A/N: This was a commission for Aequorea Victoria, who wanted a story about med student!John treatinging young, runaway!Sherlock at the A&E only to have Sherlock follow him home/break in. Note that while it's tagged as underage, no sex happens until Sherlock is of the age of consent in the UK. There's a little bit of an age gap between him and John, nothing too substantive (about 7 years) but forewarned is prepared and all.
One glance, short though it may be, is not enough to explain why John is the lucky man who ended up with this one. It's not unusual for him to be the one to get stuck with the cases that no one else wants, but in this case the kid sitting on the bed does not look overly panicked or hysterical. No tears, no vomiting: basically, compared to some of the patients who have come in he's the epitome of calm, holding a bag of ice to his blackening right eye and looking around the room placidly with the eye he can still see out of.
John ruffles the sheets pinned to the clipboard with his thumb, looking over the scant information provided: approximate age of fifteen, strong hints at drug abuse, was brought in by a sergeant from the met. Not dangerous, as the sergeant had promptly departed, but still. Curious, and not nearly as many details as he'd like considering that the nurse who'd handed the case over to him had definitely known the kid. The smile she was wearing was too tight at the corners, too fake, for anything but a mutual and heated dislike.
"You might as well come in."
Realizing that there's no point in continuing to stand there and letting his curiosity continue to mount now that he's been found out, John steps around the corner and gets a good look at the kid this time. He's tall, about the same height as John, but thin enough to border on unhealthy. His hair is a riot of dark curls, tumbling low across his forehead to shield his eyes. He stares at John critically, openly scrutinizing, a sensation that John can feel physically like the thin prickle of needles across his skin.
"Good morning," John says simply. "You must have quite the headache."
He sets the board down and approaches, paying little attention to the way the kid flinches and then freezes midway through. "I'm going to look at your head," he says, already reaching for the curls. He pushes them aside gently, searching until his fingers make impact with the wound on the edge of the kid's temple. It's bleeding sluggishly now, as like most head wounds it looks worse than it actually is.
"Will I live?"
The bag of ice comes away and the kid's eyes flick up to him, suspicious. Blue-grey-green, a strange mixture, and John grins without letting on his unease. This kid could be pretty, with a shower and few meals under his belt, and a shiver of unease goes down his spine at the thought. He knows what it's like out there on the streets, knows the kind of trouble a kid like this might run into. The kind of people.
"I'll have to give you a few stitches. You'll feel dizzy and nauseous for a little while. Be careful when you sleep tonight, not that I expect you'll get much of it. You'll be too sore for that." He tips the kid's head to the side, examining the black eye. It's a nice one, the deep purple-black giving away to a colourful rainbow of yellow and green on his cheekbone. He strokes the contour of the kid's face carefully, mouth pursed in concentration, but he doesn't feel any damage to the fragile bones underneath.
"You're not going to give me painkillers?"
"And have you sell them?"
Those eyes open wide and John chuckles.
"I wouldn't sell them!"
"No, you wouldn't." John can't help the way his eyes flick down to those thin wrists, pale and marred with red lines across blue veins.
The kid's jaw goes tight and he turns his hands over, hiding the evidence. "Then don't. You'll do well at this A&E. Most of the doctors here don't like doling out painkillers to me. The one with the beard likes to keep them for himself instead. He has a drug addiction and he's losing control of it, you know."
John pauses in the middle of reaching for a needle. "Are you talking about Doctor Murphy?"
"Is he the one with the beard who likes hitting on the younger nurses?"
"That… is a fair description of him, yes."
Huh. John is as gentle as possible as he injects the local anaesthetic. He's heard rumours, of course, nothing ever substantiated, and now he can't help wondering if maybe this kid is the reason for them. "You come in here fairly often, then?"
"Every couple of weeks," says the kid with a put upon sigh. "Whenever Lestrade can get his hands on me."
Lestrade. John's curiosity is well and truly tipped now. He's had drinks with the sergeant and a handful of other doctors, interns, nurses and officers after work now and again. Lestrade's a good man from all appearances, works hard and takes pride in what he does, probably wouldn't care about just anyone.
Even though he wants to ask more questions, he tamps it all down and focuses on cleaning the wound before he starts putting the stitches in. He's not surprised that the kid turns out to be one of his better patients in this, holding perfectly still with his head at just the right angle so that John doesn't have to go up on tiptoe to be able to see.
It doesn't take long, and soon the neat row of stitches is finished. He puts a clean white bandage over it and steps away, discarding his gloves automatically. "Try not to get them wet if you can help it," he says as the kid hops off of the table. "And here."
The kid catches the bottle, confusion flashing briefly across his features as he takes note of the handful of pills rattling around inside. "You said –"
"What you chose to do with them is your own business, but I'd rather you had them just in case." John can feel that scrutiny on the back of his neck but he doesn't turn, just concentrates on washing his hands and getting rid of the used equipment, and when he finally does turn around the room is empty. He breathes out a heavy sigh and grabs the board, scrawling his report across the bottom as he walks out of the room. He doesn't get more than two steps down the hall before he's accosted, a body on each side.
"So?" Mary says eagerly, curling her hands around his elbow.
"So what?" John says, distracted. It's later than he thought.
"So, did you get your whole life story read to you?"
John stops walking and stares at her. "What?"
"That's what that kid does," Sarah chimes in, smirking. "Every doctor or nurse who gets the misfortune of having to treat him, he takes one look and spills out their deepest secrets." She looks like she's trying not to laugh. "Last week he told Doctor Donahue that his wife was cheating on him with another woman, but that Donahue didn't care because he was having an affair too."
"Jesus," John mutters, more amused than he wants to let on. Donahue is a prick, the sort of superior who enjoys tormenting those who can't or won't stand up to him. He's sent more than one nurse out of the room in tears during the time John's been here.
"Oh, that's not even the best part. Apparently his wife was here visiting him and she heard all about it. I heard she stormed out and threw all of his clothing out the window when she got home. That's why he's been wearing those god awful pants all week."
"And long story short, we want to know what he said to you," Mary concludes.
"He didn't say anything."
Both women frown.
"Nothing?" Sarah says dubiously after a pause, forehead furrowing.
"Nope. Actually, he was quite favourable as far as patients go. I wouldn't mind treating him again." He takes the split second of baffled silence to escape, gently extracting himself from Mary's grip and continuing down the corridor on his own. He doesn't doubt that the kid is capable of doing exactly what they said, not after listening to him talk about Murphy. Whoever the kid is, he's intelligent and he doesn't hesitate to show it.
Strange though the kid may be, he gradually fades from John's thoughts as the day wears on and more cases, increasingly complicated ones, are piled onto his shoulders. He spends the final few hours on his shift assisting with several car accident victims, and by the time he's cleared to leave he's exhausted. He smells like blood and vomit and he's starving, having worked straight through lunch, but he manages to dodge Sarah and Mary on the way out of the building so he doesn't consider the day a total loss.
John takes the tube home – home being a small flat about a half hour ride from the hospital. It's tiny and doesn't look like much on the outside, but at the end of a long day he's happy enough to return. He rolls his shoulders as he climbs the stairs, wincing as several of his muscles protest the treatment after spending so long hunched over torn and bleeding flesh. He spends a moment longing for a hot shower, but the reality is more like the hours of reading and schoolwork he'll need to log before he can even think about turning out the light.
Sometimes he wonders why he bothers, when life at the A&E can get so insane, requires such long hours and discipline. There are times when shifts go on for so long that he can barely walk straight much less function by the end of it. But then again, he can't really imagine doing anything differently. He likes what he does and the working environment is decent, doctors with drugs habits and affairs aside.
There's a bag waiting for him in front of his door and John smiles when he sees it, knowing who it's from. His elderly neighbour/landlord, Mrs Hudson, is of the opinion that John doesn't eat enough. Almost every night she leaves him a meal of some kind and the food is always filling and delicious. He tried to protest the first couple of times, and then he made an attempt at paying her back, but after seeing how offended she got he gave up. Now, whenever he's got a moment to spare, he visits with her to watch telly or he does some minor repairs around the building.
He scoops up the bag, inhaling the aroma of turkey, and unlocks the door. His flat is dark, the only light coming from the window, but he knows something is off immediately. There's a feeling in the air, a change from when he left this morning, and he's cautious as he steps inside and gently pushes the door shut behind him. "Who's there?" he asks, gaze sweeping across the shadows.
Silence is his only answer and John chews his lip, eyes narrowed slightly. It's taking his eyes too long to adjust to the darkness, and, knowing that anyone who's been waiting will be momentarily blinded, he reaches out and flips the light on. He hears a yelp before he sees him – the kid from earlier, the one who apparently has the ability to drive every doctor and nurse crazy to the point where they'd rather set him on unsuspecting interns. He's crouched in the corner of the room, between the sofa and the wall, and he stares at John with wide, round eyes.
"What are you doing here?" John asks, and, instead of coming out accusing the way he intends it to, it sounds kind. The kid looks like even more of a mess than before, hair soaked and clothing wet and torn. He looks even thinner than John remembers.
"I broke in," the kid says flatly, crossing his arms defensively in front of his body.
"I can see that, I'm not an idiot."
