what John assumed to be a T-shirt and shorts, going by the fact that said shorts were poking out from under the hoodie.
The two boys had never spoken – there was really no excuse to. John was a year older than Sherlock; they had no mutual friends (or friends at all, from what he knew about Sherlock). The two boys weren’t even neighbors; the Holmes family lived in the heart of the Seam – the poorest part of the District – while the Watsons lived closer to town. But John did know of Sherlock – everyone knew of Sherlock, for he wasn’t one of the kindest people. But nothing could keep a wave of sympathy from washing over John. Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft, had been reaped into the Hunger Games – basically sentenced to die – just the day before.
The baker gave Sherlock the roll and he left, not even glancing at John and Harry as he went. John, feeling compelled to talk to the boy, quickly ordered the loaves of bread and gave them to Harry after receiving them.
“Go find mom and tell her I’ll be there in a minute – I’ll just be talking to someone from school,” John ordered as they left the shop.
“Okay,” Harry said, and they went their separate ways; Harry into the fruits shop, and John chasing after Sherlock Holmes.
“Sherlock! Sherlock!” John called as he ran down the street, but the boy didn’t acknowledge John’s presence until they were walking side-by-side. “Hey, Sherlock – I’m John – I’ve seen you around at school –”
“Whatever you have to say I don’t want to hear it,” Sherlock spat, glaring at the ground ahead of him.
“Your brother’s in The Games now, isn’t he?” John asked, getting to the point.
“Yes,” he snapped. “Next time I need Captain Obvious around to remind me of my life story you’ll be the first one I call, now leave me alone –”
“Are you okay?” John asked, cutting Sherlock off.
“I’m fine.” Sherlock spat.
“No you’re not – your brother’s in the Hunger Games –” John argued.
“Then why did you ask the question?” Sherlock asked, finally stopping and turning to glare up at John (Sherlock was about five inches shorter than him) with eyes red and tired from crying.
“Because it’s nice to at least ask,” John replied.
Sherlock glanced away from John, looking for a more private place to talk. Once he found it, he grabbed John by the wrist and led him into an alley between two shops and started speaking.
“I don’t need your pity,” he told John. “I need theirs –”
“Whose?” John asked.
“The merchants,” Sherlock clarified, nodding in the direction of the world outside the alley. “As you keep reminding me, my brother’s in the Hunger Games – their sympathy for me is still prominent and the reasons why are still fresh in their memories. If I go in to every store and ask for just one of their cheaper items, they’ll feel bad and give it to me free of charge, which, if I ration it out enough, should give me enough food to survive on my own with until –” Sherlock cut himself off, avoiding John’s eyes. “I should be fine, if Mycroft comes back...” he said in a quiet voice, finally sounding like the little boy he was.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine –” John started, but Sherlock cut him off, rolling his eyes as he went back to speaking quickly, taking on the know-it-all tone he had been using just seconds before.
“Empty promises. Dull,” he said, waving him off and crossing his arms. He was right, though – there weren’t any victors in District 12 to speak of. “Anyway, if he doesn’t come back, I’ll have to make the food stretch long enough to think of a plan to keep me out of the community home –”
“The community home?” John asked, startled. “Wait, what about your mother?”
Everyone knew about the mine explosion that had killed Mr. Holmes, along with about thirty other mine workers, five years ago. John had only been five years old, but all of the eldest children of the deceased coal miners were given a Medal of Valor at a ceremony honoring the losses, including an eleven-year-old Mycroft Holmes. Even though John – and everyone in their classes – was too young to remember the details of the explosion or the ceremony, everyone always knew the one fact that mattered to them: Sherlock Holmes didn’t have a father.
“She’s dead.” Sherlock informed him.
Sherlock huffed out a breath. “You’re kind of slow, did you know that?” he asked, frustrated. “Yes, she’s dead. She...” tears welled up in his eyes. “...She died yesterday. She was murdered. Just before Mycroft left.”
“Oh, god,” John breathed. “Have you told anyone?”
“Of course I have; I got Peacekeeper Cray to take her away.”
“Do you have any other siblings? Aunts? Uncles? Cousins? Grandparents?” John asked.
“No,” Sherlock replied. “My parents were both only children, everyone knows that just about everyone either starves or dies of some other natural cause before reaching the age to even become a grandparent, and Mycroft’s the only sibling I have.”
“Then – it’s just you, isn’t it?” John thought aloud.
