Previous Entry Share Next Entry
FIC: "darling, you’ve left your mark" for bbakerb! (1/2)
john, thoughtful, sweet-faced
innie_darling wrote in sherlock_remix
Original Author: tibididim
Original Story Title: "gypsies tramps & thieves AU"
Original Story Link: &
Original Story Pairings, if any: John/Sherlock
Original Story Rating: PG
Original Story Warnings, if any: none
Remix Author: sciosophia
Remix Story Title: "darling, you’ve left your mark"
Remix Story Pairings, if any: John/Sherlock, Anthea/Mycroft
Remix Story Rating: PG-13
Remix Story Warnings, if any: none
Remix Story Beta: roses_of_anna and call_me_ishmael, who were more help than words can possibly say. This fic would not exist without either of them.

"darling, you’ve left your mark"

[Enter, stage right]

This is the story of how John Watson meets Sherlock Holmes, and before it begins there is something you should know; Sherlock Holmes is born and raised in a travelling show.

But that’s far too perfunctory a way to begin this tale--where’s the drama, or the glamour?--and if you want something more for your money then stay--don’t get up from your seat, I can promise that you’ll want to hear the end!

Lights, please, and let the curtain rise because, as P.T Barnum, the Silver King himself always said; it was not the show, dear audience--it was the tale that you told.</em>

Somewhere around 1980

Sherlock Holmes is born in the back of the bright yellow wagon of a travelling show. Or at least, it had once been bright yellow. Now the wheels are caked in mud and the paint is chipping, scarred by wind and rain, and the grain of the wood is beginning to show through.

On this particular night this wagon sits just off to the side of the road, crooked on the uneven ground. The moon is out, swollen round and gleaming an obnoxious white, and it makes the paint bright in a way it hasn't been for years. It feels like the stars have buried themselves into the landscape, making it glow from the inside out; the world looks empty save for the little yellow wagon.

The scene is accompanied by screams; the shutters of the wagon windows are open, circulating air, and do nothing to muffle the sound. There are voices too, one quiet and urging and the other out of breath and laboured. A sentence degenerates into yelling, loud enough to echo off the hills and back, and the little boy on the steps of the wagon looks up at the sky as if to say really? Did you have to?

This little boy is Mycroft Holmes. He is seven, and he will never quite forgive his brother for putting Mummy through this.

The screaming slows into whimpers, builds slowly back up again, and then from the other side of the sound comes the cries of a newborn, cutting through the night.

Sherlock Holmes is born in the back of a wagon and raised in a travelling show.

Somewhere around 1998

John loves London in the winter. He loves London full-stop, of course--the constant bustle and noise, the press of people, the life of it--but, like any boy who was already seventeen the first time he'd seen Trafalgar Square, John takes particular delight in loving London when everyone else hates it, as though he's making up for lost time.

Today the clouds are low and grey, make everything look drained of colour, and John grins, soaks the feeling of it into his skin. He walks with his hands in his pockets, striding through crowds with needless purpose. He’s early, just, for work, and he takes the opportunity to study the people around him, to observe the mud-coloured throng of Londoners rushing to and fro. There’s a costermonger at the corner of Vauxhall Bridge selling toffee apples and sweet peanuts, perfuming the ugly air with something better, and John feels for the change in his pocket and wonders. He’s not a wasteful person, raised to save and never squander, but Dr. Bell has promised to see about another midwifery case and John’s been doing well recently, diagnosing patients quicker and generally improving, and with exams approaching he doesn’t think it’s too much to begrudge himself this, so he hands a few coins over to the costermonger with a smile.

The peanuts are hot, warm John’s hands through the paper bag, and as he accepts his change something in the atmosphere of the crowd shifts. There’s a murmur chasing itself like a wave through them and as John watches they ripple apart like water meeting an island.

There’s a girl, small and beautiful, with a handful of colourful flyers, and she’s passing them out to the crowd, shouting with a volume that doesn’t quite match the rest of her. John can feel his interest being snared even as he thinks that he should really move away, should think about getting to the clinic, and he’s not the only one either, judging by the way the people around him are turning to look too.

He watches her through the crowd, the way she almost dances through the gap that people are leaving for her. There’s a broken buckle on her bag and her shoes--bright, though smeared a little in dried mud--tap along the pavement, dip into the road. In the back of John’s head he worries about the gutter, the slippery leaves; her wrists look fairly delicate and it stands to reason that her ankles will be the same.

Perhaps if John wasn’t about to go into Army training he might not have noticed the whispering at his side, the ghost of movement; as it is the feeling is quick and light, like the brush of eyelashes against a cheek, and John snaps round--the peanuts fall to the pavement--and grabs out--

It’s a little jarring at first; the pickpocket is taller than him, quite a bit, but the wrist that John has grabbed is thin and when he looks the boy can’t be much older than eighteen or nineteen. His eyes are wide, surprised, and for a moment they stare, mirroring John’s incredulity. John watches the boy’s face twist, one part panic to two parts--intrigue, is that? John has always been good at reading faces but the lines of this one are striking, almost extrinsic, and make it harder.

They have a moment of staring at each other, a moment where the boy jerks and John tightens his grip on his wrist, before a voice next to them says, “Are you alright, Sir?”

Neither of them have noticed the Bobbie and John jumps, almost lets go. The boy looks between John and the young policeman, face set with irritation. “You’re new,” he says to the Bobbie.

The Bobbie clears his throat, narrows his eyes just a little. “I suppose that means I’ll have to watch out for you.”

“Probably,” the boy replies. He looks away, as if the conversation no longer interests him, but John can see tension in the line of his neck and can feel the fast pulse of his wrist, trapped underneath his fingers. What he can see, too, underneath the blue scarf and the winter coat, collar starting to fray, is someone who is perhaps a little thinner than they should be, who might be feeling the cold even under the layers.