The kid draws in a breath that suggests he has a different opinion of John's intelligence. John raises an eyebrow, more amused than he wants to let on, and sets both the bag of food and his keys down on the counter. He slides his coat off and drapes it across one of the chairs, taking the time to think about what he wants to say and do next. It's a miserable night out, chilly and damp with the threat of rain, and the kid doesn't look like he'll last another night on the streets.
"Okay, rather than stand here and listen to you insult my intelligence I'm going to go take a shower. Help yourself to whatever you want, though there's not much in the fridge." He nods ruefully to the bag. "If you're hungry when I get out I'll call for a takeaway."
"You're not kicking me out."
The disbelieving tone makes it hard to suppress a wince. Against his will, John wonders how long it's been since someone actually tried to help this kid. "No, I'm not. See, this is me not kicking you out." He wiggles his eyebrows and heads towards his bedroom, pulling his shirt off as he goes. He's not sure whether the kid or any of his valuables will still be there when he gets out, but at least he's got his wallet in the pocket of his trousers.
Hot water feels like heaven against his sore shoulders and John deliberately takes his time. Part of him thinks he's crazy, officially lost his mind, because what the fuck is he doing leaving a homeless kid who broke into his flat alone in the kitchen? He should be on the phone with the police, or at least Lestrade, requesting that they remove the kid already.
Something about the kid, though. He looks like he needs help.
As he switches off the shower he listens, but there's no indication of another person in the flat. Much to his surprise, the kid hasn't left. The bag of food remains untouched, but at least the kid is no longer trying to become one with the wall. He's moved to the middle of the room, sitting on the floor with his knees tucked up against his chest. Like this, he looks unbearably young and John mentally reassesses his age to twelve or thirteen.
"Not hungry?" he asks.
"Why haven't you kicked me out?"
"Did you want me to?"
Frustration flashes across the kid's face. "No. Of course not. But I –"
"You thought I would," John surmises, folding his arms and leaning against the counter. "Well normally I probably would have, but frankly you don't look strong enough to wring the neck of a kitten much less attack a grown man."
The kid bristles. "I'm fifteen."
He doesn't look it. John eyes him doubtfully, then opens the bag. Half a dozen plump turkey sandwiches make his mouth water. He takes one out, offers it. "Then you might want to get over here and eat, put some inches on before you fade away. I'd swear you were only thirteen."
That earns him a scowl, but the kid gets up with far more grace than John can muster even on his best day and swaggers over. He takes the sandwich and stares at it. John looks away, picks up another one and bites into it. Not from a show of faith to prove there's nothing wrong with them, but because he's still starving and the taste of lettuce, tomato and turkey is like ambrosia to his rumbling belly. He can feel eyes on his face as he chews and swallows.
It feels like a victory when the kid lifts the sandwich to his mouth and takes a tiny bite.
"What do you want?" the kid says quietly roughly thirty minutes later. He's dissected his sandwich, eating the turkey and part of the bread and disregarding the rest, and although it's a waste of a good sandwich John doesn't protest.
He's eating and that's what counts.
"Nothing," he says.
"Everyone wants something."
The way he says it makes a hot curl of anger burn in John's chest, but he holds it back. "Now that you mention it, there is something."
Thin shoulders hunch, the unspoken 'I knew it' practically screamed.
"I'd like to know your name."
The silence hangs heavy between them, the kid looking at John like he's waiting for John to come across the table at him, but John keeps his distance and just watches him patiently. His throat works, mouth opening and closing silently, pink tongue unconsciously tracing over his bottom lip. Finally, after an undeterminable length of time, he says, "My name is Sherlock."
Sherlock. Not the name John's expecting, but somehow it fits. "Sherlock. You probably already know that my name is John. John Watson. If you're interested, you can kip on the sofa for the night. It's not the most comfortable place but..." He lets his voice trail off, not wanting to risk offending Sherlock by pointing out that he looks like he's slept in far worse places. "You can take a shower too, if you want. I'll leave a towel out and a change of clothing. My stuff will probably be a little big for you, but at least it will be warm and dry."
Instead of responding, Sherlock pops some turkey into his mouth. John shrugs and puts his plate in the sink, deciding that there's no way he's going to get any work done tonight. He's too tired for this. He gathers some spare blankets and a pillow and leaves them on the sofa, puts a shirt and cotton pyjama bottoms and a towel beside the shower. Sherlock doesn't leave the kitchen and, as John heads into bedroom, he has doubts that Sherlock will even be there in the morning. There's something about the kid that feels shifty, like maybe Sherlock's not used to staying in one place. It would certainly fit the life of more than one homeless kid, and if that's the case there's nothing John can do to stop it.
He gets into bed and falls asleep almost instantly.
Sherlock is still there in the morning, face shoved into the pillow and legs and arms askew on the sofa. John does his best not to wake him as he leaves, certain that it will be the last time that he sees him. But he's still there that night, too, curled around one of John's advanced biology textbooks like each word is fascinating to him. He eats the chilli that John's landlady leaves for them eagerly this time and is surprisingly good at being quiet when John forces himself to sit down with a stack of work.
This is how it is for the next three days, until finally John can't take it anymore. On the morning of the first day of his next string of days off, he gets up and walks into the kitchen to find Sherlock already awake and staring at him with bleary eyes. That, combined with a serious case of bed head, makes him look adorable. John cracks a grin and walks over to the kettle. "Not that I'm complaining, but how long do you anticipate bunking with me?"
"You want me to leave."
"That's not what I said," says John, though he's not surprised that Sherlock has leapt to that conclusion. He keeps thinking that he probably should be aiming to get rid of Sherlock, that just because the kid hasn't done anything yet doesn't mean he won't, but the truth is it's sort of nice to have someone else in the flat when he wakes up and comes home from a shift or class. Sherlock is fairly quiet and has already made his way through a good portion of John's old textbooks. He's not looking quite so peaky and the dark rings of flesh under his eyes have lightened substantially. Even the track marks on his arms have faded.
"So... you don't want me to go?" Sherlock sounds faintly bewildered.
"I don't mind you being here," John says carefully. "I have the feeling that you don't really have anywhere else to go, do you?" He sits down, setting a cup of tea down in front of Sherlock automatically. "Where is your family, Sherlock? You're only fifteen years old. There's got to be someone."
"I'm not going back," Sherlock says instantly, his shoulders tensing.
"I didn't say you had to." It's difficult to hide the concern, though John manages. He hopes. He lets his eyes trail over the thin body, catching on the way the hem of his shirt is slipping off of Sherlock's right shoulder. A second assessment proves Sherlock is a couple inches taller than him, but he's not nearly as broad in the shoulders. Every once in a while John catches a glimpse of something that never fails to make his blood run cold: scars that look suspiciously like whip marks, lined and white against a child's flesh.
He can see one now, curling around the base of Sherlock's throat, and the implication is enraging. Nothing infuriates him more than abuse, but it's always so much worse when a child is involved. He sees the occasional case come into the A&E and it's always difficult to watch those kids go home to parents or guardians who aren't caring for them the way that they should be. He'd rather not risk making the same mistake with someone he can help.
He adds, "I was just curious, that's all. If you're willing to tell me, I'll listen. If you don't want to tell me, I'm not going to kick you out or anything like that. You're... you're welcome to stay here with me as long as you like." He drops his gaze, a little uncomfortable.
Sherlock's gaze dips to focus on his cup of tea too, and he curls thin fingers around the hot mug. "I have an older brother," he says, the words coming out stilted. "When he moved out to attend university, my father decided that a stricter set of rules was necessary. He wants me to be more like Mycroft. Him and that stupid security blanket umbrella of his." His mouth curls into a snarl. "I disagreed. After a year or so, I couldn't take it anymore and I left. I've been on the street since in spite of my brother's best attempts to get me to return home."
"This stricter set of rules, did it involve..." John can't make himself say it.
"Yes," Sherlock says. He tugs at the hem sliding off his shoulder, pulling it back up into place and hunching into himself protectively. He coughs a little, a grating sound that makes John's chest ache with sympathy and he wonders if maybe the bleary eyes had not just been from sleep after all. He's tempted to reach over and check Sherlock's temperature but refrains, sensing the contact would not be welcomed.
"Did you ever try to tell anyone?" he asks. "What about that police officer who keeps bringing you into A&E? Lestrade, was it?" He keeps his face blank, not giving anything away.
The look Sherlock gives him is full of wry amusement. "My full name is Sherlock Holmes."
John sucks in a startled breath at the name. The Holmes family is widely known around London; there's not many people who aren't aware of who they are. Siger Holmes is heavily involved in politics and Violet Holmes runs one of the largest charity organizations in the city, regularly bringing in and redistributing well over a million pounds annually. He knows they have children if only because both the times that Violet was pregnant was huge news, but neither one of them have ever been in the media spotlight. Until now John's always thought that it was because they were trying to protect their kids from the circus, but...
Sherlock smiles. "Still want to extend an invitation for me to stay? If my father found out you were sheltering me, he could destroy your life very easily. He wants me to return home and he's not above burning whatever bridges necessary to make that happen. That's why I've never explained anything to Lestrade, not that it keeps him from pestering me with incessant questions." He mutters that last part under his breath.
"You're trying to protect him," John says, feeling a sudden rush of warmth towards this kid. This teenager who's trying hard when no one wants to help.
"No I wasn't," Sherlock says, looking affronted by the accusation. "It's none of his business, that's all. It's bad enough that he insists on poking his nose into my business as it is. He doesn't need to know the finer details of my past." He scowls deeper. "And for that matter, I would hope that you're not going to get any brilliant ideas either. I only told you because I deduced you would keep the knowledge to yourself."
