“Sherlock dear,” Mrs. Hudson tsked one morning while John tried tempting Sherlock with different combination of jam on toast. “You can’t let John run around like that.”
Sherlock, after accepting toast half orange marmalade, half plum, no butter, looking at John and then back at Mrs. Hudson. “Running around like what?”
She sighed and placed some sort of pastry in front of John that made him immediately salivate. “Without proper clothes, he looks like a little vagabond.”
“I have a very nice jumper,” John tried to defend himself.
“A very nice jumper being the key phrase. You can’t run around with two sets of clothes dear.” She patted him on the head, he really should protest, but it was really rather nice. He tried not to blush too noticeably. Sherlock looked far more amused than he had any right to look as it was.
“How convenient you should mention that,” he tried to snag the rim of John’s pastry plate with his fingertips, the very image of nonchalance, but John fended him off with a spoon and a hard look. “I have to give testimony today. Tedious but necessary, and it will be too dull for words. John would no doubt make it slightly more bearable, but unfortunately it would be inopportune to try and find someone to watch him. This would take care of two birds with one stone. The two of you can build up John wardrobe and I can go and deal with the idiot masses.”
“Your lot must be hard,” John said, full of mock sympathy.
“If you’d had to deal with the barristers our nation is producing, you’d feel the same.” He turned toward where Mrs. Hudson was carefully washing last night’s dinner plate. “I’ll give you my card, they shouldn’t give you any trouble.”
“I’m really quite fine,” John protested.
“Of course you are dear,” Mr. Hudson smiled at him, gentle and inescapable and John went quiet, focusing on his breakfast, although judging by Sherlock’s face he was probably blushing again. He should do something about that. The blushing.
After crouching down and looking into John’s face, Sherlock wrapped his long arms around John, overwhelming him with the smell of sandalwood, formaldehyde, and jam. “Remember me,” Sherlock drawled into John’s hair, “in case I die of boredom.” Then he kissed Mrs. Hudson’s cheek and scampered off leaving John in his little woolen hat and Mrs. Hudson looking exceedingly pleased with herself.
The first stop was a smallish sort of store he had never ventured into before, the front window bearing tiny canvas manikins with neon bright coats and shirts with rockets on them. Neither of those appealed to him, for one thing the colours would make him stand out in alleyways. It wasn’t necessarily high end, but it was a bit above what John expected from Mrs. Hudson’s mend and make do childhood. “You’ll be growing soon enough, no reason to overwhelm you. But since we do have Sherlock’s card I thought we might get you something a little nicer. Something that’ll last you. You two boys do have such adventures.” There lingered something soft and whimsical, gentle worry.
“We take care of each other,” John told her solemnly. “We’re okay Mrs. Hudson.”
“I know dear,” she squeezed his shoulder gently. “Sherlock’s acted so much more sensible since you’ve come into our life.”
They proceeded to get so far to tiny fluffy jackets when the most cheerful shop boy in existence descended on them with a smile like a halogen lamp. “Hello! How can I help you today?” he enthused at them.
“Hello,” Mrs. Hudson said, her arm around John’s shoulders, to brace him as he stepped back without realizing it. Her thumb rubbed a soft soothing circle against the worn fabric of his jacket.
“Good morning,” John replied politely to spite his sudden shyness.
“How polite!” the shop boy declared.
“We’d like to find a few set of clothes for John. He’s a very active young man, and I’m afraid his guardian is better at encouraging science experiments than at shopping trips.”
“Scientists,” the man effulged, “can’t live without them, can’t get their stains out of your favourite cardigans. Let’s go see if we can’t get you some active wear that’s a little easier to get dirt off of in the wash.” He motioned them to follow him with the sort of glee usually limited to small dogs and characters in children’s movies Mrs. Hudson accepted his supernatural cheerfulness with her usual aplomb, but John was not altogether certain to respond to the man. “Jeans,” he listed off as they followed. “Something sturdy and easy to wash. Long sleeves for layering and a nice cozy jumper or two. That should do it.”
After giving John a steady side eye he begun to pull clothes off the racks in a flurry of colour. “See if any of these suit you!”
John looked at horror at the shirts with big cartoon dogs on them. “Now,” Mrs. Hudson said, a finger to her chin. “That’s certainly very lovely, but he’s such a neat little gentleman. I’m not sure that would suit him.”
“Hmm,” the shop boy considered John again. “Yes, yes of course. A neat dresser despite the wear and tear. Something with a little bit of pattern, but very simple. Let’s head over to the tartan button ups and the nice sturdy jumpers. Bold, not bright, blues and reds of course!” he actually clapped his hands and motioned for them to follow him, hanging the clothes back up in a flurry of motion. “We’re meant to push the active wear! But I think a bit of sharpness doesn’t go amiss.”
There was a short table with stacks of little tartan button ups. The shop assistant knelt pulling a dark blue button up that had Mrs. Hudson cooing, “Oh, perfect.” He showed John how to roll up his sleeves in a series of quick moves that were neat as anything, smiling the same way to Mrs. Hudson as he did to John. He pulled a couple more that were sharp and suitable. Like something an adult would wear. The assistant disappeared, and reappeared again with different styles of jeans, pointing them toward the dressing room, promising jumpers when they returned.