“That – that can’t be right. You’re all alone –”
“Alone protects me,” Sherlock informed John.
“Protects you? No – people protect people; friends protect people –” John tried, but Sherlock cut him off again.
“I don’t have friends,” Sherlock spat, his eyes not breaking from John’s. “You and I both know that.”
John did know this; anyone who had even heard the name Sherlock Holmes knew that Sherlock didn’t have friends, and everyone knew the reasons why. First and foremost, he was a bit of a loud-mouthed know-it-all. He was constantly arguing with their teachers, insulting his peers, and generally offending everyone in his path by calling them stupid or by revealing their deepest secrets that he couldn’t possibly know to everyone within earshot. It seemed like every day Sherlock had to stay after school for detention, and, though John was never a witness to this personally, it was obvious that some of the boys would corner Sherlock when he finally got out and left him to walk home alone bruised, bloody, and beaten, with another detention slip pinned to his shirt, to repeat the cycle all over again. Needless to say, Sherlock was right: he didn’t have friends.
“But you can’t just live alone for who knows how long – you’re nine years old, Sherlock,” John reminded him.
“Well, I’m going to try. We both know I won’t last a day in the community home.”
And it was true. The community home was a large building in the Seam, where orphans whose parents had died from something or other were made to live until they turned eighteen and could work and get a house of their own. John, having both parents alive and well, had never set foot in the place, but he knew of some of the kids who had to live there, and most of those kids were the exact people who beat Sherlock up after school. Not only that, but some of the kids of the community home came into school with bruises, which either meant that the adults in charge turned a blind eye to the kids fighting each other, or they inflicted the wounds themselves, or both. But no matter what it was, it wouldn’t matter: if Sherlock was sent to live in the community home, alone in the dark with the boys who hated him most, he’d probably be dead by morning.
John huffed out a breath, and Sherlock looked outside of the alley, waiting for John to speak.
“Look, I know we don’t know each other that well, but –”
“You may not know me, but I know all about you, John Watson,” Sherlock assured him, and John’s eyes widened in surprise. They had never spoken – they had only seen each other from a distance before, now; across the lunch hall, across the school yard, passing in the hallway – how did Sherlock know John’s name? “You want to be a doctor when you grow up, you seem to have a crush on every girl in class but you like Hillary the most, and you have a brother named Harry.”
“How –” John began to ask.
“‘How did I know?’ I didn’t know; I saw. Let’s take it from the top: I can read that you want to be a doctor in your hands and the fact that every time we visit the library you’re the one taking out medical books instead of any sort of novel – that’s a bit obvious, to be honest.”
“My hands?” John repeated. In response, Sherlock took hold of John’s hand and surveyed it between them.
“Extremely steady – almost too steady for a ten-year-old’s, don’t you think? Steady, accurate, doctor. You’re a little too empathetic, though, which could hurt you in a place where you see people injured and die almost daily. Now, for your crushes. Believe it or not, you look at every girl in your class the same way when you’re crushing on them. Over the years, I’ve noticed how many girls you look at like that, so it’s only safe to assume you’re kind of a womanizer, as much of a womanizer as a ten-year-old can be. As for Hillary –”
“Haleigh,” John said, cutting Sherlock off.
“It’s Haleigh – there isn’t a Hillary in my class.”
“Right – but it’s obvious that you like her considering the fact that she’s the only girl in your class that you don’t talk to.”
“What if I just don’t like her?” John asked, crossing his arms.
“Given your history with liking girls? It’s more likely that you’ve tried and failed pursuing a relationship with her. But, considering how much you stare at her from a distance it’s even more likely that you’re just afraid to talk to her and to get rejected given the fact that you have a gigantic crush on her. Not to mention the fact that just corrected me about her name – if you didn’t care about her you probably wouldn’t have made a point to say something about the fact that I got it wrong.”
“...Okay, fine, I’ll give you that. But what about Harry?”
“That one’s simple: sometimes your mother makes the mistake of writing Harry’s name on both of your lunch bags and crosses it out – poorly, I might add,” Sherlock said.
“You pay attention to all this stuff?” John asked.
“I observe everyone. For instance, there’s a boy in your class, his name is Samuel?”
“Who?” John asked, and Sherlock stared at John for a moment.
“...His name’s not Samuel, is it?”
“Are you talking about Skylar Dean?”
“Yes – him – he burns things for fun behind his parents’ backs. The cuff of his sleeve is slightly burnt; I’m surprised they haven’t noticed it, yet,” he replied before John could ask how he could possibly know that. “Did I get anything wrong about you, by the way?”