"I'm not going to try to go after your parents if that's what you're concerned about." No, he's seen what happens in most child abuse cases that go to court. Particularly in the event that the family involved has money or influence or both. Most times the truth of the matter is swept under the rug and nothing changes. In this case it would end up with Sherlock being forced to return to his family, and he likely wouldn't have a second opportunity to run away. Besides that, John has money but not that much money.
He doesn't think it's his imagination that Sherlock relaxes a little at that news. "And no, I'm not taking back my invitation for you to stay here. I'd rather not have you leave and spend the rest of my life wondering whether or not you ended up dead on the pavement because I was afraid of your parents."
"That's not very smart of you."
"Yeah, well, there's a reason I'm still in school." John smiles a little, pleased when Sherlock's lips quirk up just a bit in response. "There's some rules, though."
"Rules?" Sherlock makes it sound like John's saying he'll have to sleep on a bed of nails every night.
"Number one, no more of that." He leans over and, moving slow so as not to startle him, gently pulls the sleeve of Sherlock's shirt up. They both look down at the marks on the crook of his elbow in silence. There's not as many as John thought there might be, but still too many for comfort. "I don't allow drugs or cigarettes under my roof, and for that matter I don't indulge in alcohol very often either. I expect you to do the same. If you're having issues with addiction, I'll get you some help. I know an excellent -"
"I'm not addicted," Sherlock says, rolling his eyes. "I only use cocaine on occasion when my mind needs a boost."
"Right." John doesn't pretend to know what that means. "No more. Your mind will have to be capable of working on its own."
Sherlock sighs loudly. "Fine. What else?"
John hasn't put as much thought into this as he should have. He flounders briefly before saying, "Regular meals. You're too skinny. I'll have a key made for you but I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know when you're going out and when you'll be back. Um. No more of whatever it is that has you ending up in the A&E. Maybe you could think about going back to school instead."
The open expression on Sherlock's face shuts down so quickly John winces. Apparently he's struck a sore spot. He thinks about Sherlock's brother leaving for university and how badly his parents had wanted Sherlock to be like his brother and adds a little more hesitantly, "You don't have to right away if you don't want to. I'm just - it's something to think about. When you're older. Of age, I mean." And your parents can't find you through school admissions, he doesn't say.
"I'll think about it," Sherlock says after several seconds of silence.
It feels like a victory. John tries not to grin too widely. He drinks the rest of his tea and gets up, stretching his hands over his head. "Good. Now, I have the next couple of days off but I've got plans tomorrow, so if we're going to do any shopping for you it'll have to be today."
"You need some new clothing. You can't keep wearing my things forever. They don't fit." And Sherlock's old clothing had only been fit for the bin. They'd been in awful shape. "It'll do for today but you'll need a couple pairs of jeans, maybe some shirts."
"And you can afford that?"
He pauses, honestly a little surprised that Sherlock cares enough to ask. "Yes. I wouldn't have offered if I didn't." Most people are startled to find out that he has a sizeable amount of funds in his bank account, considering that he's just a student. The death of his parents three years ago had left him and Harry with a nice chunk of change after their house and car had been sold. John doesn't spend his money on much, though he has his suspicions about how much money Harry has left: he's positive most of it has gone on alcohol already.
The word is spoken so quietly that John nearly misses it, almost lost in the clatter of his teacup hitting the sink. He turns around. "Why what?"
"Why are you..." Sherlock makes a weak gesture with his hands that explains little, but John has the feeling he already knows what Sherlock is asking. Again. Before he can speak, Sherlock shakes his head and gets up. "No, never mind. Don't tell me. I'll deduce it for myself."
"You think you can see through me that easily?" John says, raising his eyebrows.
Sherlock shoots him an unimpressed look. "You're hardly a mystery, Doctor Watson. You're in your early twenties and you live alone, yet there's clear sign that at one point you lived in a larger residence with a companion. That's why some of your things are still in boxes in the closet; you've got nowhere to put them. Based on what's missing around the flat, you were intimate with a partner and have since broken things off which is why you're now here." He nods at the kitchen. "Parents died about three to five years ago, leaving you with enough funds to attend school and subsequently forestalling your decision to enter the military as you had the necessary money for the career you wanted without needing them to pay for it."
It's just like Mary said and John's throat goes tight. He can't talk for a moment, lets the seconds stretch out like he's waiting for Sherlock to be done speaking before he says hoarsely, "Nearly right. My mother was ill. That's why I didn't go into the army. She... was against it."
Sherlock's face does something complicated that John can't begin to understand, and whatever else the kid is going to come out with John doesn't want to hear it. He lifts a tired hand and shakes his head. "I'm going to get dressed and then we'll go." He leaves the room before Sherlock has the chance to respond and finds safety in his closed door, putting a little reprieve between the two of them. He lets out a slow breath and flexes the fingers of his right hand.
Living with Sherlock may not be as easy as he'd anticipated.
Despite John's apprehension, clothes shopping goes fairly well. Sherlock turns out to be a surprisingly fussy dresser considering the way he looked when John first saw him, but the way he regards each new item as it's tossed into the trolley makes John warm inside. And when he sees Sherlock fingering the sleeve of a Belstaff coat, his eyes vulnerable with naked longing, John can't resist putting his card down. It costs a fortune and even the woman behind the counter seems to think he's insane, but it's all worth it for the brilliant smile that Sherlock has as he proudly wears his smart, new clothing out of the shop. Next to him, John really does look the part of a student and yet he finds he doesn't mind.
He has a key done up for Sherlock right before he goes back to work, but it doesn't take him long to realize that Sherlock rarely leaves the flat. He devours the remainder of John's medical textbooks and has commandeered a portion of the kitchen for what he calls experiments, which means that a new rule has been added to the list: nothing disgusting in the refrigerator. He keeps coming up with body parts from god knows where and the first morning John walks into the kitchen to find some eyeballs lying around is not a good one. Sherlock pouts for a good while over that and mutters under his breath about medical students who aren't capable of understanding the necessity of a good experiment. John just ignores him and keeps on cooking his blood-and-human-parts-free eggs.
Having someone to come home to is nice. The fact that it's Sherlock is even nicer, even if sometimes John isn't sure why. The kid can be a bloody pest when he wants to be. He's got little concept of tact, usually deducing everything about John the instant he steps through the door, and he takes up a lot of space with his experiments. He stays up at all hours and sulks when John has to leave for work, he only eats food when John sets it down in front of him and he has little respect for privacy. Sometimes he disappears for hours at a time only to wander in at the dead of night.
But at the same time he's brilliant. He's the smartest person John has ever met, and not just book-smart either. Sherlock's got an innate intelligence. He sees the world in a way John can't really understand and it's fascinating to realize that such small details can add up to a (generally correct) sum. His sense of humour is downright macabre and when he's truly invested in something, the enthusiasm he invokes is contagious. His eyes get bright and his cheeks flush and he paces all over the room, hands gesturing wildly, and it's -
It's not appropriate for John to be having these thoughts about a fifteen-year-old.
Not for the time, he forces his eyes away from Sherlock and back to the book in his hands. He needs to study because he has an exam coming up soon. But the chapter he's reading on the human spine is not nearly as interesting as the thin strip of skin he can see every time Sherlock throws his hands up in the air in disgust. There's something on the news he's vehemently disagreeing with, but John can't be bothered to listen. It's taking all his concentration to not get caught looking.
He focuses on the page in front of him and stares at the word 'coccygeal' until Sherlock huffs loudly and throws himself down on the sofa, which squeaks in protest. Only then does he let himself look up and he has to bite back the fond smile at the picture of disarray Sherlock presents. "Problem?"
"The police are idiots," Sherlock growls, which is hardly surprising considering that he thinks the whole world apart from him is an idiot.
"Really?" John glances at the telly for the first time since Sherlock switched it on. Much to his surprise, the man on the screen is none other than Lestrade. He looks a little tired and worn, silver hair scruffy and in dire need of a shave.
"It's so obvious."
"The killer," John says slowly, wondering if he wants to know where this is going. He eyes Sherlock again before shaking his head and sinking back down into his book, this time finding that he's better able to concentrate without something far more intriguing stealing his time.
Or at least, right up he feels a set of intense eyes staring at him. Sherlock's worse than a cat sometimes. John ignores him as long as he can, but finally he can't take it anymore. He looks up. A normal person would look away to avoid being caught, but Sherlock keeps right on staring and it's getting to be more than John can handle. The hair on his arms prickles, sending a wave of gooseflesh up his chest, and it's making all of those thoughts that he's trying hard to push out of his mind resurge.
He carefully closes his book and gets to his feet. "Right then, I'll leave you to your telly."
"John." Nimbly Sherlock gets up, carelessly graceful in a way that never fails to make John jealous, and takes his shirt off.
John stares. Sherlock's still thin, but a few weeks of good meals have put some meat on his body. Now he looks more lanky, defined, and all John can think about is how easy it would be to suck a bruise onto that pale skin. Several bruises, really, because it doesn't make any sense to stop at just one.
"What," he manages to get out after several false starts. It takes a tremendous amount of will to force his eyes up to Sherlock's face, and his cheeks heat at the glint of amusement he can see in Sherlock's eyes. "What are you doing, Sherlock? It's not warm enough in the flat to walk around without your clothes on." John should know, he's the one who cranks the heat up every morning on purpose.