As promised, once John came out of the changing room, ignoring the presence of Mrs. Hudson waiting patiently outside the door. It relieved him immensely when she didn’t seem inclined to insist she ‘help’ him with anything. He might look like a child, but he could fasten his own trousers without assistance. Thankfully Mrs. Hudson accepted his trouser independence as par for course. When he’d emerged, to Mrs. Hudson’s cooing and the assurance he looked so very lovely, she offered him a stack of jumpers to look through. There was an oatmeal coloured cable knit that very nearly matched the old one he wore into the store (and would be keeping, thank you!) that seemed to be an acceptable back up. And at the bottom of the stack was a soft, thin knit jumper with blue and tan stripes. A little brighter than he usually wore, but it looked very serviceable, and not like something that implied he was incapable of tying his shoes or treating a sucking chest wound.
“That’s very nice,” Mrs. Hudson said kindly, the smile gently curling along her voice. She watched his face, her eyes kind and tender. “It’s alright to have some things for yourself. Everyone deserves to have some things for themselves.”
He took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes. Yes, alright. I’d like these then.”
They stood together at the checkout, the clothes scanned and put away in their plastic bag, all the while the shop assistant chattering on about ducks and puddles and ice cream in a way that lingered like pleasant back ground music. “One last thing!” he grinned at them and reached behind the counter to pull out a John-sized tweed newsboy. “What do you think? A gentlemanly hat for a gentlemanly boy!”
John looked at it, held it in his hands. It didn’t look like the sort of cartoonish children’s clothing that was designed to look like adult clothes for the sole purpose of allowing grown people to clap their hands and use baby voices at children. This looked like a grown up hat for a grown up head.
“The knit hat is gorgeous,” the assistant gushed with real appreciation. “But I thought for dressing up the gentleman might like a gentle-hat.” He said this in the way of someone possibly too excited for their own good.
“Well John?” Mrs. Hudson smiled down at him.
John nodded once, overwhelmed at the assistant’s glee at his enjoyment.
“You can put it on if you like,” Mrs. Hudson assured John while handing over Sherlock’s sleek gold and black credit card.
The knit hat was a delight, like a hug for his head, but the newsboy had a decidedly serious, grown up feel to it. So clad in all his new clothes, fresh new jeans and shirt, wooly bright new jumper, John let the assistant scan and remove the tags and then snugged it down on his head.
“You’re so handsome!” Mrs. Hudson said again, making him blush so pink John was certain he could be seen for space. The assistant handed over the bags with a wink and a smile while John tried not to cling too obviously to Mrs. Hudson’s skirts.
“What a lovely errand,” she declared. “You know what I think we need?”
John was still busy pretending not to blush.
“A post shopping treat, what do you think?”
When John had checked the clock outside one of the shops he was surprised at how much time had passed. “Certainly,” he agreed.
“Excellent!” Mrs. Hudson smiled down at him. “I know just the place!”
The place as it turned out was a small tearoom run by a tall middle aged woman, one of Mrs. Turner older daughters. It was the kind of place that generally attracted women who spent most of their lives in the domestic sphere and young people who missed their mothers. All tasteful calico, lace, and soft buttery colours. The Turner daughter hugged Mrs. Hudson and exclaimed over John before sending them to a table with a golden tablecloth and delicate place settings.
“Who’s this young man then?” the waitress asked, descending on the table in a flurry of tea scent and vanilla.
The initial instinct was to scowl mightily at the waitress, but the smell of tea was instinctively calming and Mrs. Hudson suddenly transformed with pride. The perfect grace of her posture straightening even more, the beatific pleasure of her face enough to out-duchess any peer of the land, so John smiled politely and said, “John Watson.”
“My Sherlock’s his guardian,” Mrs. Hudson said with more pride than heads of state had for their military complexes.
“Oh! Sherlock has a boy now! That’s so sweet, he seems so well behaved! It must be so nice to have the sound of little feet. How old are you then?” she said, turning back to John.
John swallowed his immediate answer to reply, “Eight years old miss.”
“So polite,” the waitress cooed and Mrs. Hudson glowed. John hadn’t felt so proud of himself in a while, Mrs. Hudson was so obviously happy to show him off, so happy and John had a part in that in acting the part. “How lovely for you! The usual tea?”
“Oh yes, and your house biscuit array and a nice milky tea.”
It was the work of a moment and the waitress brought forth a three tiers display full of bright little biscuits, pink, yellow, blue, jellied, iced, and shortbready all arrayed around a china plate. And a tray of matching green teapot with a little creamer and sugar dish. John found himself sitting on his hands to resist the biscuit arrangement.
“Go ahead dear,” Mrs. Hudson smiled, laughing gently through his quick collection that looked to be made of shortbread or chocolaty. The buttery sweetness melted on his tongue relaxing his shoulders and filled him with a calm sort of bliss. It had been so long since he just sat and enjoyed something.
John was on his third when Sherlock suddenly appeared, swanning into the remaining chair at the table, popping a jelly drop into his mouth. “Excellent, you’ve got him to eat something sweet. I knew this was an excellent idea.”
“Oh,” John said, quickly checking himself for crumbs.
“John,” Sherlock stopped him, his large hand curling over that top of his head and resting gently for just a moment on the back of John’s neck. “Just enjoy yourself. I certainly plan on stuffing by face.” The droll way he rolled the words over his tongue surprised a giggle out of John, Sherlock smiled, a gentle little bracketing of his mouth. “That is,” he added, “if Mrs. Hudson doesn’t mind.”
“Of course not,” she smiled and squeezed their hands. “Both my boys? It’ll be lovely.”
“Excellent,” Sherlock smiled. “My thoughts exactly.”