Might be malnutrition, might just be a metabolism that works too fast for its own good, but John can think of a few reasons beyond maliciousness for why someone might steal what is, really, a measly handful of change, so he looks at the policeman and says, “It’s fine. I was just lending him some money.”

He smiles--he’s used to faking them for his mother--and lets go of the boy’s wrist. The boy is staring, perhaps trying not to look surprised, and John raises his eyebrows and tilts his head ever so slightly towards the Bobbie. The boy nods, once, slowly, and the again a little faster, more emphatic. His eyes are still on John, as though he’s expecting him to shout only joking! at any moment.

“Yes,” he says instead. “Just borrowing some change.”

John digs into his pocket for his wallet, opens it and tips the coins that he has left into his hand, holds it out palm upwards. “There you go. Like I said, you can pay me back later.”

The boy smiles suddenly, wide and friendly, and it’s such a sudden transformation that John doesn’t quite know what to do with it. He reaches forwards and takes the money, long fingers curling over the coins; he’s as warm as a fire and it makes John startle. A metabolism working at double speed, then, it must be, to let him give off that body heat.

“Thanks, John,” the boy says, still smiling. “I’ll see you later.”

John has enough time to stop his jaw dropping before the boy has waved and darted away into the crowd. He disappears from view and John stutters--thinks how did he know--before the Bobbie has cleared his throat and said, “So, definitely all fine here then, sir?”

John buries any sign that he’s flustered. “Uh, yes,” he says. “All fine. He just--runs off like that. He does it all the time.”

The Bobbie doesn’t look convinced, is looking into the crowd after the boy, but he just gives a quick smile, more a tilt of the mouth, and says, “Well, if you’re certain.” He tips his hat and turns and then he too is lost into the morning crowd.

John stands for a minute, clutches absently at the strap of his bag. How on earth, he thinks, did he know my name?, and he’s starting without seeing into the crowd before suddenly the boy catches John’s eyes as he twists straight through into the open space and falls into step behind the girl with the flyers.

She frowns at him, murmurs something, and John sees the boy shake his head, though he’s not looking at her, staring resolutely instead into the crowds around them. The girl’s expression softens a little as she halves the flyers, presses some into his hand, and then she’s back to shouting, pulling the crowds in with the brightly coloured paper.

The boy throws a look upwards as he follows her, almost but not quite back at John. The sun chooses that moment to appear, slanting over Vauxhall to cover the crowd in morning light, and the boys squints against it. He’s painted yellow, bright and dazzling; John breathes in deeply and then they’re lost to the London crowds, swallowed up into the mass of people, and he loses sight of them, feeling a little bewildered.

He manages to attend his ninth midwifery case at mid-morning. It’s a boy, brought into the world with a lot of blood and fuss but mostly alright, and Dr. Bell pats John on the back at the clinic and says well done. John had thought the requirement unnecessary at first--he’s not going to be delivering many babies in the army, is he?--but the more he does it the better he becomes, and the novelty of seeing that first spark of life hasn’t worn off yet. He’s kind of hoping it never does.

It manages to push the pickpocket to the back of John’s mind, though a little disquiet still sparks whenever Doctor Bell calls his name, and he works through the patients lining up inside the tiny clinic’s waiting room. Mrs Markham calls Doctor Bell out in the late afternoon--her youngest has a fever (again)--and he puts his head around the door and says, “You can finish up for today, can’t you? Nothing too testing out here by the looks of things.”

John nods, of course. Doctor Bell is good natured and, more importantly for John, an encouraging teacher, and the easy camaraderie relaxes John’s shoulders as he pulls his bag down from the back of the door, starts to pack away the extraneous things he won’t need for the rest of the day.

“We’ll try to get you onto one of the midwives’ cases tomorrow,” Doctor Bell promises. “Get another one under your belt before you go off home for Christmas. You haven’t got that long left, you know.”

And it’s true, John hasn’t. He’s stayed later than most of his classmates this year because he’s got RAMC requirements to build up, even if half of them look pointless at first glance; he’s three midwifery cases away from the required twelve and his meteorology isn’t going too terribly. The botany and zoology have been alright, and the list of things that he needs to conquer is growing shorter every day.

He thinks of Mike, already back home (enjoying his mum’s food, without any shadow of doubt, and John’s stomach grumbles at the thought of Mrs Stamford’s Christmas dinners, which Mike has described in detail more than once). Mike had teased him before he’d left about Army doctors, about drills and orders and mess, and John had shot right back that at least his career wasn’t going to be dull. Mike had grinned and said at least I’ll be comfortable.

The spectre of leaving London behind for Christmas looms large in front of him, twists his stomach into uneasy knots (home, he thinks, should not fill me with this sort of dread), and John shakes his head. “Go, go on,” he says to Doctor Bell. “What can there possibly be out there worse than Mrs. Markham?”

There’s a woman with a boil that needs lancing, a man with a repeat prescription for back pain. John almost remembers their names and the woman babbles nervously, a mixture of embarrassment and fear as John takes care of her.

“Send the next person in after you, if you could?” he tells the man, who nods and hobbles out, clutching his laudanum like a fifty pound note. John’s not looking up when they come in, pen still poised over his ink well as he fills in paperwork, and he says, “Sorry, be with you in a moment,” as the door creaks open and then closed.

Shoes clack across the floor and a voice says, “He’s broken his wrist.” John looks up; the beautiful girl from the street looks back and adds, ““I don’t know how, he just slipped and put his hand out to stop himself.”

The pickpocket is standing behind her. There’s a makeshift sling holding one arm against his chest and his coat is draped over the other, and he stares back at John with narrowed eyes. There’s a slight tilt to his mouth that suggests the last vestiges of surprise; John hasn’t been able to hide his own quite yet.

John’s about to say something--hello, probably, or maybe just oh--but the boy looks from him to the girl and then back again; shakes his head the tiniest bit. It’s a mirror of what John had done earlier with the Bobbie and so he pauses. He feels like his mind is backpedalling, braking the words so that they stop just before they tumble from his mouth, and he swallows them down.