"It's taken me time to figure it out. Longer than it should have, really, considering how simple the answer turned out to be. But then, I've not had much experience with this sort of thing."
"What sort of thing?" John says, afraid he knows the answer.
Sherlock's hands drop to his jeans. Though they fit, the material hangs from his waist. Were he to turn around, John's positive that the crack of his arse would be visible. He bites his tongue to keep from asking for just that but Sherlock smirks like he's heard the thought anyway. Slowly he starts pushing his zip down, fingers toying with the button for a few long seconds before he lets it slide through.
"Why you let me stay."
It all comes together and all thoughts of arousal immediately flee John's head, replaced by a sense of horror. "You… what, you think I want you to sleep with me in exchange for staying here?"
"I've seen the way you look at me, John. You're appallingly bad at hiding it, to be honest."
"No, Sherlock, that's –"
"I've observed it," Sherlock says in tones of great exasperation as he lets his jeans go. He's wearing boxers underneath, grey cotton, but his thumbs hook into the waistband and start to pull that down as well. "I'm not an idiot, I know what I saw."
"Stop," John says, a little more loudly than he meant to, and Sherlock actually obeys. It's much easier now to keep his gaze on Sherlock's face, and he says, "I'm not having this conversation with you." He turns away and stumbles towards his bedroom, needing to get that closed door between the two of them.
He doesn't get nearly as much of a reprieve as he needs. No sooner has the door been shut than he hears the front door banging, and his feet take him automatically to the window where he can look out. Less than a minute later the door downstairs opens and Sherlock strides out, dressed only in his jeans and shirt. No coat, not even any shoes, the idiot, and it doesn't take someone capable of amazing feats of deduction to realize he's crying. It's all there in the hunch of his shoulders as he turns against the wind.
John shuts his eyes and tips his forehead against the cold glass. He knocks his head gently, torn between anger at himself and frustration at Sherlock. Evidently refusing to have a conversation is not the proper response to this situation. He thinks, for about a minute, of just staying put in the flat. Not following Sherlock out into the freezing air. Of cooking his dinner in a couple of hours, going back to work tomorrow, leaving the question of whether or not Sherlock will come back up to Sherlock.
He sighs and mutters, "Fuck it."
In a handful of steps he grabs his coat and Sherlock's and heads out the door. He takes the stairs fast, but by the time he gets outside Sherlock is gone. John turns in the same direction and starts walking, shrugging his coat on as he goes. The thing about London is that it's a huge city and there're plenty of places for someone to hide if they want to, and John knows the city pretty well but he doesn't know it the way that Sherlock does. Sherlock's already shown him a few shortcuts that blew him away. One in particular had cut nearly ten minutes off of his commute.
A quick walk down the street doesn't reveal any petulant teenagers. John backtracks and starts looking more closely at the alleys, wishing that he possessed Sherlock's unique way of looking at the world. It would be easier if he could glance at a couple of boxes and know whether Sherlock's been there or if they've been untouched for months. Instead he's stuck doing this the old-fashioned way and it takes a good three hours before he has to admit that he needs help.
He fishes his mobile phone out of his pocket, glad that it's there and not charging on his desk where he usually leaves it, and calls up a picture. He'd taken it while Sherlock was trying on the Belstaff coat. It's not the best photo, small and grainy and snapped when Sherlock's looking off to the side in a mirror, but it's a recognizable likeness and it's the best he's got. He stops near a woman huddled up by a café and waits until she raises her eyes to stare at him.
"I'm looking for this bloke," says John, holding the phone near enough that she can see the screen but not so close she'd be inclined to reach out and take it. "His name is Sherlock. Have you seen him?"
"Are you sure?"
She's barely even glanced at the screen, but he can tell he won't get anything else from her. He sighs, tells her thanks and moves on, pausing only to ask the occasional person who will pay him any attention if they've seen Sherlock. No one has and it's beginning to get dark. As the sun goes down, John contemplates calling Scotland Yard. Specifically, the sergeant Sherlock talks about so fondly – Lestrade. It's not been long enough for anyone else to be concerned, particularly sense Sherlock lived on the streets for god knows how long before he came to John, but he thinks Lestrade would care.
It's sloppy, is what it is, to let himself get so worked up that he doesn't notice he's being trailed until they're on him. Two men jump him from different directions. John takes only a split second to get over his surprise but it's a second too long, he only gets in a couple of punches before he hits the ground hard. Gasping, belly down, he bites back a curse as his hands are dragged behind his back and pressed high. The strain on his shoulders is immense, an old, bone deep ache, and he goes still instead of struggling more.
"Is it him?" one of the guys pinning him down asks.
"Yeah, it's him." Someone steps around him and then fingers grip John's hair, pulling his head up until his neck muscles are screaming. It's the woman from before, only the dazed expression is long gone. "Why were you looking for Sherlock?"
"So you do know him," John says.
She scowls and pulls harder, wrenching his head back until tears form from the pressure. "Answer my question. Sherlock's been gone for months. Where were you hiding him?"
"Hiding him? I wasn't hiding him anywhere. He followed me home and broke into my flat!"
"Right," she says scornfully. "And you're not someone hired to give him trouble, is that it? Why else would you be searching for him, if not to hurt him?"
"He's my friend," says John. "We argued. I was worried about him. It's cold out and he left without a coat or shoes. I just wanted to make sure he was alright! That's all! I'm not trying to hurt him. I don't want to have sex with him. Not like that." He realizes he's babbling and shuts up because it's not going to do any good. Already her face is changing at the mention of sex and not in a good way.
"Let him go."
"Sherlock." The woman looks genuinely taken aback at the sound of the deep, familiar voice. John can't see, but he can hear the footsteps behind him. Light enough against the grimy floor to be bare, shuffling and soft, and he jerks instinctively because he wants to check and make sure it's really him. Every muscle in his back spasms in agony and he can't help a groan of pain.
"Let. Him. Go."
The steely undertone seems to be enough and the woman abruptly drops John's head as the men behind him back off. John's cheeks crashes into the ground as he gasps for breath, and he allows himself only a moment before he starts climbing to his feet. Every movement is painful and his progress is humiliatingly slow, but at least it's unhindered. Sherlock - and it is him - has successfully commandeered the attention of everyone and it's like John has been forgotten.
"We were worried about you," says one of the men.
"Why?" Sherlock looks a little baffled.
"Cause you just disappeared, you little shit! And with the kind of trouble you regularly run into, what'd you think we'd think happen?" The man shakes his head and huffs at the woman, "I told you he was fine."
"So you're okay," the woman says, not quite a question.
"I found a flatmate," says Sherlock with a glance at John, who has finally managed to get his feet under him. He requires the support of the wall to remain standing when the pain radiating up and down his spine increases in protest, but he's up.
"A flatmate," says the woman sceptically. "You."
"That's right. Doctor John Hamish Watson." Sherlock preens a little.
"Hey," John says, because he hates his middle name and he's not sure he wants to know how Sherlock discovered it. His knees are more wobbly than he'd like and that's why he settles for nodding at the Belstaff coat, discarded on the ground when he was tackled. "I brought your coat."
It feels like a peace offering and maybe that's why John feels warm all over when Sherlock's face lights up and he walks briskly over to the coat, picking it up off of the ground. He dusts it off as best he can before pulling it on, the warm black material settling perfectly over his shoulders. This close John can see that his skin is paler than it should be and his lips are lightly tinged blue, but other than that Sherlock doesn't appear to be affected by his stroll out in freezing temperatures. Although he has found footwear somewhere.
Properly shod, he steps towards John. "John is not to be harmed," he tells the others.
"If you say so," the man says, and he jerks his chin towards his partner before grabbing the woman by the arm. She audibly protests but he ignores it, hauling her out of the alley behind them. John watches them go and realizes, too late, that the woman still has his phone. He contemplates going after her before deciding against it when another twinge makes him wince. The only place he's going is home to bed.
Hopefully with Sherlock.
"Look," he says quietly. "I didn't... you freaked me out before. I panicked. Because you're right. You're… you're an attractive man and we're in close quarters and I haven't dated anyone for a long time. So yes, I was looking. But that's not – I would never expect someone to have sex with me as payment. I'm not that kind of person." And frankly, what does it say about Sherlock's past or their interactions that he thought John was?
"Then what do you want?"
"You," John says without thinking. "I mean, I like what we have. Being friends. It's nice. Maybe at some point down the road, when you're... you know... of legal age, that will change. Maybe. It's not, like, a requirement or me expecting anything from you…" He fumbles, can feel himself reddening. He's not very good at this sort of thing.
Sherlock stares at him for several seconds, scrutinizing John's face like he's searching for a sign that John isn't being honest. John lets him do it, because if there's even a chance that Sherlock will return to the flat with him he's willing to do a lot more than just undergo a moment of discomfort. Eventually Sherlock must come to some sort of conclusion, because he looks away from John and says, "You confuse me."
"Isn't that a good thing?" John ventures. "I mean, if you could deduce every little thing about me you'd be bored to tears. And that would probably mean getting kicked out of the flat for the destruction you'd cause, and I happen to like where we live."