“Did I get anything wrong about you?”
“Um...well, I do want to be a doctor when I grow up – always have. I do have a crush on Haleigh, and I do have a bit of a crush on some of the other girls in my class. And Harry’s my –”
“Wow, spot on, then –” Sherlock began.
“– sister,” John finished.
“Sister?” Sherlock repeated.
“Yes. Harry’s short for Harriet.”
“Sister!” Sherlock cried out. “Of course! There’s always something…” he paused. “She was the one in the shop with you, wasn’t she?” he asked. “The little redhead?”
“She was,” John replied.
“You did really good though – that was...brilliant,” John informed him.
“Really?” Sherlock asked, confused. No one had found his deductions brilliant before – people normally found it (and therefore, him) annoying.
“Really – that was fantastic,” John assured him with a smile. “Anyway, speaking of my sister, I should really go back to her…”
“So, shall I run by my house and gather my things, then?”
“Things?” John asked.
“You know; clothes, toiletries? My family’s tesserae? If I’m going to live with you I should gather my things, shouldn’t I?” Sherlock asked.
“Who said anything about living together?” John asked.
“I did. You went out of your way to chase me down and see how I was doing; you obviously want to help me.”
“Well, yeah,” John said. “But I don’t know if my mom would think that’s okay.”
“She probably will. Let’s go,” Sherlock said, and together they went back to the fruits shop and found Mrs. Watson and Harry.
“John! There you are!” John’s mother cried. “I wondered where you ran off to. And who’s this?” she asked, addressing Sherlock.
“This is Sherlock Holmes; he’s in the class under mine,” John said as Mrs. Watson nodded.
“Oh, …oh. Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Sherlock,” Mrs. Watson said to him, sympathetically.
“Can Sherlock come over to our house for a few hours?” John asked.
“Well, I don’t see why not,” Mrs. Watson replied as Harry realized where she had heard of the Holmes family.
“Didn’t your brother leave for The Games yesterday?” she asked.
“Yes,” Sherlock replied bluntly.
“Harry,” Mrs. Watson warned.
“Rude shmoode! Do you think he’ll win the –” she began, but John’s mother cut her off.
When they finished running errands, they went to the Watson household. There were a grand total of four rooms – two bedrooms, a bathroom, and the kitchen, which also held a small sofa and a television to watch the Hunger Games with. There, Sherlock met John’s father, and spent the day with John’s family.
“I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, dear,” Mrs. Watson said as she cooked dinner for her family. “I just heard about your mother today, too – how are you doing?” she asked.
“Better than I was, I think,” Sherlock answered, careful to be polite. “I mean, people get murdered all the time –”
“Murdered?” Mr. Watson repeated.
“Yeah – Sherlock’s mom was killed after the reaping ceremony,” John filled him in. Mr. and Mrs. Watson exchanged looks.
“Yes, of course,” Mr. Watson agreed.
“I’m sure I’ll find the killer by the end of the Games this year,” Sherlock assured them.
“I think you should worry about Mycroft before you try to solve a murder, Sherlock. The Hunger Games is a big deal, after all,” Mrs. Watson reminded him.
“I hate them – they’re ridiculous,” Sherlock announced. John nodded, but as he looked around and saw his parents’ tight-lipped faces, he knew that wasn’t the best thing to say.
“Do you know who you’ll be living with during the Games, Sherlock?” Mrs. Watson asked, changing the subject.
“Probably down at the community home,” Mr. Watson said.
“Well, actually....–” Sherlock looked at John for help.
“Mom, Dad... Can Sherlock live with us? Please please please?” John asked. “All his bullies live in the community home and I’m his only friend at school and he’s got nowhere else to go and –” As John went on, Mr. and Mrs. Watson looked at each other, astounded at their son’s request. They did the thing that parents do and had a private conversation using facial expressions exclusively as John finished his begging. “He won’t be in the way at all, Mom. He’s got his own tesserae, and he’s got Mycroft’s and his mom’s to share with us, too. He needs this. Please?”
John’s mother sighed.
“John, sweetie...” she began, and John and Sherlock shrunk into their chairs, knowing the decision was made. “We can’t afford to make a snap decision like this – especially one that could very easily become a permanent change.”
“But Mom –” John began.
“Give us some time to think about this,” Mr. Watson allowed. “We’re not giving you a no, we’re giving you a maybe. Can you two survive on that for a night?” he asked, and the two boys nodded.