“That’s fairly common,” he finds himself saying. “A lot of people do that.” He wants to say a lot of kids, but John remembers being three years younger and bristling any time someone had referred to him as a child. “Especially with the dead leaves you get this time of year, it gets slippery.” He gets up, gestures to the chair on the other side of his desk. “Let’s have a look.”

The boy comes closer, though no more than he needs to, sits down and doesn’t let go of his coat until the girl touches his shoulder, murmurs something that sounds encouraging.

He watches as John undoes the sling with gentle movements; it’s intent, like he’s trying to look inside John’s head, and John tries not to pay too much attention. His eyes are oddly colourless, overcrowded with intelligence, and they don’t help John’s vague unease, bolstered by the shock of seeing him here again and by the disquiet he feels every time he remembers his name, ungifted, on this boy’s tongue. His wrist is swollen and already bruising a livid purple, bone clearly wonky beneath the skin.

“Elsie was dancing,” the boy says as John examines the injury. “I was handing out flyers and I stepped into the gutter and didn’t look and didn’t fall right.”

John nods. “It’s a funny angle,” he tells him. “Not too bad, though. Brave of you to bandage him up, Elsie.” He’s aware of her nodding, a murmured hmmm as she hovers over the boy’s shoulder. “Keep talking to him,” he adds. “Keep him concentrated on something else. I’m going to need to check nothing else got smashed.”

“Sherlock doesn’t get distracted,” Elsie says. She settles a hand on the boy’s--Sherlock, John’s mind repeats, and he finds that the name matches the face, fey and entrancing--good shoulder, gentle, and John wonders if she’s cleaned him up after injuries like this before. “And he doesn’t care about pain. It worries me.”

John begins to press up Sherlock’s arm, to feel for more swelling, more breaks, tell-tale winces, though he’s starting to suspect that even if he was in paint Sherlock wouldn’t wince at all.

Sherlock rolls his eyes. “It doesn’t bother me,” he says, tone an odd mixture of flat and sharp. “It’s just something that happens, whether you feel it or not makes no difference to what it is or how long before it goes away.” He almost sounds bored.

“Sherlock, hmm?” John says. Sherlock watches him, doesn’t blink for a long moment before he nods, and everything from earlier coalesces, exists in between them like a secret. “You’re probably quite shaken up, even if you don’t feel it,” John adds, glances up to see that Sherlock’s glaring at him now. He looks annoyed and there’s something in it that makes John want to smile. He works gently at Sherlock’s arms and says, jokingly (comfortingly), “Or maybe not, what do I know. I’m only a doctor.”

“A doctor in training,” Sherlock retorts. John’s hands stop and Sherlock carries on without much of a pause. “You clearly haven’t finished, you’re not old enough, and you wouldn’t be stuck here lancing boils if you had. I can see the needle by the sink,” he adds. “You should learn to tidy up between patients. You’ll have to be a bit neater when you go abroad, you know what the Army’s like.”

The fingers of his uninjured hand twitch, a ripple of movement that’s defiant, almost daring. John nearly let’s go of Sherlock’s arm, stares at him. Sherlock looks bored. “That’s--how did you do that?”

“I know a lot of things,” Sherlock continues, ignoring the question, and now there’s a mocking tone to his voice. “I don’t think you want me blurting them all out in mixed company.”

John’s cheeks burn as he blushes a little. He must tighten his grip on Sherlock’s arm without thinking because Sherlock winces, hisses air out from between his teeth, and John lets go and murmurs sorry, sorry.

“Don’t mind him,” Elsie says. Her hand is still on Sherlock’s shoulder, squeezes, and the gesture is motherly, for all that she looks not much older than him. “He does this trick, you see, he tells you where you grew up and what your sister said to you two weeks ago and what’s the best way to eat your bread-and-dripping. His mother tried to put him onto fortune-telling but he’s rubbish at it.” For all that the words are harsh they’re belayed by obvious affection. “Only tells people things that make them upset.”

“All travelling show people can do it,” Sherlock interrupts, like he’s correcting her. “Can tell who’s going to spend money, who’s spoiling for a fight, who wants to get drunk. I can see more than most people. That’s all.”

Sherlock tucks his chin down against his shoulder, reveals a profile that’s made up of perfect lines and angles. It’s imperious, just a little, but it makes him look his age again, and quite beautiful. You seem quite extraordinary, John thinks, </em>and I’m half-sure you don’t even know it.</em>.

There’s a tap at the door that cuts in, handle turning before John has quite finished saying, “Can you wait a few minutes, please?” There’s another young man there--the same age as John, perhaps a few years older--and he marches in without waiting. He’s clutching a bag in one hand and ostrich feathers, overly bright against the brown of the room, stick out from the end.

“Are you finished?” he says, but he’s addressing Sherlock, not John. Sherlock’s jaw clenches and the fingers of his free hand curl inwards.

“Actually,” John says, “I’m in the middle of something. Can you wait outside? There’s such a thing as patient confidentiality you know--”

“I’m his brother,” the man cuts in, doesn’t even bother to look at John. “He’s got to hurry up. I don’t suppose you even finished handing out those flyers, did you?”

“Mycroft?” Elsie says. She points at the door almost immediately, and even though her face is fairly blank John senses something else underneath it, and there’s a certain tension as she and the brother stare at each other, a silent force of will that John and Sherlock can only watch. The brother purses his lips, finally, and turns, and then they’re out the door and Elsie has slammed it behind her. Their voices raise and echo and John is supremely glad that there are no more patients waiting outside. Sherlock is watching the door.

“I saw you handing out flyers,” John begins, trying to ignore the voices. He feels awkward, though he has no idea if Sherlock does as he turns back. He looks almost resigned, still that air of boredom, though it’s tingeing more and more with pain. Perhaps it gets harder to tune the injury out the more monotonous the pain becomes.