And there it is, just a hint of a smirk like Sherlock can't restrain it even though he clearly wants to. He finally closes the last of the gap between them, wrapping an arm around John's waist. John stiffens automatically, relaxing only when he realizes that the intent is for support. His aching back definitely appreciates the effort. He lets himself lean into Sherlock's grasp and be ushered towards the mouth of the alley. They're far enough away from the flat that Sherlock summons a cab with his free hand.
Feeling far older than he should, John eases down onto the seat and grimaces. Homeless or not, those men had known a thing or two about fighting. Sherlock watches him and offers, "They're not my friends."
"The people who jumped you. They're a part of my network, that's all. I require their help in terms of a case every now and then."
"I help the police sometimes," Sherlock says hesitantly. "When they're out of their element, which is often, I step in and provide the answers. Lestrade… it's not a coincidence that he's the one who most often took me to the A&E. He is the most intelligent of a bad lot."
John bites back his first response, which to say that Sherlock looks way too young for something like that. Now's not the time. Instead, he says, "I'm surprised they let you. Help, I mean."
"They didn't at first. I had to prove my worth from a distance at first. E-mails, text messages, that sort of thing. Whatever it took to make them listen." Something shifts in his face, just a little, and his eyes flick away. "After about six weeks Lestrade tracked me down and made me a deal. So long as I swore to keep away from drugs and remained safe, he'd let me help out on occasion. Usually whenever he could hide my presence from his superiors."
"You weren't off drugs, though," John says. "You were still using when we met."
"I'm not addicted," says Sherlock, rolling his eyes.
"I'm not! Only when I was truly bored and there were no interesting cases to take my mind off of it, and I never got caught. I'm smarter than that. And since I moved in with you, I haven't. Really." He looks almost painfully earnest, like he's fully expecting John not to believe him.
"Good," John says gently. He shifts on the seat, squirming to get comfortable. "Tell me about it, then."
"Your cases, genius."
"Because I want to know!"
Sherlock blinks at him for a moment, then shrugs. "Alright. Well, the first case I helped out with was especially difficult as I had to do it all from a distance…"
John settles back, letting the steady sound of Sherlock's voice blow over him.
It's almost like the pressure eases between them after that, because Sherlock stops sulking around the flat when John's not around and starts going out on a regular basis. John's worried at first about the odd hours he keeps, wondering if there'll come a time when Sherlock doesn't come back at all, but that disappears pretty quick after the first time Sherlock comes homes with a decomposing hand and a broad smirk on his face. He launches into a story about how Scotland Yard had been tracking this man who liked collecting the hands of his victims while John tries to decide how best to convey his displeasure over said hand, and it all somehow works itself out when Lestrade calls up and demands that Sherlock return the evidence he took, also known as the aforementioned decomposing hand.
Sarah and Mary comment on his attitude, both of them pestering him to get more details about why he's suddenly in a better mood, and John fends them both off as well as he can. He knows that if word gets out about his underage flatmate there will be some uncomfortable questions asked, questions that could result in the loss of his job. It's not that much longer until Sherlock turns sixteen - it took some work, but he'd finally got out of him that Sherlock's birthday is in January - and after that should anything happen they'll be in the clear. If it means he has to continue avoiding his co-workers until then, so be it.
His plan works right up until Mary corners him and shoves a large box into his arms after their shift.
"Need your help to carry this out to my car. You're not going to say no, are you?" she asks, blinking big eyes and flexing her right wrist meaningfully. She sprained it earlier dealing with a particularly difficult patient, and though she hasn't got it wrapped John can tell the muscles are swollen. He scowls and hefts the box up, not sure whether to be amused or exasperated over the emotional blackmail.
"You're an awful person," he tells her, and she laughs outright as they both walk down the corridor towards the lift. Mercifully, she waits for the doors to be closed before she says anything.
"I know Sarah and I have been driving you nuts lately, and I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
"What?" John says, genuinely surprised.
"Don't be so shocked, I can be a decent person when I want to be," she says. "It's none of our business and I get that, I do. It's just that you were so alone before and now it's like your whole attitude has changed overnight. Well, not overnight, over a few months I guess, but still we want to make sure that you're not being taken advantage of. It happens, you know. My cousin's boyfriend started dating this girl and -"
"I'm fine," John interrupts, because he thinks he's heard this story before and if he's right it ends with an extremely detailed description of an uncomfortable sex act. "I appreciate your concern, I do, but it's really nothing. I just have a new flatmate."
"Oh." Mary blinks at that, her eyebrows drawing together briefly. "I see." She eyes John with increasing speculation as the lift doors open, no doubt wondering why he hasn't explained this before, and John just winks as he steps out. She sputters and chases after him and he laughs the whole way to her car, where she socks him in the arm.
"That's gratitude," he says, fending off another blow, and dumps the box in her backseat. Mary huffs something in response and sticks her tongue out, to which he smirks and waves as he walks away. It's a nice night and helping Mary out means he'll be walking instead of taking the tube, but there's really nothing wrong with that. He's thinking idly about stopping to get him and Sherlock some Chinese on the way home, maybe some of that duck that Sherlock seems to be so fond of, when most of the lights suddenly go out.
"Hello, Doctor Watson."
John stops. He was alone, something he's only really conscious of now that someone else is here with him. He turns, catching a glimpse of a man dressed in an expensive, tailored suit and waistcoat. He's holding an umbrella and looking at John with a very mild expression, like they've just happened to run into each other on the street instead of in the middle of a mostly dark lot. The hair on the back of John's neck prickles with awareness and he shifts his weight, knowing that they're not alone, that there's people standing in the shadows where he can't see them.
"Who are you?" he asks, not bothering to correct his title.
"My name is not really that important. I'm merely an interested party."
"Interested in what, exactly?"
"Your new flatmate, as you called him." The corner of the man's mouth twitches up into something that is probably meant to be a smirk. It looks more like a threat. "Sherlock Holmes."
Hearing Sherlock's full name come out sets John on immediate alert. He tenses. "How do you know Sherlock?"
"I think that's a question I should be posing to you, don't you think? I find that in this day and age, it's never a good sign when a man in his twenties begins living with a boy. A child, really." The words are echoed by a cold stare, level and deep. "I would hate for your work and school to be informed of your poor choice, Doctor Watson, and yet if you do not cease your attentions towards Sherlock that is exactly what will happen."
"My attentions?" John chokes out, incensed. "Not that it's any of your business, but Sherlock and I are just friends."
"Is that what they're calling it now? Because I must admit, that's not what it looked to me. And make no mistake, I have been watching." He tilts his head up a fraction and John follows the line of sight automatically, spotting the CCTV camera above their heads instantly.
John's not sure what to think when he sees that camera. He can tell that the man is waiting for him to respond, to speak, but he doesn't know what to say. He looks away from the blinking red light of the camera, and as he does he hears a faint, rhythmic tapping. His eyes drop automatically to the umbrella at the man's side, and Sherlock's voice rings through his ears like he's standing right behind John: "Mycroft and that stupid security blanket umbrella of his."
"Mycroft," John says, pleased by the way the man stiffens. And yeah, now that he's searching for likenesses he can see it. Something about the set of Mycroft's chin practically screams of Sherlock when he's at his sulkiest. "You're Mycroft Holmes."
"Sherlock mentioned me," says Mycroft, and it's not a question, not really, more of a judgement. "Yet you expect me to believe that the two of you are friends." He sneers the word. "My little brother does not have friends and until recently he didn't have a boyfriend. Considering the circumstances, I prefer that to remain the case."
"We're not -"
"Spare me. I'm not interested in hearing the lies you tell yourself or the people around you, Doctor Watson. You will not be seeing Sherlock Holmes again, and if you do make the decision to see him I will make sure you regret it. Charges will be laid against you immediately. Kidnapping. Sexual exploitation of a minor. Rape. Even if you are acquitted, you'll never work in the medical field. If you persist, I'll inform my father."
Whatever Mycroft sees in John's face in response to that is enough to make him smile unpleasantly. "I've done you a favour by giving you this one warning, but you will not receive another one. I've taken the liberty of having Sherlock's things removed from your flat. From now on, should happen to be present in the A&E when he is brought in I'm requesting that you find someone else to tend to him. Any attempt to contact him even through e-mail or text will result in notification being sent to your employers and the university, not to mention said charges being laid against you. If necessary, my parents will be brought in." Mycroft pauses, apparently to savour the silence, before he finishes with, "It was a pleasure having this chat with you. Let's not do it again."
"You can't just -" John starts, but it becomes immediately obvious that Mycroft's not interested in listening to whatever protests he's capable of coming up with as the man just turns around and walks away. John squints after him, straining to see, and is just able to make out Mycroft climbing into a car that's parked at the edge of the lot. It glides silently away and the feeling of eyes on him vanishes. The lights come back on and honestly it's like the whole bizarre scene never happened.
Except John knows that it did. He stares at the spot where Mycroft was for about a minute before he swears quietly. No wonder Sherlock's been living on the streets under the radar for so long if this is what he has to deal with. His older brother is a piece of work, never mind his parents. Automatically he fishes his phone out to text Sherlock, but his fingers hesitate before he can switch it back on. Mycroft wasn't joking; his threat was both honest and sincere. He's fully prepared to destroy John's life just for the sake of protecting his brother. It would almost be admirable if it weren't for the fact that all along John has been trying to do the same.