“Good. Now John, can you be a dear and get your sister? Dinner’s almost ready. Will you be joining us, Sherlock?”
Mr. and Mrs. Watson allowed John to sleep over at Sherlock’s that night. Sherlock’s house was nothing more than a one-room shack with an outdoor bathroom. The only thing the house possessed was a stove for cooking, a small circular table with three chairs, a tiny black-and-white television for the Hunger Games viewings, three beds, and curtains separating the beds from the rest of the house. On the table were three sacks of grain, and three cans of oil – the Holmes family’s tesserae.
“Mycroft’s name was in the bowl twenty times.” Sherlock informed John, suddenly, and then gestured to the tesserae on the table. “Whatever isn’t mine you can have. I know it’s not enough, but it’s still a lot, I think.”
“Do you think they’ll let you live with us?” John asked. “My parents?”
“Your mother’s too caring of a person to just let me live on my own,” Sherlock informed him, and John nodded in agreement.
Sherlock and John watched the reaping ceremonies together, that night. Sherlock took mental notes of all the tributes and pointed out the more obvious observations to John, up until Mycroft, the last person to be reaped, appeared on screen.
“That’s him,” Sherlock breathed. “John – that’s Mycroft.”
John never imagined meeting someone this way – on a recording of the Hunger Games. As soon as the ceremonies were over, the projector turned itself off and Sherlock opened the curtains to the bedroom and then proceeded to fling himself into his mother’s bed.
“You can have mine,” he informed him, and John nodded and got into Sherlock’s bed.
“Were you able to talk to him? Before he left?” John asked, after a moment.
Of course Sherlock had spoken to Mycroft before he left. Peacekeepers allowed the family and friends a short visit to the newly-reaped tributes – Sherlock was allowed three minutes.
He ran in and buried his face into Mycroft’s torso, tears streaming down his face. Mycroft ran his fingers through Sherlock’s dark curls, shushing him as he looked at the doors, expecting his mother to come in.
“Sherlock – where’s Mom?” Mycroft asked.
“I dunno.” Sherlock’s voice was muffled by Mycroft’s shirt. Mycroft crouched down before him.
“Go home. Go to Mom. Tell her I’ll be back.”
“But –” Sherlock began.
“No. No, Sherlock, look at me. I’m going to win this. For you and for Mom. I’ll come back. I promise, okay?”
“O-okay,” Sherlock sniffled.
“Look after yourself. Look after Mom. Don’t be too much of a bother, okay?” he tried to chuckle, but tears only spilled over his eyes. “I love you, Sherlock.”
“Mycroft?” Sherlock asked.
“D-Don’t die, okay?” Sherlock asked, his voice breaking.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Mycroft promised, and kissed his brother’s forehead. Sherlock wrapped his arms around his brother once more, and then the Peacekeepers came in their white jumpsuits to drag Sherlock away.
Sherlock ran home to his mother.
“Mommy! Mommy! Mycroft’s leaving you’ve gotta go say goodbye –” he yelled through his tears as he opened the door and found Mrs. Holmes in a puddle of blood, a knife in her hand.
Sherlock Holmes screamed.
“Sherlock?” John repeated. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” Sherlock replied.
“What did he say to you, then? Mycroft?”
“He said that he’ll come back.” They laid for a moment, taking in the circumstances they found themselves under. “Hey, John?”
“Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end – would that bother you?” Sherlock asked. “Potential housemates should know the worst about each other.”
“That’s fine – it’s all fine,” John assured him. “Sherlock?”
“Can I ask you something? About the Games?”
“What is it?” Sherlock asked.
“I don’t mean to sound mean but...do you really think Mycroft could win?”
“Yeah. Mycroft has a really small chance of winning,” Sherlock revealed.
“Really?” John sat up, finding that Sherlock was curled up, facing the wall.
“Don’t feel bad. Half of them have no chance at all,” he deadpanned. “Goodnight, John.”
“Do you want to talk about –”
The next morning, Sherlock and John went back to the Watson household, where Mr. and Mrs. Watson made the announcement: Sherlock would be living with them until further notice. Sherlock knew that “further notice” meant “forever unless a miracle occurs,” but it didn’t matter. He knew that alone protected him and it wasn’t good to form a friendship with someone who could easily be reaped or see him reaped in a few years, but it didn’t matter.
For now, Sherlock Holmes was a Watson.