“Yes,” he says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you had.”

The silence at the end of his sentence stretches out, leaving the street and John’s pocket and his change in between them. Sherlock is looking around the room, eyes flicking along the walls and taking everything in. John resists the urge to watch what he’s doing, asks instead, “Where are you performing?”

“We did the suburbs at first,” Sherlock tells him. “And yesterday was Vauxhall. And I don’t perform, not really. I play the violin but I don’t have an act, I just help. Setting up, tickets and flyers and things. Elsie’s good though,” he adds, and as if it’s a reflex he twists to look back at the door. “She sings, it’s lovely. Mycroft--” And here Sherlock stops. He bites his lip and his expression darkens, and he looks, suddenly, caught between being angry and upset. John’s aware that it’s the most he’s heard Sherlock say in one go. “You’ll have to set the bone,” Sherlock adds suddenly. “Mycroft won’t wait and I don’t have the money to get back on my own.”

He’s trying to keep his tone flat, John can tell, but as he finishes he shifts his shoulder and the wince is unmistakable, and he’s drumming the fingers of his uninjured hand against his knee. John knows a distraction when he sees it.

“I’ll need to give you some laudanum,” he tells him. “And then we’ll have to wait for it to kick in, so you’re going to have to stay anyway--”

Sherlock snaps towards him, vehement, and John almost jumps. “No laudanum.”

John frowns. Usually his patients say the opposite. “Alright. Well, there’s chloroform I suppose, but that would knock you out completely, so either way--”

“Just do it, John,” Sherlock cuts in, sharp and angry, and when John starts, mouth already forming the question, adds: “Your wallet. I would have though that was obvious.”

Of course. John feels faintly stupid for forgetting the name deftly embroidered into the leather. “Ah,” he says.

John M. Watson,” Sherlock sniffs. “That’s rather pedestrian, isn’t it?”

H,” John replies, choosing to ignore the slight, and Sherlock frowns. “John M. Watson was my father’s name, not mine. I’ve got an H.”

“Oh,” Sherlock says. He pauses, then shrugs dully. It’s only with his unscathed arm but the movement must ripple through, because this time the wince is far more pronounced.

“Right, well,” John says. “Anything else?”

“A lot,” Sherlock replies. He’s starting to look a bit grey, biting at his lip, and John knows that he’s going to have to make a decision on this sooner or later.

“Right, so, no laudanum, no chloroform. If you go without it’s going to hurt,” he tells him, emphasises the word to make it as clear as possible.

“I know.”

Sherlock seems entirely resolute, though under the apathy John thinks the pain is starting to win, and John shakes his head, can’t believe that this thought is even crossing his mind. “I’m not letting you walk out of here any time soon, even if you’re not off your head on pain killers,” he tells him. “In fact I’m even more inclined to keep you here if I’m to set this thing without it, so if this is you trying to get out of here quicker for your brother--”

I don’t want any drugs,” Sherlock snaps, and in the silence that stretches out from his words they can hear Elsie and Mycroft, still arguing behind the door. “Just--set it. Please,” he adds, as though it’s an afterthought.

“This is without a doubt the stupidest thing I’ve heard all day, Sherlock,” John says, and already he feels himself twisting into tight knots over it. “You think you’re okay. You’re clearly not.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “The alternative would be much worse. Trust me.”

There are layers in the words that John realises he doesn’t want to read, because the ideas just don’t sit with what he sees in front of him, but Sherlock doesn’t seem to be relenting at all and John finds himself gritting his teeth, murmuring what on Earth am I doing.

He sets the bone. Sherlock hisses in through his teeth again, harder this time, and digs the fingernails of his good hand into his palm, enough to leave marks in the flesh. John bites his lip as he does it and tries not to feel too sick. He wraps it up extremely gently, bandages and splints it and carefully ties the sling. Sherlock’s breathing is heavy and he ducks his head down again, lets curls of dark hair fall across his forehead, but John can still see that his eyes are wet.

“What do you play?” John says as he secures the bandage in place, attempting to distract both of them.

“Oh, the usual drivel,” Sherlock replies. It’s the same tone as before but weaker, a little. “Just like everything else on the bill but even worse.”

“Ah,” John says. “No need to see the show then.”

“No, not really.” Sherlock bites his lip. “I hate it,” he says, suddenly, savagely, practically spitting the words. “And I want to leave but I can’t, not--” and he stops, seems to bite it back as though he’s said something he shouldn’t. When he looks up at John his pupils are wider and there’s something more earnest in his expression. His fingers flutter like he wants to do something with them and he and John watch each other, just the sound of their breathing and the voices still behind the door.

“I,” and John stops, thinks, wonders if he should start again or just leave it. Safer, perhaps, to stop talking, and at the same time he thinks, there should be someone else in the room with us, this isn’t proper. “I don’t know how to help you.”

There are tears clinging to Sherlock’s eyelashes, though he doesn’t seem to have noticed, and when he speaks it’s like his thoughts are slightly off-centre, jarred as the pain of a newly-set wrist tears up his arm.

“We’re leaving London the day after tomorrow,” he says, beginning to look a little dazed. “We might be going through your town though, we go everywhere. You’re from somewhere not too far away, Essex, probably. I bet it’s--”

“Stop,” John interrupts. “Just--it’s not good for you to know that. It’s amazing, yes, but--no, not good.”

Sherlock hugs his good arm close to his chest. “That’s what people always say.”

He looks unfocused now, blinking as his body curves inwards against the pain, and with the words he seems lost, upset, almost as though John has disappointed him. Even if John knows it was Sherlock’s choice--request--he can feel the decision to set the bone weighing on his shoulders, as the doctor, and feels responsible for it. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” Sherlock replies. “You said amazing, at least.” He smiles at that, as though it’s amusing. “No one else ever says that.”