But there's nothing going on between him and Sherlock. Not even now that John has admitted he's attracted to him. Sure Sherlock sometimes parades around topless, and occasionally John catches a glimpse of bare flesh when Sherlock's coming out of the bath, and he woke up once to find Sherlock curled up beside him in bed after a particularly bad night, but that's it. Harmless. Certainly not worth involving the police or throwing him in prison for. He's never touched Sherlock and he's not going to, not until Sherlock is officially an adult and can be trusted to make his own decisions.
A little more slowly now he presses the button to turn his phone on. As it powers up, he contemplates his next move. Should he wait until Sherlock's birthday before he tries to contact him? Or should he just text Sherlock and let him know that they can work this out? Does Sherlock have any sway over his brother at all, or will even something as simple as a text put everything into motion before Sherlock has the opportunity to speak up in John's defence? There are too many variables and it makes his head spin, but all of that disappears in a sickening rush when his phone chirps and the screen lights up to let him know he's got a new message. It's from Sherlock.
Two measly words and it hurts more than John thought possible, like a solid punch to the belly that makes him feel nauseous. He stares down at the text and knows that it's too late, that even if he tried to text Sherlock it won't get to him, probably won't even go through. That by the time he gets home Sherlock will be long gone and this time there will be no tracing him down. He got lucky last time but it won't happen a second time around, and if Sherlock tells them not to the homeless won't be inclined to help him. Mycroft got to his brother first and Sherlock, the stupid git, is reacting just the same way he had with Lestrade.
Lestrade. John's eyes open with a sudden surge of hope. If anyone has an idea of how to navigate the complicated Holmes family, it's got to be Lestrade. Surely by now he's had a visit or two from Sherlock's brother? And even if he hasn't, at the very least he might know where to find Sherlock. It's a long shot but it's the only thing John's got going for him. He opens his list of contacts and scrolls down until he finds Lestrade's name, silently thanking god for the day that he'd asked Sherlock for the number. Sherlock had looked at him a little suspiciously, like he thought John was going to call up Lestrade and ask him for embarrassing stories, but he'd given it willingly enough. John phones it now and prays.
It rings for almost a minute before the line is picked up. "Lestrade speaking."
"Hello. This is John. John Watson."
There's a sudden intake of breath. "Hello John," Lestrade says, and John knows instantly that Lestrade knows exactly who he is.
He says, "Mycroft cornered me and Sherlock's gone."
"Fuck," Lestrade says bluntly. "Okay, I'm going to give you my address. You better come."
John memorizes the address and tracks down a cab to take him there. He doesn't remember much of the ride, only that his heart is racing with adrenaline and he feels flushed and shaky. He barely remembers to pay the cabbie as he gets out, and judging by the way the car peels off he's either given too much or too little. He can't be bothered to check as he stumbles up the three flights to Lestrade's flat. The door opens before he gets there and a pretty woman gives him a shy smile as she steps aside to let him in.
"Hello," she says hesitantly. "Are you... John?"
"I'm Molly. Molly Hooper." She starts to hold out a hand for him to shake, then blushes and drops her arm back to her side. "Sorry, I know it's not really the time. Look, I - just take your shoes off. Greg is waiting for you in the kitchen. It's right through there." She nods towards a door on the opposite of the room through which John can see a table and chairs.
"Thanks," he says, already toeing off his shoes. He strides towards the door, almost too preoccupied to realize that the kitchen has two people in it already. Lestrade is familiar, the other one more so because it's Sherlock. John stops short, his chest going so tight he can't breathe.
"Oh for god's sake," Sherlock says when he catches sight of John, and he starts to get up.
"Sit," Lestrade barks, slamming a hand down onto Sherlock's shoulder. It's too easy for him to push Sherlock back down even as Sherlock starts to argue.
"I know all about your bloody brother, Sherlock, which you should know by now. And I also know that there's no way I'm going to let him fuck up the one decent thing you've got going in your life. There's a reason I told you to come here instead of letting you just run off." Lestrade pauses, taking in Sherlock's scowl, and sighs heavily. "Look, just talk okay? Mycroft doesn't know you're here. The windows are covered and you scoured the flat for listening devices when you came in, so now is your chance. I'll be with Molly, just let me know when you're done."
"Fine," Sherlock says sulkily.
"Fine," Lestrade agrees, removing his hand from Sherlock's shoulder. He shoots John a significant look as he turns around, one that suggests that John had best be cautious when it comes to the next few minutes or Mycroft's threats will seem like nothing. John just nods and swallows and tries to breathe as he and Sherlock are left alone.
He waits until he hears the sound of a door closing somewhere in the flat before he breaks the silence. "I'm guessing you already know all about my chat with your brother tonight."
Sherlock lets out a brittle laugh. "If it was anything like the talk I had with him, then yes I do." He turns a set of dull eyes onto John. "He threatened you, didn't he? And yet you're still here. You're stubborn, John, I'll give you that much. Either that or you don't care very much for the life you've put together so far."
"I worked hard to get where I am," John counters, a fact that he thinks Sherlock sometimes doesn't get. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to just step aside because some posh git with an umbrella tells me to."
"That ridiculous umbrella," Sherlock mutters.
Just watching him, knowing that he's safe and more importantly here, the adrenaline starts to fade and leaves a sickly feeling in its place. Not pleasant. John lets his feet carry him closer, sinking down into the chair across from Sherlock. The space between them still feels like too much but it's enough, for now. He says, "You're important to me too, Sherlock. I thought you understood that."
"My brother wasn't joking. He really will follow through on his threats. Is that what you want?"
"No, but I don't want to go the rest of my life never talking to you again either. Can't we explain to him that there's nothing going on?"
"He won't believe it."
"But it's the truth."
"Mycroft is the person who taught me how to deduce," Sherlock says slowly and awfully. "He can see it in me. That I want you."
"Oh." John stares. Somehow, he's never really stopped to consider the fact that Sherlock might actually want him back. The attempt in their flat was only because of a misguided sense of gratitude, and sure John's attracted to him but to have it be reciprocated? He's always left those thoughts to after, when it's actually legal to think about it, and he's not sure what to do with this fascinating knowledge.
Sherlock smirks at the table. "So you see, he won't be so willing to believe that nothing has happened between us. He knows that I've never been the sort of person to hold back. When I want something I go after it."
John's tempted to ask if this is really why Sherlock propositioned him but doesn't. He's pretty sure that this is at least part of it already. "Then he could at least understand that nothing will be happening until you're of legal age, right? I wouldn't... It's not right for anything to happen before then."
"You're vastly underestimating how ridiculously stupid my brother can be." Sherlock gets up suddenly, like he can't sit still any longer, and starts to pace. "This is why I wanted to leave before you knew what was going on. Mycroft came to the flat earlier today. He told me he was going to approach you. I thought I would go before you heard, but Lestrade always gets worried when I disappear. So I came here first. Stupid. Useless sentiment." He shakes his head roughly, scornfully.
"Hey," John says reproachfully. "It's not stupid. Lestrade cares about you. I do too, you know. If you had just vanished with no explanation, do you think I would just forget about you Sherlock? That's not really how it works. I'd have been going out of my mind. Maybe at first I might've been able to get by and focus on my work, but eventually I would've tried to find you." And he can only imagine how hellish that experience would've been. He'd got a small taste searching for Sherlock that night and he has no desire to replicate it anytime soon.
"Don't you understand?" The words explode out of Sherlock then, bitter and sharp. "Mycroft always carries through on his threats. You're treating this like a joke, but it's not. What did he say he would do? At the very least he'll take the matter to your employer, to your family and friends. At the worst he'll bring charges against you. Make it seem like I didn't know what I was doing, that the big strong doctor lured me in under false pretences before attacking me." He sneers, every word dripping with derision, and it's so much like his brother that it takes John's breath away. "You could end up in prison, John. Is that what you want?"
"What I want is for the two of us to sit down and talk about like reasonable adults."
"I'm not an adult!" Sherlock practically yells. "Not according to the bloody law, which apparently is the only thing that matters!"
"You don't get it. You don't know what it's like to know that every minute of the day he's watching. No matter what I do, John, he's watching." Sherlock is spinning now, pacing not enough, his hands tugging at his hair. Gripping huge handfuls of fine black curls and pulling savagely until it must hurt. "And judging, all of them. Everything I do is under my family's say. Nothing is mine. You were supposed to be mine, but you're not."
"Sherlock." John lets his voice gentle as he too stands up, because he can't bear to see Sherlock like this.
"Mycroft always has to poke his nose in. My father wants me to be more like him, but honestly I don't think London could handle two Mycroft's. For one thing no one would ever get a moment's peace." Sherlock laughs again, a thin strained sound that's somehow even worse than before.
And then John reaches him, gets his hands around Sherlock's shoulders and reels him in. Sherlock stands stiffly against him for only a few seconds before he sags, his hands coming up to clutch at John's jacket so tightly the fabric strains. He's shaking so hard that John actually gets worried he might faint, and he sweeps his hands down Sherlock's back in an effort to calm him down a little.
"Look, I didn't get it before. What your family was really like. I didn't understand and I'm sorry," he whispers. Because he'd thought that Sherlock's parents were the worst of it, but maybe they aren't. He can't imagine going from them to the streets, only to realize that someone was still watching all the time. Like living in a fishbowl. It's not right. Sherlock might be a teenager but he should be free to make connections without fearing the consequences. It breaks John's heart that he's this terrified to reach out to someone.
