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Wee Doctor

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John and Sherlock were chasing after one Dr. Grendel. John wasn’t completely sure why, it involved Sherlock yelling ‘brilliant!’ a great deal and then ‘insidious’ and then ‘absolutely perfect but inelegant.’ If it was inelegant, John wondered, could it be perfect? He was rather running on too little rest and tea, begging to be able to sleep for at least four hours, just four, or one, or fifteen minutes, it had been two days and he had no idea what they were even chasing after. There were a gaggle of flustered physicists, a few distressed Austrians and a dash of Mycroft with a raised eyebrow. This was definitely one of those cases where John just needed to run after Sherlock, shoot things that needed to be shot and then sew everyone up at the end. John had slumped in a chair outside the office at the lab buildings of what uni he wasn’t sure and of whom he didn’t even know while Sherlock flustered around inside.

It wasn’t John’s preferred way of doing this, of doing cases. But he was so glad, so happy that Sherlock was finally, finally shaking off the whole Irene Adler fiasco. It was like sometimes, John thought, Sherlock thought of people in three categories. The general populace, whose main purpose was to be loud, stupid and if Sherlock was very lucky, a murder victim. That, although it was hard to understand at first, was not something personal; the general populace existed as a sort of crowd of extras. Second were the bit players, people whose names Sherlock actually made an effort to remember. Anderson, Sally, Molly unfortunately although she spoiled him awfully and obviously wanted to be his friend, the thousand little businessmen who got him the things he needed and wanted for free. And then the pinnacle, the blessed third category, was the real people. Mycroft was real, Sherlock's childhood hero turned nemesis, likely because that was the most impressive honour Sherlock could think of bestowing on anyone. Although there were some rough waters there. John wasn’t sure, Sherlock seemed the sort of child to bite people when he was pleased. Moriarty was real and fascinating, very dangerous that one, the closest thing Sherlock thought there was to himself. And somehow in the space of less than a quarter of an hour Irene Adler stripped off her clothes, raised an eyebrow, and became quite real. And then she was gone, then alive and ruining Mycroft’s clever plane plan then dead again. That was the greatest shock of all. That real people could die. That people Sherlock cared about could die. John saw how that frightened Sherlock and made him pull into himself like a wounded animal. As impossibly fast and hard to understand as this case was for John he didn’t mind it if it would draw Sherlock’s mind away from the wounds he carried to his vulnerable underbelly.

“We’ll lose him if we wait another second!” Sherlock yelled suddenly, leaping back into the hall with one of the distressed Austrians peering after him just as John was starting to doze. “This is better than murder! Abduction is so pedestrian! The impossible thing won’t work of course…” It was at this point that John had completely lost track of the conversation if he had ever had it in the first place.

It involved a great deal of physics. Both the case and the conversation, and admittedly John’s interests ran closer to chemistry and biology than physics and whatever else they were babbling about. He was also fairly sure Sherlock was deleting most of it as soon as it was poured in his head. John would have said no, would have said he needed his sleep, but when Sherlock called he felt adrenaline hum up from his heart to his fingertips and suddenly the tiredness was gone. Besides, who else was going to run after Sherlock, shoot things that needed to be shot and then sew everyone up? Sherlock shot him a grin and they were clambering through the hall and down the stairs like over excited schoolboys.

Then there was across the grassy green dislodging snogging students and into a cab, breaking into a flat (John was there for that one) stealing a planner, back in a cab and out to the middle of nowhere just in time to miss tea. John Watson was not a fan of missing anything with tea in it.

“Oh relax,” Sherlock huffed in the cab as if answering the complaint of his own stomach. “We’ll get you tea enough when the case is over. You’ll get to drink that semi-solid abomination Lestrade insists is coffee.

John smiled his small pleased smile, tucked up tight like an origami frog, “Lestrade has a reputation to maintain as a Yarder.” The recognition of his sacrifice made it alright somehow. John didn’t voice a complaint.

Then they were hunched behind an old laboratory in the rain (of course, lucky John had gone for a jumper instead of just a button up) and Sherlock was vibrating pleasantly like only an excited Sherlock could. “He wants to do what to people?” John said, with his hands under his arms to keep warm. This was one of those squinting nights where his hair was plastered to his head and there was water just about everywhere. He knew how it was going to end too, with the two of them hipchecking each other to get to the shower and kettle first. Well mostly the shower. Sherlock preferred to drink tea John had made so he lurked until John had blinked and then carried out a stealthy tea steal.

“Do keep up John,” Sherlock said turning his head, his long hair slicked all over his face. “Haven’t you been listening?”

John couldn’t help grinning at him; Sherlock looked a bit like a wet rat. Or a limpet. A little like a limpet. It was something to do with time and paradoxes and people exploding in conferences for physicists. It was all slightly incoherent at that point. His brain was focused on keeping Sherlock alive, a constant worry and keeping himself alive, also important. Everything else was, as Sherlock said, transport. He floated in his happy little war space, riding high on their friendship. It must be a friendship, Sherlock was the best friend John’s ever had, for all the in flat experiments and he was pretty sure Sherlock was rather fond of him too. If nothing else it was a fierce little codependency. He understood enough, Dr. Grendel had been cut from a team of physicists before said team won some big award. He was outraged that they so dared to steal his notes. He (believed he) had a weapon that could bend time and space. He also blew up a scientist at a fancy conference. Dr. Grendel was also about to get arrested.

John had paid a little attention.

They get a quick grin to each other, John all smile lines and mouth and Sherlock all cheekbones and eyes, before they were picking the back lock and running in. Later John thought he should have asked for greater specificity.

“I’m going to erase you,” Dr. Grendel had said after they burst into the room of the bare laboratory but before Sherlock could press the send button to call Lestrade and before John got his hand to the small of his back where his Browning lurked warmly. John was exceptional at hiding his Browning, although Sherlock was somehow always able to find it. John was infinitely grateful Sherlock hadn’t yet accidentally killed himself, as, if he ever knew that service pistols are quite literally ready to shoot at a moment’s notice in emergency situations, he had probably deleted it. It was a miracle he hadn’t shot one of his feet off. Dr. Grendel had his funny gun pointed at Sherlock. John was calculating in his head the amount of time it would take him to get his hand beneath the back of his jumper and retrieve, aim and shoot his gun. He didn’t like the way things were going, not at all. Sherlock didn’t believe Dr. Grendel’s claim, but a gun was a gun. “You’ll just stop existing,” Dr. Grendel said. “It will be like you were never born.”

“It didn’t work with Dr. Connor,” Sherlock replied, insultingly calm and Dr. Grendel’s face exploded with rage.

It wasn’t a conscious thought per se, it was more like a series of flaring realizations. He couldn’t draw his gun in time, that realization was just a matter of muscle memory. After that John’s brain just moved forward with Sherlockian logic toward his final deduction. First millisecond, he thought about that first case he had solved with Sherlock and all the cases Sherlock had solved. It wouldn’t be good if Sherlock hadn’t solved those cases. Second millisecond, John would never have survived without Sherlock there, and as much as he didn’t want to admit it, he really does love the danger. Third millisecond, he wasn’t that great at much anyway except ruining dates, having bad dreams and making a cuppa. Which he was actually quite good at doing.

Fourth millisecond, will this block the bullet, yes? Good. Wait, not a bullet… Fifth millisecond, what is that?

Then his rapid thoughts dissolved into pain, hot white pain. It destroyed everything. Burnt everything in him, like a fire in a barrel. There wasn’t London, there wasn’t the war, there wasn’t Sherlock, there wasn’t John. There was only fire, and a single, last burst inside him, like that spinning, consuming fire in the barrel had hit a chestnut and there was a memory. John was eight and holding a sparrow, it was dying in his hands and he thought, (black coat flapping in front of him, Welcome to London? Laughter. Haven’t laughed like that for a while, feels so) I want to be a doctor.

When he opened his eyes again everything hurt a lot and he found that he was not erased at all. He was instead incredibly sore; every cell of his body was like a pinprick of fire. He was laying on a rooftop. In those quick first breaths of aftermath he didn’t know what had happened, but he knew that there was danger and that he wanted to be a doctor. He was a doctor. He named all the bones in the human body and the chambers and arteries of the heart and the systems of the body one after the other. He knew how to set a broken leg and how to stop internal hemorrhaging. A relief swept over him so strong that he almost started weeping.

He was on a rooftop, when he rolled over to lift himself up he found that he was a great deal smaller than he remembered. Also dry, which was an improvement. This was distressing, but not as distressing as peering above the edge of the roof and seeing Sherlock pant after a cab. Because John remembered this night. He remembered how easy it was to run without a flack and gear on. How free. He remembered thinking that Sherlock was absolutely mad. Amazing, but definitely mad.

He remembered the feel of stairs and iron and gravel and road beneath his feet.

He remembered the taste of the pasta, the richness of the sauce, the burst of spices, the awkward dinner conversation.

But on this night he remembered so well, Sherlock was alone.

John lay on his back carefully, like he had been shot but didn’t know where yet. Like he had been picked up in a bomb blast and wasn’t sure he was still all in one piece. His Browning dug into his spine now that it didn’t fit as intimately as a hand in the small of his back, then he really did start to cry.

It took a long time for him to remember everything about this night, he was so miserable. Curled up in a pathetic little ball, weeping his pathetic little eyes out, but he finally did.

He propped himself up on a chair to give him some height. Didn’t want it to be too obvious.

His hands didn’t shake.

Sherlock was still his best friend.

Power of Deduction:
Crack shot, nerves of steel. Strong moral character. Military man, likely Iraq or Afghanistan, skilled at infiltration. Possibly special forces. Tall.

Chapter Text

Considering John woke on a rooftop as the eight year old version of himself, he thought he was dealing pretty well. That first night, the night he suddenly found himself in, he remembered saving Sherlock. This time the gun kicked, more than he was used to, and almost threw him over the back of the chair he stood on in the same room where he had stood before. He obviously wasn’t part of Sherlock’s life so he headed to Harry’s. She didn’t know him; he had been expecting the confusion, an instinct in the back of his head, like feeling a sniper’s crosshairs.

But he had hoped.

She was sober, in a smart blue-black dress, neat and sharp; ages away from the Harry he had known all alone in her big fancy house, drinking too much and crying. Their relationship had eventually devolved to him holding her hair out of her face while she vomited, making her eat toast and drink ginger ale, occasional phone calls and blog comments. When she hadn’t recognized him he said he was sorry, that he meant to ring the doorbell for the house a couple down. She just nodded at him distractedly and closed the door. Maybe Harry hadn’t changed that much after all. If she ever thought better of leaving an eight year old child alone on her doorstep in the dark he didn’t know. He left immediately, trying to think of someplace he could go.

He ended up in a public bathroom staring at himself in the mirror. Big eyes, button nose, face just losing its baby fat. It was a child’s face. He was eight.

He looked like he was still in primary school. He slid his left arm out of his jumper more smoothly than he had in years and bared his shoulder in the bleak fluorescent light. There was a faint pink where his scar should be, but not that shiny skinned star he was used to. Oddly enough however he did have a line of small scars across his ribs like rabbit prints in snow. He picked those up from an IED in Afghanistan. He didn’t know why he had one but not the other. He didn’t know why he had the body of an eight year old and his own adult mind. He didn’t know how something like this could happen in the first place.

John was no Sherlock but it had to have been something about that memory. That last burst before he disappeared or was erased or whatever it was that was supposed to have happened to him.

Wanting to be a doctor, he remembered that one memory in the pain. He wished he had remembered something a little older.

London was not a friend to a young boy with no past and no friends. He had known that working cases and he felt the reality of it now. He thought briefly of Raz and the other boys like him with their bikes and cans of spray paint. But they were too old to accept a child, and they all had families to go home to; they’d just leave John alone again afterward. In the end he returned to Vauxhall Arches where the Golem was hiding and snugged his back into a corner listening to someone’s soft mutterings like the flickering of moth’s wings.

He spent a sprawl of nights huddled in the dark, reading his stolen copy of Gray’s Anatomy like an addict with his little flashlight.

Doorknobs, John discovered, were the new bane of his existence. He had spent thirty-some-odd years being able to see in windows, open the top cabinets in kitchens and most notably, reach for doorknobs without thinking. Now he was forever reaching for doorknobs straight out in front of him at waist level, where they had always been before. They weren’t there anymore, they had all been shifted to eye-level. It was a constant reminder that everything had changed in his life. And it kind of made him look like an idiot.

John’s cards didn’t work either, he had never existed after all, so he cut them up into little pieces and threw them into the Thames. It was like spreading his ashes. Highly therapeutic probably. His phone still worked, so there was probably a Harry and Clara still. Sherlock had been right about keeping things; if Harry had left Clara again he doubted she would have kept the phone.

He had stopped crying pretty quick and taken up running, wearing a gray hoodie that reminded him vaguely of his days in training, with a Polaroid camera heavy in his front pocket. John’s nice clothes, his not-street clothes as he thought of them, were folded up neatly and stored in his knapsack. His street clothes were jeans, trainers, and his hoodie with his Polaroid, though much of the time he kept that in his bag so it wouldn’t break when he got into fights.

He was his own ambulance, he ran all of London, warming up with a hard, steady jog and then tearing through alleyways and short cuts and rooftops. He liked to think that his slow memorization of the impossible twists of London’s street was almost as good as Sherlock’s. Except he knew it wasn’t, Sherlock had Google Maps in his head.

Twice he passed Sherlock running in the opposite direction and it had cut like a knife.

As if to emphasize the fact that he didn’t exist, neither Sherlock nor any of the Yard, except Anderson once, ever caught him snapping pictures of Sherlock’s crime scenes. He had more cases than John remembered from working with him. Wasn’t sure what that meant.

John wasn’t sure of a lot of things.

This case had to do with fish, John wasn’t quite sure what, but the koi were extremely beautiful. It was so striking to see Sherlock’s dark coat with the large orange and white fish in his hands as he looked lost as to where to put it that John stayed for an extra shot, giggling. He would call this one the mystery of where do I put the fish? Answer obvious: Into DI Lestrade’s arms while he is gesturing, Anderson is likely to drop it and the crime scene unit is bustling around too seriously. Lestrade brings the most impact.

John laughed his eight year old head off and didn’t even care.

His phone rang and he pulled it (he left her, or he would have kept it; people are sentimental) out of his pocket. “Speaking,” he said, snapping closed the camera case and pushing it into his bag next to his Journal and Gray’s.

Sometimes he felt like a little stalker. Maybe he was.

The alley was rattled off so fast that John almost didn’t understand it, he tore across the rooftop, fire escape, down the alley, across the way, third floor, two blocks was the quickest way. It made his brain kind of exhausted, but he was able to pick up more now, journals agreed the young brain was more malleable.

“Gotta go, bobbies running all over, itsa stabbin,” the child said with a half sob. “Gotta go, covered in blood.”

The other hung up quickly and John hauled down the alley, across the way, third floor, two blocks leaving the fire escape clanging behind him. That was the way to go. He slid to his knees in front of the kid, couldn’t be more than fourteen, while looking over his shoulder for any police, or adults really, at the mouth of the alley. John had learned quickly that unless he wanted to be sat in a chair and told what to do and where to go, it was a good idea to avoid adults. A blonde child of indiscriminate sex was curled around the kid sporting matching eyes and ears (at least he thought matching ears, he had never quite mastered that), holding their hands over the stab in the kid’s side.

“Doctor,” they hissed at him, eyes wide and blown with terror, their hands were filthy but better than nothing.

“Move,” he said. “This may need surgery.”

“We got crack,” the indiscriminate blonde said.

“Don’t want it,” John said, probing the wound.

“I’m a girl,” the blonde said again.

John paused and gave her a look, he wasn’t sure what it looked like, but she ducked her head, pulling herself into a knot with her bloody hands on her elbows.

“Sorry sir,” she whispered.

“Don’t make offers like that. You don’t understand what you mean,” he ordered in his army voice. It was wrong, she was just child, looked to be just this side of twelve. She deserved more time to trust people to be kind to her because they should. She was a child and deserved to be a child, to rely, not to be used. It was the last thing most street child had of value, their childhood. Play, and hope, and having their age treated with respect. And he was pretty securely prepubescent himself, so it was a strange thing to offer anyway. Cracking open his case, he pulled his supplies out and gloves on, “Hold up the light.”

Looked like it had missed any important organs, scraping instead along the side of the hip. He had a time cleaning the wound; he ripped the antiseptic wipes with his teeth and cleaned the jagged flesh, always looking over his shoulder. The kid cursed in little sobs that John could hardly stand.

“It’s going to be okay, that was to clean the wound to prevent infection.” He held the flesh together with one hand, blood slipping over the fingertips of his gloves. “I’m going to sew it together now.”

John was running low on supplies. He would have to go to St. Bart’s again, see what he could snag. He had great respect for his alma mater, but she was his most reliable source, other than trades. As in he could trust to get what he needed.

The stitches were neat and he put the gauze on gently, business like, “I’m going to check that again later. You’ve lost a lot of blood.” Most of the children he treated wouldn’t go to a proper hospital. They had warrants out, or were dodging the system or for a thousand different reasons. He had stopped fighting them about it.

“You need to keep the wound clean; that means you’re not to remove the dressing before it’s ready. Make sure he rests and takes it slow. Have,” John stumbled at the pronoun, “your friend drink some juice, eat something. If you can, go to the hospital.”

“Didn’t you fix me?” the kid asked.

“They’ll have medicine I don’t, and you’ll be able to have a blood transfusion. You’ll heal quicker and won’t be as sick.”

The two children looked at each other for a long time and finally the girl shook her head at her friend. “We can’t, last time they split us up and…” she let the rest of her sentence die out in the air between them. “We got no family. Just waiting until I’m legal and then we’ll be okay.”

“Be careful,” John said, closing up his first aid kit, pulling off his gloves. “Your body’s in a weakened state. I don’t carry pain medicine, it’s too dangerous, or I’d give you some.”

“I’d like some,” the kid said in a small voice, holding on really well considering.

“Something else a hospital has that I don’t,” he sighed. “Do you know Bad Davey?”

The girl nodded, eyes big.

John scribbled the prescription on the back of a ripped bit of poster. “You’ll want four; one - one - every six hours as needed, no more than that. Tell him not to charge you recreational prices, I’ll be checking. It might make you feel a little sleepy and relaxed, but it shouldn’t get you loopy. And it’s good to have food in your stomach for this anyway to avoid nausea.”

She nodded again, taking the slip of paper and staring at it seriously. “We don’t have a lot of money. We don’t have any money.”

“He should give it to you.” A close and personal relationship with a drug dealer wasn’t something John had ever imagined maintaining. He had changed so much in so few months. He grieved for so much loss. Everything he had ever done, every single breath he had ever taken didn’t mean a single thing. He had nothing but memories of a world that once existed.

“Okay,” the girl said nodding.

She was going to nod her head off.

John had never considered himself a bad man, had tried not to be. But if he ever saw the man that had done this to him John was going to empty three clips into his chest. There was nothing, now, that he had left, except being a doctor. It was what had saved him so maybe it was enough.

After he got them to agree to take it easy and go see Bad Davey he hitched his bag onto his back. Nearly everything in it had come as a result of theft, except some of the supplies he had begged or bought off Bad Davey. Theft was not something John normally supported, but his whole life had been stolen from him; he was just stealing it back.

 


 

Science of Deduction:
Fish will swallow almost anything if it shines convincingly. Smithwaite Pearls discovered.

Chapter Text

No matter what John did, no matter how good he was, as soon as people saw him like this, he was treated like something he’s not.

A child.

If he had remembered something when he was older... Maybe if he could have reappeared as a nice almost adult eighteen, fifteen, ten even. But he wasn't. And he had always looked young anyway. It wasn't so bad with children, with adults, everything was you can’t. No matter what he said, the reply was always no. It hurt so much. He felt sometimes like screaming at the sky, (please God let me live) I am not a child!

He was so alone.

He knew that if he revealed too much to adults, how much he knew about medicine then not only will it be no, it would be him shut up in a glass jar while they talk to him about tests. This he hadn’t experienced yet, he refused to be put into a glass jar. He wasn’t going to do intelligence tests and special schools. He couldn’t compete. They would once again assume he’s something he’s not, a genius.

There was something a doctor from Canada had told them the first day in the combat hospital. Dying is your new normal. Adjust. So John adjusted, running around London, carrying his world on his back.

When John first began to try and be a doctor again, in the beginning, he was captured by Bailey. Captured may be a little too strong of a word, but that’s what it had felt like. He had trespassed on Bailey’s gang’s territory on accident and they had accused him of spying for Bad Davey, a local drug pusher who was making quite the name for himself.

John had fought them off swinging and kicking close to drawing his gun. That’s what you feared in Afghanistan, capture, being turned into some sort of publicity stunt in front of a camera, not knowing how long you’d stay alive. Not that Bailey’s crew was quite the same as masked men with AKs. They were just terrified. Bad Davey really had a habit of being… bad.

“I don’t work for Bad Davey!” John broke a boy’s nose with his elbow, blood spilling on his jumper.

“How do we know?” Bailey barked at him in a heavy brogue, swinging around an iron pipe.

“Because I don’t! I’m a doctor!”

“A doctor?” Bailey asked. “What are you, six?”

“I’m eight!” John yelled indignantly, cracking his Grey’s upside someone else’s head. “And I’m quite good actually.”

“Can you do broken bones?” Bailey asked him and that was the beginning of John’s new life.

“Of course,” John said, “Although it depends on how clean the break is. If it’s shattered…”

“Nah,” Bailey said motioning off his crew. “Clean. Come on.” The capture ended as quickly as it started at Bailey’s quick agitated movements. “We need you. It was just an accident.”

He was dragged by the shoulder of his jumper to a back room; dark and smelling faintly of bad curry where there was a rail thin red head curled around his broken arm in the corner. This John could do. “I’ll need something stiff for splints,” he said over his shoulder. “I don’t have anything to make a cast with either.”

“Don’t,” the redhead was crying, curling himself up in an even tighter knot. Everything about him twitched in parts, like the boy had been electrified.

John’s hands were practiced at being professional, at being gentle and calming. “It’s alright. I’m a doctor-”

“But you’re so small,” the boy interrupted. He would always interrupt.

John gritted his teeth a little at that, “I seem to manage just fine. What’s your name?” The boy looked fearfully up at Bailey and then over at him.

“R-Rooster.”

“Rooster,” I’m going to have to set your arm. It’s not going to be very pleasant. But I’ll need to or it won’t heal correctly.”

“Do you have to?”

“Yes, but it will be okay, once it’s set and starting to heal it won’t hurt so bad.” One hand rested on Rooster’s shoulder, gentle, grounding him to John’s voice. “You’ll be okay.”

“I got the stuff,” Bailey charged in.

“It’ll be okay Rooster,” John said gently, in his best army medic voice. “You’ll be alright.” Frenetic energy drove Rooster, feet twitching, side hitching, creeping fingers, heavy tears. John tried to calm him; talk to him let his voice wash over the boy, drawing him out of his panic.

“How did you break your arm?” he asked taking Rooster’s elbow in one hand and feeling for the break. It was clean; all he had to do was realign the bone.

Bailey hissed at him, a cross sound between his teeth.

“Mike pushed me down some stairs,” Rooster barked, the sound of a panicked animal. Twitching his feet in slow motions like he couldn’t stop, pain heavy and panicky.

John’s eyebrows came together, getting things ready, “Why did he push you down the stairs Rooster?”


“Because I’m Bad Davey’s little brother,” Rooster started, and then screamed as John realigned his humerus.

“It was an accident,” Bailey whispered. “Mike didn’t mean to, but now we have to keep him. If we let him go Davey will kill us all. I got kids to protect Doctor.”

“Idiot,” John growled at him. “You can’t push a man’s little brother down some stairs.”

“He needs to go to the hospital to get a proper cast.”

“He can’t, if the Yard finds out than Rooster’ll be arrested as leverage. Then Davey’ll kill us.”

“I’ll talk to him,” John said stoutly.

“Are you crazy?” Bailey yelled at him and then launched into a monologue of what John could only assume was Gaelic.

“The worst he can do is kill me,” John said. “Just tell me where to go.”

Bad Davey was not pleased; he threatened to hang John up by his pudgy little toes. Maybe it was the Browning underneath Davey’s chin, but he finally settled down and listened to John.

Davey couldn’t let a slight like that go unpunished, he was up and coming, new to the scene and the drug lords were watching him.

John couldn’t allow the deaths of innocent children.

Davey could call his men in and have John killed in half a second.

John doubted Davey’s guards could move faster than the bullet could exit the top of Davey’s head.

Davey allowed this and grinned at John, “You’ve got the eyes mate. You’d do it too to save all those little brats. Can I offer you a drink? I’m sure I’ve got water somewhere.”

He was utterly unique, he wasn’t Bailey’s crew, he wasn’t interested in being part of a gang or choosing sides. Only in helping people, he made this clear, he wasn’t choosing sides. But he usually slept in the tunnels with Bailey’s, sometimes curled up next to Rooster who was a whole different story all together.

John was walking very slowly back from a very long surgery when a couple of ominous looking men walked up on either side of John to sweep him along with a Mycroft-esque style. They swept him down a back way and into Bad Davey’s building. Bad Davey waved him into his office shifting around stacks of papers. “Doctor,” Davey said not looking away from his paperwork and motioning at the teacup on the edge of his desk. “Hope this isn’t an inconvenience.” When he finally looked up it was only to find his cigarettes and light up with a blissful sigh. His red hair flashed back and forth in the light from auburn to burgundy.

“They didn’t try to carry me again,” he said simply while Davey blew smoke rings.

Laughter, harsh and ragged, “That was funny that one time.” He looked at John out of the corner of his eye. “Tom couldn’t walk for three weeks.”

John sipped his tea.

“Roost’s always saying how you follow around that Shamrock-”

“Sherlock,” he corrected.

“Cause that’s better. So I thought you should know, it’s been noticed he’s been poking around by new folks in town.

“Not my thing, but they’ve been poking around asking for something. Creeping stuff,” he did that thing with his eyes that meant bad things. “Spray paint all over while I’m trying to move merch. Don’t appreciate it. But I thought you should know. Trouble.”

The Case of the Blind Banker, John remembered this case.

Davey’s face shifted, he became a little pensive, “How’s Roost?”

“He’s doing fine, learning a lot. He lives for memorization.”

Moving so his expression was obscured by his business, Davey only replied, “He’s a complete and utter pain.”

“He’s been sleeping. Close to six hours a night now.”

Crushing his cigarette viciously Davey barked out for an escort for John, “If I become interested in something as lame as my brother’s sleeping habits, I’ll let you know kid,” he said, but he wouldn’t look at John in the eye. There was a relief to him that made him vulnerable, and he couldn’t afford to show that to anyone.

The Case of the Blind Banker, John still remembered he thought as he walked. Sherlock carried the case (the case, of course the case), as he carried every case, but John remembered a few things that he had done to help in this one. Someone had to take a picture of the code, but Sherlock was working alone now.

No one paid attention to small children. Usually the bane of his existence right next to doorknobs, but now John counted on it. Slipping away into the dusk, he hoped no one would notice a little boy in the shadows. Snapping a picture of the Chinese numbers, John looked over his shoulder. It was just like before, one snap with his phone, but this time he couldn’t hunt for Sherlock to show him what he found. He didn’t know who it was that covered the message with the black paint, he only saw them from a distance as he ran away. Finding a little alcove to sit in John took a deep and steadying breath and typed Sherlock’s number into his phone.

He didn’t know why he was so scared. This wasn’t a scary thing. This wasn’t surgery in the back of a convenience store or car bombs on a street that was far too busy. But somehow he was terrified anyway. Before he could think about it anymore he sent Sherlock the picture of the numbers. He was looking at the stars with his fingers keeping warm under his knees when his phone beeped at him.

There wasn’t a reason John should be surprised really, but he was anyway. He could feel his heart against his breastbone.

Who are you? –SH

Of course he would be on John’s message as soon as it hit his phone. What would he say? Your best friend? Your flatmate? Oh, you don’t remember me? Not surprising actually. He was probably triangulating John’s position by his consonants and vowels. Running was the only thing he could think of, so he ran back toward town. Toward hiding really. He hadn’t gotten too far when the phone rang again.

Who are you?

No signature this time, John was surprised the first text got one, but then that was Sherlock. He looked down at the screen and chewed on his lip a little. There was no way he could hold up against a direct attack of Sherlock’s wits.

Wrong question. He tried instead.

Every shadow looked like a crouching form, every bit of gravel hiding something. He hadn't been this jumpy since he first deployed. Shaking himself out he waited for the response.

What’s the right question? –SH

Not what John was looking for but it would work.

What do you need?

This way John could hint without blowing his cover too much. There was a long pause and John was getting nervous when the phone went off again.

What are the symbols? What do they mean? – SH

John stared at the phone; that question made no sense, they had already been to that little shop where that lady had tried to sell him that ugly cat. Well, not them this time, only Sherlock. Of course Sherlock had figured it out by now. But maybe John was getting confused, it had been a while, maybe this was before they had gone to the shop and Sherlock had figured the symbols were numbers, sprawling off about ancient numerical systems and merchants. John must have just had the timeline backwards.

No harm in telling him early.

They’re numbers, it’s a code.

Halfway before composing a farewell text Sherlock blasted him with: I’ll find you Moriarty. – SH

The side of John’s mouth quirked up,

Not Moriarty. –W

The initial was an afterthought, one he hoped he wouldn’t regret. He got twenty seven different messages over the next ten minutes, and had to turn his phone off so he stopped getting funny looks and hoped that no one was dying.

He was smiling for the first time in a long time.

Science of Deduction:
Are you there? You already knew before me. How did you know?

Chapter Text

“It could ricochet,” Sherlock said, panting slightly. The whole scene cut out in black shadow and orange and red light, making everything look mysterious. Shaded like an action film. John stayed crouched in the dark, stooped down with his gun held up at the ready against his shoulder. “It could hit anyone. Including you.” Of course Sherlock’s focusing on the crazy death machine and the cluster of Chinese gangsters, leaving his back unguarded. This time around there was no John to get bashed over the head and held captive. There were only two swathes of dark curled around the wall of the tunnel, one hiding Sherlock, the other hiding John while the General swung wildly and talked about making a deal.

John grit his teeth. Everything was going well until this point. The man that had appeared behind Sherlock was an easy, sharp cut target against the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of watching his back Sherlock was enjoying the presentation of his reveal, the way his voice echoed. Not a bit good Sherlock. John shifted his feet against the floor of the tunnel, feeling the silent roll of dirt and gravel under the well-used soles of his feet. He kept his eyes up, moving, there was General Shan, and the Spider had crept off to the side toward Sherlock, there were five other men running around, but none of them were a match for the Great Sherlock Holmes. Oh no, certainly not. Not with their guns and their knifes and their years working as gangsters getting mean and learning dirty tricks. John stepped into firing stance, feet set, arms straight, finger ready on the trigger.

“You’d-”

“-have-”

“-to be-”

Sherlock. Look behi-

“-very good.”

Too late.

John fired and the man behind Sherlock shouted and dropped while Sherlock jumped about a meter. Everyone jumped. It all turned out roses of course, the shot was nonlethal. He was pretty sure. He hadn’t meant it to be lethal. The man was a murderer anyway, so, not a nice man.

Stupendous amounts of running and shouting, and Sherlock was standing and taking big cautious steps toward the shadows where John was hiding. “Did W send you?” One narrow hand stretched out toward him. John wanted to reach toward it, grasp the hand in both of his and ask, don’t you know me? No one else wanted me but you. He knew what the answer would be. It would be no.

Half of Scotland Yard appeared before John could break, with a tall black man John didn’t recognize who stormed on scene and directed the flow of constables like a conductor, arresting everyone. It was a madhouse. (Wasn’t this the first case they had worked with Dimmock? He was pretty sure of that, but maybe time had shifted again.) It was a near thing, getting caught, with the tunnel full of police officers and gangsters, but John was small, and he could be very quiet. As soon as he broke free he texted Sherlock.

He couldn’t help it.

He just had to know if Sherlock was alright. If everything was fine.

They always talked after cases.

Be. More. Careful. –W

Just a graze in a dark tunnel. Your man was very good. –SH

John felt the mix between pride and distaste he got every time Sherlock complemented his ability to… shoot. At least he was back to his clever prying statements, all questions without being questions.

Just be careful.

You’re concerned. Why? –SH

That took some thought. But in the end it was ultimately simple. Because you are amazing.

Don’t patronize me.

I’m not. You’re perfectly extraordinary.

There was a long pause. It lasted two London blocks trailing close behind a family of four. Looked like he belonged, but he didn’t. That was safest at night without having to injure any would be kidnappers. Or to be more honest, it kept the concerned British public from bending down and putting a hand on his shoulder while saying, are you lost dear? Where’s your mum and dad? One politically correct minded gentleman had asked after his parents instead. Never knew these days.

Thank you. –SH

John smiled at that, not sure if it was in earnest or a ploy, probably a ploy, Sherlock didn’t thank people. Any people. He had thanked John who lived with him and made a regular occupation of keeping him alive maybe five or six times. It was mostly reserved for shooting people and handing over phones. He had no idea how to answer that with a measure of intelligence and proper secrecy, but he got a call from Bad Davey. So he left the conversation off where it was and walked lighter, splitting off the decoy family to head to Bad Davey’s flat.

Well, he liked to think Sherlock was at least a little sincere.

