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[personal profile] keelywolfe
Title:Strays
Author: Keelywolfe
Fandom: Sherlock BBC
Wordcount:13,000+
Rating: NC-17
Pairing(s): John/Sherlock
Genre: Alternate Universe

Warning(s): Underage warning here! Character is sixteen.

Summary: His mother had told John once, years ago, that he had an affinity for strays.



~~*~~

His mother had told John once, years ago, that he had an affinity for strays. Lost kittens tucked into his school rucksack, carried home for saucers of warm milk. A tiny bird fallen from its nest, nursed back to health until it flew away with glossy wings spread. Strays, he collected them, pets and critters, other children with skinned knees and bruised eyes that accepted his care and a plaster happily before skipping back to the swings. John Watson had been a caretaker from the moment he was born, his mother said, and medical school had only confirmed what everyone had always said about him.

The letters after his name came later but it was already true.

~~*~~

He met his latest stray after fourteen hours on call in the Emergency Department, eyes sleep-gritty as he checked over a filthy, sullen teenager with visible track marks on his arms. Two months into his year-long internship and he'd already learned what questions not to ask. It was a different wound on his arm he was in for, a dirty rag clutched over a deep cut and John stitched it deftly, dousing it was antiseptic and care.

"You should take better care of yourself," John told him calmly, ignored his scoffing as the boy turned his head away. The cut on his arm was curious, ending in a shallow curly-cue at the end and John wondered what could have caused such a wound.

"Not a broken bottle," he mused aloud, taping a bandage over the neatly sutured wound. He felt the teenager turn his head back to look at him. "It wasn't a knife either. How did you manage such an odd gash?"

"The end of a fence post," the boy said, shortly, and John raised an eyebrow, taking a better look at his patient. Neither the enunciation nor the clothes were those of a street dweller. He was tall, just on the end of gangly, and when he stood he could look down his nose at John with alacrity.

"Is there anyone I can call—" John started, trailed off at the positively scathing look the boy sent him. "Right, then. Only, I can't release you without a parent or guardian."

Another disdainful look and the boy fished an ID card out of what might have once been a fine leather wallet. "You can, actually, I'm eighteen."

And so his birthdate declared. It was later, long after John had swabbed the festering track marks on his arms despite his patient's loud fussing, that he discovered just how talented his latest stray was with fake I.D.s. After John tucked a hospital business card with his mobile number on it into the kid's pocket and told him to call when he was tired of street life.

A stray, was all, another stray and to John it was as instinctive as breathing to try and help him. He didn't question the urge, his own curiosity as he watched the boy wrap a scarf around his neck, shrugging into his coat and back out onto the street. Probably useless to try; he'd seen a dozen kids like him. Something about this one niggled at him, though; his eyes were too bright for a normal drug addict, sharp, the edge of his anger wasn't adolescent rage, it was something…John wrote it off as a lack of sleep and went on to his next patient, and his tall, odd stray was dismissed out of hand.

It was less than a week 'till his phone rang him out of a deep sleep with a call he honestly hadn't expected to receive, a thin, deep voice saying his name.

"John Watson?"

"Hmm, who's this?" John mumbled, half-convinced he was still dreaming.

"You told me I could call you." Another ragged breath and that woke John more, rubbing his eyes with clumsy fingers as he sat up. His brain was automatically calculating the injuries that would make breathing so laboured, edged with a whine, and he didn't know the voice but it didn't matter. Strays, John collected them, and he'd collect this one wherever they were.

"Where are you?" John asked, already digging for a pen and a scrap of paper, dashing down the address as he yanked on trousers, stuffing his feet in his shoes and still pulling on a t-shirt as he ran down the stairs.

A half an hour later found him in a cab on a dodgy street corner, gathering up a blood-stained teenager and tucking him into the back of the cab. He really was ridiculously tall, leaning against John's shoulder heavily as he helped him inside. The driver was not particularly happy with their latest addition but he kept his grumbling quiet, drove them back to John's tiny flat when the young man vehemently denied needing a hospital.

He was sat at John's kitchen table in no time, sipping sweetened tea with shaky hands as John patched up his bruised and cut face. Beneath the layer of dirt were cheekbones that John recognized, startlingly pale eyes ringed with yellowed bruises.