“It is, though,” John hears himself say. “It’s--quite extraordinary.”

Sherlock’s staring at him now as if he’s trying hard not to be curious, as though he’s not used to being praise, doesn’t understand it. “Try telling that to Mycroft,” he says eventually. “He says I frighten people.”

He blinks and a tear escapes, finally, to track down his cheek, but John’s not even sure that Sherlock realises. He wants to say something, to refute it, but he thinks of what Sherlock seems to knows without even trying, of the superstitions of ordinary people--of his own unease, and he feels ashamed for it--and there’s an ugly truth to be found in what Sherlock’s saying.

“I--” John begins, but as he does the door slams open, breaking the moment in half, and Sherlock’s brother--Mycroft--manifests, still clutching the bag of ostrich feathers. Elsie is a little way behind him, and even though she looks serene now John heard her raised voice, could probably guess at the things she was saying and must feel.

“You must be finished by now,” Mycroft says, frowning, like they’ve greatly displeased him.

“Your brother should learn to be patient,” John says to Sherlock.

“He’s just nervous because he’s put on five pounds and his skirts might not fit,” Sherlock replies.

“Skirts?” John asks at the same time as Mycroft snaps, “Three, Sherlock,” at which Sherlock looks smug.

“Look, he’s not going anywhere soon,” John says, turning to Mycroft. “I’ve got to keep an eye on him for at least a few--”

“Yes, but we need to go now,” Mycroft interrupts. It’s polite but steely, uncompromising. “Our family’s got a business to run. I’m sure you understand.”

John has to try very hard not to start shouting himself; instead he licks his lips and tries not to show it. “Look, I’ve just had to set his wrist without pain killers because for some reason he’s refusing the laudanum, and you want me to let him just swan off back to the circus--?”

“It’s not a circus,” Mycroft cuts in, seems to bristle as though John has thrown a badly-disguised insult. “And either way,” he adds, “I don’t trust him to get back on his own and I certainly don’t intend to leave him with an outsider like you, even if you are a doctor. In training.”

They’re all psychic, John thinks.

“I’m not a child,” Sherlock argues across them, cradling his wrist closer to his chest. It’s the youngest John has heard him sound, voice slightly higher for agitation. “I can manage perfectly fine on my own.”

“And yet,” Mycroft says, looking pointedly at Sherlock’s wrist.

Sherlock scowls and opens his mouth to argue; Elsie sighs and looks torn between the two of them, unsure of which argument to take, and John finds himself raising his voice, saying, “Alright, alright. I understand your concerns,” even if I really don’t, “but the fact is that he’s in pain and he’s in no condition to go anywhere at the moment. Can you really not wait?”

“We both need to get back,” Elsie says gently. She looks at John, stares for an inscrutable moment before she glances at Sherlock’s wrist. “What would you like to do?” she asks Sherlock; then, when Mycroft starts to protest: “He’s eighteen, remember. It’s his decision.”

“I don’t think I’m in the best state to wonder around London, do you?,” Sherlock replies immediately.

Mycroft sighs, actually starting to look angry now. “Sherlock, you do insist on getting yourself into these situations.” When Sherlock doesn’t reply his face sours further. “Fine,” Mycroft retorts. “Fine, stay here with the rube, if you must” and he glides out and shuts the door firmly behind him. Silence settles in the wake of it, the sound ringing in their ears.

“Sherlock,” Elsie says finally. “I’ve got to go with him, you know. Are you sure?”

Sherlock is pale, still dazed and looking worse for wear, and even as she asks her question she’s hitching the strap of her bag up her shoulder, preparing to leave for all that she’s hesitating.

“John seems perfectly harmless,” Sherlock says, and John is aware that it’s entirely inappropriate for him to be calling him that, especially when Elsie gives him a sharp, frowning look.

“Right, well,” Elsie says, this time to John, and her voice is suddenly much harder and fiercer, enough to give him a glimpse of why Mycroft had done as she’d asked earlier. She points at him and narrows her eyes. “If he’s not back in one piece later today, trust me when I say you will be in more trouble than you know what to do with. We know how to look after our own.”

John has no trouble believing her; he’s heard stories about what happens to people who cross travelling show folk. He nods, pauses; an idea settles and on impulse he goes to the other side of his desk, rummages in one of the draws and--yes, there. It’s a silver pocketwatch, small but sturdy, swirled in intricate designs, and John knows that the clockwork inside is just as complex--just as beautiful. His heart skips a bit as he picks it up, as he realises what he’s committing to doing, but he just takes a deep breath and shuts the draw.

“Here,” he says, hands it to Elsie, whose eyes have gone rather round. He sets it in her palm and curls her fingers around it. “I know it’s not the same as trusting me with Sherlock but--take it. I’ll look after Sherlock and you look after that until I bring him back.”

Elsie stares at the watch for a long moment, looks back up to John, edged in disbelief, and then Sherlock. His tears have dried but he still looks a fair mess, and Elsie’s gaze travels over the bottles lined up against the wall, the handwritten labels that are all in Latin.

“I’m only doing this because we’ve got a show to run,” she finally says. “Look after him and you get your watch back.”

John nods, and even as it’s odd to see the watch in Elsie’s fingers he’s flooded with a funny kind of relief that he can’t place. “On my honour as a doctor in training,” he replies, gives a small smile. Elsie doesn’t smile back.

“I’d best run after Mycroft before he changes his mind and drags you back,” she says to Sherlock instead.

“Good luck with tonight,” he replies; then, more hesitantly, “Sorry.” He blinks again, blurred, and Elsie bites at her lip, still looks torn, but Sherlock sits up straighter in his chair and shakes his head, resolute. “I don’t need coddling.”

Elsie smiles at that, though she still doesn’t look entirely happy. “[Bring him back in one piece],” she says to John. She hitches her bag up on her shoulder--a flyer drifts to the floor--and then she’s gone, closing the door behind her.