Maybe he was, John did fulfill the shooting criteria.

He was nodded into Bad Davey’s bunker office by a girl with a small blue glittery dress, blue glitter shoes and thick blue glittery eye makeup and a sweet little self-deprecating shrug at her blue outfit. She tilted the side of her mouth up, texting lazily with one hand before motioning him through.

Davey looked up at John as he pulled the plastic off a new pack of cigarettes with his teeth, leaning back looking around for a bin. He plucked the flimsy wrapper out with one hand while shaking out a cigarette with the other. “What are you doing here Elsie?”

The girl in blue shot back, “Manny wasn’t feeling right, she needed to go shake it off.”

“You’re supposed to be pushing merc.”

“I’ve got an appointment at a spoiled posh-baby party at one.”

“Who starts a party at one?” Davey snarked, plucking his lighter up from the sleek ordered lines of his desk.

“Posh-babies sir,” she smiled and let the door to his office drift closed.

“You know second hand smoke is a thing,” John told Davey, watching him light and hissing smoke out through his teeth.

“That’s what you’re worried about killing you? Second hand smoke?”

“It might start to be a concern the way you go at it.”

Davey bared his teeth at him. “What are you doing up anyway?”

“I was helping with a case. With Sherlock.”

Davey grunted with irritation, “You’re meant to have a bedtime, developing bodies and such. Mental acuity and all that.” He waved his cigarette around in circles making cloudy grey arabesques.

“I’ll sleep in tomorrow,” John said as Davey turned in his seat to reach the back board and started banging around with a small kettle over a hot plate. Bad Davey didn’t have anything complimentary to say to that.

“What’s got what’s his face running around so late then?” his hands moved with slick precision, cream, sugar, kettle, opened the sleek wooden box by the kettle and selected tea bags.

“The Black Lotus, the lot that were running around spraying everything, there was a jade pin they were looking for, killed a couple of people to get to it.” Bad Davey kept his head tilted inquiringly as he turned around, cup and saucer in hand, the tea smelled intoxicatingly like lavender. No plain black for John. The aggressive planes of Davey’s face lifted, slightly, encouraging him to go on. John’s small hands went to hold the saucer and cup, Davey had excellent taste in china, “Tonight was the big standoff, and of course Sherlock is allergic to back up, he has to show off how clever he is. Their leader, or one of their leaders, General Shaun was captured, or almost captured at least. I didn’t stay long enough to find out. Then I got your text.” John watched Davey take a sip, slouched back in his seat. “You know smoking can destroy your sense of taste.”

“Oh leave off,” he growled if not good naturedly at least not dangerously, setting his cup out of the way. “I don’t smoke that much.”

John chose not to comment.

After Bad Davey complained for half an hour about being John’s ‘personal chemist’ he finally took payment which involved a complicated list of trades and a little cash. John had become personal physician and familial go between sometime between sticking his gun under Davey’s chin and now. It was nice. Davey knew he wasn’t a normal child, he never pretended to be, but Davey didn’t ask any questions. He just accepted the fact that John was different and if the reason he was different was important he would say so. Once the business portion of their meeting was over John tried to convince him to send Rooster to school.

This was the way John’s life works now, he was either deposited from event to event, like being forced to join part in a high risk slide show, or he was running.

“He doesn’t do school,” Davey growls, fetching his cigarette up and sucking down tobacco smoke like the free world depended on it.

“Roost should go to medical school. He can do it. He’ll have to work hard, but I know he can do it,” John said in earnestness, holding his tea saucer on his knees.

“Medical school?” he barked. He lifted the cigarette again and inhaled sharply. It’s a good thing Davey was so crazy. He wore his feelings on his sleeve when he looked at people. He was clearly saying it hurts so much to think about my brother and I’ve nearly given up hope and it hurts.

“Before he can go to medical school though he needs to go to secondary. With tutoring he can get up to par, and while the thought of Roost with chemicals is deeply concerning I believe with the right teacher proper safety procedure can be impressed on him. Once he’s in school it’s just A levels and then he’s in. I can help him, give advice.”

Davey crushed his cigarette fiercely and lit another one, “Roost is mad. He doesn’t do school.”

“A private school,” John said carefully. “One that will prepare him.”

John’s phone rang, startling him and making him cup and saucer tink together.

“You didn’t turn your phone off?” Davey said darkly. “We’re meeting here.”

“I’m on call. You’re not my boss Davey,” John sighed his face creasing at the message.

Davey vocabulary of obscenity was as varied as it was creative.

What is your interest in Sherlock Holmes?

John ignored the text for the time. It was a blocked number, but he knew who it was. “Think about it. You have money now. Some of which is mine actually.”

Smirking, Davey tapped his fingers on the well folded cash John had pushed across the table earlier, “I thought you don’t approve of drug money.”

Giving Davey a look, John shoved his phone back in his pocket. “He needs to go to medical school. He needs a purpose, a sense of identity. What will happen if he stays on the street? Just letting him run free is not a plan that’s sustainable for the long term. His brain will get pulled apart. He needs some structure to apply to his life. He’s chosen medicine, let him keep on that strain.”

“He’s fourteen.”

“You of all people should know that’s not a good enough dodge. You were already up and running at fourteen.”

Sucking in about half his cigarette in one go, Davey glared at him. Like others in his profession, John could look at Davey and almost calculate how long it would be until Davey got lung cancer. Not too many decades if he kept it up.

“I have to go Davey,” he set his cup and saucer on Davey’s desk. “Thank you for your assistance with my patients.”

“I’m not your personal chemist!” Davey yelled after him again, but he didn’t sound particularly angry.

He dropped by Scotland Yard to snap a picture of Sherlock speaking awkwardly with Soo Lin Yao. That was something that made his loss easier. Sherlock was able to keep her alive. No one noticed him doing it; John was the man no one saw.

A block later his phone went off again: What is your interest in Sherlock Holmes?

Yawning deeply, John thought about ignoring it again, and then he did ignore it again. Highly gratifying that.

John shut off his phone and staggered back through the tunnels, falling into the abused embrace of an old oversized armchair. Rooster was missing, hopefully not burning anything. He was out in about five seconds.

 

Science of Deduction:

Retrieved, jade hairpin. Other evidence was nearly destroyed by overabundance of the constabulary. New data extracted.

 

Chapter Text

John could get money well enough, he didn’t have a lot of it, but he never had. He knew about making do, bargaining for the best deal on medical supplies. He was the Bad Davey and Rooster family physician and would ask to get paid where he could. Sometimes when John got what he called ‘a new kid’ John would do a quick medical, but that wasn’t too often. Davey was a bit jealous of his professional attention. John could make an easy two hundred pounds which was well below what any other doctor who worked criminals on the side would charge and much more than he’d make normally. And John didn’t need too much, supplies for his kit, batteries for his torch, soap and food. Food was something else entirely from the other things he needed. The average eight year old required 1400 to 1600 calories and John lived an extremely active lifestyle. Bailey’s crew shared food with him sometimes, but he didn’t really belong with them. More often than not it was his share shifting quickly from his hands to the mouth of Roost, curled up next to him like an affectionate freckled cat. So for food, he was creative, and patient.

As different as he was from Bailey’s crew, like a footnote, Roost was even stranger. He had an electric warzone of a brain when he and John first met, tumbling between shrinking back from any touch like a beaten dog and leaping forward with joy at discovering every single thing. So John was the one who kept him fed and replaced his clothes when he lost his shirt somewhere in Whitechapel. John didn’t mind it. He woke the day after his late night run and taking shots at Chinese gangsters with Roost’s sharp hip digging into the middle of his back and an arm in its brace flung stiffly across his shoulder. There was warm breath that smelled rather sourly of curry and something else sharp. He wiggled himself more breathing room.

Roost shivered awake like an old dog and blinked crookedly down at him, “You had a nightmare again. You didn’t cry this time.”

John started to say something, he didn’t remember a nightmare. Didn’t remember shaking or crying out. Hated the helplessness of being trapped in his brain without a way to hide it. Vulnerable in his sleep.

“No one heard,” Rooster shrugged into John’s face and then yawned morning breath into his hair. “You just needed to get squished.” John assumed that was what this sprawl was about.

“Roost-” he started.

“Shut up,” Roost complained, hiding his face into the top of John’s. “I just got in a few hours ago. I want to sleep.

“Today’s Molly Day,” John said.

Roost moaned irritably, “I don’t care. Shut up.” He hooked a knee under John and tried to flip him on the floor. John scrambled free and avoided face planting narrowly, making a face at Roost’s irritated huff. Feeling for his mobile he unlocked it, tempted to let it glow straight in Roost’s face, he had slept in to a decent hour. It was almost the afternoon on Molly Day, but he could work with the little bit of morning he had.

That morning was a special morning, well the morning of a special day. John scrounged together breakfast, stretching in his sweaty dirty clothing. Every once in a while he would look at his texts pleasantly and smile in between checking small dirty children for chicken pox. He had chicken pox when he was three and a half, so he was probably okay. Tonight he had to go and meet with Molly. Somewhere between running and children he would need to take some time to clean up and look like a normal little boy.

He wasn’t a little boy really, and if he was he wouldn’t be normal. Following around a consulting detective, running to danger, holding meetings with drug dealers.

At five o’clock he was cleaned and pressed, his skin itching now he had scrubbed off the protective layer of dirt.

Before it hit five twenty he dragged his feet shyly at the door of Molly Hooper’s office.

“Hullo Dr. Hooper,” he said softly.

And she smiled her tiny fine smile and said, “Johnny! How’s your mum? You must be famished!”

The first time he had done this it was an accident, he couldn’t find a supplier who would sell him extra small gloves and he had remembered the size of Molly’s pale hands. John was on edge anyway, theft wasn’t his thing really; when he had stumbled upon Molly in the middle of her paperwork and had just sort of blurted out that he was going on an adventure in the hospital.

“Are you really?” she had said, blinking at him. Her eyes large and dark and so innocently kind.

“Yeah, it’s boring watching my Dad sleep. It’s sad up there.”

She had chatted with him very politely and given him a biscuit. A small round peace offering held gently in her small lady hands. Now she was a spot of normalcy. St Bart’s was an excellent place to put something through for the occasional blood test. There weren’t any security cameras in the office and only one in the lab, but that one covered the expensive chemicals. Being spotted wasn’t an issue then. And every time he did it was also Molly Day, her sweet hands delicate and refined, perfect for the detail work of an examiner. Her hands shifting as precise and kind and pinpoints. Her eyes so compassionate as he sat and flushed under her attention. He had always felt a sort of companionship with Molly, but something had shifted him when he had shrunk. She was just so very friendly, so very nice.

His infatuation may or may not have had anything to do with the quality of the food she provided him.

He’s lucky his eight year old face, apparently, appeared completely guileless or else he might have been in trouble, “Mum wants to try sometimes, but she’s so tired. I peel potatoes,” he said, puffing his chest up in infant pride. John wasn’t quite sure how eight year olds behaved, it had been a while, and he just hoped he could get by with being mature for his age due to family tragedy.

Now there was routine, Molly set the small plastic plate in front of him with chicken parmesan and a child sized piece of garlic bread before sitting down across from him and settling awkwardly. Salvia flooded his mouth at the smell, it was like heaven. Like home. Like the way he used to be. Real and known. He shifted back and forth on his seat. He hadn’t had real food in forever.

One and one half weeks.

Beans get old.

“Now you’ll have to tell me what you think,” she said very seriously. “It’s a new recipe.”

“It’s smells brilliant,” he wiggled in his seat. Waiting for her to put her food on her plate so he could start.

“A lady needs to have a variety of talents,” she said with a great deal of authority.

“You’re brilliant Molly,” he said, really meaning it. He enjoyed watching her preen a little. Whether or not Sherlock appreciated it Molly was a skilled professional, she deserved a little appreciation. A lot of appreciation. “You’re very kind.” It was true; not many people would start sporadically feeding random small children. She really was sweet like a little brown fancy mouse, delicate ears at attention for affection.

She smiled at him, her shoulders lifting with her smile. “Go ahead, eat.”

John didn’t quite inhale it, but only because of great force of will.

“How’s your mother doing Johnny?” Molly always took microscopic nibbles of her food.

Every time she asked he was wracked with guilt, but he couldn’t just come out and say, actually Molly I’ve been lying to you all this time because I’ve been running off with your supply of surgical gloves. By the way, thank you for feeding me. Considering I’m a massive git and all. So instead he said, “The doctors say that the treatment is going okay, but she can get sick really easy and so she has to stay here for a few more days again.”

She reached across and put one hand on his, “It’ll be okay Johnny, your poor Dad.”

John was the most massive git in the whole world.

“This must be very hard for him.”

John shrugged and snatched up the extra garlic bread as soon as it hit his plate, “He does okay, it’s just hard for him to get to sleep,” and then to explain his bread grabbing, “He’s not got a lot of time to cook. He only knows how to make risotto and stuff he just has to heat up.”

Molly giggled, like he made some adorable joke and shifted in her chair. Molly thought everything he did was adorable. It was a little alarming, but it felt good.

“I’m sure he’s a very good man,” she said. “What’s he like?”

John thought about his father, who beat him, and drank and the resentment he felt as a child. That Harry always demanded so much from him when his sides hurt and he had a limp from being kicked and she was scared of the shouting safe in her room. Back when he was stupid and didn’t understand. Instead of saying this, he fabricated, he lost his past anyway. His Dad could be whoever John wanted him to be.

“He’s a very good man, he’s smart, and he never yells at me when I make mistakes, he tries hard to keep us together, as a family. He tries to protect me from things sometimes,” the sort of man he would want as a father. One he might not appreciate at the time, but one he could respect later for trying to protect his sense of innocent optimism. He didn’t believe in lying like this, didn’t believe in lying to women, not to women like Molly who were regularly taken advantage of. But here he was something different and if he couldn’t get anyone to believe he was a real actual adult, then maybe here he could pretend that his childhood hadn’t kind of sucked.

Molly’s face shifted slightly, “Sometimes,” she said gently. “People look sad when they think no one’s looking because they want to try and pretend they’re happy for as long as they can.”

“I’m scared sometimes,” he told her, vomiting the truth there between them. He couldn’t help it after lying so much to someone who deserved the truth. He wasn’t sure how he could do this. For all the wonders of Molly Day, the lying wasn’t so great. “I’m scared I’ll disappear or that everyone’s going to leave me.”

She reached across to him, “You have to believe that your father would never leave you, not if he had a choice. That he loves you and would want you to be happy.”

“I just want everything to be the way it was before.” He looked at Molly with his soldier eyes and his hard thin mouth.

“It will be okay,” Molly said, taking a deep breath. “It will be fine. I’m sure you’re an excellent help for him,” she filled his plate again. John was always hungry, it gnawed at him constantly. He wore it under his clothes. He was grateful for all the food he could get. But he might be hungry for this more, someone telling him that it would all be fine. “Have some more, you’re a growing boy.”

She talked about her autopsies and how her moped didn’t work again and how she fancied the nice man that fixed her computer this morning and bad telly. Molly and John have discourses on bad telly.

It got to be that time and he yawned exaggeratedly into the back of his hand.

She patted him tenderly on his head with a narrow hand and he wandered off with his stomach delightfully bloated.

His phone rang as he was sneaking out the back door he still remembered from his days at Bart’s. Medical students used it all the time because it was in a blind spot. “Speaking,” he said softly.
“Doctor, there’s been an explosion.”

 

Science of Deduction:

Missing gloves, size extra small. The only thing that remains, even if it’s impossible, must be true.

Chapter Text

Bailey was crying, his face twisted up, “I’m going to kill him.” Military training or not, this was John’s eight year old body, his eight year old weight and his eight year old height, he wasn’t strong enough to hold Bailey’s whipcord twist back and forth. By getting his arms at angles, he was just able to cling and twist Bailey close to him. Temporarily John was left standing on his toes before gritting the thin, thin bottoms of his trainers into the debris powdered tunnel floor. This was not what John needed, John needed to go scrub off the dust and brick and vaguely organic material that he had been coated in crawling through collapsed bit of tunnel to get to Bailey’s crew.

If John was any larger he never would have been able to squeeze through.

John locked his arms tighter around Bailey’s middle, holding him as tight as he could, “Help me hold him!”

Launching from out of nowhere, Rooster lunged forward and took both of them down to the ground with a crack. That crack was likely something attached to Bailey’s body, but it couldn’t be too bad because he was still moving a little, murmuring to himself softly in Gaelic. Grunting, John squeezed him around his waist, “It wasn’t Davey. Think for a second. He knows Rooster stays with us. Why would he want to blow up his own brother? It was someone else.”

“Who?” Bailey wept, curled up on the floor. “Who?”

“I don’t know, but we have to focus on the injured now. I’ll see what I can do.”

There was a short pause.

“Roost,” John said pressed between a weeping Bailey and a panting Rooster, “Off, you’re crushing me.”

John had done this before, had been in this situation before. There was no reason to stop, no time either. He had shouted orders and scrubbed himself pink before. He had thrown sheets over mangled bodies before. If bodies had never been that small, it was just an additional variable, no time to stop. After ordering Bailey to clear the debris (it would take hours, but it would give him something to do while he stayed out of John’s way, and hopefully open the door to paramedics) John pulled out his medical supplies (he hardly had any blood in the tiny fridge, how was he to do this with so little blood?) which never seemed so meager. John would make it work.

He would make it.

“Rooster,” he ordered, “set up the IV.” A final adjustment and the respirator started puffing up Fitz’s birdlike chest. John took a deep breath and made his first incision.

 

“Can you get that for me Roost?” John said flatly, looking down at himself. He retched once, he was practically wearing Kit. There was a bucket around here somewhere for that.

“Sure, sure,” Roost started going through his pockets.

“Left,” John said.

Roost went to his left pocket and opened the phone. “It’s Davey.”

“Let me see.”

Come see me. How’s Rooster? Come now. D

John looked down at his phone grimly. He was still covered in blood. He had spent two hours trying to sew a twelve year old’s insides back together. Two hours he couldn’t spare. “Please send this text back Roost-”

“Give me a second,” Rooster was keying around his contacts.

“It’s at the top,” John barked, ripping off his surgical robe.

“I got it,” Roost said. “What do I say?”

“These words please:”

D - Hes fine. still cleaning up. Call you after I get som sleep. –W

“Right. Sent.”

“Thank you,” he scrubbed his hands and arms down. He was going to have take off Fitz’s arm, there was too much damage. He had wasted too much time on Kit. And they were all stuck until the debris was cleared anyway. How John longed for the hospital with its sanitation and equipment and medicine and nurses, nurses everywhere. Bless their beautiful nursy hearts.

His phone went off again.

Rooster held it up for him again.

Are you there? Come see me. How is Roost? D

“Read your messages Davey,” John growled at the sink. His head was heavy and buzzing, exhaustion, hunger, grief. “Just call him Roost. He’s going to keep texting.”

“Who’s going to help you in surgery?” Rooster said in a small voice.

“I’ll take this one; your brother needs to hear from you.”

“What’s his number?” Rooster started banging on his phone with his thumbs.

“You just texted him!”

“Don’t get cross! I don’t know his number.”

“How do you not know that?”

“I don’t have a mobile phone. How do you work this? How do you get to contacts?”

John took the phone from him and punched in the number, “The next thing you’re memorizing is your brother’s phone number, if you can manage the human skeletal structure you can manage that.” He thrust the phone at Rooster. “Talk to your brother. Let him know I don’t work for him.”

“Doc,” said Bailey in a heavy, tired voice, he’s just lost six of his crew, he had probably had as little sleep as John. There were heavy steps following him, too heavy to be a child. An adult. How soon his mind turned from one thing to the other. He was so incredibly tired. Rooster’s eyes went up and he crowed in delight.

“Bailey, I’m in surgery here!” John yelled, furious.

There was a sound like someone moving forward but Bailey said something low and serious along the lines of let him work. +

“This is meant to be a secured sanitary environment!” He twisted his wrist and pulled out the last bit of shrapnel gently, the light was shifting, “Roost, attention. This is not a social hall; you can’t come banging in here every time you need validation for your superior leadership skills.” His voice was barking hard and fast, one hand working, the other hand wicking the blood and then the needle.. He barked at Bailey behind his surgical mask, but his hands were perfectly even and steady, head down. It wasn’t that hard when there weren’t bombs going off.

(I said danger)

“Every time, every time I’m right in the middle of something, you come charging in. Do you have any idea how many contagions there are on the London streets? Roost, now the second shot,” Rooster picked up the second syringe and prepped it like John had taught him and inserted it into the IV. Bailey murmured something again, but John was too mad to recognize anything but the sound. “Nothing more than the handle of a cab, and you could introduce a whole mass of infectious- Roost, light!” John lost his train of thought as the heart rate monitor started beeping out a more acceptable beat. “Brilliant.”

Everything would be fine, Mike would be fine. And he’d have an impressive scar to show the ladies. Four awkward, topsy turvy inches of scrawled scar, which on a pre-teen (when had John used the term pre-teen other than in the formal medical capacity? It felt weird on his brain) was impressive. But now his heart had steadied …

Which was of course when the machine failed, John cursed expressively and when Rooster’s thumps to the top of it didn’t work John grabbed his thumping stick and started having a row with it. “I’m not spending another night with my head on some bloody awful idiot’s chest because you can’t seem to make up your mind to work for once in your blasted life!”

It started humming again and John let out a long sigh, he felt like he was releasing all the air in his tiny ineffectual body, finished the bandage and turned to Rooster. “Cuppa?”

“Course!” Rooster crowed.

John turned, his back to Bailey, slipping off his gloves into themselves before turning. “We’re wheeling your boy into observation, feel free to…” his words dissipated into smoke right there on his tongue as he stared wide-eyed at Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes was looking at him with an odd expression on his face. Staring at John like he was a new case. And like he was… John didn’t know; something strange and foreign that had never existed before.

“He insisted,” Bailey said suddenly worried, rocking back and forth on his heels.

“I rather did, although this wasn’t quite what I expected to find,” his voice was very deep, John had half forgotten that, or perhaps thought he had imagined it. That made him sad, that he had half forgotten the sound of his best friend’s voice. Sherlock was looking at everything, at the cobbled heart monitor and the homemade light stand and the make shift surgical bed. Everything. “That was a stupid thing you did.”

“’ey,” Bailey barked angrily. “You don’t know nothing. The Doctor knows more about medicine then any of those folks in fancy surgeries.”

“Hmm,” said Sherlock. “So the medical supplies go down here where you play doctor?” he turned toward John.

“Don’t go on like that,” Bailey’s anger bloomed in grief-stricken spurts. “Never would have brought you down if I knew you were going to be like that. The Doctor saves more of my people every day than your useless surgeries ever have and ever will. They don’t want us, don’t care if we die or not. The Doctor cares; the Doctor takes care of us.”

Sherlock looked with narrowed eyes at John making another short, “hmm.”

“Don’t hmm at me!” Bailey swung a fist so it knocked against Sherlock’s hip. “Don’t hmm me after I brought you down here. You think you’re so special cause you’re clever and got nice clothes and drop a few quid like you’re doing me a favor,” his fist knocked against Sherlock’s hip again and Sherlock caught his swinging arm with his long fingers around Bailey’s wrist.

“Don’t,” his eyes narrowed like a cat’s.

“You don’t! There ain’ta good person! Not in the whole world. We go to surgery, or to the cops, or to anyone they tell us they’ll do what’s best for us and catch us up tight. They catch you, if you trust them they put you in homes and then its lies and the belt and men in the night and worse and you do your best to stand and take it like a man and you can’t-” Bailey’s voice broke on the last part, and he struggled, voice sloughing into some language that was far from English and anguished. “Let go a me.”


Sherlock dropped his wrist, face blankly startled at the sudden outburst; Bailey stumbled with the release, almost hitting the wall. Almost hitting the floor. His awkward legs overlapping. John, somewhere in the middle, had stepped toward Bailey as he cried out in a tenor that would start to crack soon. Looking at him with huge hunted eyes, Bailey let a mournful little sound, the smoothness and pale, blank ivory of an egg. “There ain’t no good people.”

“Bailey,” John started, blood on him or no, but Bailey bolted out somewhere. Wherever his secret safe place was.

Rooster put his hand on John’s shoulder and made a sound, they had a short interchange that was made solely out of expressions. Telling John it would be okay.

“No grownups,” John whispered. Too late for that now, he hiked up his chin and clamored back toward the operating table. “We need to get him back to recovery.” With Roost on one side and John on the other, a few exchanged looks and hands shifting centimeters.

“Roost, one, two, three,” they shifted Mike from operating table to the cart and then Rooster grabbed the IV and shifted it for John, he had a foot on him and didn’t let him forget it.

John didn’t flinch, even though he was afraid, he didn’t know why, but he was, “What you wanted a holiday down to the sewers; am I part of the grand tour now?”

“Missing medical supplies,” Sherlock replied softly, thoughtfully, but underneath it that mind was moving, moving, moving.

“So sorry,” John said with the ultimate nonchalance. “Good luck with that.”

He hopped off his stand, not bothering with steps. This was not how he had imagined their happy reunion. Rooster trundled the bed toward postop while John pulled off his surgical cap, combing a hand through his hair absently.

“Mike will be awake in about two hours.” He said it softly, his post-op drop. Bailey would be better then, better after Mike was up. Some of the folks talked about Bailey and Mike, but John didn’t think so. People talked because it made them feel smart. Besides John saw the way Bailey looked at Mike’s sister.

“Alright,” Sherlock said. “Let me see your shoes.”

“Maybe later,” he rocked around on his heel a little, his face going funny before he took off into the tunnels.

When he had walked a ways, caught up with himself, John spun on Sherlock, not giving anything. “Take Mike to the hospital. And someone else too.”

“No trust in your skill?”

“I’m brilliant, but it’s filthy down here. Mike’s going to catch an infection and it’ll kill him.”

“Will it?” Sherlock tilted his head.

“Don’t be an idiot,” he pulled off his gown and threw it on the table by the sinks. Sherlock was staring at him oddly, in something almost like shock. Never did deal well with too much emoting. “I can only do so much and then it’s up to chance. He’s a child, take him to the hospital.”

“What about you?”

“Healthy as a horse,” John said deliberately, stubbornly. “No need.” He marched after Rooster down the tunnels. Sherlock followed from behind, his long legs eating up the space, circling him.

“How long?”

“All my life, strong constitution,” he deliberately misunderstood.

“Doesn’t look strong,” Sherlock was probably analyzing the dirt under his fingernails.

“I’ve had a long two days,” John giggled suddenly and covered his mouth with his little fingers in horror, like he had let a swear out in front of his mum. “It’s not funny,” he told himself sternly and then to Sherlock, “Someone set off a bomb.”

“Who?” Sherlock’s eyes narrowed.

“Not a very nice someone, haven’t had time to stroll around asking people politely if they tried to blow anyone up recently,” John turned into post op and Sherlock almost missed it. He turned just in time to nearly bowl John over. Rooster was having an argument with Fitz, “I need more!” Fitz was whining, holding his arm stub. Sherlock stopped short at that, a boy with his arm blown off and a thousand stitches holding his skin together.

“Ecstasy will only interfere with your medication. And it’s horrible for your brain,” John barked and got the attention of Fitz. He needed to be unconscious anyway but John didn’t have enough heavy anesthesia. If Fitz hadn’t used so much the little morphine John could spare him would have kept him under much longer.

“I need it!” he was weeping.

“It’s psychosomatic! Give him a double dose of phenegrin,” John said to Rooster and went over to the end table where he had been making notes on the latest Medical Journal that he had snagged from a local doctor that was careless with his serials. “Blood pressure?”

“As could be expected,” Roost said back easily. John folded his journals over, stacking them neatly and dropped them in his knapsack with his Gray’s. Rooster put his cup in front of him and collapsed back into the armchair blowing on his own. They could both squeeze into the chair side by side, if they folded into each other a little. Fitz’s voice got softer and softer in the background, spiking in bursts before wandering off.

“Will you do it?” John asked Sherlock who was standing, staring at the two boys on their makeshift beds. He had never seen Sherlock so shocked before, utterly startled. His long fingers made a tracery in the air before his eyes hit John with a shark like hunger.

“Do what?” Rooster asked.

“Take them to hospital.”

“Bailey won’t like that,” was Rooster’s grand contribution. John knew Bailey wouldn’t like it. John didn’t care. “Bailey’s gonna flip.”

Turning his head he looked up at Rooster, he looked up to just about everyone now. “He’ll have to get over it. They need medicine and blood. I could find out their blood types in half a second and have plenty of volunteers, but no idea who’s sick with what and no way to test it fast enough.”

“I won’t tell him,” he crowed.

“I’ve got it,” he said into his tea, offering to wear the angry blame like a new jumper. He looked over at Sherlock again who had this little melted look on, like reality had shifted and his face was being pulled into too many directions.

“Will you take them?”

“How old are you?” Sherlock asked.

“Don’t start that,” he gave him a look. “This is why I told Bailey no grownups. You’re too young and all of a sudden there are questions. All the questions mean is you can’t do it, sit down and stop fighting, but I know I can. I just did.”

“How many?” his fingers were steepled now. He moved to sit, long legs arranged with natural artistry, long feet pointing directly at John like Sherlock wanted to lunge forward and snatch him up. “These past few days.”

“Four that were bad,” sip of tea, it was nice to have a chance to rest. “The rest were just scrapes and cuts.”

“The other two?”

Rooster began to get restless, his face going pale and drooping down.

“One of them had an aunt that lives in London. I was able to convince her to go there. Fitz doesn’t want to go in because he deals and Mike is terrified of going back into the system.” He looked at Sherlock and he didn’t need to say where the fourth one was.

“How old are you Doctor?” he asked again. “Funny, Doctor and not Doc.”

“He’s eight,” Rooster said into his cup; John looked up at Roost in annoyance, but he looked so forlorn that John couldn’t do anything but awkwardly swallow into his tea. “And he doesn’t look like a Doc.”

“Doesn’t this bother you?” the voice was incredulous and John snapped back.

“Always! Every time!” he covered his face with one hand breathing steadily. “It’s my job to save people, that’s what I am. But I can’t stop, there’s no time to stop and think.”

Rooster put an arm around him, crushing him. It wasn’t comfortable. He wasn’t really a hugger, but he could use one now. He looked up at Sherlock, because that was still habit and found himself being observed. It was like Sherlock pulled his skin back, not his real skin, his what-everyone-else-saw skin and observed him down past everything. His eyes kept getting wider and wider in shock and then narrowing into some sort of high powered laser before they narrowed again. “That’s not right,” Sherlock suddenly said, his eyebrows coming together in a dark burst.

“Isn’t it?” John said simply.

“You have small feet,” Sherlock said. “And a military bearing.”

“Is that all?” John asked disappointed, face tightening.

“Not enough data, impossibilities,” Sherlock muttered. “Not impossible, just unlikely.”

“Alright then,” he leaned back and closed his eyes.

“You were the one that killed the cabbie,” Sherlock’s voice was very deep. “You work for W. Have you been following me?”

John’s eyes opened, joy blossoming where shock might have been once, “How?”

“And you’ve escaped from somewhere; recently, someone put a lot of effort into your training. Military bearing, well ingrained. It’s not something you are imitating, it’s something you are. Your body is also well muscled for a child of your size. Your medical training makes you even more valuable, your genius. Your brilliance.”

John twitched at that, he mouth moving despite his exhaustion, “I’m not, I’m not a genius.”

“You’re a seven year old surgeon-”

“Eight.”

“I think that qualifies you. And you’ve had experience; you are natural with it, practiced. You started early; it usually takes years to become a surgeon with that much skill. To learn to become a surgeon at all. They must have started you very young, no time to waste. This makes you valuable, an asset. An investment. But you’re here. The fact that you don’t want any ‘grownups’ hints that you fear detection. Thus you are hiding.


“Also the fact that the person who shot the man who would have killed me had very small feet, small for a man, which is the statistical probability for a hired gun-”

John flinched sharply.

“Possibly a woman, but I don’t think so. There was no tread, your shoes are nearly worn through; you’re keeping them together with cardboard and duct tape.”

“He got new ones today,” Rooster said helpfully.

“Did he really?” Sherlock said. “How did that come about?”

“That’s enough Rooster,” John said. “I bought them with money I saved, like anyone else.”

 

“It’s worth anything,” John whispered into Rooster’s shoulder. “To be a doctor.”

“He’s protecting you. Whoever had you before; he’s been protecting you from them, that’s what he’s holding over you.”

He shook his head no against Rooster who was getting uncomfortable. John could tell by his elbow.

“He’s employing an eight year old gun.”

“It’s not like that!” John said, yelled, bit out, growled, shaking.

“You killed a man. I’m guessing not your first. And you have a gun. Someone had to provide it. The man that’s hiding you.”

“I didn’t know what else to do! I had to do something to keep you safe! I ran and ran and I was almost too late and you were going to do it. And then you’d be dead!”

Sherlock stared at him with an odd expression on his face.

“He wasn’t a very nice man,” John whispered.

“How long have you gone without sleep?” Sherlock said detached.

“About 48 hours,” he said softly.

 

Power of Deduction:
An excellent doctor. His stitches are apparently of the highest level of professional, as well as his technique. Verified by personal observation and by other doctors. When questioned, defensive. Bearing, military.