"John." It seems to be the only word that Sherlock can force out past his chattering teeth.
"Shh. It's okay." He keeps rubbing one of his hands up and down Sherlock's back, wraps the other around Sherlock's waist to keep him close in a secure embrace he thinks Sherlock's probably been needing for weeks. Maybe years.
He drops his head onto Sherlock's hair and just takes a deep breath, inhaling the familiar scent of shampoo. Sherlock uses a more expensive brand than he does, of course. It costs a little more but John can't deny the fact that it does a nice job, leaving his hair soft and perfect for someone to rub their cheek in. Not that he's nuzzling Sherlock's hair or anything like that, because that would be creepy. He's just resting his cheek there and nothing more.
When they first met, Sherlock was thin as anything and looked like a strong breeze would be enough to push him over. He's filled out now, and John can no longer feel ribs when his fingers splay across Sherlock's side. His body is beginning to catch up with that last growth spurt which left him with a good few inches on John; the only reason he can even do this is because Sherlock has slumped so much against him, like his legs aren't even sufficient to hold him up anymore.
"I don't want you to go back to the streets," John admits, keeping his voice deliberately quiet to avoid antagonizing Sherlock again. What they need right now is communication, not to yell at each other. "If that means taking the risk that your brother's going to carry through, well, it's certainly not ideal. But there's no way I'm letting you go back to sleeping god knows where and not eating because there's no one around to put food in front of you."
"Food isn't important," Sherlock mutters.
"Really? That's not how it looked the last time I bought honey," says John, unable to keep a small smile from forming. One of the easiest ways to make Sherlock eat if he's in a mood is to pour honey on top of vanilla ice cream. Sherlock can't resist the sticky-sweet combination. The dish will be guaranteed empty every time John returns.
Sherlock shifts and lifts his head then, shooting John an impatient glare. "You're still not grasping the entirety of what my brother will do to you."
"Maybe not," John admits. "I just... he's got to be reasonable about this, Sherlock. He can't just go around shoving everyone out of your life that he doesn't approve of. You're not a child."
"I'm not?" says Sherlock. "So if I'm not a child, I can do this?" His head tips back and he leans up and John knows what's coming before it happens. He feels weak as he stands there and lets it come, the chaste kiss that a trembling Sherlock brushes hesitantly across his mouth.
He opens his eyes when it's over and meets Sherlock's gaze. They're both shaking now. "No. Not yet. Part of this would mean actually giving your brother a reason to trust us. I'm not a paedophile, Sherlock. I won't do anything with you until the law says I can. It's not because I don't think you're intelligent enough to know what you want, or that you can't make smart decision - though seeing the way you refuse to sleep sometimes even though you're dropping with exhaustion, I do wonder - but because it's the law."
"The law was made to be broken," Sherlock points out.
Sherlock huffs. "I knew you were listening."
For a man who's just been caught eavesdropping, Lestrade appears to be largely unrepentant as he steps back into the kitchen. "Course I was. Had to make sure that your doctor was on the level and wasn't going to take advantage of you." He levels John with a hard stare that makes John realize exactly how their position might look to an outsider. He still doesn't let go of Sherlock, just meets Lestrade's eyes defiantly.
"Then perhaps you can explain to John why I have to go," Sherlock says. In spite of his words, he doesn't release John either. If anything, his hands hold on that much tighter.
"Actually, I'm beginning to think I should do the opposite."
"What?" John and Sherlock say in perfect unison.
Lestrade actually grins at them. "I know you think I'm a crap detective, Sherlock, but I have actually been paying attention during these past few months. You're doing a hell of a lot better now than you ever were before. You're eating and sleeping on a relatively normal schedule and you smile more. You're not nearly so edgy as you used to be, I haven't had to break up a fight between you and Anderson and Donovan in nearly a week."
"They're still idiots."
"Yeah, but you're keeping your comments to yourself and frankly that's more than I ever thought you'd be capable of."
"So what are you saying?" John asks.
"I'm saying I might be willing to intervene with Mycroft."
"What?" Sherlock's head snaps up and he straightens, turning away from John towards Lestrade. The distress written all over his face is painful to watch. "You can't. Mycroft already threatened you once, too."
"I know," Lestrade says gently. "And I also know that's why you always keep all of our interactions in a public place, why you never come here anymore. Why do you think I was so concerned about you tonight? This is the first time you've come to my flat in over a year. There's no cameras here for your big brother to keep an eye on us, so you thought it might make him carry through right?"
Sherlock's jaw goes tight, like he doesn't appreciate having his plans be written out for all to see, and Lestrade gives him a fond look. "I'm really not stupid, Sherlock. You were trying to protect me and I didn't like it but I let it continue because I wasn't sure how to make you see that it didn't have to be that way. Watson's the first person you've really let help you since I met you. Now that I have the opportunity to help you too, you think I'm really just going to walk away?"
"You're a sergeant and you'll be up for a promotion soon," Sherlock says almost desperately. "I'm underage, you should be -"
"So long as Watson keeps to his word, I don't like the situation but I won't interfere," Lestrade replies, and he shoots John a look that says he'll be watching to make certain that John does keep his word. John stares back, trying to convey through expression alone that he hopes Lestrade does. Sherlock needs as many eyes on him as possible.
"You really think you can talk to Sherlock's brother?"
"Oh, I think I can make Mycroft come around. He won't involve his parents. He's stubborn, but like this idiot you just need to know how to talk to him."
"I'm not an idiot," Sherlock grumbles.
"Yes you are," John says, looking down at him and grinning. It feels like the perfect time to kiss Sherlock again and it hits him then how hard this is going to be, keeping himself away from Sherlock now that time is their only issue. The next few months are going to be a nightmare, particularly since Sherlock has already proven that he has very little regard for what's keeping them apart.
"Agreed," Lestrade says, looking amused. "Now, Molly and I were going to order some Chinese food. Interested?"
"Oh god," John says, mortified. "We interrupted your date, didn't we? I should - we should go -"
"No offence, John, but I think it's best if Sherlock stays here until I have the chance to track Mycroft down. And since it doesn't seem like you're going anywhere anytime soon..." Lestrade's eyes drop meaningfully to where Sherlock's still clutching at him. As soon as Sherlock realizes where's he looking he lets go of John, but it's too late and John can't help smiling.
"If you don't mind, then, we'd love to join you," he says, carding a hand through Sherlock's hair before letting it drop to smooth against the back of his neck. He wonders, too late, if that's crossing some sort of line, but Lestrade doesn't seem to mind. He just turns away and starts fishing around for the takeaway menus.
"Molly!" he calls out, and a few seconds later the woman from before comes to the door.
"All sorted, then?" she asks.
"Yes. We're ordering Chinese, have you seen -"
"They're in the same drawer as always, Greg, really." Molly rolls her eyes but she's smiling as she crosses the room and opens one of the drawers to reveal a high stack of menus. She plucks one out and tosses it to Lestrade, who just shrugs and glances at John and Sherlock.
"What do you want?"
January 6th dawns with rain. As John leaves the hospital, he reflexively checks his phone and can't stop the laugh that escapes at the sight of the text message from Sherlock: Lestrade's called him in on a case and so he won't be waiting at home for John. Exactly as planned, not that Sherlock is aware of that, and it will give him enough time to get home, shower and have a little bit of a sleep before Molly shows up to help him decorate.
This day has been slow in coming, but the sweet burn of anticipation carries him through. He hums the whole way home and during his shower, though he has no problem settling down to sleep. His shift at the hospital was a long one. But by the time Molly wakes him up four hours later, he's feeling refreshed and more than ready for the fulfilling night that he finally thinks they're both ready for. There's just one more event to get through and that's the little party they've put together to celebrate Sherlock's 16th birthday. The guest list is short, but John figures that's the way Sherlock is going to want it.
Molly takes over decorating while John puts in a call for food, and by the time the delivery guy shows up the other guests have arrived: namely, Mrs Hudson and Mycroft. He's less than pleased to see Sherlock's brother again but Lestrade had insisted, pointing out that if they didn't invite him Mycroft would probably just show up anyway. And yeah, he has a point but that doesn't mean John has to like him.
"You do realize," Mycroft says before he even gets in the room, "that there's a seven year gap between the two of you and that my brother is still a teenager."
"Fuck you," John says.
"Boys," Mrs Hudson admonishes, gives them both a glare that could've put John's mother to shame. "It's Sherlock's birthday and I won't have you ruining it for him, understand?" Because she's taken a weird liking to Sherlock and there's no question that Sherlock totally takes advantage of it, he's got Mrs Hudson wrapped around his finger and vice versa.
Mycroft frowns and John scowls but a universal silent falls and it's not broken again until the door is thrown open by Sherlock. He takes two steps into the room with a huffing Lestrade right behind him, looks around and goes, "Everyone get out. John and I are going to have sex."
"Sherlock!" John squeaks. Molly giggles.
"I didn't need to know that," Lestrade says, looking pained, and judging from the expression on Mycroft's face he's in whole-hearted agreement of that.
"Long sex," Sherlock says, folding his arms. "Multiple times in different spots, including the sofa, John's chair, the kitchen table, the shower, the bed, the -"
"And we're gone. Happy Birthday, Sherlock." Lestrade does an abrupt turn and heads for the door, both hands pressed to his ears like he can't leave fast enough. Molly is still giggling as she follows him out, though John is almost positive he can detect a hint of regret in her face for the hasty retreat and that's more than he really wants to think about.