They don’t talk much at first after Elsie’s gone. John makes Sherlock drink a large glass of water--boiled beforehand, Dr. Bell is always immovable on that point--and then he lets Sherlock sit in the chair, sipping at a second glass and watching John finish packing his things away for the day.

As Sherlock comes back from the edge of pain the silence resolves itself into comfortable —nice, even, and John finds it impossible not to dwell on the fact that this morning Sherlock was a complete stranger and now he’s watching John pack up at the end of the day as though they’ve known each other for years and years. John is trying not to remind himself that he gave his father’s pocketwatch to Elsie just to keep him here.

“You’ve got too much faith in people,” Sherlock says eventually. He sounds more himself (and John ignores the idea that he can even tell what is and isn’t Sherlock). “That watch was your father’s.”

“That one’s easy,” John replies, does up first one and then a second buckle on his bag. He picks the flyer up from the floor and folds it into his pocket. “How are you feeling?”

“Yes, the engraving,” Sherlock says, ignoring him. “Easy. Boring.”

John huffs, a small laugh. “You’re welcome.”

Sherlock doesn’t reply, just gulps the water down. He’s looking better for the rest--for the calm, perhaps, now that Mycroft isn’t breathing down his neck--and there’s more colour in his cheeks and a steady gaze, though his fingers shake a little as he leans forwards and puts the glass on John’s desk.

“Giving it to Elsie though,” he finally replies. “That’s much more interesting.”


Sherlock nods. “Most people wouldn’t trust a stranger with something that valuable.” A pause. “No one would trust one of us with it.”

There’s an unspoken meaning: someone from a travelling show. It’s a little awful, the plain, perfunctory way that Sherlock says it, like it doesn’t matter. “Yeah, well,” John replies. “I like to see the good in people. Besides, she’s your friend,” he adds, “and you seem nice enough.”

“I tried to pickpocket you this morning.”

John has to try and gather his thoughts at that because it’s true, because this morning Sherlock was a thief trying to steal from him and now John is deeply invested--overly, perhaps, for no reason that he can yet fathom--in his well-being, and he wants to ask, do you know why I seem to care so much?. Instead he just pulls his coat from the back of the door and begins to shrug it on. “We all have our moments.”

It’s the right thing to say, apparently. Sherlock grins and it’s brilliant, to have that look turned on him. “Help me put my coat on.”

John does, easing it back onto Sherlock’s shoulders. It’ll be colder and completely dark outside now, late in the evening, and John helps Sherlock to tie his scarf around his neck. He has to lean up to do it, with Sherlock so much taller, and Sherlock is smiling and John mutters don’t laugh.

“I won’t,” he promises, but he’s still smiling.

London at night--especially on a Friday, like tonight--is dark and busy, lit only by gaslamps and occasionally moonlight. Tonight the clouds are beginning to clear and the moon shines between them when it can, full and bright. They walk with their heads down against the flow of the crowds in and out of Lambeth’s pubs, then, when they cross the river, against the nighttime breeze rolling in from the Thames, and it isn’t until John looks up and finds that he’s amongst the white buildings of Whitehall that he stops. Sherlock notices a few steps later and turns, frowns.

“Sherlock,” he says. “Where are we going? Is this--?”

Sherlock rolls his eyes and turns back into the flow of people along the street, and John has no choice but to jog to catch up with him.

“Far more interesting,” he says, “to observe something that you’re not used to in a familiar environment than to return home and be bored.”

With that he picks up his pace, long legs cutting between the crowd, and John has to work even harder to stay on his heels. He can see Nelson’s Column now, knows exactly where they’re going, and Sherlock darts across the road towards Trafalgar Square, almost gets hit by a hansom cab in the process.

John waits until it’s a little safer to cross, shouts after him, but by the time he’s on the other side Sherlock is already clambering up the base of Nelson’s Column, wobbling as he attempts to climb it one-handed.

“Sherlock--” John calls, chasing after him. He disappears around the other side and John follows, stops against the stone when he finds Sherlock sitting down, cross-legged, on the topmost step. John stares up at him and Sherlock grins. “This isn’t the fair.”

“Well-observed,” Sherlock replies, and then, “Oh, don’t look at me like that. This is much more fun.”

“I’m supposed to take you home!” John cries. “In case you’ve forgotten Elsie threatened to do something very unpleasant and unspecified if I didn’t keep you safe.”

“No one said when I had to be back. I’m very good at exploiting loopholes.” Sherlock leans his head back against the stone and stares upward at the sky. “Besides,” he adds. “I’m with you. Of course I’m safe.”

“How do you know, though?” John says, pressing the point. He eyes the stone in front of him balefully, caught between wanting to [climb up next to Sherlock] and not wanting to encourage him. “I could be a horrible murderer.”

Sherlock laughs, loudly, as though it’s the most hilarious thing he’s ever heard. “I don’t think so.”

“I could be,” John grumbles, and then, “Oh, for god’s sake,” as he grabs the edge of the stone and pulls himself up.

“John H. Watson,” Sherlock says as John joins him, sits down. “Definitely, under no circumstances, a horrible murderer.”

“Mmm, well,” John agrees. “I probably shouldn’t be arguing for, I suppose.”

“Yes, it would be rather pointless.” Sherlock looks over at him. “You’ve got Queen and Country written all over you.”

“Is this another one of those moments where you deconstruct me?”

Sherlock tilts his head to the side; John feels stripped down, known, with that look, and his breathing feels jagged, his skin oversensitive.

“Would you like me to?” Sherlock asks.

John nods. “Yeah. Yes.” He swallows. They’re still staring at each other. “Tell me what you think you know.”

Sherlock watches him a little longer, narrows his eyes. Whatever is in the air between them deepens, feels like an energy that you can’t quite see, and Sherlock reaches out and takes John’s hand, holds it in his lap, palm upwards.