Chapter Text

John woke up suddenly. His training, sharpened by his reintroduction to urban warfare via Bailey and his crew, held him still as a mouse, his hand flexing up around his gun. Trying to listen, keep the element of surprise. As soon as he realized who it was with their long fingers mapping out the calloused curve of his foot, it was rather a moot point. He peered over his shoulder to look at Sherlock, gone still and looking at him. It was like the moment on a nature documentary when the wildlife realized someone was watching them. Or the moment a child was caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

“You get points for taking my sock off without me noticing,” he was on edge, hand tight until he remembered that he had agreed to go home with Sherlock last night in a fit of stupid exhaustion. Not too stupid. It was peculiar to wake up to a man holding his foot.

“Your musculature is well established, but your callouses are new.”

If John wasn’t still so muggy with sleep he would be alarmed by the burning in Sherlock’s eyes. Like he was fully capable of lifting each layer of skin and set his cardiovascular system, muscle groups out for analysis, open his ribs up like the doors of a cupboard and look at his insides. There was a bit of strange comfort in that, as bittersweet as it was. For all Sherlock observed wacky time travel adventures wasn’t something you could deduce from the way someone cuffed their trousers. John peered back over his shoulder to where Sherlock was holding one of his small feet. Even without looking he could feel the warm smooth pads of Sherlock’s fingers pressing along his foot. Just when the pause had started to go too long John shook it loose, “How splendid for my feet, can I have them back?”

“Would you really have shot me?” Sherlock’s head tilted.

John gave him a look of shock, the thought that he could shoot Sherlock, Sherlock, after all this time. After everything he had been through.

Something of that must have shown on his face because Sherlock’s face changed, dropped a little.

“Give me a little more credit than that,” John said awkwardly. If this was before when they had met at St Bart’s he would have sighed at Sherlock and made him tea, or forced him to eat some lasagna.

“I’m sorry to have disparaged you,” Sherlock scanned his face again.

John sighed and scrubbed at his face with one hand. “No you’re not. You just want me in a good mood so you can pick me apart for data.”

“Of course,” Sherlock shrugged that off as obvious.

“You went through my things!” epiphany struck John hard, splaying him back on the sofa. Of course, back when everything was normal, Sherlock would regularly look through his web history. John’s foot turned and slipped out of Sherlock’s grip. That quick escaping scramble made Sherlock’s face light up again.

“Not all of it. How did you know?” Sherlock seemed prepared to receive and analyze some complex series of deductions. John was sorry to disappoint him.

“Because you had to do something before you started in on my feet. And because apparently you’re horrendously nosy,” Sherlock looked like he wanted to say something but John cut Sherlock off before his lips could even think of opening. “Those are my private things Sherlock! They belong to me! You can’t just go through them without asking.”

“How else am I supposed to learn about you?” he looked honestly curious.

“Ask Sherlock, ask and I’ll tell you everything I can.” He tried to put particular emphasis on this, as if it might suddenly pop through Sherlock’s thick skull.

“I don’t want you to tell me everything you can, I want to know everything.” He looked like it too, his fierce personality twisted toward John. He nearly looked furious.

“We can’t always get what we like, life is full of disappointments.”

“Look at your little face!” Sherlock exclaimed and spun around the room so his suit coat flared around him, clapping with glee. “Oh just look at your little face.”

John sighed, watching his once and possibly future flat mate spin about like a whirling dervish. He was always a little slow when it came to Sherlock, always a little bit behind, he didn’t need to be laying down for their first real conversation. He threw his legs around so he could sit up.

“John if you were any more military… Oh, you’re splendid. You’re wonderful!”

“Thanks I guess,” he yawned into the back of his hand.

“Your journals were ultimately uninformative,” Sherlock continued thinking aloud, it was so much like before, when John was his talking skull it cut into his heart a little, “except that your notes were astounding. But then you are a genius. And like any great investment you were treated well.”

“I’m not a-” he cut off mid-sentence as what Sherlock said set in. “Investment?”

“Of course, I’m not sure how they did it. But it’s obvious the care they took in you. Your musculature is well developed for a child your age but-” his mobile went off. John pushed himself up on his palms to try and peer at the screen.

“Is that a case?”

“I’ve got something more interesting going on right now.”

“So you’re just going to stay home all day and stare at me?”

“I’d hardly call observation staring,” Sherlock sniffed pulling up in his offended cat pose.

Scrubbing his face again, John leaned forward, “I am not an experiment Sherlock. I am not some game for you to play. Or puzzle for you to figure out. I’m a real person.”

“Of course you are John, you are the best puzzle.”

There had to be a way to pull this in, to regain some level of control. Not full control. John wasn’t sure he wanted to be in complete control. That was the joy of him and Sherlock, that there was trust. Sherlock's twisted, folded, intricate mindscape picking up and rifling through observations at the speed of light and John following after him with a gun and bandage just in case. It was what John needed, to be needed, to be trusted. But he didn’t finally make contact with Sherlock so he could be put under the proverbial glass jar. “We’re you Sherlock, when you were eight; were you the prize of some child psychologist’s collection?”

Sherlock’s face went still and dropped. This wasn’t just Sherlock cautious; this was Sherlock on his guard, “What did he tell you about me?”

John squeezed his hands together between his knees, “That I could trust you,” he tried to let Sherlock see how earnest he was, how much he believed it. Not the lie he regularly pulled off with Molly. Just John, an adult albeit unconventionally speaking to another adult, albeit unconventional. “That you would keep me safe.”

He knelt in front of John his arms moving to bracket him to the sofa. John had seen this before, had seen Sherlock leaning in, eyes narrowed, stripping someone’s body language apart in interrogation. In the past he had always had some pity for the focus of that mighty attention. But he was so worn in now, so past pinched efforts at maintaining his mind’s modesty he just looked back seriously. “Why is he trusting me with you? Why me out of all the people in London, all the cozy little families. Why not even with him?”

“I don’t mind being a mystery sometimes,” John said very carefully, wanting to make himself exceptionally clear, “as long as I get to be a person too.” As much as he longed for that particular attention particular to Sherlock Holmes, it wasn’t worth subverting his own personality.

“I’m not going coddle you; I have no interest in coddling. Or sentiment.” Sherlock leaned back far enough to get his chin up, arms still caging John in. His face fierce and imperious.

John laughed as the tension faded out of him, “I don’t need to be coddled.”

“And I’m not interested in crowding the flat up with a lot of rubbish; I’m not buying you toys and things. Or cleaning up your messes or tucking you in. And I’m not a very good cook, although I suppose you will have to be watched for that. And I work on very important experiments so… Why are you giggling?”

Clutching his stomach John giggled and giggled, and the high childish pitch of it didn’t even bother him, really, because this was brilliant. “Sorry, I’m sorry. It’s just, you do realize not yesterday I was stitching up children who had been blown up and before that living on the street and before that in the military? I don’t think I need to be tucked in or have my hand held. I would actually rather you didn’t try it.”

“No hand holding?” Sherlock said, resting back on the balls of his feet. He regarded John now with a turned head, looking at John out of the corner of his eye.

“Not a child Sherlock.” John’s smile wasn’t so big now, but it still rested there at the bottom of his face, like a contented cat, or a warm afghan.

“Biology begs to differ, but I understand the sentiment,” Sherlock’s mobile went off again. He pointedly ignored it in favour of John watching.

“Shouldn’t you get that?” John nodded toward the mobile in question. “It could be important.”

Sherlock’s eyes flickered over and back, “Just Lestrade with a case.”

“You love cases,” John tried to go wide-eyed with doubtful effect. This was Sherlock after all, king of the sham. It just got him a puff of critical amusement.

Sherlock eyes narrowed, “And you want to come with me, there’ll be violence and blood… Things you’ve already seen. You really are a peculiar child; I hope you appreciate how hard it is for me not to overpower you to rifle through your pockets.”

John grinned at him, “Duly noted.”

“What’s so different between the children last night and the potential dead body on the other end of that call? You were upset last night.”

John looked away, not wanting this analyzed quite so sharply. “Last night there were children who were my responsibility to care for. To fix. If they died it would be my fault for not doing enough. If there’s someone murdered, that’s not my fault, but I might be able to help you find who did it. Help you bring them some justice. You probably think it’s stupid,” he knew Sherlock thought it was stupid as well as a dozen other less complimentary things. “I think that’s important; to have someone know the truth about you, about your death, even to just acknowledge the mystery of it. People are important. And chasing people who aren’t very nice is also kind of fun.”

This cause a minor underground shift in Sherlock’s face, but he thankfully made no comment about what he surely thought was a sickening idealization. “Do you know what W wants? What does he expect to get from all this?”

John shrugged, what did he want? To be known? To be recognized? No, not quite, it touched, but didn’t quite get it. To be useful. That’s what he wanted, to do something that was really honestly useful. That’s what everyone wanted. “Only what everyone else wants.”

Relief, the special kind that Sherlock got when something ceased to bang against his brain pan, made his eyes widen a little and his head tilt back a little before he performed that quick little nod. His ohh face, only the ohh was in his head with the rest of his deduction, “Alright then, let’s go.”

 

Science of Deduction:

No one wants to be bored do they? What would you like to play?

COMMENT DELETED BY ADMINISTRATOR

Reply: STOP MEDDLING MYCROFT

COMMENT DELETED BY ADMINISTRATOR

Reply: When you are capable of making wise choices.

THREAD DELETED BY ADMINISTRATOR

Chapter Text

Sliding into next to Sherlock in the taxi, John could hardly contain himself. He sat on his hands, pressing his knees close together. It was like it had been before. Not much, just a little. Just enough.

“You look pleased,” Sherlock said between giving the address to the driver and sending a text.

John awkwardly tried to rise up and see everything out the window, he hadn’t been in a car for a while and it made his stomach a little stroppy. His dad wasn’t allowed to drive and his mum never wanted to. He didn’t really start driving until he was driving his own car. John worked hard for that car. He turned his head to look at Sherlock eyebrows lifted in his little grin. His journals were filled with his notes and long distance polaroids, to get to actually participate again would be… wonderful, “Well yeah, it’ll be like before, only I’ll actually get to hear what you’re saying.”

“What?” Sherlock stilled.

John’s eyebrows came together and it was an odd expression, children’s faces were always new and elastic, each expression exploding onto a new canvas. Children’s lives usually lack the time to carve a practiced look into the way they tilt their heads or lick their lips. It was an expression with decades of practice behind it, the sort that made adults laugh at how adorable a child was when they appear accidentally grown up. It was a hint but was disregarded immediately like everything else a sane person observed about John because it made no sense. He’s head tilted, his shoulder up around his ears, a little stretching gesture like one made by a kitten. It was clear to whoever looked that John was comfortable in his body, that he knew it well, that he lived in it the same way he lived in his shoes. “You said you looked at my journals.”

“Medical journals,” Sherlock said and he stopped mid-text to look at John, eyes snapping back and forth like he could read words, paragraphs, written all over John’s skin, and maybe he was. “What else?”

John was suddenly embarrassed and pulled into a defensive posture making himself even more impossibly small.

“There’s no point in nondisclosure John. What are you afraid of?”

John looked back at him.

“You don’t need to be concerned about my interest waning,” Sherlock hadn’t been this way before, he was gentled somewhat. “And my temper is quite precise. I have no interest in disciplining you. I won’t act out in anger. There is absolutely nothing to fear from me. You can tell me whatever you want. I want you to.”

“I know.”

“There was a sketchbook in your bag, with papers in it,” he punched his thigh with one fist. “Why didn’t I check?”

“If you had asked me before going through my things I would have shown you. Something more to be said for asking permission.”

“What was it?”

John blushed, uncomfortable, feeling a little ridiculous, “I followed you on your cases and took pictures and notes. Since right after the Study in Pink.”

“Study in Pink?”

“Pink lady, pink phone, pink case,” John repeated with only a vague sense of deja vu. “I thought it was clever,” he said weakly.

“But you weren’t there, not in the room, not in the house, not in my flat. Someone would have seen you.”

“I wasn’t,” because it was the truth, he didn’t exist in this place (universe? Timeline? Right tragic horror?) until Sherlock had been chasing a cab. “I saw the last bit from the rooftop. No one ever looks up.”

Sherlock didn’t seem to know what to say. He looks utterly and completely stunned. John had just utterly shattered his world view and he needed the time to resort and realign. It made John curl up as tight as a nautilus and turn to look out the window. Over these few months John had become aware that acting as one of the few combat pediatricians and stalking the world’s only consulting detectives probably wasn’t a great way to come across as a little odd. He just thought.

“John,” Sherlock said. “I think I want to peel you open and see what’s underneath; if it were possible I would pick you apart bit by bit. You are simply impossible, you are too much. And W, W is perfect. No one ever looks up?

Reflected in the window pane was John’s little face blinking and shifting from solemnity to shock. “Really?”

The cabbie was giving them some very concerned looks.

“Don’t be concerned,” Sherlock waved him off before turning back to John. “Have you been reporting to W then? No, I’m sure he has his own ways. Have to to stay so far ahead. Information shifts in the wrong direction. Does he watch me?” He smiled to himself, fingertips pressing to the cat’s curl of his mouth. He looked utterly thrilled bone to his bones at the prospect, John didn’t know why, he regularly groused royally about Mycroft pulling Big Brother on them. “But how? He must be good, very, very good. Questions can wait, we’ve arrived.”

John had spent enough time as Sherlock’s skull, listening to his internal monologue was calming. Sherlock head was elsewhere, marching toward the crime scene with a concerned cabbie loitering behind. Sighing John jogged up and pulled Sherlock up short by quick jerks on his coat, stuffing his hand into Sherlock’s pocket. “The cabbie Sherlock,” he pulled up Sherlock’s wallet and jogged back to pay the cabbie.

When he got back Sherlock was waiting for him, hands in pockets, “What a lovely assistant you are. Were you wanting to assist at the crime scene too?”

“If you want, I am a doctor,” he held up the wallet to be shoved back into the pocket of Sherlock’s greatcoat.

“It should be alright, there’s no body on this one.” Sherlock turned, shoulders slanted in a familiar come with me, you temporarily have my exceedingly valuable attention, so please do take advantage. It wasn’t meant to be conceited. Sherlock’s attention really was valuable.

“I’ve seen bodies before.”

“But won’t it,” he made a vague gesture through the air. Sentiment popping up again. All those idiot feelings.

“It’s sad. But it won’t scare me,” John looked all the way up, was Sherlock always that bloody tall? “You know I’ve seen dead bodies before anyway. We just went over this last night. By the way, thank you for taking those two to hospital last night. I really appreciate-”

“Freak!” shouted a voice and Sally was there interrupting him. Sherlock looked slightly irritated, but let it go. John didn’t know this Sally, even though he did. He should have no reason to know anything about her. Although in hindsight her body language screamed aggressive ambition. He should have no reason to know that Sally and Anderson had an affair. In this world, the world that was nearly without John, after Sally finally broke it off with Anderson she didn’t approach John because he was kind and she was drunk, at the Yard pub night. He never had to say no because even though she was fit and she had a way about her, he couldn’t quite forgive her for how she treated Sherlock. It would sit like betrayal in his gut all the way down. Not counting all the other thousand things he knew about her. He didn’t know about this Sally’s life, or he shouldn’t, the way that work mates did. And since he couldn’t, or he shouldn’t, he kept his mouth shut and stayed close to Sherlock. “Freak! Is that a kid?”

“I see your powers of observation are not as dismal as I had previously feared.”

“Where did you get a kid?”

“I didn’t kidnap him,” Sherlock snapped at her, every centimeter the offended cat.

“Who would let you watch their kid?”

John bristled, “I’m perfectly safe with Sherlock. Even with his limited experience he knows enough not to let me get hit by a bus or starve to death,” Sherlock would probably forget about eating, he usually did while on a case, but he was good at ordering food, and if he had to John could feed himself. He had managed it for thirty some odd years. “There’s no reason why Sherlock shouldn’t watch me.”

“He’s a psychopath!” Sally snapped. She wasn’t quite looking at him, more looking down through him.

John suspected Sherlock simply had Asperger’s and a bad physiatrist, but that’s not what Sherlock seemed to want to believe, “He’s a high functioning sociopath if that.”

Sherlock went still and looked down at John who smiled up at him, trying to show him how much he was on his side. How determined John was going to be in this.”

“I know he’s very exciting,” Sally said crouching down to get closer to John’s eyelevel. “But this isn’t like on the telly. Crime scenes are scary. I can call your parents for you if you like.”

“I’m a doctor, bodies don’t scare me.”

“Yeah,” Sally said in the universal voice of adults humouring children. He never really liked her that much anyway. “Okay but-”

“I’m smarter than I look. Besides I doubt there is much room for deep life altering psychological trauma, no body on the scene. If there were the forensics van would be here, no pst ambulance crush of whispering neighbors so likely no assault took place either, and then the victim died in hospital. Which they’d have to for Lestrade to come here. It’s just a couple of PCs, not even yellow tape. So the crime probably didn’t even technically take place here it’s just something like a theft,” or what else? What else would have a crime scene to disturb? “Or blackmail.”

“He’s like a mini-Sherlock,” Donovan said with some horror.

“Only cuter, moving on. Adequate John. Sound logic,” his fingertips touched against John’s thin coat and lifted his hand in a quick effortless gesture when the muscle of John’s shoulder and back, so unused to guiding touches, stiffened. John flushed, embarrassed at his tensing, resentful at being treated like a child, anxious not to show any more embarrassment and knowing it only made it worse. Sherlock obviously didn’t care, because of course he observed, but he decided to ignore it. There was tightness around his mouth though, an extraneous observational sweep. “But you missed a few things, if there had been a theft the house would have still been a crime scene. Yellow tape, good observation. But only partially right, Lestrade only covers serious crimes, but although this was the place the police have come to, it’s not the actual scene of the crime. So a serious crime, but one with something delivered. You deduced that,” Sherlock looked all the way down at him, speaking in that rapid fire way he got when he was pinning things together into a whole picture.

“So someone sent something to the lady of the house that has to do with a kidnapping or murder. It could be either; someone sent her a box with ears in it. Two to be precise,” he flashed John a picture of the ears that Lestrade must have taken originally. John pulled a face. “What?”

“Well, ears.”

Sherlock looked down at his phone screen, “What about them?”

“Well, they used to belong to someone. It seems an oddly mean thing to do.”

“Well, it’s certainly telling of the murderer, can you tell me what it says about him?” There was something slightly professorial in the way Sherlock asked him.

“That he’s oddly mean?” John shrugged.

“Sherlock! What the blo-” Lestrade’s eyes darted to John and he cut off mid curse. “What are you doing?”

“The Freak’s stolen a kid,” Donovan shouted, “and he’s weird too.”

“You can’t take a kid onto a crime scene Sherlock,” Lestrade looked about a second from crossing his arms at them, like they were misbehaving children.

“He’s smarter than the average child. And he’s acclimated to violence.”

“What?” he started. “Not this much, not this sort even if he was that’s not something you want to expose him to. The world’s awful enough without ruining him early.”

“I’m right here, I’m not a child, and I’m a doctor,” John interposed before he could be talked over too loudly.

“You’re a doctor?” there was the sort of disbelieving surprise he always got from adults, which alright, he could understand. But it made the whole ordeal no less frustrating

“I’m a quick study,” John put in as explanation for his degree. Escaped experiment seemed to be Sherlock’s current theory, which was really no less improbable than ran foul of a mad scientist. John would really rather not add to the confusion. “I’m very good too.”

“Sure you are, did he put you up to this?” Lestrade was a good man, but he wasn’t the man that John drank pints with. That he complained about Sherlock with. Who quietly stressed about the fact his wife lived in Dorset with their daughter because the reason she was in Dorset was that she claimed to love him but not the loneliness of a cop’s wife. Added distance, a whole county of it, he wasn’t sure was the thing that would keep his wife in his bed. John wasn’t supposed to know about Greg, or be a friend or know any of those things. At least he liked Greg better than Donovan.

“No sir,” he tried playing the respect card, “But I can prove it. You could ask me how to do an appendectomy, or how to run an IV or treating a bullet wound. I’m good at bullet wounds, its trickier when they’re abdominal. No one likes a perforated bowel.”

Lestrade gave him a funny look.

“You’re not even going to let me prove myself are you?” John scowled at him.

“This isn’t a playground.”

“I never said it was!” maybe this was a bad idea; John twisted his face away, as if he could hide from the shame of being made useless. “A parcel isn’t going to frighten me Detective Inspector, no matter what’s in it.” He turned his head to look up at him, up at the inspector with his marriage worries and his daughter in Dorset and his trust in Sherlock. “Dead bodies will not frighten me. It will be sad and it will be terrible, but it will not be scary or scar me, I am a professional, trained to be a professional. I can deal with a little sorrow, it’s better to see and to know and to bring justice than to let-” he stopped a bare second, had to, and only could hope it didn’t show.

“The victim pass away, slip through and be forgotten, like they mean nothing, like they are nothing. Because that’s not true. People are special, they’re important and they deserve to exist, they deserve to be seen. Everyone goes through life and walks by thousands of different people on the street, each individual and irreplaceable orbiting and shifting and affecting the world, leaving tie lines everywhere but no one looks. No one sees it and so they’re gone and it’s like they never were. I look, I’ve seen, and so does Sherlock, Sherlock sees everything, and so because of that. Because you’re a good man and you know inside that someone needs to, someone has to pull back everything and see what the world is what it all means. Because you need him, you’re desperate. I don’t even have to do anything or touch anything, I’ll only speak when spoken to, you can make me stand with my back to the corner if you want. But I’m staying with Sherlock. So you are going to let me in. You are going to let both of us in and we’re going to solve this crime and you can tell yourself and your superiors anything that will make you feel satisfied that you’re a good boy and heel when told. But you will not treat me like I’m a child and I don’t know what things are about. Because I’m not, I’m a doctor. And so Detective Inspector may we come in?”

“I-” said Lestrade with wide eyes. They kept tracking back and forth seeing the war and death and the sort of bullheaded determination that would walk up to the gates of hell and kick them down. “Um.” He scrubbed his face hard with one hand. That meant surrender, John knew that much, “I’m getting fired for this, I know it. Come on then. Try not to make yourself a nuisance.”

“That was,” Sherlock said very carefully, not looking at John. “Very eloquent.”

“Yeah,” John shoved his hands in his pockets; small face pulled into a fierce little scowl, “I should write a blog.”

 

THIS DOCUMENT IS CONFIDENTIAL GOVERNMENT PROPERTY BREAKING OF THE SEAL MAY RESULT IN IMMEDIATE DISMISSAL AND/OR LIFE IMPRISONMENT

 

Mycroft,

I did the search myself and told no one as requested; I also followed the other perimeters you set out. This is everything, absolutely everything. There might be a few issues with the CIA and French, but I routed through Jones. Just fair warning.

Search Results:

Zero facial recognition prior to 7th February

Notable list of associates below.

Chapter Text

“Sherlock,” Lestrade said in, what John imagined, was the same voice the DI used with his children. “What is this really? Shouldn’t he be in school?”

John was taking the time that Sherlock and Lestrade were spending looking around the townhouse. It was like so many of the townhouses in London, like 221B, flavoured with broad Victorian strokes and neat post-War furnishings, “I’ve already had school.”

“It’s ten in the morning, I don’t think it’s let out yet,” Lestrade raised his eyebrow at him. John bristled a little, he understood appearances could be deceiving, but he wasn’t a child.

“I mean I’ve already had school. I don’t need any more.”

“John is a special case,” Sherlock said in a quiet sort of way he had only heard once or twice before, and never in connection to himself. Lestrade caught something in the tone as well, his face shifted, the careful, tired expression of an old copper who has seen too much and carries memories of it in their pockets. Coppers had their own vocabularies of euphemisms and it was clear what Lestrade assumed. That John had been abused, that he was in some sort of altered emotional state because of it. Generally speaking John was far too straight forward to be concerned with trying to manipulate people, it never quite sat right. But if Lestrade thought he was emotionally vulnerable, he might be able to use that to stay with Sherlock.

Lestrade shifted so that John was between himself and Sherlock with Lestrade standing between the two of them and the door. It was a subtle shift, half of a step, bringing him no closer to John, but taking a definite defensive stance that put John a little on edge. “Should he be here at all then?”

“Yes,” Sherlock said fiercely. “He belongs with me, he was given to me.”

“Sherlock-”

“I wanted to come,” John said in immediate support. “I said I wanted to come, I do.”

Lestrade sighed, scrubbing his face, “What if there was a dead body?”

“We’ve already established there isn’t one,” Sherlock snapped.

“Sherlock be nice,” John said automatically and the two men turned and blinked down at him, “What?”

“Nothing,” Lestrade grinned down at John. “I like you already. Ms. Cushing is through here.” They were motioned into a neat little parlor with a discreet plasma television and a shiny canary yellow laptop but nothing else that looked like it had been made after the eighties. It was the soft cozy sort of furnishings John associated with English grandmothers everywhere and he felt himself relax into it. Sherlock made a sweep past an overstuffed tan armchair (to match the earth toned wallpaper and the neat coffee table, he probably knew the type of wood too) with a quick scan across the paperbacks stacked on it and then up to the knick knacks and framed photographs on the mantle.

John focused on Ms. Cushing who looked the sort of sensible woman raised in a mend and make do household although she couldn’t be more than sixty. She looked extremely shaken, drinking tea in steady sips.

“Hello Ms. Cushing. When did you receive the package?”

“I already talked to the Yard about this,” she said a little shakily.

“Yes, but I’d like you to answer the question,” his head snapped toward Ms. Cushing and John could almost see her flinch under that gaze.

“This morning,” she said. “Special delivery. Is it alright for him to be here?” she looked to John.

“I’m with Sherlock,” John said politely before motioning to the sofa. “May I?”

“Oh yes, go right ahead. You’re looking a little peaked dear; you’ve got a growing body, you need to keep it fed.” John had heard heard a variation of the same from various older women of his acquaintance for his entire life so it went down smooth.

“I’m alright,” he said, relaxing and smiling his best charming smile.

“Look at you,” Ms. Cushing smiled at John. “Charming man, you must put all the ladies a flutter.”

“I try,” he grinned and Ms. Cushing, fears forgotten, laughed.

“You are the dearest wee thing,” John saw Sherlock’s body shift out of the corner of his eye with that head tilt he got when two bits of information pieced together in a way he liked. “I’m sure I’ve got some sticky buns in the kitchen.”

She looked at Sherlock who promptly began shamming; raising his eyebrows at John, and okay, before when John was taller he did take part in the shamming. He just stood and watched with a slightly stunned expression on his face like anyone could believe Sherlock's sudden acquisition of emotion, or maybe that Sherlock was so good at it. But he could do undercover, “If you want one John it’s alright.”

They followed Ms. Cushing down the narrow hall and into the kitchen.

“You figured something out,” John grinned up at him, because actually, he did get hungry faster in this smaller body although he couldn’t attest to a teenage boy’s legendary appetite (he didn’t want to think about going through puberty again).

“Why are you grinning like that?” Sherlock said down at him, hands stuffed in his coat pockets.

“Because I get two sticky buns.” Sure enough Ms. Cushing didn’t just bring John a bun on a bright blue plate, but Sherlock as well. He started to say something about not eating on cases, John could tell, but John kicked him under the table.

“May I have a fork please?” was Sherlock’s compromise.

“I know this is difficult for you,” John said before Sherlock could upset the woman working under the thin veneer of hospitality. “But we need to ask some questions.” That was usually his blanket statement working with Sherlock; please don’t shoot the genius.

“It must be nice to work with such a smart young man,” she smiled at Sherlock.

“Oh,” he replied with that funny little smile of his, “You couldn’t begin to imagine how smart. But about the box.”

“Yes,” her fingers went up to adjust her glasses. “I like to think of myself as a sensible woman, but that package upset me.”

Sherlock snuck some bun onto John’s plate lightening quick, “The police think it was your boarders.”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t,” his head tilted as John ate army style, bent over his food like he might have to defend it or get it in before he had to leave it. “Why?” Sherlock fiddled with his fork and the bun for a while and then, when Ms. Cushing was distracted by the missile guidance system that was the Holmsian gaze, snuck a good portion of it onto John’s plate with a speed that was a little unbelievable. John obligingly stuck it in his mouth.

“They were good boys, despite the trouble I had with them in the end, up at all hours,” she looked away, but John was watching Sherlock. “I wouldn’t think they’d do something like this.”

“Appearances can be deceiving, but you know for sure, don’t you? Which is curious. Not to stereotype, but a lady of a certain age is usually expected to hold certain beliefs concerning certain people. Three men from the Middle East, who you’ve turned out of your house, pursuing medical degrees no less and you’re sent two ears in a box and you don’t suspect them. You’re willing to trust the police, who are at their usual ineptitude, but still you tread hesitantly. What will the papers say?” Sherlock had leaned forward dangerously far until John had to rescue the rest of Sherlock’s bun by pushing it onto his own plate. A great sacrifice, but he’d struggle through.

“Come John, I’ve gathered enough data here, onto the box,” he stood in a rush and started striding off.

“Um,” John smiled hesitantly, “Thank you for the buns.”

By the time he followed, cheek stuffed full of sticky bun, Sherlock was harassing Lestrade and a constable set on guard duty over the neat little package.

“No,” Lestrade was saying, “I don’t know why I bother, because you never listen to me anyway, but no.”

“He’s not going to learn if he doesn’t get firsthand experience.”

“He doesn’t need firsthand experience, he’s a little boy.”

“He’s extremely intelligent and he has been entrusted to my tutelage. I’m not going to waste time teaching him how to find kittens up trees.”

“So,” John said. There were children being blown to bits behind his eyelids. He needed to do this. He smiled pleasantly at those assembled. “Ears in a box. Shouldn’t I have gloves?”

“Yes,” Sherlock leveled a glare at Lestrade and pulled out a pair of gloves, size extra small out of his pocket.

In a moment of peculiar kindness Sherlock paused, “If it’s too much for you John, you can tell me and we can stop for a while.”

“It’ll be fine,” he assured him. John watched Sherlock scan the box, the packing tape, and then sniff the box. He opened it carefully and pulled the ears out one at a time to turn them over in his hand. John watched him and tried to observe as much as he could in the meantime.

“John, I would like to hear your analysis. Hold out your hand. Do you think that the Yard’s conclusions are correct?”

Lestrade threw his arms up in the air but John kept his expression clinical as he looked at the ear placed carefully in his outstretched hand. “Well,” John said. “These aren’t from medical students.”

“Aren’t they?” Lestrade said carefully.

He held one ear, as respectfully as he could, considering, the smooth curve facing up. It was so tragic, the round curve of it. So vulnerable and strange looking turned the wrong way. “Look at how it was cut, not with a scalpel, it’s too messy and there’s a lot of tissue trauma.”

“Clever John,” Sherlock smiled John couldn’t help smiling back.

“You’re sure?” Lestrade was bent over John holding up the ear in the cup of his palm.

He looked up at him, “I’ve cut a lot of people with scalpels. It doesn’t look like that.”

“What?” Lestrade’s eyes got huge.

“I am a doctor.”

“Very good,” Sherlock spoke over the top of Lestrade’s shocked expression, crouching down next to John, eyes moving rapidly over his face. “Why else?”

Staring at the ear with all his might he tried to think of anything. Markings? No. What else?

A large hand pressed against his back, “John.”

“Sherlock,” Lestrade’s voice came overtop as a warning, “Sherlock, he’s just a kid…”

John leaned back in Sherlock’s hand without realizing, letting him take his weight.

“Shut up Lestrade. He can do it.”

“He’s a-”

”Shut up Lestrade, he’s capable.”

“It’s something obvious,” John muttered, eyes tightly closed. “It’s always something everyone sees, but they miss it.”

“Very good,” the hand was grounding against his back, helping him focus. Five points of support circling a shoulder blade.

Lifting the ear, John sniffed and smiled, “No formaldehyde. The first cadaver I ever worked on I threw up because of the smell and got into trouble, but this just smells like an ear.”

“Acceptable work John,” Sherlock grinned at him and John felt his mouth split open in a big crooked smile. Sherlock had never told John he did an excellent job before. He reached over John’s shoulder and pulled out the second ear and flipped it over to show a small back smudge of a tattoo on the smooth back. “Do you know what this is?”

“A tattoo?”

“A gang tattoo. We’re going to have one last talk with Ms. Cushing and then Lestrade will run the tattoo for us. The good news is the three medical students are innocent.”

“We don’t have to wait for Lestrade,” John smiled at him. “I know someone.”

“Handy.”

“John” Lestrade said very carefully. “Would you mind going and chatting with Ms. Cushing for a little while? I need to talk to Sherlock.”

Standing up in a rush behind John, Sherlock curled his hand around John’s shoulder. Sherlock had been doing that a lot, but it didn’t grate like it did with others. It was a little attention seeking gesture, a move to mark their partnership. John set his jaw tight.

“I’ll be right in John,” Sherlock said, up a kilometer above his head.

“Okay,” John paused. “Should I ask Ms. Cushing any questions?”

“No, just chat, keep her calm and relaxed.”

Mouth pulled into a tight line, Lestrade stared Sherlock down.

“Alright,” John went through the back door slowly, watching Lestrade waiting to have his big important conversation. He closed it tight behind him before getting down on his hands and knees and crawling underneath a window facing out under the garden. He eased it up a little with the very tips of his fingers so he could listen in. They weren’t going to put him in some home with a bunch of kids where he’d have to go to school and he’d know everything and they’d think he was a genius and make him take all sorts of classes. His mind would never get any bigger than it was now. Never any smarter. And he’d never get to see Sherlock again.