"I'll be leaving as well, then, I suppose," Mrs Hudson says.
"Take the food, we won't be needing it," says Sherlock with a wave of his hand.
Mrs Hudson's mouth is twitching with poorly restrained amusement. "And your brother as well, I'm guessing. Come along dear." She sets a hand on Mycroft's back and starts ushering him from the room. Mycroft sputters, looking like he wants to dig his heels in, but Mrs Hudson's more stubborn than that. Sherlock smirks as their landlady efficiently hastens his brother out of the room and throws the door shut behind them.
"That was rude," John says lamely.
"It was poor thinking on your part." Sherlock starts stripping right there. His coat gets placed in the closet with care, but the rest of his clothing - shirt and jeans and boxers - hit the ground leaving him naked. John's mouth goes dry at the sight of all that pale flesh.
"Haven't you ever heard of taking it slow?"
"Slow?" Sherlock's eyes are wild as he advances. "I've been waiting months for this, John. You made me wait. I'm not sitting through some dreadfully boring party when you could be fucking me." He reaches for John with all too greedy fingers and starts tugging at the buttons on his shirt.
John laughs a little, because he can't help it, and reaches up to take Sherlock's hands. He's not surprised to find that they're trembling a little, not that Sherlock would ever admit to feeling uncertain. "I'm not going anywhere. We have all night, and all day tomorrow because I can guarantee no one's going to come knocking after that, and I want this to be more than some awkward, messy fumble on the sofa." Though that idea has its own merit and he suspects someday soon that's exactly where they'll end up.
It's taken him a while to come to terms with what he feels for Sherlock. He'd never imagined falling in love with someone who is so much younger than he is and it's been a bit of an adjustment. Were it anyone else he can't imagine it ever feeling right or worthwhile, but this is Sherlock. He's no more sane now than he was when they first met but John loves him and knowing that he finally has the right to lean down and kiss Sherlock, well.
He kisses Sherlock softly, slowly, until Sherlock's knees are trembling too and he's breathing in quick, sharp little pants against John's mouth. His cheeks are pink and he's hard already against John's thigh, rocking his hips in little circles. The friction must be painful against the fabric of his jeans, but Sherlock's rubbing against him anyway. John smiles against the damp curve of his cheek and nips playfully at his earlobe, then suckles at the flesh until Sherlock is whimpering.
"John," he breathes. "I want –"
"I know what you want, sweetheart," he soothes, letting his hand drop to find hard flesh. Sherlock jerks against him with a soft cry after just a couple of rough strokes and the space between them becomes wet. John licks his lips and stares at Sherlock's face. That was the hottest thing he's ever seen, Sherlock virgin sweet and sensitive, and it only makes him crave more.
Sherlock leans heavily against him for a couple of minutes and John lets him, doing his absolute best to ignore the arousal that's thrumming through him. He's a good man but not a saint, and finally he searches out Sherlock's mouth with his own for more lazy kisses. Now that the edge has been taken off Sherlock is eager in a different way, more exploratory, searching and greedy. John likes it. He puts his hands on Sherlock's bare arse and squeezes.
"Want more," Sherlock says, long lashes fluttering against his cheeks in the epitome of coyness.
John chuckles, low and dirty, and kisses him again before he picks Sherlock right up off the floor. He thoroughly enjoys the startled squeak he gets in return as he carries Sherlock into the bedroom and sets him gently on the bed. Sherlock stares up at him, mouth open a little, and it's written plainly on his face that he can't decide whether he should be aroused over the display of strength or insulted that he hasn't managed to deduce this ability until now. John decides for him when he starts stripping his own clothes off.
He's been more careful, cautious, with how much flesh he's bared until now, so this is all new and the hungry look in Sherlock's eyes only grows the more he sees. He props himself up on his elbows as John sits down on the edge of the bed, pouting when John keeps his distance. Before he can complain, John says, "I know we haven't talked much about what we're going to do tonight, but –"
"Is this going to be some lecture where you try to explain that we don't have to fuck if I don't want to?" Sherlock rolls his eyes. "Because let me assure you, I've thought about it. In detail."
"Yes." Completely unselfconscious, Sherlock grips his prick. He keeps his eyes locked with John as he starts to pump with slow languid strokes. "I've thought about you behind me, me on my hands and knees. You on the bed on your back so I could ride you. Sometimes I face you, sometimes I don't. I like the idea of me on the bed with you above me. Sometimes you open me up with your fingers. Sometimes you use your tongue."
"Jesus," John says, feeling dizzy from how fast the blood is rushing downwards. Sherlock paints a pretty picture as it is, but like this it's too easy to imagine each scenario. He wants it all. Without taking his eyes off of Sherlock he opens the drawer where's he put a new tube of lube and some condoms just for tonight. He snaps open the lube and squeezes some out. It's cold.
"Yeah," Sherlock whispers, fingers tightening with a tell-tale tremble of his thighs. John reaches out and stills the frantic motion of his wrist, shifting until he's kneeling in front of Sherlock and looking down between his splayed legs.
"Hang on. Let's do this right."
"You're being too slow," he complains.
"There's something to be said for savouring the moment," John mutters, but he's grinning as he slides a finger between Sherlock's buttocks. Sherlock blinks, going still at the first touch against his entrance. John watches him closely as he presses inside, the muscle parting for him more easily than he'd expected.
Like he knows what John's thinking, Sherlock shifts and says, "I've been practicing. These last few weeks."
"Practicing. On myself. At night, when I take a shower, I used the lotion you keep in there so I could wash myself afterwards. I'd go down on my hands and knees, or brace myself against the wall and slide my hand down –"
"Holy fuck, you're going to kill me," John says. He thinks his brain might be melting. He hasn't been this hard in years, maybe ever.
"After you fuck me," Sherlock says, and gives an emphatic little wiggle of his hips for emphasis.
John tries to go slow, sliding his finger in slow circles until Sherlock's rim is completely coated. Sherlock mutters and complains about the pace, but when John starts to ease a second finger in it's not hard to notice the way he goes quiet. John thinks, briefly, about swallowing him down as a distraction, but he knows it will be over too soon if he does. So he turns his attention to Sherlock's chest, teasing the small nubs and tasting the panes of his chest, licking at a spot just above his left hip until Sherlock's squirming.
"I bet you didn't know about other erogenous zones," he says, blowing against the damp bruise he's just mouthed onto Sherlock's hip. Sherlock jerks and moans, a deep sound, and John slips a third finger in. "Sometimes it's not always the place you expect. I'll have to make note of this next time you're being an idiot, I could slide my hand around your hip and caress you right… here." He licks and nips and sucks until Sherlock's outright whining, pleading without words, and John can't take the teasing anymore either.
He slides his fingers out and expertly rolls on a condom, slicking himself up. Sherlock looks like a wreck already, gasping for breath and sprawled against the pillows like a delectable feast. His eyes are heavily lidded but he still looks up at the feeling of John's cock against him. John holds his gaze as he pushes in, keeps holding it until he can't anymore and he has to let his eyes fall shut at the blissful feeling spreading through him. Heat and smooth and a fluttering grip that holds him in place. He feels weak.
It takes effort to make himself focus, to hear the need in Sherlock's voice and equate it with movement. He draws in a long breath and pulls out, pushes back in smoothly. Sherlock moans softly, his head tipping back, but it's not the reaction John wants. He lets go of Sherlock's hips and grabs his legs, pulling them up until Sherlock gets the hint and locks them around his waist. Bony ankles dig into John's spine as he rocks forward and this time the sound Sherlock makes is higher, surprised, his fingers flexing convulsively in the sheets.
"Right there, does that feel good?" John murmurs, pleasure and pride mingling as he watches the way Sherlock's eyes open wide.
"John," he says again, strangled, breath hitching. He arches up, using the leverage of his legs to push into each thrust. John leans forward, bracing himself with one arm against the sheets, mesmerized by the way a flush spreads down Sherlock's pale chest.
He's not given to fits of fancy very often, but, "God you're gorgeous."
The blush on Sherlock's face deepens as he mewls in response, head falling back. John catches his flailing hand and guides it to his prick, slicking their fingers with pre-come and the remains of the lube. Sherlock clenches around him and he groans, pace stuttering momentarily. He's close and he can tell that Sherlock is too; neither of them is going to very last at this rate and he's determined to see that Sherlock comes first. He begins moving their cupped fingers until Sherlock picks up on the rhythm.
Sherlock's mouth falls open soundlessly as he spurts hot between them for the second time. Orgasm hits John hard like a punch to the gut seconds later and he grunts as he follows, shoving deep inside one last time. He lets himself fall forward, covering Sherlock with his body, though he keeps the bulk of his weight on his arms to avoid crushing him. He just breathes there for a couple of minutes, inhaling the clean scent of laundry detergent and sweat.
Eventually he finds the strength to prop himself up on one arm, sliding off and to the side. Sherlock's eyes are shut but they open at the movement, glassy and stunned. John cups his cheek and kisses him gently, pulling away only to murmur, "Okay?"
John nods, takes him at his word even though he can see that Sherlock is a little overwhelmed. He pulls Sherlock close and sighs contentedly at the way that Sherlock burrows into him instinctively, clutching at John until there's no space left between them.