“Your hands are rough from learning to use a weapon,” he says, traces the inside of John’s thumb and along the index finger, across the palm. John’s skin sings at the touch and he breathes in sharply. “And you’re a doctor, or training to be one, at least. All the University students have gone home for Christmas--I’ve seen them, you know,” Sherlock adds, “they pass us when we’re on the road--but you’re still here. Extra training, then, and apart from The Origin of Species you own some atrocious books--” meteorology, John thinks, and zoology, “--so, Royal Army Medical Corp it is.”

He’s still looking down at John’s hand and John is caught again by his profile, by the curve of Sherlock’s mouth as he speaks and his eyelashes, touched by the light of the gaslamps and the escaping moon.

“The Army can be pretty violent,” John says. “War. Death. It doesn’t make me safe.”

Sherlock shakes his head. “You wouldn’t let me leave before you were sure I was alright. You gave your father’s pocketwatch to a stranger because you were so convinced it was the right thing to do. That’s more than a strong moral stance, that’s incorruptible. Queen and Country, John,” he says. “You’ll kill, one day--” and John feels a chill clutch at his spine to hear that in Sherlock’s voice, “--but only ever in the line of duty. I’m not in danger with you.”

Sherlock smiles. John’s hand is still in his lap and he’s still absently tracing a curving line across the palm, and with a shock John suddenly realises that he’s drawing an S.

“I’m not entirely sure you’re right on that last point,” John says, voice strangely rough, and kisses him.

Sherlock makes a surprised sort of noise, wobbles a bit. His height means that John’s face is tilted
upwards, affects his aim, and he’s kissing the corner of Sherlock’s mouth at first, knocking their teeth together the tiniest bit. There’s a second where he thinks this is the worst idea I’ve ever had, starts to draw away, but then Sherlock hums, this time far less surprised, and follows him, presses their mouths together with far more accuracy.

It’s quite chaste, just the even pressure of their lips against each other, but it feels so very much like the right thing that John doesn’t quite think before he’s kissing Sherlock again, mouth slightly parted this time, and Sherlock tastes warm and a little sweet, a hint of cigarettes, against the freezing December air. His hand is still in Sherlock’s lap, circled in his fingers, and John shifts his free hand up to cup Sherlock’s cheek, to feel stray curls brushing at his fingertips. Sherlock’s breathing stutters a little and he pushes closer, tastes John’s lips and then the line of his teeth. It’s nothing perfect, soaked in curiosity and inexperience, but John wants to wrap himself up in this moment forever and never leave as Sherlock--

Sherlock yelps, breaks away with a gasp that’s unmistakeably pain. His shoulders curve inwards and he squeezes his eyes shut, breathes in deeply, unsteadily, and he’s cradling the broken wrist.

“Are you alright?” John asks. He takes his hand from Sherlock’s face, ghosts it down his arm to avoid the injury. Sherlock nods, eyes still closed, but his breathing is evening out and as it does he leans forward, rests his forehead against John’s shoulder. At that a grin breaks across John’s face without permission and he realises that they’re still holding hands, still cradled between them in Sherlock’s lap. “I shouldn’t really have done that,” he says, but he’s too giddy to be feeling real guilt, just the space where it would be, if that hadn’t felt so right. “It was fun though,” he adds, because it’s true. “Really fun.”

“Adjectives aren’t your strong point, are they?” Sherlock says, though it’s more of a statement than anything and even, John thinks, vaguely affectionate.

“I’m a doctor, not a poet,” John replies; then, “I really should take you back.”

Sherlock huffs, a brush of air against John’s shoulder. “Don’t. Let’s stay here.”

John can’t think of much that’s more appealing at that precise moment, and the idea makes him feel off-balance. I met you this morning, he wants to say, and now we’re sitting outside in the cold in the middle of winter and I don’t want to do anything else. The rational part of his brain is telling him that that isn’t at all sensible, but right now he can still taste Sherlock and feel his body heat keeping the cold away, is still holding his hand, and it’s quickly becoming all that matters.

“It’s late, Sherlock. They’ll be worried.”

“I don’t care,” Sherlock says. “And I’m no use to anyone with a broken wrist, so--”

He looks up, grins, tips forward so that they’re kissing again, and the rational part of John’s brain can promptly go to hell because this time the angle is better and they have more idea of what they’re doing, and John twines his fingers into Sherlock’s hair and tries to avoid his broken wrist, and they’re both laughing in between.

Air, being inconvenient, makes them break apart, but it’s slow and lazy, a trail of quiet kisses until John sighs. “We really do need to go.”

Sherlock frowns, makes a disappointed sound and leans away from him, back against the stone. “You’re making London quite bearable, you know,” he begins after a moment, as though he’s not heard a thing John has just said. “I’ve never seen it like this before, what it must be like for outsiders. No one stares.” There’s that word again, outsider, and a crooked expression across Sherlock’s face that tells John everything that he’s not saying. “I think I could love it,” Sherlock adds lightly, “if it was always like this.”

John looks at his face, turned up to the sky and cast in light and shadows. John loves London, fiercely, but he’s never run through the streets at night as though it belongs to him, has never kissed someone in Trafalgar Square, and he’s sure that with Sherlock it would be more than he’d ever expected it could be. There’s something almost cruel in it, because London should be Sherlock’s city, should be his to love, and it’s not.

John remembers the crumpled flyer then, takes it from his pocket and smooths it out. The Holmes Family Travelling Theatre, it says in large, colourful letters, and then a list of acts underneath. John looks for Sherlock’s name but it’s not on there, even in the smallest print.

“That’s Elsie,” Sherlock says, pointing to the name Miss Anthea Tilley in large block capitals. “She’s the best male impersonator you’ll ever see. And here, that’s Mycroft.”

“Ah,” John says, reads where it says The Marvellous Modern Woman Sherringford Holmes. “Is that why he was worried about skirts?”