“Where was he, before he was ‘given’ to you?” came Lestrade’s voice softly through the window.

“Why does it matter?” Sherlock sounded just this side of irate.

“Because that was not a normal reaction. Normal children don’t act that way. They act like they like gross things like ears, but in reality they’re frightened of body parts.”

“I can’t tell you Lestrade, but it wasn’t a good place.” There was a pause, “What? You think that I have no conception of a healthy environment for a child, especially a child with John’s brilliance.”

“He said he’s a doctor.”

“Surgeon actually, and very good.”

“You know that’s impossible don’t you?”

“And yet it’s true, I’ve seen his work. John had a peculiar childhood. But he was given to me. I’m taking care of him now.”

“Sherlock,” there was the exasperated voice of the father again. “Children aren’t like books or phone numbers. They aren’t just given to people.”

“Trusted to me then, he’s mine now,” Sherlock descended to something nearly vicious. “If you try to tell him there is anything wrong or bad or freakish about him you will have to meet with my disapproval. He is a kind child, and very sensitive to the opinions of those he respects, which for some strange reason seems to include you.”

“He-”

“Of course he does, don’t you pay attention to anything? His shoulders and the tilt of his head, sometimes I worry about your incompetence. I can’t tell you anything more, you’d not like to know about it more likely than not.”

“Your lifestyle isn’t the safest Sherlock, and you can’t remember to feed yourself, can you remember to make sure John eats, that he gets enough sleep? What if you forget him at a crime scene? Did you remember to cook him breakfast this morning?”

“John ate breakfast,” Sherlock said defensively.

Because Ms. Cushing fed them sticky buns. Lestrade’s point would be valid if John couldn’t take care of himself. Which John could, he really could.

“And if I forget? He’ll feed himself, or remind me. He had to take care of himself.”

Lestrade let out a soft frustrated sound of capitulation, “Just be careful.”

Sensing the end of the conversation John scrambled away and hurried back toward the parlor in search of Ms. Cushing.

 

Search: how often do children eat eight years
347, 000, 000 Results

Search: how often do children eat eight years hours
105,000,000 Results

Search: how often do children eat eight years scientific study
146,000,000 Results

Molly, how often do children eat? – SH

Hi Sherlock! We’ve got some new corpses in.  – Molly

Answer the question. The internet provides insufficient data. – SH

The whole internet?  - Molly

The answer three times a day is inadequate, the only thing else I could find were experiments with marshmallows. – SH

Every four to five hours. And snacks in the afternoon. :) – Molly

Despite your emoting you’re temporarily more useful than Google. – SH

You’re welcome. ;) - Molly

Chapter Text

“Ms. Cushing,” Sherlock started and then looked over John, something shifted in his face and John knew Sherlock had observed something and now he knew John had been listening in. “How long have you been working for the government?”

“What?” she said.

“What?” said Lestrade.

“More of a consultant I gather, sensitive historical documents, that sort of thing I’d imagine. Nothing as delicate as espionage, but nothing that would be volunteered to the public.”

“Yes,” she said. Because Sherlock wasn’t always right, but he was nearly always right. "Mostly things to do with the IRA and organized crime.”

“Because you learned Gaelic from your grandparents, of course.”

“How did you-?” Ms. Cushing got so far as to ask before being steamrolled.

“Which was why you were alarmed when you were sent your sister’s ear,” Lestrade’s head snapped over toward Sherlock. “But it’s not a threat because there was no note, no direction. You thought you recognized your sister’s ear, which is why you’re carrying a gun, but you weren’t sure, and you didn’t recognize the tattoo at all. Ineffective method as far as threats go. But why?”

“Maybe the note was lost,” John tried.

“Of course the note wasn’t lost John, I expect better than that in the future,” he snapped back, the way he got when things weren’t making sense for him. In this timeline the two of them had never met, but in his own he had learned to let that sort of criticism roll right off his back. Lestrade looked a little put off by it though. He had to stay calm and unaffected though, if he was going to sell his place at Sherlock’s side. “Oh. Of course. Brilliant John.”

“Your sister’s name?”

“S-Samantha.”

“John, it’s time for us to talk to your contact now.” Having finished whatever deductions he deemed necessary he spun out of the room in a flurry of great coat.

“Thank you for your time Ms. Cushing,” John said politely and scrambled out after him. His eyes scanned passively with a soldier’s ease, taking in the street, the people on it, and any CCTV cameras in a quick messy sweep. He was allowed a little paranoia. “What was that Sherlock?”

“What?” Sherlock was watching him again, always watching. If it wasn’t such a relief to be seen it would be troubling. Invasive.

“Snapping at her like that.”

That got him a peculiar look before Sherlock’s face slipped into careful composition again. Always so careful. “People reveal more when they’re shocked, their reactions are more honest.”

“Not always,” John gave him a bit of a look, which was ruined a little by the way he had to lean his neck back at an absurd angle. “We’re going to want a taxi. You’re probably the one to call it.”

Mouth quirking a little Sherlock lifted his hand and his magical taxi summoning power kicked in, John had never seen anyone call a taxi quicker. The door opened and Sherlock waved him in first, which was hardly what John was used to, keeping one hand on his small shoulder as he eased in after him. “Address is your half.”

“541 Morris Street,” he said and saw Sherlock’s head lower as he mapped out the street’s location in his head.

“What really?” the cabbie said sounding surprised. It wasn’t a bad part of town strictly speaking, Davey was very particular, but the area there abouts was slightly dubious.

“Yes please,” he tried his best to sound exceptionally polite. Licking his bottom lip absently, he tried to think of the best way to say this. There was no way that wouldn’t offend him really, but the thing was, Davey would shoot him if he thought Sherlock was undermining him in front of his men. John seemed to have acquired some temporary bullet proof pass from Davey’s men by minor acts of violence. Dislocating a man’s knee, pistol whipping a man who had tried to come up behind him and lift him up, punching hard, like a soldier, even with his small fists. Even more because of Davey’s debt to John, the thing the two of them didn’t talk about. That Rooster was probably quite smart, and if nothing else very good at memorization, it just didn’t do him any good because he couldn’t focus on anything. Because it all came tumbling in fits and tremors and ran him right out of his mind.

John had focused him, got him to eat, to sleep, to sit still. Bad Davey would not forget, even if he and John would never really talk about it, John bringing Roost in to speak to his brother, quiet and still except for fingers reddened from being unable to keep from tapping one after the other on the arm of the sofa. He would never forget his mad little brother taking his pale battle scarred hand in his narrow nicked ones and naming off the bones of the fingers, listing phalanges (distal, middle, proximal) and speaking in complete, steady, settled sentences as he tapped over the metacarpals and tapped the trapezium. This protected John, although it was unspoken, a subtle accord that let him come and go and trace black lines of sutures up the skin of Davey’s men as needed. Although strictly speaking, by the very strictest terms John was the family doctor of Roost and Davey. All other patients were only given the honour of his examination based on trust and good behavior.

John wasn’t sure how far that accord reached. If it stretched to cover Sherlock.

“Sherlock.”

“Yes John?” Sherlock was fiddling with his phone, too high up for John to see.

“You’re going to have to be polite. Really, really polite. I mean it. This is one of those cases where you’re going to have to be nice,” John thought about it for a second. “Actually it might be better for me to go in by myself.”

“If you believe me to be physical danger, why do you think I’d let you go by yourself?”

“Let me? Sherlock, I can take care of myself.”

“Granted, but I’m meant to watch your back now. You’re not going in alone.”

“He likes me though, and I know how to deal with him.”

“What is he like?” that got more attention.

“Borderline sociopathic. He doesn’t tolerate disrespect, not from anyone.”

“So he’s like me then?”

John laughed, not his pleased little giggle, something much older. A soldier’s laugh. Something that had seen death. It was not a child’s laugh and it made the cabbie look back at John in his mirror and Sherlock’s mouth tightened. “No, not like you Sherlock. But will you try at least to be polite?”

“I will attempt,” he said flatly and stared at his mobile again.

That didn’t go quite as well as John had hoped, but then Sherlock had only known him for a day, not even that really. Beep, beep, beep went Sherlock’s phone in the tense silence of the cab.

“His name is Bad Davey,” John said.

“Cute,” beep, beep went Sherlock’s phone. “What’s his real name?”

John looked at him full force, even if Sherlock was ignoring him he had to get the idea of this across. “That’s his name. He does drugs, weapons. No kidnapping, no blackmail, but he makes some of the smaller gangs give him cuts of their profit.”

“And they let him.”

He looked away from Sherlock, out the window, into the street, “He can be persuasive.”

“You don’t like it,” Sherlock said.

“No,” his voice was small. “I don’t like it at all.”

“Strong sense of morality and overblown sense of responsibility, which is why, even though you’re a child-”

“Not a child,” John said automatically.

“And given to me by W you feel responsibility for my well being and always take the defensive position. Take efforts to soften my blows. Those are admirable qualities John, but you confuse the order of responsibility. If nothing else I have guardianship. In the eyes of the law, apparently, and of W, your safety is on my shoulders. I’m supposed to be… nice to you.” He spat out nice like he couldn’t stand the taste of it on his tongue

“I don’t think you’ve ever been nice,” John muttered.

Sherlock made an annoyed huff, then shifted to look at John from the corner of his eye, “He told you that, didn’t he? How extensive is his file on me?”

“Why does it matter?”

“You are such an irritation!” Sherlock suddenly spat out not taking notice the taxi had stopped.

“Hey,” the cabbie said. “You can’t talk to kids like that, they’re sensitive.”

“John is not sensitive,” Sherlock snarled, stabbing one angry finger against the partition glass. “He is a soldier and the most impossible puzzle with whom I’ve ever come in contact, especially since he won’t tell me a single word. Not a single thing about anything and he doesn’t make any sense. I can take care of him! I gave him my sticky bun even! You’re just a stupid cabbie!”

John stared at him with wide eyes.

Sherlock grabbed him by the coat collar to facilitate a hasty exit from the cab. He was all arrogance and flustered annoyance, “How much?”

John watched Sherlock pay the cabbie with his high cheekbones looking ready to cut and his pale face seeming to burn with white and blue fire. The cabbie quailed, not bothering about change. He pulled tight into himself, against the window and hid behind the windbreak Sherlock provided even as lean as he was.

“When I was little,” John said as Sherlock angrily stuffed his wallet back in his pocket, “I thought plaid was a color. “

Sherlock looked down at him, eyes still burning fierce.

“Plaid was my favorite colour when I was little until I learned that it wasn’t really a colour.”

Those pale eyes just looked at him and he had to turn away a little. “Plaid? Which pattern?”

“I don’t know. It was just an old blanket.”

“What happened to it?”

John looked up at him briefly and then had to look away; Sherlock was looking at him too hard. “I don’t know.”

“Your body language is indicative of trying to hide something. Of shame. Why are you ashamed?”

He tensed into a little sandy coloured brick, shoulders up around his ears. “I’m not.”

“Your denial is only solidifying my observations. Did you steal it?”

John could feel his shoulders tightened further he couldn’t seem to help it, “No!”

“You formed an emotional attachment to it,” Sherlock sighed out. “And that wasn’t allowed, it was a show of weakness, as was your ignorance about colours. It was taken from you. No doubt they kept with regulation; it causes feelings of solidarity, unity. Of submission. It was an unusual item. It was noticed when you tried to comfort yourself with it.”

John looked at his feet, he was meant to look after Harry anyway, couldn’t spare baby things. But yes, his Dad had gotten drunk one night and took the blanket away from him. It wasn’t that big of a deal really. Besides, John never talked about his Dad, about how much his Dad drank, until he died, and how Harry had picked up after him to try and make up for the loss. John didn’t like talking about his childhood at all.

“How old were you? Four, five? Younger?”

“Baby things are for babies. I wasn’t a baby anymore,” John said simply still looking at his feet.

“Of course, a soldier can’t show weakness. They didn’t breed you for weakness,” Sherlock’s voice was utterly cold, so alien John couldn’t help flinching away. He wasn’t used to a Sherlock that cold. Not that hard, not over some stupid little fact that was meant to please Sherlock, make them friends again.

“Are you happy now?” John bit out, feeling small and awful. John wasn’t like this, he wasn’t trembling and small. He wasn’t weak like this, not standing where anyone and everyone could see him. Except he was, this was John after the war. John with his legs cut off at the knee practically. Limping along, old and shaking, useless as a surgeon with his intermittent tremor. Utterly broken and angry, but also scared and paranoid that everyone could see it written across his face how useless and how so very alone he was. Sherlock found him and saved him before, but this wasn’t the same Sherlock. This was a Sherlock who had seen hints of him. Thought he was two people that were interesting instead of one that wasn’t. That he was a conglomeration of some all-knowing genius and his child doctor sent to amuse Sherlock. What was he to do if Sherlock found out the truth and didn’t want him anymore?

“No,” Sherlock nearly hissed. He didn’t even sound human. His hand touched John’s shoulder suddenly, reaching down and curling his fingers around the tense muscles there. John never realized Sherlock’s fingers were so long or his hand span so wide. His hand swallowed up a good portion of John’s upper back. “I am not happy. I am however even fonder of W. Stay close to me please. You were going to introduce me to your associate. Chin up.”

 

Alarm Set: 8:00, 12:00. 16:00, 20:00

Chapter Text

Sherlock kept his hand on John’s shoulder as they climbed the neat steps to the lobby of the flats. His long fingers kept a slow rhythm on John’s shoulder, curling and keeping. John recognized the security officer as one of Davey’s men. The officer’s uniform was ill fitting on purpose and he looked deceptively bored. Face pulled into petulant bovine laxness as he chewed on what must have been a truly fantastic wad of gum. John had scuffled with him before; he was deceptively quick and knew how to throw his weight around. If John remembered right he had hit him in the neck with his kit on a medical run. He watched them, watched Sherlock’s hand on John’s shoulder. Looking around there were others he recognized as Bad Davey’s men. And there were an awful lot of them for the way the lobby usually looked. He felt Sherlock’s hand tighten through his coat. He looked up at Sherlock from where he was tucked in and watched Sherlock scan across the room. A familiar young woman of maybe twenty, in a yellow jumper was chatting with a young man who had the raggedy look of a past addict about him, mostly because of his long scraggly hair in a ponytail down his back. An older woman was snoozing in an arm chair half hidden by a potted plant, and her with it. John had seen her on deliveries once or twice.

The young lady in her yellow jumper broke away to come smile at John, “Hello little man.”

“You have a MAC-10 under your jumper,” Sherlock said, “but it’s very well hidden, you’re young to be a thug aren’t you?”

“Not a thug,” she smiled at Sherlock once the first few seconds of shock wore off. John recognised her as the girl in the sparkly blue dress outside Davey’s door. She turned back to John dismissively, “Is this man giving you some trouble?”

“No,” John said and reached up to squeeze Sherlock’s long fingers with his small hand once. He could feel the smallest startle at that, like a minute electric shock. “This is Sherlock Holmes, he’s a consulting detective. We need to ask Bad Davey about a case.”

Her face dropped its adolescent sweetness and she straightened one hand on her hip and her face as stern and steady as any battle hardened officer. “No one told you then?”

John tensed, “I haven’t been with Bailey. What could have happened, it’s still early yet, isn’t it?”

“Nearly elevensies,” the girl said. “Come on then. He’ll be wanting you.”

“Is he alright?” John asked, his eyebrows came together in concern. He stepped quickly behind her, Sherlock's long legs eating up the ground next to him. Davey looked like he took stupid risks, but he generally took the time to pause, think twice, plan for danger. He wore nice suits and had nice teacups, but at the end of the day he was a street king, unsubtly razor toothed, ruthless and half wild right below his skin. The lovely things were just the uniform of a more successful fox.

“He’s had worse,” she said leading them through one door, and then another and into a long hall.

“If you’re not a thug than you’re-” Sherlock started, always wanting to know the answer.

“A delivery girl,” she interrupted, looking at him sharply. “I do deliveries.”

He waved that off with his free hand, “I have better things to do than worry about something as paltry as prostitution.”

“I’m not a prostitute,” the not anymore was left unspoken. She didn’t snap it, didn’t sound offended, but her voice was firm, it brooked no argument. “I deliver. It’s reputable work, decent pay. I’ve got kids to support.”

John startled at that, she looked so young, too young to have children, too young to have to live that kind of life. He heard about things like that, children doing work they shouldn’t have to do. She looked so very young; he knew that looks could be deceiving, but his heart clenched at it. There was nothing he could say that would make it better, make the past change. Just like there was nothing he could say for the rest of the kids who ended up on the street for one reason or the other. Nothing could be done but offer what kindness he could. She led them through a crowded corridor, down some stairs and into Bad Davey’s offices down in what had been basement storage space, or maybe a cellar or a dye room, when the flats were a factory.

The first thing John noticed, other than the men all toting submachine guns through every inch of everywhere, was Davey lounging on a settee. His pale face was spattered in blood, his hair in a wild, burning disarray of orange and burgundy against a throw pillow. There was a lot of blood. A lot of blood to someone who knew how much blood was in a human body. It flicked across him like the heavy tails of comets. John made a small move toward him, an instinctive shift, but the hand on his shoulder was firm.

“You don’t look so good Davey,” John said gently. The doctor in him set him back on his heels and demanded immediate eval. Reading how much blood loss in the paleness of Davey’s skin, lining up freckles too faint to be seen normally. The way his face pinched at the corners like a serviette starched and folded too tightly. Davey took a long smooth drag from his cigarette, grinning despite being laid out like some victim of a massacre. He pulled forward again and Sherlock let him go.

Davey’s fine blue suit was sitting heavy and wrong. It looked too stiff; as John drew closer he could smell the blood on it. On Davey’s white linen shirt bearing unforgiving flares of red and brown. There were four dark stars across his chest that stared out in sharp toothed cheekiness where four bullets had been terminated against Davey’s bulletproof vest. “Who me? Ta.”

He tilted his head at John, ignoring Sherlock for now and raised his cigarette slowly toward his mouth. There was something wrong with Bad Davey. Something different in him. As if something was missing from him inside and he had grown something in the hole where it had been. Usually he could hide it; usually he just came across as sarcastic and aggressive. But not today. His skin was exceptionally pale today for all of his grinning like a mad man; he closed his grin around the cigarette to suck down heroically. His finger, his knuckles, the back of his hand had ghost marks of red as if they had been scrubbed at absently, but had been deemed ultimately unimportant. The skin over his knuckles was tight, a little swollen and pink. The doctor in John turned immediately to checking the raised hand holding its cigarette for breaks or sprains. His hands, sure and practiced tested, analyzed and dismissed in favour of worse injuries. Swept across the bullets lodged in Davey’s vest, across his arms, dismissing the bit cuts and came to stop at a soaked spot high at the side of his hip. He tried to pay attention to the patient and not to Sherlock’s reaction to Davey, to the part of John’s life where he was just surviving.

“What happened to you?” he reached for a kit that wasn’t there, realized his lack and moved to look around for someone to motion to. Sherlock’s hand tightened the space between them. One of Davey’s men stepped close, but Davey tsked, once, sharp and quick and the man stepped away. Sherlock stood in close to John, letting the curl of his coat rest in a line across John’s back. Davey’s eyes narrowed at that, breathing out a cloud of smoke, making his face faint and discreet. Something he was not naturally. He revealed the long stretch of his teeth, twisting his neck, playful as a serpent. “I need to help him Sherlock,” he said with his hand pressed hard against Davey’s hip.

“Most of it isn’t his own blood,” Sherlock said coolly. “What did you use then? Tire iron? Fireplace poker?” his pronunciation was long and precise, almost spitting out each syllable with the refined intonation of distaste cultivated by the higher classes.

“No,” Davey’s eyes narrowed. “A really big wrench. If they didn’t want me to hit them with it, they shouldn’t have left it lying around.”

When someone finally got him a medkit John attacked it, running procedure in his mind. They had some bandaging over it and he didn’t want to pull anything off and get blood flowing again. Sherlock’s fingers caught on his head.

“Please Sherlock. I’m a doctor.”

Sherlock’s fingers pressed.

“Please. Give me space to do this.”

“Sweet,” Davey sighed with smoke in his teeth. “Does it surprise you that the good doctor is helping me?”

John felt Sherlock tense.

“Good people are such funny little creatures.”

“What happened?” he snapped before Sherlock could open his mouth and get anything out that would set Davey off. This was a play for dominance John had no interest in.

“Greeks is what happened. After the Tongs got their legs kicked out from under them, I-” he waggled the hand holding the cigarette.

“Brought their lost sheep into your fold? Did your part to maintain their property while they were away? Had pointed negotiations?” Sherlock said. He scanned the men crowding around and the way they cautiously watched Davey even as pale and clammy as he was.

Bad Davey laughed hard before he had to stop and press a calming hand to his hip. “I like your boy Johnny, he’s right clever. All those euphemisms. Didn’t do any of those things,” his smile was sweet and secret. His eyes dimpled up with it, eyes cheery and knowing, watching. John felt sick. Davey surely kept some of them, but the rest he surely murdered hard enough to leave a message. “Vasquez has hired a whole battalion of them to trouble me while I go about my business,” he hissed through his teeth in irritation as John pulled down the fabric of his trousers far enough to get at the wad of gauze. He gestured with his cigarette, the air around his head pale and soft with smoke. Davey grinning in the midst of it, his grin wide and mad, half the white of his left eye drowned in blood. “Tried to shoot me, ha! Been wearing a vest since I was twelve and he thinks to shoot me through the heart. Ain’t got one, do I Johnny?” He chucked John gently on the chin.

“Don’t touch him,” Sherlock barked in a dead voice from beside John. John craned his head up to stare at him; he hadn’t heard Sherlock sound like that since after the pool, a thousand impossible years ago.

The bad got in Davey again and he bared his teeth. Smoke sliding between them. “Don’t start Davey,” John interrupted with his gloved fingers at the wound. It looked like it just missed his hip bone, and hadn't ricochet up into his belly, or else Davey would have been in much worse shape. John would have had to send him to hospital anyway; he just didn’t have the equipment for that kind of surgery. Pulling of the gauze, a rush job, he fetched some antiseptic one handed and reached his hand around to the other side of Davey’s hip with the other. “Clean through then.”

Davey subdued and snuggled back down into the sofa, he hissed again, looking up at the ceiling and pressed his hand to his belly, “Vasquez. I can’t believe him. I ought to burn his house down with those hideous kids of his inside.”

Jerking back from Davey, John snapped at him, “Don’t say things like that! Don’t do things like that either.”

“Don’t get cross at me Johnny.”

“How am I not supposed to get cross when you say things like that?”

A small cloud of smoke drifted out of Davey’s mouth, “I won’t say them then.”

John kept his head down, stitching up the neat, dark hole.

“I won’t say it,” he took another long drag. “It hurts to get shot. I should get something stronger.”

He tied a neat knot.

“I won’t do it either I promise,” he smiled at John, sweat standing up all over his face. “You’ll get cross and chastise me and make me sad. Will you give me something stronger John?”

“I’m busy, roll over I need to stitch the other side. I need both hands.”

“I’ll hold then, don’t want to trouble you. Someone bring me a bloody ashtray! You’re all nearly useless! And someone help the doctor.”

A man moved up smoothly, ashtray in hand and Davey crushed his cigarette out viciously. He cursed in a long staccato burst, each like vicious stabs to the gut before breathing in and reaching for John again.

“Don’t touch him,” Sherlock said very softly.

“Fine, fine.”

“We need your help with something Davey,” John said to the back of his hip.

He spat out a curse that made John tense and flinch as he pulled the stitch through. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever you want.”

Flicking out his phone, Sherlock shoved it at Davey’s face, “Have you seen this tattoo before?”

“Where was it?”

“Done,” John said, taping on gauze.

“Back of right ear,” Sherlock sounded cold and hard. Not at all like the Sherlock he knew. Even when he had been working the Great Game when he had sounded unfeeling and intrigued.

Hissing, he twisted his head, “John, do you need these men alive? For whatever your detective friend is doing?”

“I prefer it if you didn’t kill anyone,” John said in his best officer voice.

“You need them?”

“Yeah.”

Davey sighed, “I’m not above a gift for a friend. They call themselves Matos; they’re well-established but scattered, run around like kids half the time. They’ve been crawling up my back lately; the Greeks have been setting everyone off. We’re an international city, but someone bringing in outside labour with the economy the way it is. It’s just not right. People need work. They don’t know how we run things, it’s a mess. It’s getting everyone to bounce off each other. I’ll have my men go soft on them for the next week. They’re going rough on importing right now so they’ll be on the docks. They act like men, but they’re mostly over armed children. Violence won’t work with them, but you can talk them down easy.”

“Thanks Bad Davey.”

“You do for me John. I take care of the people who do for me.”

“It’s my job,” John ducked his head.

“You need money?” Davey asked suddenly.

“No, I’m good.”

“Something else you need? You need more drugs, you need bullets? I’ve got some more codeine in.”

“No, I’m alright. I have everything I need,” John said firmly and Davey laughed. “Let me wrap your wrist.”

“I take care of him now,” Sherlock said suddenly. “I’m in charge of him now.”

“You?” Bad Davey raised an eyebrow at him while John rolled an ace bandage up and around, quick, quick, ready to be gone now.

“Yes. Me.

“We need to go finish up this case,” John said quickly.

“John,” Davey watched him knot off and tuck in the loose end before wrapping his hand around the back of his neck and pulling him close enough for it to count as an embrace without getting any blood on him. “You let me know if he’s mean to you, yeah? You be good.”

“I’ll try,” he didn’t try to struggle against the hold; there was no point to it. And Davey had so few people he cared about it seemed not quite right not to let him show what little affection he had. He always kept on the right side of it, Davey wasn’t overly affectionate anyways. John had a feeling this was more of a show of dominance, I was here first. You don’t get to say no to me here.

“Kelsey will get payment to you tomorrow so you won’t have to bother with it,” he released John and suddenly Sherlock was there with a hand on his shoulder, tucking him in tight.

“Thanks,” John said, because he wasn’t sure what else to say. “Take care.”

A man showed up at their shoulder to escort them up, his suit, not hardly as expensive as Sherlock’s, or Bad Davey’s, but still sharp enough to be a statement of importance. John reached up to pat the hand on his shoulder once, absently, alarmed at Sherlock’s alarm.

“You should probably know,” Sherlock said, looking over his shoulder for that last final shot, “you have teeth in your hair.”

NSY Database Search: “Bad Davey”

Chapter Text

Sherlock moved like a storm cloud next to John, his coat snapped and rolled against John’s back. Above him Sherlock’s face flashed blue-white like lightening and his expression like thunder. “What was he thinking?” he growled. John had to jog to keep up with his long angry strides.

“Who?”

“W. Obvious. What was he thinking?”

“Sherlock,” John said keeping pace. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep this up if Sherlock kept this pace. It stung a little; he wouldn’t be running with Sherlock again anytime soon. He’d have to wait until the time came to deal with that problem. “Sherlock what are you talking about?”

“How could he allow you to form a- a whatever that was with a man like Bad Davey?”

“What are you talking about? Why shouldn’t I help him?” that was actually a bit of a stupid question. There were lots of potential reasons, but Bad Davey was not a resource he could refuse. Not with Roost, and Bailey’s kids and the costs of survival. Sherlock stopped abruptly, right in the middle of everything, people walking to and fro, clutching their bags and giving them dirty looks as they eddied around the pirominent island that was Sherlock at high string.

“I’m sure his fondness for you...”

John cut him off with a laugh, “I know exactly what Bad Davey is. He’s a very bad man. Don’t think just because I get a little affection I forget the type of man I’m dealing with.”

“You’re aware he’s a murderer.”

John looked awkwardly around, aware of where they were standing, his eyes tried to flick past Sherlock.

“Ignore the camera, look at me.”

Blinking, John turned his head up, “It’s more complicated than that with him.”

“You’re making excuses for him?” Sherlock was staring down at John, flaying him alive.

“Of course not.”

“I’m trying to establish the borders of your conventional morality.”

Right and wrong isn’t something that has to do with convention. It’s right and wrong. It either is or it isn’t,” John stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and gave Sherlock back a fierce stare his own. Davey could be so much worse than he was. John didn’t want to talk about this where anyone could hear. Didn’t want to stand in the middle of the pavement where everyone was looking at them. He shifted uncomfortably, looking around absently, or trying to before Sherlock made a slight shift that alerted John to his trying to look at the CCTV camera across the street. “Bad Davey isn’t arbitrary; he doesn’t take people off the street and shoot them or act any crueler than is strictly necessary. He works a bad business and is bad to suit it.”

“You don’t approve.”

Maybe it was that he was craning his neck up, or the creeping sensation that everyone was looking at him. Watching him, thinking all sorts of things. Watching and judging the small boy arguing while no one listened. Would they try to take him away, if they thought Sherlock wasn’t taking care of him? “Of course I don’t approve,” he snapped.

“But you help him anyway,”

“We should probably move,” Sherlock could stare all he wanted at John; he was more concerned about someone plowing into one of them.

“Why do you help him?”

“We’re in the middle of everything…”

“Why give him your assistance?” Sherlock pressed.

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” John barked back, rubbing at his neck. Sherlock was too tall by half. “He’s bad, but he’s not evil. Not a monster. I told you its more complicated than the coke or blood splatter patterns.”

Sherlock suddenly popped his collar and shifted his weight, shoulders shifting Byronic, “Alright then. I’ll call a cab.”

John’s eyes narrowed, “What was that?”

Sherlock blinked down at him, only half paying attention, “What?”

“That, what you just did. All cool and pleased with yourself. What were you doing? What were you looking for?” he clamoured close to Sherlock, trying to keep out of the main flow. “Were you experimenting?”

That got him a blink as Sherlock raised one gloved hand in the air to call a cab. As if he didn’t know leaning up in the air like that made him look all dramatic and archetypal.

“I’m not that stupid Sherlock,” John sighed at him. A powerful sigh, Sherlock’s face shifted into something wide eyed and blank, hand half lowered as he stared down at John. A cab pulled up just as Sherlock opened his mouth, he apparently changed his mind and just lunged into the taxi, John leapt in after him and had to take a moment to figure out how to get the door closed without falling out in the process, listening to Sherlock say absently, “Baker Street.” Limited arm span had its disadvantages.

Once he was in and buckled he turned his head to find Sherlock staring at him again.

“What?”

“John, you are nowhere near stupid. Did someone say you were?” There was a curious lilt to his voice then, to go with the inquisitive dip to his chin and the way his finger tapped with a musician’s supreme precision against the arm rest, as if it were the neck of his violin. The way he lifted his shoulders, burrowing back into his flared lapels and the easy knot of his scarf. John had learned Sherlock pretty well in the year and some they had lived together, at least he liked to think so. He knew the furrow between Sherlock’s eyebrows and the lift of his shoulders well.

“Maybe that wasn’t the best way to say it, I know I’m not stupid per se. But I’m no genius; I had to work very hard to learn what I did. School wasn’t easy for me, it was difficult, I had to study, I still do. There were others who did much better than I did,” he was filled with the perverse desire for Sherlock to see him as boring and ordinary. He could think of something to make up for his normalcy but he didn’t know if he could deal with his disappointment.

“Why? Because you had your plaid blanket and your play? Softness, lack of discipline. Because they told you you were disappointing, that you had to work harder to please them,” Sherlock said harshly.

John flinched back wide eyed in his seat. If he could see his own face, how heartbreaking the expression on a face so naturally designed for laughter and for smiles. If he could see himself he would have been a bit awed by Sherlock’s self-control, staying on his side of the seat. That he didn’t lift John up and press him to his heart as cold as it might have been. For no other reason than to claim proximity to such exquisite, real humanity

John sat small as a love knot on the cab seat, pulled into himself. Fists trembling between his small knees. “Bit not good Sherlock,” he breathed out.

“I. Am. Not. Kind,” Sherlock ground out. “I told you that.”

John sat quietly.

“I have no compassion.”

That wasn’t true. John knew that wasn’t true.

“I will disappoint you. I have told you this.”

He tilted his head at John.

“Are you sorry for me now?”

“No,” John said. “You’re still you. It’s important to accept all of someone. People aren’t like buffets, you can’t just take what you want and leave the rest. You have to learn to forgive and make do. That’s just…” he struggled for the word.

“Good,” Sherlock said. “It’s not like talking to a child. Talking to you. Even I can recognize that.”

“Not a child,” he needed to walk this off. “Stop the cab,” he called out.

The cabbie looked back and gave him a conflicted look.

“Why are we stopping the cab?” Sherlock asked suddenly, and then hid a series of orders as questions. “Didn’t you hear him. He said stop the cab.”

John leapt out onto the pavement, stuffing his hands into his pockets and turning toward 221B with military precision like the needle of a compass. He kept his head down and kept moving, he didn’t look up when Sherlock’s long shadow feel over him again. He stayed silent until finally he had to speak, “What were you doing when you thought you were so clever?”

There was a brief silence before Sherlock spoke, “An experiment. To test paranoia. Reactions to crowds.”

“I told you not to do that.”

Sherlock was quiet. John knew he wasn’t sorry for it, Sherlock was never sorry for anything he did that he shouldn’t have, just sorry to be in trouble. But he knew that in time Sherlock might care after him, that they might become like friends.

“I don’t want to have a row with you. We’ve only been around each other a day. I don’t want a row.”

Sherlock continued silently.

“I told you not to,” John said very quietly.

Sherlock’s pale hand came down, turned John a little toward him while they walked, “I can’t find anything about W. I can’t find him. I can’t figure him out, his actions are odd, they don’t match any motive I can pin on him. With that amount of skill, with those resources, and that intelligence, once he had you why would he ever see fit to give you to someone like me? What’s the trick? The reason?”

John looked up his eyes fervent, honest, vulnerable in the way only a soldier who stands himself and runs into enemy fire to drag back the wounded could be, “Because you’re Sherlock Holmes.”

Sherlock stopped still where he was and stared at him wide eyed, breathing softly through an open mouth. “What’s that supposed to mean? What did he tell you that it meant?”

“That you’re brilliant and annoying and that you play violin at all hours and are married to your work. You’re just you, Sherlock Holmes. Consulting Detective, the only one in the world,” he smiled a little at that last part but it faded back away.

Sherlock narrowed his eyes at John, like he was being particularly difficult.

“You’re clever, just be patient. You can observe why. Just don’t…” he sighed to himself a little. “Don’t experiment on me.”

“I won’t,” Sherlock said.

John gave him a steady look and nodded brusquely, turning on his heel and marching in that stocky little soldier’s stride of his.

“I won’t. I didn’t antagonize Bad Davey.”

“Thank you for that.”

“He is an irritating person. He just assumes everyone owes him everything.”

“People generally do, one way or the other,” John shrugged shoulders still tight.

“John, when I say I won’t experiment again,” Sherlock said. “I won’t. Not like that.”

“I appreciate it,” he said drily.

“I also… John. You are extraordinary in all meanings of the word. You will say nothing contrary to that again. Your intelligence is acceptable. No other commentary is necessary.” John turned to look at him, up at his face, set blank and calm and then back down again, about eye level with Sherlock’s hands. His fingers bent tight and white as bone in a fist.

John looked up at Sherlock again, “Alright Sherlock. I won’t.”

That got a nod, all business again, “We will get some things from the flat and we will end the case.”

John was glad the half-row thing they had started was over. He never liked it when they got crossways of each other. He had called for the cab to stop with the idea that he could walk back to Baker Street and have time to cool himself down. He was aware he had a temper, and that it had got him in trouble when he was younger, and had resolved not to let it again. But further along the way there was someone else, much concerned with the issue of the young Doctor John Watson and his benefactor, the elusive W. Someone who was very clever indeed. A man for whom a vast intelligence had garnered him favours, connections, power. A man whose intelligence had made him very unassumingly arrogant, the way that kings were. He made and broke men with his mind and a few refined moves across the field of play.

This man, this intelligence in the truest and more archaic sense of the word, this Mycroft Holmes was sitting, working his tremendous brain on the W problem. This was to say, he was not yet alarmed. Mycroft did not believe in becoming alarmed unless he had to, he had suffered stress, exhaustion, irritation and was a few times upset, but professionally he had not been alarmed for nearly five years. He had discovered a few things that were potentially alarming. First, that Dr. John Watson, child did not appear to exist in any database, nor his face. Second, that W had a means of communicating which he could not track, at least not in ways that would raise any flags. This might simply be because W refused to respond to his calls, or his texts, making it more difficult to track him down. There was also the child who could not be who he was, the story that was too outrageous to be true. Mycroft knew his brother, the romantic wearing the cynic’s clothes. For all his cold hearted hissing about The Work Sherlock wanted there to be mystery, adventure. Someone who went blithely about by an initial, who promised secrecy, special favour, someone who was like a character in one of those awful old books Sherlock liked to eat up with a spoon before he became disenchanted and turned to cocaine instead.

That didn’t mean that whoever this W was wasn’t a potential threat if he was let to go unattended. All Mycroft needed was a clear look at the boy and he would find the chinks in W’s armour as he did in everyone else’s. He flipped facts around and around in his mind like crisp face cards, revealing the summary of his observations. He was aware that his brother and young John had exited their taxi and were currently coming down the street toward 221B. He was seated in his own car observing the CCTV feed of the two of them waiting for one of his employees, a specially chosen small and compact man excellent at appearing nonthreatening, to go and fetch them. Whenever he appeared anywhere he always had three agents sat his disposal in case something went wrong. Even now there was Charles who was the nonthreatening agent, a second man in a green pea coat across the street drinking coffee and his own dear assistant and body guard Anthea transformed in plainclothes to stand guard as a fervently texting Londoner. He could see the bowed curve of her face in the CCTV feed as she typed, posture perfectly shifted to slip attention as his net closed in on Sherlock and Dr. Watson.

On the feed, his brother was the most visible out of the pair; tall, dark head bent downward, face quietly electrified his barely restrained excitement visible even on the camera across the road. And then beside him, hiding behind London’s lunch crowd was the boy a golden head dogging by Sherlock’s side. Young John. (If John hadn’t wanted to be seen, he would have been nearly invisible to the CCTV because of his height alone. Size apparently had its advantages.) Then there was a break in the crowd and there was a clear view of the two of them together. After that the information moved quite quickly, observed, processed and turned into something strange, something very alarming.

Highly skilled medical professional, said the first card set in front of him in his mind. It had already turned up when a short trip was made to the hospital to examine some adolescent boys who had been in an explosion. Likely from semtex. Wouldn’t take much. The card was marked with a hesitant question mark. He had no reason to doubt Sherlock analysis and when interviewed the homeless young man (previous abuse - physical not sexual, one sister close to the same age, mildly lactose intolerant, advanced sense of right and wrong paired with a beleaguered cynicism, possible signs of PTSD, afraid of dogs, excellent immune system, never taken drugs) named Michael Wiggins spoke quietly and hesitantly. He had showed an expected close knit loyalty, more than willing to answer some questions about Dr. Watson, but refusing to answer others. He was a very tired young man, like a soldier, and underneath that a frightened little boy. There was nothing to gain from pushing him any further once Mycroft had gained all the information he could.

The second said, trained in surveillance. The child tilted his head up and checked the placement of the CCTV cameras. He followed Sherlock by rooftop and looked at the people around him without being obvious about it. It was only noticeable in the way the child’s head tilted then, not in the way that children’s heads usually do, like they have blinders and are trying to see everything at once by swiveling their head all over the place. But in slow increments so it wouldn’t be obvious what he was doing. Scanning the crowd, a mind effortlessly supplied with its own observations.

The third card in his mind showed the way the boy moved, so like a soldier. Easy, something a blind man could observe, but a pivotal point in Sherlock’s ridiculous romantic conspiracy theory. Even from a distance Mycroft saw the way the little boy walked, back straight, legs loping like a puppy’s. Marching a soldier’s march, but that could be trained into him or be as simple as mimicry. That wasn’t the alarming part. The alarming part was when, while Sherlock was still looking down at John, John looked forward and he saw Anthea. And because the dog fears the hand that beats it. John stopped stock still; made a few quick moments as if not sure if he should run. His shoulders lifted finally and then the child pulled in tight and to the other side of Sherlock.

This strong immediate reaction to a woman who looked like nothing more than someone stopped to have an irritated text off with someone, no different than anyone else, except noticeably and unavoidably beautiful, meant one of two things. Either that John had been trained to identify operatives or that he had been shown how to identify his assistant. Mycroft didn’t know which was worse, if worse was the word. Then of course Sherlock saw and recognized her with a jerk, the way he saw. And then the way that Sherlock stepped close to the child, set his long fingers possessively over small curve of his shoulder. The little black coat with the patches. Mycroft had never seen his brother anything like protective about anything, since he was fourteen and Mycroft had given him a copy of first edition of Field’s Tritogenea. That was when he flipped over the last card of all bearing a simple, terrible W.

Mycroft’s mind stuttered once before all other detritus was pushed off his desk into convenient drawers to clear space for analysis. He discarded the card flipping visualization for something far more organic, quicker, lightening in a jar. He flipped through possibilities, names, maps. His theories that he was in charge, that he had control, that he had eyes behind the world shifted aside at the implication that his assumption that things cannot possibly go on without him knowing about it was wrong. The lightning fast and frightening (if he was honest, which he had to be a healthy dose of fear unrevealed was good for someone in power. Only previously his fears had been limited to blowing up a country or losing control and beating the Russian ambassador to death with his umbrella) and broke down all his expectations with sharp singed sweeps.

Mycroft did not know the greatest secrets of Britain because one of Britain’s great secrets was standing there on the pavement after being acquired, or more likely engineered given the intellect and capacity for learning, raised up, trained, rescued by a mysterious figure who had outmaneuvered the men who had kept a secret from Mycroft himself, continued to evade them, had acquired Mycroft’s personal emergency number known only by memory by five people in the entire world and apparently had his eye on the minute movements of the associates of a brilliant criminal mind. It was a big thought. A big dangerous thought. When he got back he was going to have to open a docket on him, and he had nothing. That would have to change. The placing of John could be a brilliant opening move. Monarchs once sent their children to be trained in foreign courts. It was impossible, unbelievable, but it had to be, as strange as it seemed. This was the only thing that tied all the strings together, the only thing that really made any sense with all the evidence.

But if that was the case, why Sherlock?

And why now?

And who was for the opening move for?

 

I would like to speak to you about your opening move. – MH

Chapter Text

While Mycroft was concerned that there was some group in the government not being regulated as tightly as they should, the rest of the party shifted around John’s improbability. John, the improbable child himself, stuck close to Sherlock’s side while Anthea blinked at him in shock.

“What does he want?” Sherlock snapped.

Anthea’s face creased with the same resigned impatience John had seen on Mycroft’s face enough to recognize, “He wants to discuss your new… living situation.”

“You can tell him I can quite do without his interference, I have everything under control.” John watched all of them narrowly, too cautious to make the first move. When Anthea looked at John – assessing - Sherlock stood straighter, taller, towering over John and wrapping his fingers over John’s shoulder in a blatantly possessive gesture.

“He believes you could quite do with his assistance in this matter.”

Sherlock flinched angrily and curved tighter over John, drawing him close, like some possessive bird of prey.

“What?” John said, still shaken by the appearance of the woman that wasn’t Anthea.

“John was given to me. Mycroft knows that John was given to me. He wasn’t delivered into Mycroft’s corpulent hands, such being the case he can piss off.”

Just then a black car pulled up, Sherlock scowled at it and pressed John’s head to side of his thigh, John being too short to be pressed against his hip. John allowed it quietly, he had been manhandled enough when he was a decent size, sent to go through pockets and had his coat shoved on him enough that fingers looping over the shell of his ear wasn’t that troubling. The window opened to reveal the beneficent smile of Mycroft Holmes, “Hello Doctor Watson.”

“He’s not for you,” Sherlock spat out. John could admit the possessiveness was reassuring.

“You’re showing yourself rather badly Sherlock Dear. I am aware,” Mycroft drawled, his eyes shifted leisurely from Sherlock to John, to whom he smiled in a perfectly conspiratorial nature. “I’m here to meet Dr. Watson himself. But then you know my face already, don’t you John?”

John stiffened at being manhandled even tighter against Sherlock’s side, but didn’t try and pull away. He was too worried about being tucked into the car and then tucked away into the shadows never to be seen again.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk to you for a while; I’ll return you at the end of our chat I assure you.”

“I’m not to get into the car with you,” John said, relying on vagueness, he could tell Mycroft counted it as a not quite true statement. He had on that smooth analytical face that meant his giant brain was processing. John was once again controlling the focuses of the terrible Holmes brothers. It was impossible to shift the focus away entirely, beyond the ability of anyone most likely, but it could be diverted enough off center to have a little corner to hide something of himself. He implied he had been given instruction instead of just playing it as his own common sense.

“I assure you no harm will come to you,” Mycroft smiled something softer than his normal convincing sort of smile, trying less to intimidate, like a shift from being evil overlord to kindly headmaster. He could imagine him thinking clinically, A boy like John had no positive paternal influence, (as much as a mind like Mycroft’s could think clinically, made as it was from bespoke political stitching, literary scrawls of Victorian ironwork and the gleaming Swan Lake blue of mobile LCD lights), he would not respond to the sort of kind and beleaguered direction that Sherlock got from Lestrade. Not, especially, if he had been forewarned. Maybe he was giving himself too much credit.

“I’m not to get into the car with you,” John repeated, tucking his chin down. He tensed into a little brick and saw Mycroft’s face shift from a faint sideways hatred to what almost looked like a strange admiration for John’s repetition and his bull-headedness. There’s no way to reason with blind bull-headedness. No reason could fight it. John knew it and so did Mycroft, if you believed Sherlock, Mycroft knew everything.

“Why were you told not to speak to me?” he tried as a way to pry John open. Reaching cautiously for the cracks in the little clay soldier.

“I’ll talk to you at 221B,” John sidestepped.

Mycroft, still shaken by his revelation, got ahead of himself and made an unforgivable error. “With Sherlock present then?” he asked with that sweet little headmaster’s smile.

“He’d probably prefer it,” John’s eyes flipped up at Sherlock who was trying valiantly to stare Mycroft to death. He knew Mycroft would see in that moment John would have agreed to a private interview within the bounds of 221B, that he hadn’t been clever enough to think of 221B in any way but perfectly safe. But now that Sherlock had heard it would take an impossible situation to get him alone.

“Don’t try to steal this from me Mycroft. You’re not everyone’s favourite.”

“Do try to pretend to be normal Sherlock, at least around the child,” Mycroft smiled so sweetly as to cause a stomach ache before he sighed at his brother. “He’s not a toy for your amusement. He’s not to do tricks for you. He has dreams and fears and his own mind to decide what he wants to do. I think all that time living alone has proven that. Consider how you act brother dear.”

John snapped to attention, his fingertips rested in cool points against the back of Sherlock’s hand, “There’s nothing wrong with Sherlock, he’s fine.”

“I’m certainly not his favourite,” Mycroft smiled in a way that said quite clearly, not yet, and I don’t really need to be, do I? But something had shifted in his gaze, considering.

Just then Sherlock’s phone started beeping, like some sort of inanimate moderator. “Well, will you look at that?” Sherlock grinned in that manic way of his when he was pretending normalcy. “It’s time for John’s lunch. Must dash.” The hand that had been holding John’s head close shifted over to the small hand that had shifted over to rest against his fingers in support and held it in his own. John looked up at Sherlock with a disgruntled expression he could feel on his face; he didn’t want his hand held. He didn’t need his hand held. But it was clear it wasn’t for his sake. Sherlock was nervous and John could hear in the back of his mind, the most dangerous man you’ll ever meet.

He let Sherlock hold his hand.

Once they were far enough from Mycroft’s black car for Sherlock’s comfort he squeezed his long fingers tighter around John’s in an act of reassurance that he would never admit to, “If someone tries to grab you, you should scream. Mycroft won’t be willing to risk drugging you. At least I don’t think so. At least he won’t risk upsetting W.”

“Mycroft won’t,” John said.

“Don’t underestimate him. You have his full interest now.”

“I won’t, for all he worries about you he’s a Grade A creeper. Maybe because he worries about you.”

“Someone else might try to abduct you. You are substantially slower than me. What if someone else tried to take you away? Maybe I should carry you,” Sherlock said absently to himself.

John nearly jerked his hand out of Sherlock’s narrow grip, “NO!”

Sherlock blinked down at him, his face slipping into that alarmed lost expression that was always so out of place on Sherlock that John couldn’t fall into full-fledged temper. But it certainly didn’t encourage its usual compassion. The idea of being carried was such a betrayal, so unnecessary as to be invasive, offensive. John wasn’t some blundering, inept infant that needed to be carried about like he was useless. Weak little impractical body and too much of an idiot not to wander into traffic.

He wasn’t.

He wasn’t.

He wasn’t. He wasn’t. He wasn’t.

“John you’re trembling.”

“Don’t,” John said fiercely, quickly, face pointedly down to the ground. Sherlock stared down at John with an expression of helplessness, pressed at his side with his free arm, as if he had an aching, bruised failure under his ribs where he couldn’t quite get to it to rub the pain away. He gripped John’s calloused hand, helpless to avoid reading a life of military service with every flex of his fingers, what it meant hovering in foggy word cluttered clouds over John’s head. Finally John spoke, “I don’t like to be carried. I’m not a child and I don’t need to be carried. I don’t want you to-”

“I won’t,” Sherlock said gently. The gentleness was unexpected and stilled John. “Don’t be upset John.”

Initial rage calmed away, John’s fingers flexed sharply, “I don’t need you to carry me, I can take care of myself.”

“I know. You’re quite capable as a soldier.”

John was quiet, and it irritated Sherlock, John could feel the pent up impatience as if Sherlock’s fingers were violin strings. “What do you eat?”

“What do I eat?” John blinked, half surprised out of his mood.

“Do try and keep up, what sort of consumable forms of nutrition do you put in your mouth for digestion?”

John used his free hand to punch Sherlock’s hip.

“Violent!” Sherlock complained, but he was smiling smugly.

“I like tea; I can do with beans and toast. I doubt you have much else in your cupboards.”

“Aren’t you young for tea?”

John gave him a look, “I’m British.” They walked past the fence with the bins and stood before the door at Baker Street.

“Oh, look,” Sherlock said, “we’re here at 221B.”

John looked up (and up and up) at Sherlock, “Yes we are.”

Sherlock looked down at him with an expression John couldn’t parse by half before finally releasing his hand to unlock the door, “Mrs. Hudson!” Sherlock yelled out with impunity immediately upon entering. “I have a child now!”

There was a pause as Sherlock trampled up the stairs. “Sherlock!” Mrs. Hudson called after him, emerging as a startled John finally decided to ascend the stairs. “Oh, hello there dear. Let me have a look at you.”

John froze for a moment, startled at being abandoned and came back down the stairs again. There was nothing to fear from Mrs. Hudson, maybe Sherlock was hoping she would feed John for him. He settled into parade rest and tried to smile politely up at her.

“Oh, hello little man, what’s your name?” she asked pleasantly, pretty much exactly as she talked to him when he had been full grown.

“John Watson, Mrs. Hudson.”

“You are dear.” she ruffled his hair gently, clucked a few times and patted his cheek. It was hard not to duck his head bashfully at her gentle fussing. It felt like home again, that floral scent and the smell of her laundry soap, the soft easy weight of her as she looped her arm over his shoulder and she leaned her side against his. Mother soft and mother good, like sandwiches and silk. “Where did Sherlock find you?”

John flustered gently in the soft warmth of her hold, the way she was soft in the way that only women of a certain age were soft. There was a comfort in her smell, her warmth, the way she didn’t speak down to him. Women were different for him now that he was prepubescent, he had always liked women, but there was something different now, something warm. “It was for a case. Kind of.”

“You must be hungry dear, a growing boy like you. Look at how small you are!” she smiled down at him with her soft hands on his shoulders. “We’ll get you fed up in no time.”

“John! Where are-” Sherlock called from the top of the stairs before taking a few loud steps down. “Oh. Mrs. Hudson,” there was a very strange look on Sherlock’s face. He had gone all blank and still.

“I was just meeting the little man here,” she squeezed him gently and the kindness, the softness was too much. He didn’t know why and he didn’t know why and he could feel himself blush and that made him blush harder and he was pressing his face into her side and he didn’t know why. “Oh dear, what’s wrong? You’re trembling.”

“It’s alright Mrs. Hudson,” Sherlock said from above, “he’s just not used to being touched.”

Mrs. Hudson patted his head gently, letting him go. She may have been about to say something but Sherlock spoke again quickly, “Upstairs John.”

John ran up gratefully, taking the stairs two at a time, keeping his head down. He threw himself onto the sofa, stuffing his face to the crease, feeling humiliated at his own inexplicable reaction, even more embarrassed by his throwing himself onto the sofa like an angsty teenager. Like a child. He could feel Sherlock staring at him as he lay there with his face pressed to the back of the sofa. After a second of that painful should I, shouldn’t I Sherlock pulled the door behind him leaving John alone on one side and Sherlock with Mrs. Hudson’s questions on the other.

He strained his ears to hear a muffled, “That poor boy was he-”

Then the soft stumbling, low rumble of Sherlock’s voice answering her.

John closed his eyes and gritted his teeth and got up to go into the kitchen where Sherlock had fetched down a can of beans and opened it, the smell of toasting bread floating up from his abused toaster. Half the work done then. John searched until he could find a serviceable saucepan and dragged over a chair to get the beans heated up. Sherlock, finished giving John’s whole sordid made up story came into the kitchen and stared blank faced at John. It was a china plate of an expression and gave him nothing to grab purchase on.

“What’s the next step for the case?” John said; face calm trying not to give anything away.

Sherlock’s relief that they were going to be British and not discuss anything was something slightly beyond palpable. “Do you need help?”

“No, I can cook, someday I’ll make you my tortellini,” he said, stirring the beans.

“You can make tortellini?” Sherlock said.

“And chicken noodle soup, scones too, and a few other things,” John smiled slowly, and it was quick to go, but he felt more himself.

“Chicken noodle soup?”

“I thought you didn’t like repetition Sherlock,” John tilted his head winningly.

“There are moments when shock breeds necessity.”

John snorted and Sherlock smiled, “You can’t be a doctor without knowing how to make chicken noodle soup.” He climbed onto the counter on his knees to fetch down a couple plates. “I do alright with fish if it’s not too fancy,” and then he and Sherlock were talking as John put down the toast and poured on the beans. Somehow they ended up sitting on the sofa in the sitting room while John told an edited version of how he made his first batch of chicken noodle soup under the watchful eye of Mike Stamford. It had been for his girlfriend at the time. He should have stuck with something from Tesco’s but he had been trying to be romantic.

“It’s pretty basic really,” he said, shoveling in food with his fisted fork. “You’d think I could figure it out on my own. I had the chicken in front of me and I was so used to performing autopsies,” John paused, realizing what he said, but Sherlock waved him off amiably. “So when I started in on the chicken I soon realized that you can’t open the chest cavity of a piece of chicken breast. So… the person who was helping me, just laughed and chopped it up for me.”

“Why did … they laugh?” Sherlock had been giving his beans and toast a minimum of interest during the whole affair, nothing new in that.

John tilted his head, thinking, “So I wouldn’t feel bad about it I guess. They weren’t really laughing at me, I had just done something funny. Funny peculiar, not funny ‘haha’,” he clarified. Sherlock had always had a little trouble connecting to the feelings of most people; he tried to think of a way to explain. “It’s just a way to show that he wasn’t upset with my mistake, or disappointed or whatever. I didn’t really need help with anything else of course; I’m fairly good with a knife.”

“I would imagine,” Sherlock said. “Are you finished?”

John looked down at his plate; he had managed to sop up the sauce so the plate glistened with a pseudo-cleanliness. “I guess.”

“Good, we’ll go then,” he stood from the table, leaving half his lunch behind.

“What? Go where?”

“To the docks, we have a case to finish.”

Elsie. Almost done with Scott. Eyes out for tall git and tiny doctor. If not out of Matos’ by eleven call cops. Bedtime is bedtime. – Davey

Chapter Text

John followed Sherlock down the stairs, trying not to step on the hem of his coat. “So,” he tried, as Sherlock held the door open for him, “what’s the plan?”

“We need to find Ms. Cushing’s missing sister.”

“Ms. Cushing’s sister is missing?”

“Yes, but not the one you’re thinking of.”

“I didn’t think Ms. Cushing had any missing sisters at all.”

Sherlock raised his eyebrows at him, “Really?”

“No,” John stuffed his hands in his pockets.

“Pay attention next time,” his head turned toward the street, his eyes scanning the street like some hunter, his hand hovering at his side, waiting, waiting, until it was up like a shot and a taxi dropped out of traffic right at their feet. John wondered if Sherlock did experiments on the perfect timing for calling a cab. It was the sort of thing that Sherlock would do. “I’m going to start periodically expecting you to make observations about people we meet. You are new at training yourself in this way and there is the matter of time, so only two observations necessary,” Sherlock said shepherding him through the open car door before folding himself in neatly behind. He bent peering out the window.

“I-” they had talked about John saying he couldn’t do things. And John could, he’d have to think about, have to stare at everyone most likely, but he could do it. “Fine.”

Sherlock, who had started to get that stroppy pinched look about his face, nodded once and told the cabbie the address while he held up his mobile for John to see the webpage of M T & S Shipping Company. “It’s a cover operation of course. They’ve been covering the smuggling part of their operation by this fictitious company, they’re likely using false bottoms in their crates. Once we do a little examination we’ll be able to find the murder weapon and-”

“For the murder of Ms. Cushing’s missing sister?”

“Who else? You really haven’t been paying any attention at all.”

“Wait,” John said. “If Ms. Cushing’s missing sister has been murdered are we looking for Ms. Cushing’s missing sister or her murdered one?”

“It can,” Sherlock said superiorly, “be both. And as the quality which most marks her is her missingness that is the way we shall identify her.”

“If you insist.”

Sherlock gave him a withering look that he took with exactly a grain of salt, smiling beatifically up at Sherlock in reply. There was a short period of radio silence in which Sherlock stared stroppily out the window and John absently checked the rooftops for snipers until Sherlock got bored of that and turned back to John again.

“Tell me what you remember of this morning, what are my deductions based on?”

“What?” John turned and blinked at him.

“Don’t be slow. What observations were my deductions based on?” His fingertips came together again like he was praying. Saint of deduction, Sherlock would hate that. Too sentimental. He wasn’t going to take a dodge with this one, he was staring John down, picking him apart with his eyes.

John took a few deep slow breathes.

“Imagine the room John. What was I observing?”

John closed his eyes, he imagined the morning, Sherlock holding onto his feet. Later than that, there was a case and John wanted to go, but that was early, he needed to go later. He walked into the parlour. “There’s a plasma TV, it’s new and nice, and everything is brown, but nice brown, friendly not boring-”

“Sentiment John.”

John opened one eye at him pointedly.

“And you were looking at the sofa I think-”

“Armchair John.”

“We’ve just about-” the cabbie started on the other side of John’s closed eyes and the glass partition.

“Shut up,” Sherlock snapped at him. And then, “No, no, I said shut up.”

John thought of telling Sherlock not to snap so coldly, not to be so alienating. That he couldn’t afford that, he was too strange and too glorious in his own way. It made people feel too awkward and too exposed, people want to pretend they’re safe in their own skin. Even he minded and Sherlock was his best friend. He had to accept it though, sometimes, because that was just Sherlock. And John was John and Sherlock had accepted that about him before and he could again, but he needed to observe. He pressed his fists to his thighs, “And there’s a laptop that’s really bright so it’s not for work. Otherwise it would be black or gray. Nice things for her house, new for her age. So she knows a lot about new technology. She’s very British, she was dealing with her stress with tea and taciturn. You looked at the coffee table, there were books there. Old ones, not like really old, just read a lot. She has herself in them. And then you looked at the fireplace mantle, the pictures there. That must be where you got the sisters from. The pictures on the mantle,” John opened his eyes and looked at Sherlock.

After a long pause Sherlock finally said, “That’s it?”

John gave him an annoyed look, “Yes that’s all.”

“Am I allowed to talk now?” the cabbie said, they looked at him, an Asian with thick glossy hair and the tiptoes of a Northern accent chasing the tail ends of his sentences.

“Yes, fine if you must,” Sherlock waved at him loftily.

John rolled his eyes.

“Manners are boring,” Sherlock huffed at him and flustered out of the cab. He had apparently deduced, their being parked for a while and the warehouses out the window were a sign that they had reached the docks and the fenced in complex of warehouses they were going to search, they had arrived. And this meant he got to dart from the car at his convenience and start down the pavement.

“Oi!” the cabbie shouted.

“Just a mo,” John said and darted out, running up to Sherlock’s side and digging into his pocket for his wallet.

“Hurry up then,” Sherlock said impatiently, fiddling with his scarf while John paid the cab and returned to stuff Sherlock’s wallet back into his pocket.

“It’s possible I’m enabling your bad manners.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he said loftily, watching the cab pull away out of the corner of his eye and John with the other as he neatly tugged his gloves on tight. “I was much worse before. I’m trying to set a good example as the adult.” He tried to keep his face straight but ended up, twitching his lips up at the edges. A pleased little snort-laugh snuck out of John and Sherlock grinned at him. It wasn’t quite giggling at crime scenes, but it made John happy. Happy to have been discovered, and happy to be back with Sherlock; it was like normal but shorter.

“So what do we do now?” John grinned up at him.

“We find the maintenance gate and pick the lock.”

“Won’t we be caught on camera?”

His smile turned predatory, “That’s the gate they bring the customers for their illegal cargo, the last thing they want is a camera. And if there is it likely won’t be a live feed, too much of a chance.”

“What if you can’t pick the lock?” John said, smiling sideways.

“I can pick the lock,” Sherlock puffed up until he realised John was teasing him; John needed that, the moment when the two of them connected. He deflated in a burst of confusion at being teased before his face smoothed out in the way people had when they weren’t quite sure if they were being laughed at or with. He spoke cautiously, although he sounded like he was considering it, “You could probably fit through the bars of the fence.”

“I’d like to keep my ears on thanks.”

“There!” Sherlock pointed up ahead, speeding up and taking long quick steps and looking neatly both ways before kneeling at the padlock. Moving to Sherlock’s side, John turned so his back was to the gate, looking up and down the side street. An easy back to back that they had practiced a million times before, well they hadn’t, but they had used to when John was himself.

“Done,” he tapped John once on the shoulder and held the gate open for him as they slipped through. “Look for a building that’s had some use recently. The Matos are on edge, have you seen the debris on the gate? There’s been very little use of it.”

“Fine,” John said back quickly. “Let’s not just stand here.”

They ran through the concrete spaces, wide enough for a lory and a little space for people on their feet. The warehouses, somewhere between four and six on the small side of medium, looked newer. They were in good repair and had that busyness about them that John associated with people who spent a lot of time waiting for things to happen, a bucket of sand for smokers in the corner, a leaning trolley, a hose in a pile. He wondered what Sherlock saw, if he would see a million little details of things that John could not begin to observe. John went triple time to keep up with Sherlock moving quickly past the warehouses. “There! The only building that’s had anyone in or out today or yesterday. The rest of the roads are as smooth as if they’ve been swept.” He pointed, posing like an action hero. Once John was close he pointed at the details of the door. That it was dry, not wet from the rain and fog like the others, the tire tracks, mud (he muttered he could use a sample but that was extraneous right now. Sherlock was the only person he knew, except perhaps for Mycroft, who would use the word extraneous when muttering) the way the case around the button that controlled the door was still up.

“Brilliant,” John breathed.

“You know you say that out loud.” It wasn’t quite a question, that statement, but it dipped it teased its toes at the edge of the pool of curiosity.

“Sorry,” John said automatically before familiarity stopped him, “I’ll-”

“No,” Sherlock said, on some universal script, “it’s… fine.” And John was so grateful, so incredibly grateful he pressed his lips together tight and really looked at Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective (World’s Only). He thought for a moment that there might be some universal script, like a line with a few knots he could catch himself from falling. That there might be a thousand different worlds but in all of them John Watson might get a chance to meet Sherlock Holmes and get to be asked, do you know you do that out loud?.

He shook himself, like a puppy that had just stumbled out of the bath, unaware of the transformations, like the shift of the sun through a canopy, which crossed his face. A series of expressions which would have set the ecclesiastical artists of the past clamouring to paint a flurry of tow headed angels rapturously pained at the sins of the world or some other deep religious agony. John was only aware of the sudden pinched perplexity in Sherlock’s face, as if John had suddenly become the embodiment of everything he didn’t understand (or as John thought, never quite had a chance to learn how to understand) about all the puny, creeping humans in the world.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Sherlock said quickly, spinning on his heel. “Nothing. This way, hurry up.”

Well, there was one thing for certain; John was going to grow up again quick on his feet.

Once they had found and entered the side door ( “There, child’s play John.” “Don’t be a prat Sherlock.” ) they stopped and stared at the rows of shipping containers.

“Oh,” Sherlock said against a wall of stacked corrugated metal. “Dull.”

After using the highly scientific methods, of Looking Around and Finding the Front Door Again Sherlock pointed at the muddy tire tracks. There was nothing much by the front door other that a control panel, a desk with an office chair and a work top with a smattering of industrial twine and delineating stacks of wrenches, hammers and electrical tape. And a calendar with a baby corgi in a cunning cap, but John had decided to accept that and move on. “He stopped here, well likely, statistically. He dragged them from the car, but to where.”

Whipping his head around, John blinked at Sherlock, “Them?”

“Of course.”

“You could have said.”

“I will not reward your inattention. You would have known if you had been listening,” he said, examining the tire track, crouched down with his magnifying glass.

John suddenly did feel like a bit of an idiot, “Two ears, of course. I found where he tried to cut the ears off, the bodies must have been fresh.”

That had Sherlock up in a shot and over to the work table, examining the stain at the side. While Sherlock muttered and inexplicable took a snip of the twine and slipped it into an evidence bag John turned to keep look out again. “Shouldn’t we be quieter?”

“No one’s here John,” Sherlock said. “You heard what Bad Davey said. Too dangerous for them now, and they’ll be trying to find out who murdered a member of their gang.” He made a frustrated noise, “It would be impossible to cut the ear off a body here, he couldn’t hold the weight up and cut at the same time, he must have stashed the body in one of the containers and worked there.”

John let out a sigh.

“Don’t worry John, it’s not half one yet.”

It was some time much past half one when John looked up from where he was examining a crate and stared pointedly at the back of Sherlock’s dark head. “Sherlock, usually when people say it’s been hours they mean it figuratively, but it has literally been hours of looking at these things. I don’t know what I’m even looking at anymore. It’s like apple picking!”