“Elsie keeps feeding him up, says her mum won’t take to him if he’s too thin. Mycroft wants to marry her,” Sherlock says, scowls as if it’s a perfectly horrific idea. “And she still hasn’t said no.”

That explains a lot, John thinks. “Will she stay with you?”

“Mycroft would never leave, not even for her.” Sherlock shrugs. “So she’ll have to. I think she’s mad. I mean, not just because it’s Mycroft,” he says, still glowering, “but she could leave, if she wanted. She doesn’t have to stay.”

He sounds wistful again, as if he’s forgotten that John is even there, and it’s like being faced with the promise of problems even if you have no idea what they are. John has always wanted to fix, and he wants to mend whatever it is that’s making Sherlock look like that. You can’t get this involved this quickly, he tells himself. For your own sanity. Instead he curls his hand more tightly into Sherlock’s.

“Hyde Park,” he says, pointing at the flyer. “You took me in completely the wrong direction.”

“Trust me,” Sherlock replies. “You’re having a lot more fun here.” There’s a pause, and Sherlock looks at John and says, “I’d like to kiss you again now.”

“Yeah,” John replies, and because the look on Sherlock’s face is wonderful he pushes Elsie and the watch to the back of head. “Yeah, alright then.”

It takes thirty minutes to walk from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park, but that’s an optimistic estimation that doesn’t factor in Sherlock’s insistence on distracting him, namely by veering off down alleys and backstreets that stretch their journey time out. It’s a battle to get him to leave Trafalgar Square at all and in truth John’s almost as reluctant; he can’t quite believe that he’s kissing this extraordinary stranger underneath the winter stars, that someone so entirely remarkable is looking at him like he’s the most interesting thing in this city, and he only insists on taking Sherlock home from a lingering sense of right and wrong (from thinking of Elsie and her worried face) and because he won’t be able to face his mum or Harry if anything happens to that watch.

“It’s quicker this way,” Sherlock says, darting off across the grass as they enter Green Park. There are gaslamps lighting the main road but the stretch of grass is shadowy, and Sherlock grins and disappears. John follows, catches sight of the white of Sherlock’s sling and chases after him.

He catches up, though he’s not entirely sure if Sherlock didn’t just let him--John’s a good runner, fast and fairly agile, but Sherlock’s taller and John’s already seen how fast he can move, if he wants. Sherlock stands close as they slow to a walk, and their elbows knock together.

“It’s silly to put sentimental value on things,” Sherlock says into the dark. He’s got that tone again, a little imperious, as though he can’t understand the ways of the general population. “Does it really matter that much?”

John thinks about how to explain it--how to break his father’s watch down into something that will make sense to Sherlock. He thinks of his mother’s face, of the watery smile she’d given on his last birthday when the watch had been what lay beneath the wrapping paper. You’re twenty-one now, John. It’s time for you to have this. You look just like your father.

“It’s just nice,” John says, and he can hear Sherlock sigh at his side, disparaging, and it’s probably about his choice of adjective again. “Nice to have something that belonged to him.”

“The Third War,” and again Sherlock has turned what should have been a question into a statement of fact.

John doesn’t ask how he knows, and he doesn’t say what he usually does--I was only small, I didn’t know him, not really. Sherlock would say it was all pointless information, stuff he could have guessed, probably already has. “I don’t really remember him,” he says instead, “but I remember him showing me the watch. It, I don’t know, it makes me feel closer to him because I know that it was his.”

There’s quiet between them for a little while after he’s finished, as though Sherlock is taking time to think it over. John is used to people freezing up if he talks about his father, used to the awkwardness of others as he thinks it doesn’t matter. With Sherlock the worry is far less prevalent, perhaps even absent.

“We had a pocketknife that was my father’s,” Sherlock says eventually, “when I was small. Nothing special but my mother kept it anyway, hid it, but it wasn’t particularly hard to find, once I knew about it. She rather underestimated me at four, I think,” he adds, tone lazy. “But you’d expect she’d learn, after Mycroft. But at any rate, it was entirely unspectacular, I was quite disappointed. And then of course it broke. She was quite upset.”

In the moonlight John can just about see Sherlock look upwards, flick dark curls of hair out of his eyes. His voice is unaffected, flippant, but John has had plenty of practice reading people (reading patients, reading Harry), and he looks at the assumptions he can make from this and chooses one; feels for Sherlock’s uninjured hand in the dark and takes it, locks their fingers together. Sherlock turns his head, movements sharp--his hair falls back over his eyes--and the moonlight-edged lines of his face are worked into some hybrid of surprise and bemusement, like he can’t quite understand what John’s doing. Or rather, why.

“You don’t have to do that,” he replies, quiet. He’s looking at John like he’s done something strange. “I mean, really,” he says, emphatic for trying to get his point across. “You don’t.”

“I know,” and John does, already, can guess that Sherlock won’t ask for the same comfort that someone else might (might not even think he needs it) but they are both fatherless boys and John knows what Sherlock won’t admit to, even in his own head. “Let’s say that it’s for my benefit, yeah?”

Sherlock’s still looking at him like he’s the strange one, but he nods and, after a moment, threads their fingers together tighter, and they walk on.


  • 1
holy crap, holy crap, I haven't even READ this yet and I am already SUPER EXCITED; the insane circus story was, secretly, the thing I hoped QUITE A LOT that someone would do

oh my goodness ANTHEA TILLEY, MALE IMPERSONATOR! I can't really cope with that, can't really deal with surprise AU Vesta Tilley showing up

other things I can't deal with: the London geography, the extent to which you've made this version of London work, The Marvellous Modern Woman Sherringford Holmes (presumably along the lines of the men who satirised Gibson Girls etc)

I realised as I was writing that of course I should make Elsie and Anthea one and that of course she should be a male impersonator. And then I realised that she should marry Mycroft, because who doesn't want a male and female impersonator power couple in their travelling show?


  • 1

Log in