“Apple picking?”

“It’s to do with a poem,” John called over. “How do I know I won’t miss something entirely and all this time will have been wasted?”

“Because I’ve just found it,” Sherlock crouched over the lock, of a container, balancing his packet of lock picks on one knee before selecting a couple. John was far enough away, watching Sherlock work with mild irritation, that he was able to see the shadow thrown across the side of the crate like something from a Bond film. It was the basic garden variety thug, a man with enough height and width to have faith in his own physical ability, but not strong enough to whip himself into a higher position.

The thug had a leather jacket he probably thought made him look cool and a lead pipe that John didn’t approve of. If a murderously convincing cabbie didn’t get dibs on the detective’s life a low time thug wouldn’t either. “Sherlock!” John hissed.

Sherlock, busy picking the lock, was surprised and only had time enough to throw himself against the floor, his arms going out to brace himself as he pressed against the shipping crate, his legs flying out from under him. The pipe struck the crate a glancing blow, thrumming and rasping against the metal. Sherlock was at all the wrong angles, body twisted so he was lying half way between his side and back his limbs bent and stretched out at awkward angles so his center of gravity was too far away to do him any good.

John ran as the thug recovered enough to bring his arm back to take a second swing and Sherlock scrambled. He watched the thug and Sherlock gritting his teeth and struggling to get his legs under him. He drew back his arm, watching how far back his extension went – too far and he’d lose his momentum. With a huff he discharged his small fist into the bend of the thug’s knee, the move was technically behind the back, but as Sherlock’s life was possibly at stake and John wasn’t yet four feet he forgave himself. Everything moved rather quickly at that point. He’d had a chance to haul out his gun from under layers of clothing, one trainer toe sliding forward in a hushed half inch on the concrete and slammed the butt against the man’s knee cap.

He went down with a startled gasped off yawp his arms flying upward, his mouth open in a wide circle of soundlessly resonating breath. It was a little like the sound, John thought, a wind tunnel might make. He raised the butt of his gun to knock the man out when Sherlock swung a brick house of a punch into the man’s jaw and knocked him out and over, cold on the floor.

“You okay?” John panted, not really winded, but pulled and stretched the way that he was when he had adrenaline in his system.

“Fine,” Sherlock said, shaking out his knuckles, “that was an unfortunate turn of events.”

“I thought you said there was no one here.”

“Stevey?” someone shouted down the aisle of crates. “Was that you? What’s going on?”

Sherlock burst to his feet, grabbing John’s hand in a grip that swallowed him to the wrist, “Quickly John, I saw an unlocked crate a few aisles back, we need to get inside.”

 

Liberation of goods interrupted, Matos have returned. Git not located. –Elsie

Don’t worry love, I’ve got them. – BD

Chapter Text

Sherlock dragged John to the unlocked crate, mouth pressed into a thin line. John turned his shoulder against Sherlock’s hip, guarding his back with his gun lifted up at his shoulder height. His fingers didn’t fit as tight and sure around the grip as they used to, but it was sure enough to keep them safe. There was a soft snick of the metal post at the door, Sherlock’s soft curse at the noise it made and the crate door was open. John was batted inside the crate with Sherlock in behind him, and there was another snick and a scramble in the total darkness to snick the inner latch closed behind them.

It was very, very, very dark. It made John let out a little gasp. There was the hushed sound of leather gloves against metal and expensive shoes sliding carefully against metal and then fingers like antennae across John’s shoulders as he put away his gun behind his layers. The sort of dark that made you think you weren’t alone. He had a panic stricken moment when he thought something was in there with them, but he knew it was just his mind playing tricks on him.

On the other side of the door, muffled so that no consonant or vowel, or any combination, could possibly be distinguished was the high aggressive notes of people speaking and yelling. They were searching for Sherlock and John, not knowing of course it was them – Sherlock and John, and there was an immediate hindbrain panic. He needed to be able to see, to hear, to know what was going on. He held a breath like he had been taught when he was in Afghanistan, when he couldn’t move him arm from pain and he felt so frantically, maddeningly helpless and hissed all his anxiety out through his teeth.

“Did they put you in the dark?” Sherlock whispered, his voice as low as ether in the blackness. When John knew he had deduced there was fear here and thought it was because of the dark, because children were afraid of the dark. But children weren’t really afraid of the dark, John thought, not as it stood. Their subconscious, or hindbrain, or universal mind was reminding them they were small and helpless and there were predators out there, something primal and blurred red-black-brown with teeth and cunning and weren’t mummy and daddy too far away? He had a fear like that, the soldiers fear that he might never get home, and if he did everything had changed. Someone had moved the cinnamon from where it was before and his favourite waiter had two kids now and moved to Manchester and his filthy rich sister, who struggled with interpersonal relationships and alcoholism changed the wallpaper in the guest room which was nothing really, nothing, nothing, nothing, but it almost gave him a panic attack.

Yes, they put him in the dark.

But that wasn’t the problem.

“What time is it?” John asked.

“About five,” Sherlock said back, low and soft. “Lestrade will be eating one of his awful curries for dinner and starting his paper work. It’s the best time to harass him for cold cases. He just wants me to shut up and go away.”

“I’m fine,” John said.

“Are you fine in the way you want me to shut up about it or fine in the way that you are fine?” there was a small sliding river of silence. John could see it in his head, dark and picturesque in the darkness. The Americans called each other good brother sometimes.

Are you good, Good Brother?

There was something old about it that John couldn’t recognize, like stories his Scottish grandfather had told him. This is Brother, Good Brother, and Good Good Brother. The third is the goodest of them all.

“The second one, where I’m really fine. Don’t be scared Sherlock,” he whispered. “I’m not about to have a meltdown. I’m just coming down from the fight.” And that he couldn’t quite shake the feeling he was being observed.

The fingers shifted around him, “Let’s find the wall and sit down. We may have to wait a while.”

They sat together in the dark of the shipping container, listening to the sounds of muffled bursts running about and shouting. They couldn’t hear anything but the bursts of sound, so for a long while in the beginning they sat on edge waiting for the Matos to go away, like children thinking of cheating at hide and seek. Are they there, are they there, are they there? Eventually they relaxed and just leaned against the metal. It was getting cold, and it was very dark. John tucked his knees up against his chest; he was getting it under his skin now, the cold. He couldn’t judge anymore how long he could sit in the cold before he started getting into trouble. It would be a while, but not as long as it would be if he had more body mass.

“This,” Sherlock said softly, but no longer bothering to outright whisper, he still managed to make it light and fleeting as a feather, “is exceptionally dull.”

“Being murdered by fifty people at once will be too much, even for you,” John whispered back.

“You sound odd,” Sherlock’s voice was rabbit soft in dark, whisper light. There was an edge to this, an out of body experience feel, being so small in the dark with a disembodied voice.

“I’m fine.”

There was the faint sound of movement, the sound of heavy material shifting then long fingers coming closer. They rested in gentle points on his shoulder, skittering across the thin fabric of his coat, sliding for a second on the patch to the end of his sleeve, the hairsbreadth of jumper cuff and the bit of wrist before John’s hands, clamped between his thighs.

“Where are your gloves? You’ll freeze,” John said tightly.

“I don’t suppose the insanity of what you said has occurred to you.”

“I’m fine.”

Sherlock huffed a little as if to say John was an idiot, one of many and why did Sherlock have to be thusly burdened. It was such a familiar little sound it made John grin and then, because that wasn’t enough, that made him huff out a little laugh of his own.

“You are a doctor John; you know enough about the risks of the cold, and your body mass is much smaller than mine. And you don’t have a proper coat.”

The last was said softer, more subdued. John turned his face toward that deep voice in the dark, trying to decipher the meaning of that tone, and struck his chin against the side of Sherlock’s jaw. They both startled black in the dark, blind as cave newts, and blinked as if that would help. There was a second hand on John’s shoulder and the hush of Sherlock’s hand against the leather patch there and then leather clad fingerprints spanning his shoulder to the side of his neck. John wondered if clothes have always been like this, if they have always made the sound of breathing as they shuffled against him and against everything else. If only they had a light. He’d use his mobile, but that was a card he still wanted to hold to his chest.

“Sherlock,” he began, it was a priming sort of ’Sherlock’ for the purpose of getting Sherlock’s attention, getting him to listen before even trying to get him to listen.

“I’ve already thought about that,” Sherlock said, his deductive powers now, apparently, no longer needing even sight anymore.

“Wha… How?”

“Obvious John. First you turned your head toward me, second you bumped into me, third you’ve turned your body toward me. You desire to see me but have no torch, so a phone, next, logically you’ll think of my mobile. If I were able to use it I already would have, being trapped in the dark, in a cold metal crate is not how I prefer to use my time. I would have called Lestrade at the very least. As useless as he is; he is excellent at bringing in the cavalry. But when I fell over I hit the side of the crate and the battery disengaged, I don’t know where it is.”

“He worries,” John said simply and quietly. “And that was amazing.”

They ignored a shouting in the distance. A sudden burst of bullets.

That does not bode well at all.

“Oh really?”

“You know it was. Too bad about the battery though. Don’t be so hard on sentiment, he doesn’t just help you because he enjoys your company, or rather he does.”

“Come under my coat, you’ll be less likely to freeze to death.”

After a quite mental debate, an irritated noise and a shiver John let himself get tucked in close into a warm, warm cave made by the thick fabric of Sherlock coat and the heat of his body.

There were a few irritated shufflings until John finally, obediently tucked his head under Sherlock’s arm. He didn’t like being held in tight like this. Like a child. But it was very cold and very dark in the crate. If he were bigger, his real size, he wouldn’t mind it, he would probably be the one reaching over first to be sure Sherlock was warm.

“Lestrade was on scene when you ODed, wasn’t he?”

That had the effect of making Sherlock go stiff like John had jabbed him with a life wire.

“Did W tell you that? That I ODed?” he hissed.

“No, I figured it out myself. Obvious. Do you honestly not see what you do after you put on a patch? Same place, you always put the first one as close to the bend of your elbow as you think you can without being obvious and you hold and fold your elbow up. I’m a doctor, I can’t count the number of times I’ve drawn blood, I know the move. The gasp of an addict. And the drugs busts were a hint too. Although if I had met you without seeing it I can promise you I would assume no one would be able to find anything beyond the strictly recreational.”

Sherlock was quiet for a while, still tense.

“It’s fine. It’s not like you do it anymore.” In reply to the definite tone of Sherlock’s silence John said, “I’m better with people than things.”

John closed his eyes, it seemed better to be in the dark that way. He had started to lose a concept of time and space, other than the hot line of Sherlock side in layers of Dolce and the hot line of his arm over and around John’s shoulder. He couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, or the white of Sherlock’s shirt (which was downright blinding in direct sunlight, he had set several Yarders to wincing once, although that may have been overplayed) with his cheek practically up against it. Against the fog of silence in the shipping crate there was the sound of gunfire outside. John remembered the size of the warehouses in his mind and the cement and how even though England wasn’t that big and London wasn’t that big and a complex of dockside warehouses wasn’t that big, but no one was coming apparently. No one heard and was coming. He dozed for a while, he wasn’t sure how long, long enough for Sherlock to get bored and accidentally on purpose nudge him. He knew Sherlock remembered why John had fallen into a doze as soon as John stared awake a little and felt a little bad for it, so he felt no need to say anything.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock said, not an apology for jabbing John with his elbow, but tightening his arm which was the apology for the jabbing. “After some thought it may not have been wise to have brought you with me.”

“I said I was fine.”

“It’s too dangerous.”

“I’m not a child,” John curled tighter under Sherlock’s coat.

“You’re eight.”

“I’m capable.”

“You’re small and light. You’re strong for a child and quick; you also have the benefit of being a slight and unexpected target. And you do have advanced military training which gives you more skill than many of the men you’ll face. At least most of the men out there. You have the element of surprise; you’re a sudden and unexpected threat. But that doesn’t make you bigger, or stronger. Anyone, anyone could capture you again, could kill you, do anything to you.”

“Did you not see me save you just now? You may not have noticed me stopping a man from killing you.”

“What if there were two, or three, or even four?”

“This is the third time I’ve saved your life,” John said sharply. “If there were four I would have fought four. Or if I was in trouble you call for you to help me, which I couldn’t do if you sent me away.”

Sherlock jerked, “I never said anything about sending you away. Did someone say something about you leaving?”

“I don’t want to leave,” John said softly. “I want to stay with you and solve crimes and make sure you remember to eat sometimes. You need a flat mate; you said you needed a flat mate.”

Sherlock’s arms tightened around John, he would have shrugged him off, but he needed Sherlock to cling to him like John was his favourite teddy bear. “John, I- Pointless sentiment will only distract you, if you are to learn anything from me, learn that. It will only distract you from making correct deductions; you must learn to be at the top of your abilities. I am not sending you away and have no desire to do so. Remove the thought from your mind, it will only distract you from more important matters.”

John let out a pleased little breath. “Alright I will.”

A little light went on in the darkness, it was blinding at first, like a shot of pure white shooting up at an odd angle. Once John’s eyes adjusted he saw it was the screen of some sort of mp3 player held at an angle by someone with an exceptionally expensive dress shirt. He would have thought Mycroft but the arm was too hungrily angular.

“As sweet as this is,” Bad Davey said. “I’m bored of listening to the Beatles, some people can listen all day long, but they’re not my style.”

“What,” said Sherlock.

“I can,” Bad Davey said, shifting the screen light so it lit up his face, the edges of the red in his hair, the hint of freckling under one eye and against his nose. He looked both completely conversational and completely pleased with himself. “Recognize their skill as a songwriting unit and as performers, but I’m more a White Stripes sort of bloke. Hey there,” he said to John, climbing off of what was apparently a stool, set in a shipping crate. This was a little beyond John’s grasp, he wasn’t quite sure he wasn’t hallucinating. “Let him loose Lanky I want to see him.”

Sherlock growled at Bad Davey before he seemed to remember himself.

“Come see me Johnny,” Bad Davey nodded at him.

John looked up at Sherlock who was scowling at Bad Davey, “I think I should stay with Sherlock right now.”

“Come see me.”

“You were being a bit of a creeper sitting in the dark like that,” John said firmly.

“You’re going to live with him them? You’re going to sleep in his house?”

“Yes Davey.”

“What am I going to do with that fool child?” Bad Davey was up and pacing angrily, cursing decoratively and slapping his hand against his thigh. He was always worrying after Roost, Davey was. “What do you expect me to do with that horrid little idiot?”

“I don’t know.”

“I’m not going to mind him, I’m not his minder.” That was a lie.

“There’s always school. And I will come visit him. It’s only been a day.”

“You’re living him with him now,” Bad Davey asked again, gentler this time.

“Yeah.”

“Fine, fine, whatever. You’re still on call to me,” he looked at John pointedly, his screen light weakly illuminating them.

“Yeah I am.”

“Good then,” he looked away, face rapidly swallowed by shadow. “You too should get ready to go then. Get out of this crate at least. Hide the kid.”

Sherlock stood and started to step in close to Bad Davey.

“Oh you’re clever aren’t you? But you stepped into my territory and started to meddle in my things so do not for a second think you can step up and threaten me. You don’t get to do that.”

“I’ve met dangerous men,” Sherlock bite off each word. “You just aren’t frightening.”

“You don’t get to play with kids like that,” Bad Davey stood up full height, wrist twisted to light their faces. “Johnny isn’t a toy.”

“I don’t play.” They stood nearly nose to nose, almost an inch to each other. Narrow eyed, trying to stare each other down before having to hook horns.

“I will give you ten pounds of coke to drop him.”

There was a deep gash of silence in the shipping crate and John stared at the two of them horrified and wide eyed. The air trembled in horror, the suddenness of the wound stealing his words.

“Of money?”

“Of weight,” Bad Davey snapped back.

“And why would you want to just hand over that much product?”

“It would,” Bad Davey took a step closer, his eyes gone low, “make your life so much… easier.”

“I. Am. Clean,” Sherlock said fiercely. “John is mine. You can borrow him when I don’t need him. He was given to me. You could cut me his weight in cocaine and I wouldn’t touch it.”

“That’s a lie. I know the trade. The longing, the creep in your skin, the electricity in your brain, the way it makes you sharp and hot and quiet all at once,” he leaned close like he was either going to breathe on Sherlock’s cheek or whisper in his ear. “Doesn’t your brain go so fast all the time? Ripping through everything and everyone in seconds, doesn’t it just want you want to peel your skin right off? No one understands, do they, what it’s like to have your brain go four hundred and your body only half that. Can make you want to crack your skull open to let it all out. And all this stress, all these expectations all at once, you just need a chance to lay it all out straight so you can focus, like lines on a mirror.”

He tilted his head slightly, still talking, still breathing his poison into Sherlock’s ear, “Everyone wanting you to feel their petty little feelings, fit into their boxes and wear their pretty little labels. But I can see you. In the dark. I can see you bright and sparkling as laboratory equipment. It’s better to step away from their grabby hands then. Easy to understand then. Just the little push to take the edge off. It’s enough to make one… hungry,” he sighed. And paused. “Are you hungry Sherlock Holmes? Clever Sherlock Holmes. One of the greatest minds of our generation…” Bad Davey’s voice was tenuous as a thread, his eyes in shadow, most of his face blocked off by the darkness in the crate. Only the bottoms of his cheeks and his mouth were really visible, dropping into a soft little frown. As if he had gone a little dead.

Sherlock was trembling slightly, ramrod straight. He was like a live wire. John wished more than almost anything that he could see Sherlock’s face.

That he could talk.

“I,” Sherlock swallowed with a full body jerk. He sounded very nearly anguished. “Am. Clean.”

“Good, I wouldn’t have given it to you anyway. Did a little research. You fell in with a posh and irritating lot, poor taste that, but you were young. Can be forgiven. Put an order out to be informed of who sells to you. You’d have to go to Cumbria,” Bad Davey snorted and waltzed a few steps away before Sherlock drew back once arm and struck Bad Davey hard across the face. If he had been a lesser hand Sherlock would have struck him to the ground.

“Don’t ever speak to me like that in front of John again. It’s not your business what I did, or what I do now or what I will do. My relationship with John is none of your business at all.”

“That’s why he likes you then,” Bad Davey sounded equal parts bemused and irritated, grinning in the darkness as if to say you seem to believe it is none of my business, but on that point you are mistaken. He touched the place on his face with his pale fingers with a gentle appreciation. His mouth was bright and full of teeth. “All things must be equalized. I’ll get back for that.”

“Are you done?” Sherlock said.

“Yeah,” the light went against the door and Davey clanked the latch and threw the door open. Blinding them. “Your Yard friends will be here soon. Actually here at this crate I should say, they’re already here in the building. Come see me Johnny? Before I go?”

“We’re not speaking for a while Davey, bit not good,” John stared blearily at the point in which he hoped Davey was standing. “Bit not good.”

“I could let him wander around with you without giving him a good look over in a warehouse Babe. That’s just what family does. We’ll be good again later.”

He waltzed away, swinging his ear buds round in a circle a few times.

“Bad Davey is probably the sharpest man you’ll ever meet,” John said quickly to Sherlock. He had a feeling saying, I know you would never would only set off a gigantic row. “He’ll cut at you wherever he can, he wants you to think he can get in your brain, that he knows how you think. Just shake him off.”

“John,” Sherlock spun on his heel to look down at him. “Do not make the mistake of thinking that I am limited by petty, distracting emotional upheavals. I am a sociopath. Bad Davey was right in that we should leave here, and that you should probably stay out of sight.”

“I can hitch a ride with one of the transports and meet you back at the Yard,” John shrugged. He was still a little shaken by Davey’s voice. By Sherlock’s. He could give some space.

“Do that,” Sherlock turned and waltzed toward the sound of commotion and what was clearly people yelling their rights at other people and other people yelling back curses.

John nodded his head resolutely a couple times to himself and went to find a ride he could sneak onto.

Probably noticed. Call came in to check out warehouse. Involved in Sherlock’s case. – Lestrade

I’m aware, but thank you for your expediency. Let me know if assistance needed. – MH

Chapter Text

John rode over in a curiously empty evidence van considering the crime scene was a warehouse. He held onto a couple of packing straps and had flashbacks of riding in a Humvee. He arrived at the back and was able to avoid detection until he stumbled in the wrong door and landed into a tidy little beige office space he had never seen before. But he didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes though to catch the implication of the four stabled cleaning carts against one wall and the toolboxes on two of the four small desks that closer resembled worktables that this was janitorial. There were two men, one older, sandy hair thinning with big round glasses and a set of coveralls (another hit in case he missed the others) making impatient noises at another man.

The second man waved his arms expressively, taking up the whole room, “Westmorland says he understands what it’s like, he’s taking my late shift so I can go be home with Annie.” He looked young, kind of chubby the way some people always did and the sleeves of his coveralls were tied lopsided around his waist as if he burst out of them. He made another expressive gesture as if he were the conductor of some invisible orchestra. “He said he talked to you about-”

“Hey!” the older man said before John could pull out. “Kid. This is a restricted area, what are you doing back here?”

John wasn’t sure they would know who Sherlock was, or if they did that he’d want them to know he was associated. People in charge of cleaning things up tended to have strong feelings for Sherlock Holmes. “I’m looking for someone, I got turned around.”

“Come on Boss, you know he’s right good at it, he’s like a cleaning machine, like one of those OCD people,” the young man said, he was making motions John supposed were supposed to be like a cleaning machine. “It’s not like anyone will care, or notice. Cleaning people are invisible people.”

“You,” the older man pointed to the other janitor, “quit whinging and go on home to your stupid baby. You,” he pointed at John, scowling, “get out of here New Scotland Yard is not a playground.”

“Yes sir,” John said quickly, spooked enough to keep his head down and run toward the sound of the bullpen. He made it in time to see Sherlock’s face pull nervously for a moment before his eyes caught on John’s short frame and his face went smooth and smug again. He must be about to do his big reveal.

John jogged in between the sergeants and constables in time to hear Lestrade say, “And some of this doesn’t make sense, there were a tonne of guns, but the Matos don’t trade in weapons, they fence and smuggle. It’s the Darwins who deal with weapons, although if they were elbowing in on the Darwins’ market that would explain why they were so jumpy. There is very little real cargo. The only explanation was they knew we were coming.”

“Impossible,” Sherlock said quickly, “there hadn’t been enough vehicle activity. They would have moved the guns if they thought the Darwins were coming. And if they knew the Yard was going to burst in like that why not move the all the illegal goods?”

“What happened?” John asked eagerly at Sherlock’s side.

“John?” Lestrade stopped and stared at him, on the other side of Sherlock’s coat. “What are you doing here?”

“Nothing to be alarmed about, I assure you Inspector,” Sherlock cut in with an imperious wave of his hand.

“What happened?” John repeated when Sherlock didn’t seem in a hurry to answer him.

“When the Yard completed their raid they captured the leaders of the Matos gang and confiscated a great deal less than the expected illegal goods. Apparently a great many of the shipping crates were completely empty. But that makes no sense, if they knew there was going to be a raid why leave some of the most incriminating evidence? And why would the leaders be there and not somewhere where they would be safe and undetected?”

“Maybe they wanted to make sure whatever had been left behind got wherever it was supposed to go safely. Like they didn’t trust anyone else with it?” John offered.

“That makes sense,” Lestrade said, leading them to his office.

“That makes no sense,” Sherlock snapped back, face pulled into a familiar twist of contempt that only had John rolling his eyes. “Some of the recovered goods seem to belong to a rival gang and many of the gangs leaders were neatly collected for easy capture. They weren’t acting like they knew the Yard, or anyone was coming at all,” he went still, eyes wide and moving back and forth as though reading from the page of an invisible book. “Someone knew the Yard was coming. Only-” Sherlock’s eyes went wide, the way he did when all the pieces came together, his mouth forming a lopsided O. “‘Already here in the building.’ Of course, stupid. And clever. In a very simple children’s mystery sort of way,” Sherlock said dismissively, but there was an undercurrent of admiration.

“What?” Lestrade’s ears seemed to perk up, he curled back on his heel, his eyebrows raising, as he led them toward his office.

“Nothing,” Sherlock said flatly in a tone that John had some to recognize as up to something.

“Sherlock, what?” Lestrade pressed.

“Oh, who’s to say why idiots do the things that they do?” he replied airily, stepping through the door Lestrade held open for them. “The important thing is the case. You found the two bodies?”

“Ms. Cushing’s missing sister?” John asked.

“And the other one. Whoever he was,” Sherlock waved him away with disinterest.

“Yes, dusted for prints though, nothing to find. Everyone there wears gloves for safety.”

“You’ve worked it out though, the murder?” John asked excitedly.

“Oh, this morning,” Sherlock waved that off again, but not so imperiously, something had bothered him a little, and he hadn’t quite shaken it off yet. “It was obvious.”

After a short pause John rolled his eyes again and said shortly, “Well then, why don’t you share with the rest of the class?”

Sherlock’s sigh was truly legendary, “Ms. Cushing has twin sisters; or rather she had, completely identical. They had the same haircut, wore similar clothes, maintained similar bodyweights. One died last year of lung cancer. The other has very recently been murdered. Unlike their sister, who decided to work for Queen and Country, they discovered how to use their similarity to their advantage working with smugglers. They continued this way for years until the chronic smoking of one of the sisters caused her to become ill and they retired. They thought it best considering their associations, and that there had been so much reorganization they decided to keep their sudden weakness secret,” Sherlock leaned back on his heels smirking.

“One sister however had developed some association with a member of the Matos, likely romantic but I won’t know without looking at the body,” Sherlock stared pointedly at Lestrade.

“It’s likely,” John piped in to avoid the minor row Sherlock appeared to be preparing himself for, “statistically speaking. There’s less pressure to behave and there’s the removal of the possibility of accidentally getting pregnant, lots of older people pull more, um, vigorously than they did in their younger years.”

Sherlock and Lestrade stared down at him with a shock that set John to shuffling back a step.

“It really is like there are two of you,” Lestrade whistled. John didn’t like them looming over him, staring at him, like he hadn’t any sense.

“I read an article on STIs in people over the age of 60 just the other day,” John said uncomfortably. He looked up at them, craning his neck tensely and wished he hadn’t said anything.

“Was it in one of the journals you brought over?” Sherlock stepped in before John could stumble along any more.

“Yeah,” he stood a little steadier on his feet.

“I’ll have to look it over,” Sherlock sniffed, “You see, this is what you lack Lestrade, an inquiring mind. This why John is invaluable to my investigations. Her romantic interest in a member of the Matos gang mistaken for commercial negotiations a member of the first killed her and the man assumed to be her informant. Their ears were then delivered to Ms. Cushing, whom the killer assumed was the other, now deceased twin, likely as a threat to keep silent. Case solved. We will be going home now. The increased information processing in John’s age group requires a greater amount of REM sleep.”

The door to Lestrade’s office swung open as Donovan poked her head in. John used to like Donovan; he understood a little what it was like to be a competent professional told how to do your job. She was capable, she had trained and now she was being insulted by a posh git with too much sense of his own importance. But he had also held back because Donovan seemed stubbornly obsessed, paranoid that Sherlock would turn on them with a razor blade smile like Jack the Ripper and slit London coldly open just to watch it bleed out clinically. Now she twisted his stomach with anxiety at the latent threat she offered. Was this, John wondered as her face turned toward him, what Sherlock was afraid of? Normal everyday people who stubbornly refused all wisdom like a brick wall and blindly crushed you should you step out of line. John stood at parade rest, hands gently clasped behind his back, and firmly returned her gaze.

“What’s he doing here?” she nodded toward John, looked at Lestrade and spoke at Sherlock. She was talented that way.

“Assisting,” Sherlock said calmly. It was his calm Real Person voice. His real calm voice was deeper and had a sort of lull to it like he was talking himself up and down hills. He would also hum to himself sometimes, between sentences, as if he was tasting the word, or tasting the thought of it, or even, knowing Sherlock, identifying the chemicals in his brain. This was the voice he used because he knew he was different and was trying to keep people from noticing.

“He was at the crime scene?” Donovan said in a voice that sounded nearly comically incredulous, John was surprised her eyes didn’t go huge and her mouth drip to her chin. “Where there were violent criminals and guns?”

Sherlock absently touched John’s fingertips, he wasn’t sure what that meant, but he knew to be quiet. “Lestrade,” Sherlock said in a bored drawl. “Did you happen to notice John with me at the warehouse? Even you would have noticed him I think. He rather stands out.”

“No, I didn’t see him until we got here,” Lestrade said between Sherlock and Sally. “I haven’t seen him since this morning. Sherlock isn’t stupid. He’s not going to bring John in front of a bunch of criminals and parade him around.”

“So he’s just letting a kid wander around Scotland Yard, around London, unsupervised while he runs around playing with dead people,” she let herself into the office, using the file folder in one hand as a pointing finger.

“Sally,” Lestrade said rolling his shoulders at her.

“Sir. He’s not normal,” Donovan said angrily, waving her pointing file folder she strode closer, standing nearly side by side with Lestrade. Demanding his attention. “We all know it’s only a matter of time before he gets bored and starts plotting murders of his own. And you’re trusting him with a child. You’re letting him shape the mind of some innocent person. You know he’s not right. That he doesn’t care about who people feel or how they think. You think when that kid gets scared, or sick, or hurt he’s going to care more than just the inconvenience of it? He’s not watching John, he’s not tending to him. He’s just ignoring him while he boasts about his own cleverness! Do you honestly think nothing should be done while that freak drags the innocent child into the midst of gunfire and thugs who do who knows what?”

Sherlock was near shaking with rage, his face ghost white and his eyes burning silver like some chemical fire. “I would not-” he hissed.

“Oh don’t start Freak,” Donovan tossed her soft curly hair, “everyone knows-” she started and John ignored the rest of what she said because John hated her, he hated her face and her twisting lips and her curly hair and way of moving, like she knew she was beautiful and she expected everyone to know it too and that she was smart and that everyone should know it too and that she thought she was good and wanted everyone to-

One soft arm reached out and snagged him back against a warm thigh, short electric purple nails flexed gently at the angry burn in his heart making him relax in surprise and look up at a pretty, fresh face of a lady with a loose handful of hobnobs. “Sorry John,” said the lady, the girl really. She was the girl from before. The girl with the yellow jumper who worked for Bad Davey, Elsie, “All I could find were a couple of biscuits.” She had on a comfortable looking peacoat with a few small fingers of a child’s knitted glove sticking out of one pocket. “I’m sorry I don’t want to interrupt anything important or police-y but John only picked at his tea and his supper so when he said he was hungry I wanted to get something for him.”

She smiled at Lestrade hesitantly, in the way that girls who were pretending to be grownups smiled at other grownups in a way that was meant to say why don’t we pretend nothing is wrong for the children? John had been so focused at Sally and Sherlock puffing up like offended cats that he had missed the sound of Lestrade’s office door opening. “It sounds like there’s grown up stuff going on here,” she said, her hand still over John’s heart, in a voice that would have done a children’s promgramme proud. She turned to Sherlock and John had to admit that she was possibly better than Sherlock at shamming, “And I thought I should come and fetch him so you can deal with matters. Now that John has seen that you’re safe and sound, why don’t I take him back home Mr. Holmes? I know you were pretty strict about bedtime, but he was just not wanting to sleep.”

John took the biscuits with a smile; he was rather hungry after all. His eyes caught for a moment on a couple of funny lines of drawn figures, little stick figures with waving arms, on the inside of her wrist before he was distracted by her slightly worried gum chewing.

Lestrade and Donovan, frozen mid-rant, stood staring shocked at her.

“I want to stay with Sherlock,” John said after a second fully satisfying bite, he wasn’t completely sure what she was about, but he was getting a good idea.

“I’m sorry you’re…?” Lestrade asked.

“Oh,” she brushed the biscuit crumbs on her hand off on her thigh, “Elsie. I’m a childcare professional. Mr. Holmes employed me to watch John for him while he was off all his fancy crime solving stuff although I’m sure that he wouldn’t mind paying for the taxi and the extra hours I had to watch John,” she gave Sherlock the look of a shrewd business woman. John leaned his head back against the softness of her thigh and smiled peaceably at Sherlock.

“Of course,” Sherlock said stiffly. “I trust he behaved himself for you.”

“Oh, he’s a doll,” she ruffled John’s hair gently, John suddenly found himself blushing, the heat of it curling up his face in a palpable wave. He shoved another biscuit in his mouth and decided silence really was the better part of valour. Her hand shifted up so it rested soft and warm on his shoulder.

“Donovan,” Lestrade said sternly, “why do you go take a walk and cool down. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“I-”

“Now Donovan,” he said sharply. Donovan moved quickly out of the room, stoically pretending that everyone in the room except Elsie weren’t watching her exit.

“Now that’s been settled is there anything else I have to do before I can go home and finally put John to bed?” Sherlock said stiffly, there was a fierce edge to his voice, the shot of steel in his epically straight back and set shoulders, the lift of his chin, the look in his eye like some cherubim with a flaming sword ready to do battle. Do battle for him, John realized, Sherlock was willing to do battle for John. He was the picture of a lord when lords were actually dangerous and occasionally lopped someone’s head off.

He wiggled loose from Elsie and went to bump his shoulder against Sherlock’s leg. “I want Sherlock to take me home Elsie.”

“If you really want to John…”

“We’ll be fine. We take care of each other.”

“Alright then I’ll just head home,” she politely, but pointedly looked at Sherlock. There was a bit of a lull in the office and Lestrade looked between Elsie and Sherlock. Elsie cleared her throat.

“What?” Sherlock snapped.

“I’ll just head home then Mr. Holmes.”

“Do you need my permission?”

“No,” she said very carefully. “It’s just after watching dear sweet John all afternoon and into the evening and paying a taxi on the way to New Scotland Yard I was wondering if there was anything you wanted to do or say.”

“Good evening and good bye your service has been appreciated.”

Elsie very calmly, very professionally put her hands on her waist, “Mr. Holmes, my most sincerest apologies for the misunderstanding, you see, I am a professional who offers a professional service marked by competitive rates and an understanding of unique living arrangements. Now I have greatly enjoyed spending an evening with your fine gentlemen, dear that he is and wouldn’t mind meeting him again due to his kind and companionable disposition. But, Mr. Holmes, I am a businesswoman and as such would prefer to maintain, as vulgar as you may consider it, the commercial viability of my labours and as such would request that you be so kind as to pay me.”

When she named her price Sherlock glowered at her, “You extortionist. John is incredibly well behaved.”

“You can’t talk to a lady like that Sherlock,” John piped up, biscuits demolished. Besides, Bad Davey sending her over was practically lifesaving. Ignoring the fact it was technically extortion.

That got him a few surprised looks; he stepped sideways into parade rest. Just because he was small didn’t mean he was deaf.

“It’s not polite.”

“Mutinous,” Sherlock sniffed handing over the money. Elsie snagged it and slipped in her shirt in a move that was too quick to be immodest.

“That’s actually a fairly decent rate Sherlock,” Lestrade said.

“Thank you sir and sir,” she said to Sherlock and John before pivoting to Lestrade, “and sir; please do keep me in mind for any of your other childcare needs.” She turned on her heel and strolled out of Lestrade’s office.

“That was tedious,” Sherlock muttered, still very much on edge.

“That was necessary,” John said gently.

“I’d think the importance of finishing the case would supersede matters of niceties.”

“Who decides matters of importance?” John shot back.

“I do for a start! It’s my case!”

“No you don’t Sherlock,” Lestrade cut in, “as much as I enjoy watching you have it out with a six year old-”

“I’m eight!”

“-it’s the Yard’s case.”

“I’m the one who solve it for the dense lot of you. I’ll save you my opinion of the ignominy it would cause you to detail the stupidity which I must suffer as a result of the assistance which I offer,” Sherlock snapped, razor sharp whip cracks which could curl back and bite down to the bone. He could gut someone at fifty paces with the lash of his tongue. “I will say simply that I’d think I’d be the most important part of this proceeding in as much as I solved the case while you all blundered around harassing Middle Easterners.”

“Sherlock,” John cut in, looking for all the world like an irritated army captain in miniature. “Leave it. They can’t take me away; you know that, they’re not allowed to take me.”

That was not strictly speaking true, but it would likely distract Sherlock from displacing his anger my eviscerating Lestrade, with the mythology of W.

John’s sessions with a psychiatrist had been useful for a few things.

Several expressions flashed over Sherlock’s face in a manner that made John concerned he was either going to tip over or have some sort of fit before a look of quickly damped down fascination and the sort of hunger he got when he was truly curious. “It is getting late. Give me a few minutes and we’ll go.”

He reached out to John slightly; his hand hovering with something that was likely meant to be a pat but was more like a brief nudge at John’s shoulder before stuffing his hands into his pockets.

“Do you know where the back hall is John? By evidence?”

“Yeah.”

“Wait there, you shouldn’t be bothered,” he turned back to Lestrade, cold and back in place.

“Bye DI Lestrade,” John held up one hand in farewell.

“Later,” Lestrade nodded back uncomfortably.

John wove through the bent heads of Yarders, witnesses, criminals and hangers on to wander into the back hall, being sure to avoid all sight of Donovan. He hunched back against the wall of the hallway, looking at the blank colored wall and the light of the exit sign on one side of the hallway. The lonely industrial sort of door, the Berber of the carpeting, he tried to observe the wear pattern in the carpet, tried to take guesses, but wasn’t sure how he was doing. He saw someone coming down the hall, head down in thought. A familiar painfully boyish face, that same pug nose, stocky frame, serious expression as if stoicism would prove his ability.

“Hey Dimmock,” John said without thinking and then winced a little. It was something he could explain away though, working with Lestrade. Dimmock utterly surprised him by spinning on the heel of his cheap trainers and blinked wide eyed and shocked. His round boyish face had gone wane and there was a faint streak of white tinged auburn flaring back at his left temple. He dropped to his knees in front of John and grabbed John’s shoulders nearly tight enough to bruise.

“How do you know my name? How do you know my name?” his eyes roved wild over John’s face. John snapped his arms up and around, knocking Dimmock loose. There was the faint smell about him that John associated with Harry when she was tottering at the edge of the wagon. Now that John got a look at him, Dimmock wasn’t dressed in his slightly oversized suit, as if he was a kid dressed up as a DI.

“Well, it’s your name isn’t it?” John knocked him in the chest with his elbow, just in time for his eyes to catch on the laminated ID card CUSTODIAL Timothy Westmoreland pinned to the collar of his thin jacket.

“Did Grendel send you?” Dimmock growled.

“Grendel?” John’s face clouded with confusion, then fell into a twist of anger. “Grendel.” The man who had done this to him. The man who all those months ago had shot him with his strange gun like something out of a bad science fiction movie and burned John’s life away. “No, of course not. He did this to me.”

“Who are you? Who were you?”

“For one a whole lot taller. I’m John Watson, Dr. Watson, do you remember the Blind Banker? That Chinese smuggling case? My girlfriend almost got shot with a crossbow.”

Dimmock’s face clouded in confusion, “I don’t know a John Watson. I never met you on the Chinese case. That was just Sherlock.”

“No, I was there,” John gripped the sleeves of Dimmock’s jacket. “I was, I was there and we solved it. We met again the next week when I went to the Yard’s pub night. Lestrade had been gone trying to fix things with his wife. He was pretending it was getting better but I think we all knew he was pretending, you stopped him from ordering the vodka.”

His eyes were huge, staring at John, “You must have been before me then. You went before me. You know me! You know who I am. I can’t,” he was speaking quietly, covering his face with both hands then scrubbing over his eyes and then covering his mouth as if he couldn’t find any words to speak in any vocabulary and had to cover his mouth to make up for it. He hunched over his knees, shivering slightly and looking slightly shell shocked. Collecting himself fiercely, he straightened up and much as he could all crouched over. “I’m not alone then. We’re not alone. I don’t have to do this by myself anymore.”

Sherlock waltzed around the corner just then, his eyes narrowed viciously when he saw Dimmock crouched in front of John, but still too far away to really hear anything. Trying to think fast John forced a smile, “That’s him now, the man that takes care of me.”

“Can I help you with something?” Sherlock said narrowly at Dimmock.

Dimmock stood carefully, stuffing his hands in his pockets, “No, just making sure he wasn’t lost. You can’t be too careful with kids these days. Might not want to let him wander around like that. Never know who might be around.”

Sherlock’s eyes snapped up and down from Dimmock’s short, neat hair to the canvas of his trainers and before John could say anything Sherlock snapped, “Like an alcoholic with a failed marriage? I don’t need your advice; I can take care of him.”

John sucked a quick breath in through his nose, his head snapped up to look at Dimmock who rocked forward on his toes and then back on his heels. There was something so angry about him suddenly, a long and dangerous anger that had been set to season, set and turned into a weapon, Dimmock nodded once at Sherlock, “A good trick.”

“It’s not a trick,” Sherlock reared back his head like some dark headed, offended peacock.

“My marriage didn’t fail.”

“In denial?”

“Sherlock, stop,” John said quickly.

“No,” Dimmock said simply. “Good evening,” he said before turning on his heel and heading out toward the door at the end of the hall. If it were any other time, any other person Sherlock might have pressed for it, but as it was he subsided and turned his considerable focus on John.

“Bit not good,” John snapped at Sherlock, trying not to stare at Dimmock’s retreating back. Trying not to think of all the ways that Dimmock’s marriage could end without failing if his life had been stolen the way John’s was. Why was he going by Westmoreland? Why was he a custodian? How had he run afoul of Grendel too?

And then he thought like a bolt of lightning. Dimmock was just like him.

There was someone like him.

 

Why me? Why did you pick me for John? – SH

Chapter Text

Sherlock had always liked to look out windows of cars when he was little, didn’t like to be trapped inside a car with all the information buzzing around people’s skin. He liked to look at the lights; he couldn’t help the flashes of information on the way that someone limped or the state of the car’s windows or the state of the awning on some little shop. But they were on the other side of the glass. Now he was older he stared at the back of the cabbie’s head and thought unless the inside of the cab got too loud for him.

He looked up experimentally toward London’s skyline, he remembered W’s advice filtered through John, no one ever looks up. There was nothing, just the occasional workaholic with the lit window. But there wasn’t enough data. Almost as useless as fiction. He had enjoyed Conrad, Conrad gave him something to work with, and Joyce as well although Sherlock would admit to the occasional low degree of nausea. All the other narrators told their stories as if their senses were dull. Blundering stupidly from place to place without seeing or noticing anything, paring down everything to only what the author wanted the reader to see. How useless was that? It was obvious what would happen if a limited number of end games were presented. Life wasn’t like that. And dragging on and on about he did this and she did that and all these feelings. People didn’t only see other people who would later be important in their lives. They saw people they would never see again and they saw there was a man in the crowd with a horrible haircut and a woman on the obvious edge of a mental break and faces so stubbornly vacant that it made them want to crawl away out of their skin.

Or maybe that was just him.

He liked this lull before the city was too loud again. Before his head was too loud again. It was a soggy, dreamy time when everything was quiet and manageable. Normally he would go someplace and refuel, but he was serious about knowing that John needed sleep. He was fairly sure that there was food in the flat, more beans or something. He could eat that well enough. And there was a need for quiet, for the violin, for consideration.

W was real. Sherlock had not imagined the texts and had not imagined the impossibility of John with his connections to street kings who were cleverer (barely) than they looked, a crack shot and a way of speaking that was incredibly adult. Sherlock wasn’t sure if it was a matter of John’s innate genius or the result of some process those who made John had put him through. It was curious, it was obvious, W had to have known that John stepping as he was into the limelight would draw immediate attention from those in power (Mycroft) to John and by connection those who made him. John was the proof of their secret, eventually they would be forced to reveal themselves or lose any control. W had to know revealing John would put his own secret at risk as well. Whatever puzzles he had been playing at, no one had noticed, but forcing the organization that made John into the light would pull W to it closer as well.

There were little things imprinted in John that Sherlock was sorting through, John’s respect and regard for women. Military training left women notoriously low on the ground, the natural maternal instinct may have also posed a security risk, conclusion: John had very little contact with women as a young child, there he gained his regard. However, as proven by the plaid incident they (They?) didn’t encourage sentimentality, conclusion: courtesy, the idea of a ‘lady’ was taught by W. Secondary conclusion: W held women in high regard, and defined and used phraseology connected with being a lady. Nontraditional application pointed to a morality that aligned femininity with positive physicality and nurturing over more traditional views of class, wealth and relative promiscuity. He wasn’t sure what he could do with his deduction that W was more likely to open a door for a woman, or speak kindly to her than the general population, and that was where the rub lay. The man was so much of a shadow that all the little threads could lead to nothing. He was only considering W a man because of statistics, a rescuing woman figure could instill John with the same romanticism and explain the same sort of respect for the absent mother figure, using the affection of Mrs. Hudson and Elsie as a substitute for the absent touch of the gentle touch of W.

But still, W was throwing John to the wolves a bit, putting him at the mercy of the world. He had been looking at this from the direction that W cared about John, it was clear this was meant as a bit of a teaching experience, but would a kind parent thrust their child out without any supervision? But then John had proven he could take care of himself. But didn’t most responsible adults feel the need to assure their dependents’ safety? But W was extremely intelligent and therefore less liable to give into human frailties. Too many buts. It could go either way. Sherlock struck his fist against his thigh in irritation, until he felt an ache there, like an itch in his skin. There was no way of knowing. He was only left sitting in a cab, wading through night traffic with a present to prove the impossibility of W’s reach blinking slowly next to him.

Sherlock looked up and the windows, curious and irritated and intrigued. Did W think he wasn’t clever enough to see? To observe? Sherlock could look up; he could look up all bloody night long.

There was in one window lit in silhouette two women leaning against the glass. They were both professional (profile, pencil skirt) and one was loosely holding something like a candle stick in one hand. They stood like facing bookends and Sherlock watched them, head turning to see them for as long as he could before the angle changed and he could see nothing.

He had looked up.

He had seen a secret thing.

He didn’t know what it meant but it was likely no one in the whole of London had seen that little tableau but him.

He felt suddenly a sting through his soul as if he had been cut through by some cool wind, but instead of blowing out the other end it circled and drifted and dissipated somewhere inside him. He had seen a secret thing. Not because he had observed when everyone else had only seen, but because he saw where no one was looking. He closed his eyes for a moment and slipped inside W’s room in the mind palace, sitting primed and nearly empty - waiting for someone to move in, and added a small round window, about the size of a dinner plate. W sees where other’s don’t look, he thought and knew this was incredibly important. W knows secrets that no one thinks of looking for.

Sherlock was jolted out of his mind palace by a thunk against his arm. It felt like a thunk. Very thunky. He blinked in disorientation before he realized John had fallen asleep and had collapsed sideways against him. John’s hair still had some of its baby softness and fluffed around the edges against his coat, his eyelids, loose and palely lashed had fallen so he had lost that tense watchfulness that would give him crow’s feet by the time he was forty. He would have them perhaps sooner, Sherlock thought in a sort of daze, John was quick to smile if you came at him the right way. Quick to school his face again seriously, but pleased to giggle in a high bright flurry of sound. Sherlock had never been this close to a child before that he was trusted with. He had seen people touch babies’ feet and hands and face hypnotically as if they couldn’t help it. He had never had that urge before, he still didn’t. Although John awakened the scientist in him.

He would like to take off his gloves and feel if John’s eyelids were soft, and compare the skin of his forehead and back of his neck with that on his shoulders and arms. He would like to see John’s knees, very telling in a young boy, as well as elbows. If he could see John bare chested to get a proper look at his musculature. It was obvious that John was exceptionally fit for a boy of his age; he was extremely solid and hard under his baby fat, where Sherlock had been led to believe most children were soft. John made a soft snuffling sound and the side of his face gently slid a few millimeters down the side of his arm. An exhausted sleep then, John had not meant to fall asleep, Sherlock was sure that if he moved very much John would be awake again and embarrassed.

Even with the short amount of time he had spent with John, Sherlock had seen that the child had a great deal of concern about duty. His duty whatever he had been told or has formed in his own mind seems mainly to care for Sherlock. To tend for Sherlock’s safety as if he were not more than twice John’s size and about four times his experience. He checked his mobile again. No reply from W. He looked down at John who had settled himself and was now breathing peacefully through his nose.

Perhaps there was something wrong with him. Because he saw people, not just on the telly, and when they had a child they were responsible for they felt softness. Even strange children, they reached out and said, ‘Oh how sweet?’ ‘How old are you?’ ‘You’ll grow up to be handsome.’ They had done it to Sherlock, he hadn’t been sure if he wanted to grow up to be handsome, what the profit of it would be. When Mycroft had explained in that superior, eye-rolling way he had between ages fifteen and one-half and sixteen and three-quarters, that it was so people would want him. People could want themselves, he had never wanted them to want him, touching and grabbing and asking questions. Cooing over his curly hair and not the fact that he had sat down and memorized the periodic table with no help, he remembered it was very frustrating. Even though Mycroft had seemed to know in his superior bored way that he had between the ages of fourteen even and fifteen and one-seventh when Sherlock didn’t know how to pronounce something. Even though Sherlock was only practicing in his mind so that Mycroft wouldn’t know and be bored and superior at him. And so that Father might be proud for once.

He was often frustrated with lots of people, but somehow always ended up pinching Mycroft. Mainly because Mycroft wouldn’t tell on him and foreign dignitaries usually would. Looking at John did not make Sherlock want to coo or say that John was sweet, it made him curious and annoyed that his jeans were dirty and he smelled slightly of rust and old armchair.

Tonight was further proof that when people saw children they touched and reached out. Like Elsie who had put her arm around John, but Sherlock did not want to particularly reach out and put his arm around John. He did not feel warm, or fuzzy or gladdened. He lacked the urge to hold and cosset. Sherlock was comforted that John was here, asleep against his coat instead of in a tunnel or with Bad Davey, or hurt. It was comfortable for John to be nearby should Sherlock need to show him something or question him. Having John convenient and visible was simply a superior option. That everyone but W seemed determined to separate the two of them made him irritated, it was stupid. It was obvious that Sherlock was brilliant and had sufficient means to support a child and that John was smart enough to take care of himself.

John made a soft sound and Sherlock shifted slightly so that his head was better supported.

Just about every idiot in England had about fifty children a piece and let them rot themselves into likeminded idiocy. One couldn’t do that with a mind like John’s.

“We’re here,” the cabbie said softly, pulling up gently. For once Sherlock was grateful for something a little slower than strict efficiency. However, now that they had arrived Sherlock was at a loss. He was not completely sure what he should do. Obviously he had to get John from the inside of the cab to the inside of 221B. Lifting one hand, he rested it on John’s shoulder before pausing. John had been up very late last night and he had a very busy day. No dinner. He had likely burnt far more than his caloric intake. He must be very tired.

Sherlock pulled his hand back. John would not like to be carried.

He had reacted violently when Sherlock had suggested it. Instead of steady and polite he had become panicky and angry. If he was unaware he being carried it wouldn’t matter, Sherlock decided. The negative mental associations could not be activated should John lack consciousness.

“Are you-?” the cabbie started, but Sherlock hushed him. Slowly, he bent over John to lift him before realizing he wasn’t quite sure how it was going to work. Where was he meant to but his hands to lift him? There was a soft amused sound from the cabbie and Sherlock shot him a dirty look. “First time with your son,” the cabbie said. Probably it was meant to be a question, but it hadn’t been said as a question.

“Hmm,” Sherlock said noncommittally and disengaged John’s seat belt, pinning him gently in place with one shoulder. He was having second thoughts about whether it really was alright to carry around John even if he didn’t know it, but John’s head dropped heavily into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. After that it was simply a matter of lifting John’s arm over his shoulder and carrying hefting him into something like a fireman’s carry with John’s chest resting against the flat of his shoulder. John made a faint sort of sound and reached for his absent gun weakly, almost stirring, but fell back immediately into an exhausted slumber.

He almost forgot to pay the cabbie, and would have let it go, but wasn’t sure the cabbie’s sympathy would extend to not yelling after him for his fare. John breathed hotly against Sherlock’s neck and Sherlock shifted him slightly lower so that his own solid, warm weight would keep him pinned to Sherlock’s front. It was pleasant, John was warm against his front and his breath was hot and even, the arm slung over his shoulder curled and caught around his neck. Sherlock moved very carefully, quietly. He unlocked the door and stepped through lightly, keeping the amount of jostling and jiggling to a minimum. It was a bit like a game, like trying to tread from lily pad to lily pad without tipping into a pond.

Once he had hovered to the top of the stairs, he stood indecisive.

It was cold in the flat tonight, he hadn’t turned on the heat for the benefit of an experiment, but in their absence, without a kettle burning or moving around, the flat took a still chill. And John was very warm laid across his chest and his fingers tapping restlessly against Sherlock’s scarf in his sleep. And Sherlock liked games. Even quiet games.

Sherlock stepped into the kitchen and opened the cupboards softly, ears hypersensitive to the woody sound like the rustle of a bird wing. Not wanting to wake John up. He found a can of peaches, and in a different one, the digestives with chocolate on one side. Those were from Mycroft, he had snuck food into the flat again. He must have spoken to Mummy on Sunday then. He would have his people sneak in sometimes and leave enough food for Sherlock to hunter-gather when he couldn’t be bothered to leave his flat. They weren’t hobnobs, but they had chocolate on them so Sherlock took them down from the cupboard. He was thoughtful tonight, in a moment of stillness after his case. He thought about Bad Davey breathing drily against his face, smelling of rosemary, the accruements of violence and wool. Gun oil, blood, fired guns and a light tinge of hand soap, the hint of bay leaf. The mental calculation for ten pounds of cocaine and its implications. He thinks of Elsie with her purple nails and her expert misdirection sent to ensure Sherlock and John stayed together. A move considering both Elsie background in prostitution and her value to Davey (considering the wear pattern on her shoes and the movements of her wrists) which was the opposite of offering up a ridiculous amount of cocaine. When Davey said he would get Sherlock back he had thought he meant for Sherlock punching him, but it seemed he was referring to the dubious offer of drugs.

“No,” John breathed softly, a little puff of breath breaking against Sherlock’s scarf and brushing against his hairline. “No. Hill.” Or perhaps will, or kill, or still, something that ended in -ill. He left off precision opening the Digestives with a scalpel to make a note on a spare bit of paper with the time, date, time asleep and what John muttered. Once he had done that he noticed he hadn’t finished his observations on his experiment on clothing dye on human tissue. He only had one hand as the other was bracing John against him, but it would only take a few minutes, but then the results were closer than he expected on two of the samples. Then he really was hungry for the Digestives, from Mycroft or not.

Then Sherlock happened to look up at the kitchen clock and became frightened, his arm curled around John’s ribs, one hand spanning John’s stocky, strong side. He had been sitting in the kitchen with John slung against him like he needed some comfort, as though he was weak and affected. As if John had some power over him. He was sitting in the kitchen boiling hot and sweating in his Belstaff and scarf so as not to wake a child that had stolen one arm and was putting one of his legs to sleep. There was inexplicably a power in John, Sherlock realized, which held some power over him. Some ability to control Sherlock, make him soft and sentimental. Stepping quickly to the sofa, Sherlock laid John down on the cushions and stepped away hurriedly. What if W was watching him? What if this was how W would try to control him? Silent watching W. There was not enough data. Only strange actions, carrying around a child for half the night. Giving into sentimentality.

John was too perfect. Too convenient. So small and suitable.

John stirred slightly and curled himself into a knot on the sofa while Sherlock backed away. He needed to think. He needed to analyze the data.

Maybe John was his own defense, if he could get Sherlock to forget he was carrying him, if he could prevent Mycroft from outright lifting him off the streets. If he had the eyes of the British government on him, W didn’t need to watch John to keep him safe. He had the best nannies in the world.

 

Tell your pet git to mind the docks. Matos are cross. Love from Roost. – BD

And when I say love from Roost I mean come and get him to keep his brace on and stop bothering me or I’ll toss him in the Thames. – BD

Chapter Text

John woke up hot and groggy, still in his shoes and coat. He must have fallen right to sleep; he didn’t remember even coming up the steps. He wiggled out of his coat and top jumper, folded them both and then realized his bag was missing. There was a moment of fluttering panic, his kit and his Grey’s were in there before he remembered that Sherlock was Sherlock. Still, he wanted a wash. He reached for his back waistband and checked first his gun, and then his mobile. It was a stupid place for it, but he didn’t have a lot of hiding places on a body this small.

“Sherlock!” he shouted at the hall to Sherlock’s room. “Put my clothes out in the hall!” He needed a better place for his mobile. He ran up the stairs, to the empty room upstairs, his old room. The room was as bare as he had first found it. The old sturdy bedframe, the plain wood wardrobe to make up for the lack of a useable closet space, the blocky beside table and the small square window, all unchanged; not a scratch or mar to be seen as made by one John Watson. There was a space between the mattress and the heavy bedframe that he had hid his gun in when he was an adult, he could hide his mobile there now. Well, not now, Sherlock would likely rip his room apart at the seams, he could hide his mobile there later. He turned on his phone and then sat on it to muffle the sound of it starting up. Jumping nervously at the sound of a door opening and closing downstairs.

After nothing happened he rolled to the side to get a look at his messages. Two from Davey that made him frown a little, then smile. Davey would do no such thing and Rooster needed to keep his brace on his arm if he wanted the break to heal properly. Knowing Rooster he had probably set upon the Velcro and having discovered a loose edge had begun to pick at it with his usual abandon.

Today, or maybe tomorrow. –JW John sent back.

He was reading a text from Sherlock when his phone buzzed in answer.

Today. Bailey is in right fits after you had his crew sent off to hospital.

John scowled at his phone before texting, Rather they live, I need to check up anyway.

Don’t care, I’m busy. Want this managed, I don’t run a daycare for idiot children. John laughed, Bad Davey didn’t mean that by half, John had heard much worse. But it wasn’t a good place for Rooster to be with Davey’s associates in and out.

I’ll take care of it.

Be a love and delete all these messages after this one.

John frowned down in a little puzzlement at his screen; the only time that would matter was if someone found his mobile. He wasn’t planning on letting that happening though. Was Bad Davey worrying about him now too? Really worrying, not just the bluffing he usually pulled off? John knew what he was doing and bristled at the idea Bad Davey might think him incompetent, but did as he asked anyway. Typing through with grumbling obedience, John deleted the conversation from both sides, and then to be safe, all of his conversations with Bad Davey.

After that he read Sherlock’s text, it ran on the theme from both Mycroft and Sherlock. Granted, if picking someone to tend a child, Sherlock wouldn’t necessarily be first choice. But Sherlock wasn’t alone, and John wasn’t a child. He couldn’t keep answering the same question.

You’re what he needs. -W he typed up with a little bit of irritation. He set the text to delayed for fifteen minutes when he’d be downstairs and less suspect to having sent the text himself, set his mobile to silent and slid it back into his back waist band. When he came down the stairs again there was no one around, all his clothes had been put outside Sherlock’s door. He had lost any embarrassment about other men seeing his underwear somewhere between rooming with Mike Stamford at uni and the Army. Mike threw some truly wicked parties. He just crouched there and sorted through until he found some clothes that didn’t smell too badly and sorted the rest to be washed. It was unique and adventurous to be back at 221B and to do things as simple as take a bath or wash his clothes in a washing machine. There was a foreign wonder at the expediency of it.

“What were you doing upstairs?” Sherlock called through the door.

“I’m not living on your sofa; for one thing you spend most of your life swooning on it.”

There was a highly affronted silence from Sherlock’s room. John could picture his face, the way he pulled himself up to monumental heights like an outraged peacock, he giggled into his sleeve. “Try not to tear up too much of my stuff.”

“It’ll be fine,” Sherlock said, but John was suspicious of his tone.

“I mean it Sherlock. Be careful with my Grey’s, it’s important to me.”

John was too short for a shower so he filled a bath, very hot and scrubbed himself pink and glowing then cleaned out the ring. Even his cleanest pair of clothes itched on his freshly clean, smooth skin. When he came out he pulled on socks and boots and pulled his clothes into a plastic shopping bag and took them all downstairs to scrub at and throw into the washing machine.

While they washed he went upstairs and fried himself an egg. The milk had gone bad so he went down stairs to borrow a glass. He read the paper and began to laboriously write the Adventure of the Iron Crate in his journal. At ten Sherlock emerged from his room, bare feet pattering across the carpeting. He came in to the kitchen to look at him and told John to make him toast, John’s bag slung over one arm. He watched John push over a chair and climb up it to reach the toaster; he seemed to be taking a peculiar pleasure in watching John do something as simple as make toast. Watching John be self-sufficient and self-contained.

“How did they teach you medicine?” Sherlock asked, setting John’s bag on the floor and sliding it regretfully forward with his foot like he was in a ransom drop.

“Repetition,” John said, watching the toaster. “Study. Lectures, Hands on practice. Stuff you’d find in any normal medical school.”

“How do you know about normal medical school?”

John gave him a look, “I had a normal sort of medical school education. And I watch telly.”

“You watched telly?” Sherlock blinked in shock.

“What?” John gave him his what-are-you-on-about look.

“There is some debate about the advisability of children watched telly. Considering your tremendous potential, I was surprised that-” Sherlock seemed to be struggling with saying the next part.

How strange that making toast, in the kitchen, with Sherlock (like something out of a Cluedo game, he snorted gently to himself) was something new and special. A little like Christmas. Had that feeling of barely suppressed magic bubbling up at the corners like laughter, “Surprised that I lived the life of the masses?”

“Don’t bunch yourself with that lot,” Sherlock’s face twisted in contempt.

“The masses are fine Sherlock, they’re generally lovely in fact.”

“You obviously haven’t met them,” he said in his lifted superior way.

“I lived with ‘them,’ the parts of them that no one wants anyway. Some would say the worst.”

“You wouldn’t,” Sherlock said.

“No,” John caught the toast as it POPed and put it on a plate. Poured tea into a cup and poured in sugar. “Evil is impossible to miss when you see its real face. Bad Davey can cut and poison and sell to his heart’s content, but if you strip it all away he’s just a man, a little too wild and clever who loves his brother.”

“You’re too sentimental,” Sherlock complained.

John climbed nimbly off the chair wondering to himself if all children were this flexible, when did people stop being able to bend like this? “I’m glad you didn’t trade me for cocaine,” he quickly amended. “Not that I’m yours to trade.”

“I wouldn’t,” Sherlock said irritable and yanked the plate of toast out of John’s hand.

John laughed, a little pleased huffing sound reminiscent of some small amenable creature tucked into itself pleasantly. He really was self-sufficient, he had always had to be, someone had to feed Harry. Sherlock was observing his self-sufficiency over the edge of his teacup with annoyed curiosity. It was curious to John that his climbing on chairs and cooking breakfast should be so curious or strange. “I told you I could take care of himself,” he said as he started cutting his egg with the side of his fork so the yolk ran out thick and gold. “Except last night apparently, I must have really been tired, I don’t even remember climbing the stairs.”

Sherlock just grunted and ate his toast ferociously, John laughed again, pleased.

“Thank you for making sure I didn’t tumble down the stairs anyway. Oh, and speaking of our ginger friend-”

“Your ginger friend,” Sherlock corrected. “I have only met untrustworthy gingers.”

“I need to go see Bad Davey today,” he continued as if uninterrupted.

“Why?” Sherlock complained.

“I need to visit him, his brother too. And Bailey. It wasn’t that long ago someone tried to blow my friends up, I want to visit them.”

“I’m more interesting,” this was apparently all the argument Sherlock thought was necessary. John gave him a look, left it at that and fetched his bag from under the table. “I want to teach you things today.”

Sherlock was trying, he was going to try, John’s heart felt big and spongy with happiness.

“I’ll be back by one. At the latest. I promise,” he nodded pleasantly, calm and British.

Sherlock snorted and ignored him other than to yell down to him from the top of the stairs, “Don’t forget a key, I’m not letting you in if you forget it.”

John grinned to himself, Sherlock sounded like Bad Davey

Bad Davey, once John had entered his faux-flats and wandered down the labyrinth to Davey’s little underground office cave, was pleased when he arrived. He smiled in that smirky way of his, rolling a shot gun shell back and forth under his long fingers, chin propped up on his other fist, reading something. “Finally. Fratricide.”

“Nah,” John slurred at him and Davey rolled his eyes and slapped the book closed. It was, John discovered as soon as he sat up at Davey’s desk, a dentistry textbook. The office had changed a little bit, the two tall lamps behind Davey had been replaced, and all the little bits of stationary and pencil holders had been shifted around slightly. The cushions on his in office sofa were also missing, but John knew why. Davey was still looking too pale, his skin too flat, and there was a plaster just peeking out of the pristine white of the rolled up sleeve of his dress shirt. His braces, a pair of deep ruddy brown cut lines, razor straight across his chest, his jacket curiously missing; he looked like any posh businessman if you didn’t look at his face. “Have you been resting? I’m sure you’re aware that what people are supposed to do after getting shot is rest.” He distantly remembered having a similar conversation with Sherlock once.

“Guess I’m not people,” Davey sniffed. “Got a transfusion to fill me up again. No problem.”

“Davey,” John pinched the bridge of his nose. “You were shot, in your hip.”

“And I have other things to worry about,” Davey snapped back at him. But he stayed in his seat, didn’t surge up and loom over John as he did sometimes when he got his back up.

“Are you even on pain medicine? I could prescribe you something that won’t cloud your head up if you want.”

“Don’t worry Johnny, you’re always worrying. You ever been shot?”

“Yes,” John said watching the way Davey’s head tilted at him in appreciative surprise. “And there’s risk of infection and tearing the tissue. That will not be so fun for you, I promise. I saw a man rip his wound open because he wouldn’t stay down.”

“Fine, fine,” Davey said, looking more tired than he had before. He slapped the textbook in front of him irritably. “You be sure that bleeding heart of yours doesn’t bleed out.”

“I’m fine Davey,” he sighed irritably.

“That’s what I said, and look at all the trouble you gave me, you’re lucky I don’t care about you or we might row.”

“Is that a book on dentistry?” John raised an eyebrow, or at least attempted to do so.

Davey rolled his eyes, “Roost discovered the human head and now he wants to learn about teeth. Roost,” he called out with the air of someone about to do a trick that might be darkly amusing, “I don’t actually have all day to wait on you.”

The door to Davey’s small in office closet slowly opened; only lacking a dramatic creak. Like any child caught reading past their allotted time, Rooster was curled up in the dark, Davey’s coat curled around his light shoulders, and a torch raised to help him read a thick floppy book that bore a colorful cut away of a brain perfectly haloed in torch light.

“All he wants is medical texts,” Davey told John in a voice that implied he was near to violence. But his mouth was turned up slightly at the corner, and his eyes were trying very hard not to be amused before going hard and irritated again.

Rooster blinked rapidly at them. Uncurling, pulling Davey’s jacket tight around himself, Rooster scurried in steps like syncopation to wrap his long thin arms around John’s shoulders in greeting.

“Hey,” John grinned at him. “You alright?”

“Yeah, Bailey won’t talk to anybody; he’s speaking in tongues and disappearing. A guy who works girls in Whitechapel wants Mike’s sister to come work for him, but I said Mike won’t like that, but she’s scared. He’s a scary guy.

John didn’t like that, didn’t like that at all. She was too young to start being intimidated like that. No one would ever be old enough for it.

“Mike would do something, but he’s in hospital. You should see him,” Rooster tapped fervently against John’s shoulder. “I bet he stole a Rolex from a doctor already. Davey won’t let me go. Won’t let me leave. Go see and tell me if he stole a Rolex yet.”

“Okay,” John said peaceably. “I will.”

“I don’t like that someone is pressuring her either,” John said darkly.

“Don’t go into a strop,” Davey said, leaning back in his big leather chair, rolling the shell across his desk in between his two hands. “I had one of my people call the baby police.”

“Baby police,” John raised an eyebrow.

“The police for babies,” Rooster grinned, the two brothers sharing a quick look of conspiracy. Then having quickly pressed his soft forehead to John’s head in the easy, affectionate way he had, he walked around the desk to sit on the arm of Davey’s chair. Steps that were light and electric, vibrating against the new expensive looking carpet on the floor of Davey’s office, his fingers trembling like dragonfly wings in exploratory lines against the fine cut of Davey’s lapel.

“Thank you,” John nodded, formal and noble as a little comfortable knight.

“I didn’t have to leave my nice comfortable chair you’ll be pleased to know. Can’t get comfortable any way, might as well be uncomfortable sitting up instead of on my back. Don’t have the time to deal with Bailey’s therapy anyway. Not my business,” he sprawled back lazily in his chair, shifting to get his hip in a position where it wouldn’t it wouldn’t have pressure on it. John knew he likely wouldn’t have bothered if not for Roost’s safety and John’s dark, pinched look. Bailey was convenient, but he wasn’t Davey’s the way that Roost and John were his. This was, in Davey’s own way a gift of favour.

“I still do appreciate it, the effort.”

“Mm,” Davey smiled slightly, a brush of a lifted corner of his mouth. “Aren’t you here to do something?”

“Of course,” John took one last sip of tea and lifted up his kit up. “This would probably be better at a facility with equipment.”

“No, it really wouldn’t,” Bad Davey said, leaning back while Rooster rested his head on his shoulder, fingers running one after the other in triple time against Davey’s sternum. “When I get stupid rich I’m going to have an examine room built for him to bang around in. No safer doctor likely unless he decides to go straight,” he reached up absently, just the once and scratched at Roost’s hair before lowering his hand to his lap. “I’ll have them built careful like though. No matter how scary you are, how tight the records, supply companies still have names and locations. The last thing you want are people knocking at your door when all your ribs have been snapped.”

Someone who didn’t know Davey, looking at his arrogant nonchalance at the fretful vying for attention from his brother, or observing his sprawling swagger might misinterpret his pointed disregard of his little brother was a mark of apathetic distaste. But no one touched Bad Davey unless he wanted them to, and there were a series of subtle tilts and slants in his sprawl that were welcoming, even a little affectionate in the way he was open to Roost. Encouraging his soft mutterings, the cataloguing of his muscles under Rooster’s fingertips, for the quiet it was in his brother’s brain.

Rooster needed categories, diagrams, anatomy text books to be able to face the world without trying to scrape his brain out in self-defense, vibrating at so high a frequency that he had regularly almost ripped himself apart. And Rooster wanted to understand his brother who was sharp edged and strange, incomprehensible and brassy.

“No,” John said, listening to Roost murmur splenius capitis. “You wouldn’t want that. I hear you haven’t been wearing your brace Rooster,” John said. He gently stepped up to them, pulling Rooster’s arm straight. A quick tease around the edges of the industrial strength Velcro that kept on Rooster’s medical brace to keep his broken arm healing nice and tight, showed the looseness from constantly picking at it.

Rooster slipped his fingers sadly between Davey’s, his face pulled into a long melancholy shape. His impossibly cheerful face trying to perform something like a frown.

“Get off,” Bad Davey said and shook his hand off once, gently.

“I want to.”

John ignored them, the way Rooster sprawled against his brother’s side, clinging, the way that Davey allowed it so very gently. It was clear that Rooster would have been a difficult child. A horrendously, nearly poisonously difficult child full of lightening and frantic, grabbing near-madness and Bad Davey standing all alone with a thousand toothy faces staring down at the two children.

“Off,” Davey shook his hand as his he were shaking water off, ignoring the soft wounded sound Roost made. “I said, mind me.”

Rooster finally let him go and settled for circling around Davey’s shoulder again.

“You mustn’t pick at your brace Rooster,” John told him.

“It hangs on things,” Rooster said and stared at John, “will you not live with me anymore?”

“I live with Sherlock now,” John said gently, resting his hand on the heavy brace, nearly up to Rooster’s bird light shoulder. “I’ll come to visit, like I have today, your yearly check-up is in a couple weeks. You need to keep the brace on so your arm will heal.”

“I can’t move my arm,” he whinged.

“Kind of the point.”

Roost groaned and pressed his face to Davey shoulder.

“I know I know, horrible news. And while we’re on the topic of horrible news…” he looked pointedly at Davey.

“What?” Davey snapped.

“I need to check your dressing,” John crossed his arms, steadfast.

“I’m not taking my trousers off.”

“You won’t have to,” John wheedled, “all you have to do is kind of push them down on the side. I’ll tell you what I tell all of my patients. I’m a doctor; it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

Bad Davey gave him a narrowed, peculiar look, “That would be a lot less disturbing if you weren’t eight.”

“It would be a lot less disturbing if I wasn’t a doctor.” John said, giving him back a softer version of his best army captain face, or what had become his Sherlock-you-(should)-know-better face. “I could go through the tragic steps which result from infected flesh going neurotic if you’d like, or you could let me get a look at your hip.”

Bad Davey took a quick swing at him with his fist, but it was halfhearted and only served to highlight how relatively young he could be sometimes. When he wasn’t filing suitcases with cocaine or using found weapons to revise his rival’s faces. John dodged it easily, a quick twitch backward from the waist, a simple flex of his abdomen.

“Let me watch,” Rooster said, the featherbrushing of his hummingbird fingertips was electric against Davey’s geometric braces. “They’ll like me better at school if I already know how to do things like this.”

“Are you going to school then?” John smiled at him. Waiting on Davey’s peculiar modesty as trousers were loosened and pushed down his hip, held precisely in place with one hand, revealing no more than necessary.

“Davey says I can go, he’s going to send me to school and then I’m going to uni. I want to go to uni a lot. The people there are very smart and they know a lot. They’re going to teach me lots of things.” In his enthusiasm to see the neatly stitched wound leaned all his weight on Davey’s thigh, the thigh attached to the hip where Davey was shot. Davey lurched a little, hissed, and shoved over Roost – away from the sharp lines of his desk – so he stumbled and nearly fell on the floor. Roost made a hurt, high sound at that and then John was in the middle of it getting them settled down and peaceable again. Close to it at least, Davey could never say sorry for anything and Roost, who was so used to thinking his brother was as nearly to perfect as one could get, was struggling with the compromise of belief and reality. In the end he delivered the crack of his knuckle to Davey’s shin and a pinch to Rooster’s shoulder and got one settled with a fresh bandage in his big chair and the other curled up on the cushionless sofa with his brother’s coat pulled up around his ears.

“Try not to kill each other before I visit again,” John groused, snapping his kit closed with more snap than usual.

Davey just grunted at him, settling in his chair and looking pale and drawn and angry and fretful. “Get him his book,” he ordered listlessly, swinging one hand weakly. There was a faint line of sweat on his forehead, likely from the pain.

Because John was something a friend to them, because he understood a little, he stomped over to Davey’s desk and grabbed it up. Davey leaned over him for a moment like the drooping limb of a willow tree and pressed what might have been a kiss to John’s hairline. It was over too quick for John to narrow his eyes at it, to tighten up and ask what he was about.

“Get out,” Davey said, waving his hand with a negligent apathy for politeness and human feeling that would put Sherlock at his worst to shame. “I’m tired of looking at you now.”

John carried the textbook to Roost, who looked up at John with big, forlorn, startled eyes and held the book to his chest like a lovey. John smoothed his hair down gently, feeling obscurely comforted and beleagueredly affectionate in a way he hadn’t since he first decided to invest his free time in the proper care and feeding of a Holmes.

John said nothing about the strange knife edge Roost and Davey lived on. The necessities that ruled their relationship; the way the safety that Davey, who was all crisp, edges and lazy lounging lines, dangerous without meaning to be, tried to enforce on his little brother. John tried to maintain a general air of avoiding a serious discussion of feelings (the sort that in the past led him to awkwardly patting the shoulder of his weeping girlfriends). A smaller one than the sentiment force fields of the Holmes brothers kept up at almost all times so they couldn’t even say caring without adding something derogatory to the end of it. Now was not the time to ask Davey with his hard angry face if he was alright, if he wasn’t wounded somewhere inside traced in the way he looked at the wall opposite to his brother, his eyes slipping and nails dragging across leather because of pain. If they were to talk about wounds at all it would be some place quiet and secret as the desert to give the wound the sacredness it deserved.

He looked at Davey, china white and fighting life with fury and Rooster curled up and electric and felt helpless as only a doctor or a parent could.

The visit to Mike went better.

Mike was slow and sleepy, reading an old battered romance novel with a swooning medieval maiden who had somehow acquired purple eye shadow and neon pink lipstick. “Don’t worry,” he slurred at John’s raised eyebrow. His head dipping heavy as a millstone, every word was fighting its way out, “Don’t worry, it’s not smutty. Chapter ends before the good stuff starts.”

“Too bad, you could probably use the pointers,” John teased, although Mike only seemed to be a couple of pages in. His hand pressed the book open on the fluffy white duvet heavily, too medicated for precision.

“Ha,” Mike said and promptly fell asleep sitting up, his chin drifting forward to rest on his chest.

John took the time to read over Mike’s chart, fairly reasonable stuff; he rustled around his bag until he came up with his notebook and added the dates of Mike’s vaccines and boosters. John had expected Mike to be barely conscious. Mike wasn’t a complainer, but he had just been through a traumatic injury, it was general practice to keep patients as under as was safe first day out.. Everything else seemed in order The chart had just been put away and John had crawled up in his chair to wait and see if Mike would be up soon when the nurse came in wearing scrubs with sheep on them and a sock puppet through her belt. Pediatric nurses had much more freedom of dress, what the sock puppet was for he couldn’t guess. She had more of a natural looking tan than most nurses, never mind most Londoners, managed and dyed white blonde hair. Her smile was large and sincere in a way that was immediately engaging.

“’ey then,” the nurse said cheerfully, sizing John up. “Who’s this then?”

“John,” John said, shifting uncomfortably, “I just wanted to come and check on him.”

“Good on ya mate,” she smiled and gave Mike the general look over. “Mr. Wiggins,” she said to Mike, easing him back against his hospital pillow fort. “Mr. Wiggins, time for me to check your battle scar.”

Mike jerked awake groggily and smiled up at the nurse, her emergence seemed boost Mike’s energy somewhat, “Adair, my mate. She’s an Aussie John, from Australia and stuff,” he turned his head sleepily toward John and blinked at him.

John looked at the nurses’ board and saw the name Thompson there. “You’re not on the board,” he said.

Adair blinked over at John, “Smart then.” Her face tilted slightly to the side in something approving and a little sad. “Stay smart. Kids like you should stay smart. Wiggs and I bonded last night, we has an understanding, ehh?”

Mike blinked sleepily at them and faded off.

“And Thompson is running a little late and my shift is over so I said I’d come and fix him up real quick. He’s a good kid. It’s a good thing he’s got friends like you to check up on him. You got a friend? To take care of you I mean.” John didn’t take any offense at it, and instead of becoming more anxious he relaxed. These were the basic sort of questions medical professionals were trained to ask danger children.

“Yeah, I got plenty of friends,” he cleared his throat. “How did you end up in London?” John asked politely, watching Adair pull on her gloves.

“Well, my family’s all in the civil service, number crunchers and I decided to escape to England for a lucrative career in pediatrics before I could be trapped in a prison of accountancy. How you feeling Wiggs?” She was kind and no nonsense, her face soft and tired from the side as she pulled down Mike’s gown to reveal the bandaging, his chest narrow, the bones only just hidden. Mike had fallen asleep again, barely stirring as she laid the gauze and tape and wipe packet out on the duvet. Adair gave him a serious, staring look. “You might want to look away; sometime wounds like this are scary.”

John noticed the clock and did a little mental calculation. Time to go then to get back in time for lunch or Sherlock would be put out. “I’ve seen worse,” he said absently, he reached out and squeezed Mike leg companionably. “I’ll see you later Mike, I’ve got to get home.”

He hurried out the door before Adair could ask any more questions.

 

Gregson – Have you been into the cold cases on my desk you nosy git? – Lestrade

I love you too you paranoid woman. It was your poncy pet more likely than not.

Ta. Nevermind then. He must have just forgotten to gloat. I’ll just file them away. – Lestrade.

Chapter Text

Sherlock didn’t quite hide his surprise when John returned and John pretended studiously not to notice. He recovered quickly, sniffing in his usual nearly affectionate disdain, “You were nearly late for lunch.”

John ducked his head down, smiling, “Will you be eating something?”

“I ate this morning.”

“Are you on a case then?” John asked.

“Oh, that would be bliss,” Sherlock threw himself backward onto the sofa. “No, the criminal masses are being exceptionally dull.”

It probably wouldn’t last, for now Sherlock’s ennui was exactly what John needed. That pleasant curl of familiarity.

Their life continued in the vein that John was used to before; exciting, cases, running about London and everything that he loved (and secretly loved) about 221B. The strains of melancholy music at three in the morning that tapered away his nightmares on the infrequent nights they shook him awake, Sherlock shouting at some truly awful telly, being useful for Sherlock in a way that no one else was allowed to be. Playing Sherlock’s sounding board, making him tea, harassing him to eat enough and get some sleep. Some things had changed of course, he expected that. Sherlock was more liable to do the shopping and other than becoming periodically distracted by a discussion of explosives and produce (John had said absolutely not in the flat, too much mess, and so negotiations were put off until a time Sherlock could find some place to blow up eggplant) he did the shopping rather well. Except for when he had something else on his mind and would delete the shopping list as soon as John had told it to him and just follow John around, pushing the trolley while John steered with his fingers interwoven in the mesh.

Periodically he would point at someone and say, “John observe and deduce,” as if John were some sort of detecting breed of dog. But then he wasn’t sure how much time Sherlock had spent around children so he might do, consider them a kind of pleasingly malleable puppy. John was also required to keep his own journal for the experiments Sherlock had decided were part of his education. This wasn’t something he had enjoyed with Sherlock before. Mostly because he had been the one having to clean things up and shoulder things aside to fit himself at the breakfast table. Now they would sit side by side at the kitchen table in goggles and lab aprons, and occasionally wander St Bart’s-ward and do chemical tests, dissections and soil analysis. There was something thrilling about occasionally blowing something up, as much as John must also play the devil’s advocate and say no blowing up feet in the flat. Like all the fun parts of primary and secondary school science class. The best part of all was when Sherlock would lean toward him and whisper, “You’re really supposed to write a report on this, but you don’t have to. Just don’t tell Mycroft.”

Sometimes John would do a report anyway, because he knew how to write articles for medical journals, he just did it again in miniature. It was the least he could do to retain the life he was living. The last thing he wanted was to be sent off to school. Mycroft had a short campaign for just that purpose with whatever Mycroftian plot he was hatching. John had protested fervently for a variety of good reasons, he wasn’t a child, he already knew everything, Sherlock needed him. He had more, but in an unusual move of maturity Sherlock sent him upstairs. Being sent upstairs like a hysterical child would have upset John normally, but he knew the planes of expression in the lines of Sherlock’s posture. He would fight for John to stay.

Sherlock had agreed John shouldn’t go to school, and had dumped the glossy full color pictures booklets for the exclusive public schools that Mycroft brought into the fire. Mycroft and Sherlock had two or three conversations that seemed to consist of Mycroft giving long meandering treatise on the importance of education while the mind was still young and malleable, and about socialization. Sherlock’s counterargument was essentially saying, mine, mine, mine, stop taking my toys but what really meant, I know I can do this, just trust me enough to do this, I know I can if you’ll just let me. John knew that sentiment, he lived that sentiment, and he didn’t want to leave Sherlock to go stay with children far away from 221B, far away from home, even if the children were exceptionally smart and even if he could come home on the weekends.

“Really Sherlock?” Mycroft finally said.

There was a soft moment of silence like the soft slide of Sherlock’s fingers down his violin strings. “John is remarkably self-aware, showing the capacity of independent thought and decision making greater than that of several of the students wandering around St Bart’s. He is incredibly intelligent for all that he’s been deeply trained to appear almost ordinary and he has been extensively trained in maths, sciences as well as English and the various social sciences. He has made the decision that would like me to carry out what education he needs, which is hardly any. And even if I were to consent to let you send him to some beautified version of the institution that valiantly tried for years to convince him that he was small and unimportant and that he was ineffectual and not that terribly clever it’s not what he needs. He needs to be here with me, with someone who understands, with someone who actually cares about him as a person and not some resource for the British Government.”

“You’re making me into a -”

“I’m not Father!” Sherlock shouted suddenly, John, eavesdropping against the banister nearly jumped and gave himself away. “And I’m not saying that you are either. But considering John’s past, it is better for him to stay here, in the same place, with me.”

There was a loaded British Government sized silence; Mycroft’s silence was capable of containing enough subtext to arrange a minor trade agreement. “How long did it take you to compose and memorize that nice bit of language?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, all those sweets have finally gone too your head,” John could hear the sniff in those words which meant in Sherlockian, quite a while.

“Hmm,” Mycroft hummed; there was a thread of almost amusement in that hum as well as about a million other things John couldn’t parse. “I think John may belong here after all. Do try and keep him safe and alive. I suppose he had sense enough when you forget him, or forget to buy groceries, or scar him emotionally or drown him a little in second hand smoke to go seek comfort in the arms of that little mismatched gang of street urchins.”

High strung silence jaggedly ruptured from below with all the disquiet of violin strings vibrating on the edge of snapping back to hit someone in the eye. That was on the very border of acceptable. Mycroft was desperate then to get John out of the flat.

Get John away from Sherlock.

It was strange and disquieting and even Sherlock’s superior experience in Mycroft-parsing didn’t seem to be able to locate the source of his… not fear. Mycroft wasn’t afraid of anything. Not except maybe losing Sherlock who was smart enough to get himself into trouble he couldn’t get back out of again. Other than that, well, Mycroft was afraid of nothing.

“Oh, go interrogate a dictator,” Sherlock replied and then there was a clamour and clink from the kitchen of dishes against pans as if Sherlock had an interest in cleaning anything other than flasks and beakers.

He worried Mycroft might eventually crack Sherlock’s resolve if he kept pressing. There had been a strong emphasis on emotional development and when Sherlock had said he has me Mycroft let loose a few seconds of silence so powerful operas could be written about it. That silence could inspire a movie trilogy. Dirty, filthy warfare that silence.

Sherlock, for all his sociopath posturing, was resistant to just about any argument except that his very nature made harming someone unavoidable.

Sherlock had been too well-trained into believing he was… too much to belong with people for long. It wasn’t true, but he had been very well-trained. John understood caring was no advantage when it only made it worse when someone threw your personality, your brilliance, your mental artistry, all the things that people should admire, back in your face.

Mycroft was the one he really had to convince.

Mycroft fled, diplomatically, the domesticity, hovering for a moment at the doorway to adjust his suit coat. John looked down at the immaculate lines of his shoulders and the careful arrangement of his posture, the dark auburn of his nearly thinning hair. Mycroft looked up suddenly at John, even though John had thought he was being completely quiet and even though he was holding his breath, looking straight into John’s eyes.

John tried to see if something of Mycroft’s real feelings were hiding somewhere on his face. But reading Mycroft was an insane thing to hope for. Knowing some of the things Sherlock got into as a child to expand his skillset, he could picture Mycroft practicing looking inscrutable while on fire hanging upside down over a tiger pit. The eldest Holmes had always unsettled him, a soldier liked to know what was real.

“I know you worry constantly,” he said, he wanted to go downstairs and offer some sort of moral support to Sherlock but couldn’t pass go with Mycroft there analyzing his hair follicles. “And that you probably have a head full of the thousand different ways someone like him who never wants to accept or admit that he’s in fact mortal can get himself hurt. But I’m not one of those ways. Sherlock is my friend and I’m sticking with him.”

“You are very young,” he managed to sound both unruffled, unimpressed and possibly, secretly, contemptuous all at the same time. He adjusted his cufflink with a beautiful movement.

“I’m old enough.”

Mycroft looked at him.

“Sherlock can do this.”

Mycroft finally broke his gaze and stepped down the stairs as unaffected as a summer morning. John half stumbled down the stairs to get to Sherlock, curled around his raised knees. Sherlock looked at him seriously, blankly, for a moment. It was like getting caught by some alien creature in an unexpected place, those eyes with so much going on behind them. He checked Sherlock’s number of patches to cover the shock of it and made him tea and toast.

Sherlock said nothing from his strop huddle.

“Did,” John tried, “Mycroft appear to have gained a couple of pounds?”

Sherlock’s mouth twitched at the corner.

“Try to eat your toast, even transport needs fuel.”

“It’s Friday,” Sherlock finally broke. “You have to go see Roost. You’ve been reminding me.”

“Yeah,” John agreed. “But I can stay here a while. If you’d like me to stay for a while I can.”

“I have told you before,” Sherlock waved that off. “I don’t do sentiment. I don’t need coddling. It is both inefficient and ineffectual.”

“I know. But I like to ask anyway, just in case you magically decide one day that you want to practice some sentimentality of your own.”

Sherlock snorted as if John had told a very good joke, John smiled indulgently back at him.

“Try to eat your toast.”

“Hmm,” Sherlock said and went back to thinking.

John felt a little bad for misleading Sherlock. He wasn’t really if one thought about it. He was going to go see Roost, but only because there was a way out of Davey’s lair that CCTV couldn’t cover and he had finally found a way to set up a time to meet with Dimmock via strategically placed notes. But if Sherlock was in a mood like this, he wouldn’t want to talk with John for a while anyway. He slung his bag over his shoulder, the hard edges of his medical kit touching his shoulder blades and the base of his back. With Mycroft’s push to have Sherlock send him away, off to some posh school he sort of wanted someone to set up a backup plan with. His hand curled around the CCTV free directions written neatly on the back of a receipt for dim sum. He couldn’t check it until he got out of sight of Mycroft’s eyes about town; he wanted to at least give the illusion he actually was going to meet with Roost. John followed the directions to a side door of a block of flats very similar to the one John lived in when he got back from the war. He was fine, climbing up the side stairs until he got to a beige door. Dimmock’s door. This was madness, this was genuine madness. What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to ask? What if Dimmock had too many questions?

He looked down at his hands, holding them one way, and then the other. They were perfectly steady. John took a deep breath. He could stand here panicking all morning, or he could knock.

He had invaded Afghanistan, he could knock on a door.

Dimmock answered the door dressed in plaid pajama pants that hung over the top of his feet and a thin, well-worn jumper. He looked impossibly young, huge eyed and anxious. John supposed there was some comfort in the fact Dimmock looked as jumbled as he felt. “I – sorry, if I realized you were coming this early I would have put on some real clothes.”

“It’s fine.”

“I just wasn’t-”

“Dimmock, its all fine.”

Dimmock took a soft breath and nodded once. “You should come in.”

He moved aside, watching John hesitantly step in and look around curiously. The flat was small. It consisted of a bed with bright blue linens, a stocky square bedside table, two overstuffed armchairs and in the kitchen a table that had enormous legs. They were like a stack of big wooden onions. It was obviously all second hand and jumble sale buys. The only decoration on the matte beige of the walls was a single square painting of a chicken, it was very pretty, black and white speckled. It was a lone sentinel against the beigeness of the flat.

“I haven’t had visitors…” Dimmock startled and then cut himself off, fled to the kitchen. “How old are you really?”

“Thirty-four,” John said, snooping at the bedside table. There was a shelf for books under the drawer filled with neat stacks of paperbacks. A few of them were in Russian, a couple in French one was a Farsi-English dictionary. “You?”

“Fifty-seven,” Dimmock said, his voice had the sound of a death bell to it. “Can you have coffee?”

That set John back. Fifty-seven. That was horrendous. A whole life gone. John thought he had lost. “No,” he said quickly, coming back to himself. “No, I’m not really tall when I’m an adult, I don’t want to make it worse.”

There is a faint huff of what could be laughter followed by the familiar sound of water running, of a coffee pot’s hollow hooo at being filled. The click of the pot into place and the hiss and bubble as it heated. Dimmock didn’t look at him as he leaned against the kitchen doorway. His back tightened and pulled in waves, it was like the men who had served one too many tours, pushing on and on with the whole world and every cast iron pain of it dragging behind him.

“I was coming up on twenty-five years of marriage,” he finally said, staring at the coffee pot. “Lizzie, she told me to be careful. My eldest, Nells, she was coming down from uni that weekend and so my wife wanted me to be careful.”

John didn’t know what he was supposed to say to that, what was anyone supposed to say to the erasure of twenty-five years of marriage.

“I didn’t tell, I couldn’t tell any-” Dimmock started to take quick, sharp breathes, like a wounded animal. “No one would have believed me, they would have locked me away…” He knees buckled and he caught himself on the counter with his elbows and forearms, an uneven scramble. “Every time I worked a case where there was someone widowed, I just- I just- He shouldn’t be allowed to do that. He shouldn’t be allowed to do things like that.”

John didn’t feel like he knew Dimmock well enough to try and comfort the broken line of his back and Dimmock didn’t know him at all.

“Thank you,” Dimmock said very softly. “Thank you for knowing my name. You have no idea what it’s like to lose everything and no one knows your name.”

“I do,” John said in his gentle, you might not lose that leg voice. “A little, I didn’t have a family, or a wife, or even a girlfriend. I just had a flatmate, a sister that doesn’t like my company, and some friends that I’d go to the pub with sometimes. And it hurt me, to have everything burned away. To have it shoved in my face how little the world changes without me in it. But I can’t imagine what it would be like for you.” He stopped and didn’t say anything for a while. “I know you don’t remember me, but I knew you and I’m sorry you had to go through that, through this. I’m sorry you have to experience this abominable thing.”

There was only the sound of the coffee maker and Dimmock’s sharpedged animal breathes. Finally Dimmock stood straight and pressed his fingertips to the counter. “What were you?” he finally asked, a soft half-drunk sound.

“A doctor, a broken down soldier and a surgeon who couldn’t be trusted to cut anyone open. I blogged and helped to solve mysteries, but I didn’t do anything other than that. The only thing I was good at was following geniuses around, shooting at things and making tea.”

“Tea is important. You must have been kind before,” Dimmock said, finally looking at him. “If nothing else, you must have been kind. You’re kind now. Most people only want to deal with other people’s problems if they’re getting paid to do it.”

“It’s my problem too,” John creased his eyebrows at him.

“So you’re a good man,” he shrugged.

It was quiet then in the little flat with its sentinel chicken. Dimmock stared at the coffee maker in a familiarly strained face while he collected himself, lost the pained, pinched tightness around his mouth. John gave him privacy, sitting in one of the armchairs and reading through the notations Sherlock had made in his journal all in red, but mostly in the margins. Finally there was the sound of mugs and the opening of the refrigerator door.

“Milk?” Dimmock asked, sounding far more himself. Collected and not in that anxious way men got when they were about to cry in front of someone, “I don’t have much else.”

“Milk is fine,” John looked up and Dimmock nodded back over the partition dividing the kitchenette from the rest of the room.

“You’ve some books in Russian,” John said, trying to help break through the silence.

“Helps with diction, speaking like a native; or something like.”

That surprised John. “Why do you have to speak Russian like a native?”

“Grendel is hiding out in Russia right now; I’m trying to seem as native as I can. It’s not an easy language to learn.”

“I can imagine.”

Dimmock laughed faintly, “Sorry,” he shook his head and crossed to hand John a World’s Best Granny mug, another jumble sale buy it looked like. “It’s a little strange to talk to someone who looks so young like this.”

“I’m not-” John started.

“I know,” Dimmock interrupted him, and promptly slouched down in his own chair. “Believe me I know. But it’s still a little strange. Stranger to have someone to talk to about this. When Grendel sent me back in time he did more than just erase my marriage, he killed my wife.” Dimmock turned his head away and kept talking as if he were afraid John might say something about it. “I don’t want to go over it right now. But I decided that was going to stop him. Keep him from doing this to anyone else. I’m a police officer, I made it to commissioner,” he peeked just once over at John before his eyes darted away and his fingers danced anxiously over his mug. “And Grendel’s a criminal. So I’ve set out to catch him.”

“You’re going to kill him,” John said.

Dimmock’s hand flexed.

“I suppose you have dibs on him, I’m not going to argue.”

Dimmock’s mouth tipped, mean and determined at the edge, “Good. I’ve been using some of my old contacts, people from cases I worked on, to try and roust him out. He set up shop in Spain for a little while, I had him rousted, I know enough about the future members of Interpol to chase him across Europe. Now Grendel is trying to get equipment from some ex-government members or current I’m not sure; he’s currently hiding out in Russia anyway so he’s doing something. Trying to root me out,” Dimmock shifted in his chair. There was a solemn little endurance in his voice. He sounded very old and very tired. “I don’t know what to do now. It’s only a matter of time before he finds me. I don’t have the resources. No matter how ahead I am technologically, it’s just a matter of time before he finds me.”

“It sounds like you’ve been living a Bond film,” John said, Dimmock had talked about marriage, about children. John felt a twisting sickness in his belly at the thought of it. There was nothing else he could think to say to that. “I want to help you. It’s only right.”

“Soldier you said,” Dimmock smiled faintly.

“I might be able to help you,” John said. “I have a phone. It was my sister’s, she gave it to me when I pensioned out. When Grendel got me I still had it on me. I think because there’s two of them no one can track the signal.”

“How can you be sure?” he looked awake now, less like he was pushing past pain and more like he might have, back when he was commissioner. Hungry and sharp and ready.

John told him about Sherlock, how Sherlock had saved his life and the first night as his flatmate, before he had even moved in they were flatmates, when he had saved Sherlock’s life back. And then about his brother the British government and being kidnapped to an abandoned warehouse and having that life and the cases taken away. How he wanted it back. How he went back and shot the cabbie and then followed Sherlock and then again, the Blind Banker when he sent the text to Sherlock and signed it W. “For Watson of course,” he explained sheepishly. How Sherlock had found him and what he and his brother had assumed that John was some sort of government experiment and W was some super genius. And how Mycroft had tried that morning to get Sherlock to send him away.

“He won’t though, he promised,” John said.

“But it worried you.”

John shrugged, sipped his milk.

“We can use that,” Dimmock tapped one finger against the side of his mug, “I need to get Grendel off my back and it wouldn’t hurt to pull Mycroft’s attention away from you. If he’s got the position and power you mentioned then we can use him too.”

That made John’s stomach clench, “No, he’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Can tell how your grandmother died by the state of your shoes brilliant. I’ve only stayed ahead of him because I know him a little, as much as I could. I know Sherlock more like and just make made guesses at the rest. He’ll eat you alive. And let’s be honest, if someone finds out about Grendel’s whatever it is-”

“I’m going with ray gun,” Dimmock half-shrugged, a nearly sassy sort raise of his eyebrows and tilt of his shoulders.

“What people would do to get it.”

“I agree,” Dimmock put his mug down beside him. “Likewise I want you to understand what we’re up against with Grendel.” Dimmock hunched over his knees, clenching his hands together in a knot. He was suddenly pale and drawn and terribly old again. “When I get close to him, when I try to stop him, he punishes me. Any trouble I give him. He, he burnt down a school after I got two of his men arrested and his little workshop set down. There were,” he closed his eyes. “Children died.”

“When I got back from the war,” John said gently, “my therapist wanted me to talk about everything, say everything, but I couldn’t. I was afraid that after I had told her those horrible hard things I fought through that she’d just look at me with that passive understanding face and take notes. Like she wouldn’t care. I could tell her about the feeling of holding a man together with my bare hands and she wouldn’t be shocked and she wouldn’t be horrified and it would be like it didn’t matter at all. The worst part is saying it and not knowing if it will be taken seriously. So I’m not going to ask you about what you’ve been through. But if you want to talk I’ll listen.”

Dimmock’s hands tightened and his eyes squeezed closed so that his eyebrow almost touched his cheek.

“We’re fighting him together now, you and I. We’re in this together now, shoulder to shoulder. We’re going to stop him, catch him and put a bullet in his head.”

 

Sorry I’ll be a little late today, will you say I spent these past few hours with Roost? – W

Hurry up. He keeps moping at me. BD