"I told you to call when you were ready to get off the streets," John said quietly. There was an ugly looking scrape over his eye that John didn't like the look of. What he honestly needed more than a doctor was a hot meal and a shower, not necessarily in that order.

"So you did," the boy coughed, wiped his mouth with the back of a grimy hand. To John's not quite experienced ear, it didn't sound too bad, none of the deep congestion of pneumonia. Even so, a night off the street certainly wouldn't do him any harm. "But I'm not ready just yet."

"You did call," John pointed out. He washed his face automatically, like he might a child, until the young man snatched the cloth away and scrubbed it himself. Beneath the dirt was fine, fair skin, mottled with old bruises. Just what was this kid getting himself into?

"And you came," he countered. He drank his tea with ingrained politeness that no amount of street filth could disguise.

"So I did," John sighed. He parked his latest stray on the sofa with his Auntie Bridget's old afghan, wasn't at all surprised to find him gone in the morning. It was somewhat more surprising to find his own wallet still there, his telly untouched, not a single valuable poached for its street value. There was a note on the table, elegant script noting only two words.

No, strike that, two words and a name. The words were simple, thank you, and the name matched the one on the I.D.

Sherlock.

John absently pinned the note to his refrigerator with a magnet shaped like human heart and went to get dressed for his shift. The thing about strays was you couldn't keep them, even when they needed keeping.

~~*~~

A single day later was entirely too soon for John to find himself kidnapped into the back of a car that seemed unremarkable and yet reeked of privilege. One moment he'd been on his way to the hospital, his thoughts on his coming shift and a probable evening of sutures and vomit, what with that stomach virus that was going around. The next, he was being cozened into a ride-along by a pretty young woman and taken to an unremarkable parking garage that could have been anywhere. Directions weren't John's strength, particularly when riding in the back of a car with tinted windows.

His shoes seemed cheap and scuffed against the rich carpeting and the man the car took him to see was much the same. Suit, tie, even the chain of a pocket watch. He only seemed a few years older than John but that was a kind of wealth, there, one that a person like John Watson needn't meddle with. The kind that vanished people into parking garages like the one they were currently in, never to be seen again.

The man smiled a greeting that John didn't return, the false welcome in his face melting away like so much illusion. John stood there, deeply aware of the thinness of scrubs, his worn shoes, his ancient watch, and he never once looked away from that icy stare. Christ, this bloke's brolly alone was probably worth as much as John's medical school loans. The suit didn't bear considering.

"You seem to have taken a fancy to Sherlock," the man said finally, the chill in his eyes matched by his voice.

It was the name that stiffened John's spine, narrowed his eyes as he studied his kidnapper or whatever the hell he was. Sherlock, his latest stray, and John cared about all of them but he wasn't precisely the sharing sort. The instinct to protect came part and parcel. Sherlock had come scratching at his door like any lost kitten, begging for his attention with a scoffing attitude and needy grey eyes and John had never been able to turn that away.

"I'm sorry, I'm not allowed to discuss my patients," John said politely, baring his teeth in a modicum of a smile. He'd known Sherlock wasn't just an ordinary homeless person but this! It sent a shiver down John's spine. Just who was he?

"You also aren't allowed to take your patients home with you like a pet dog but that doesn't seem to have stopped you." Cold eyes bored into John and he raised his chin and met them evenly. Pet dog, honestly. Anyone with eyes could see Sherlock was more of a cat, wandering in when it suited him, staying long enough to lick his wounds and then back out.

John ignored all that, instead asking, curiously, "Who are you? Or I suppose more to the point, who is he? People like you aren't usually interested in common street trash."

"I am no one of consequence," the tall man said smoothly and John barely stopped himself from scoffing aloud. Right, because unimportant people had hired cars scattered about the city to kidnap people in. "Sherlock, on the other hand, fancies himself a detective," the older man sniffed. "Says this entire ordeal is an experiment of some sort."

"A detective?" John repeated, dubiously.

The man waved that trivia off impatiently. "That hardly matters. What does matter is Sherlock seems to have taken a shine to you."

"Has he now?" Distantly, John was proud of the coolness in his voice, considering that his gut was currently writhing in flames of irritation.

"Oh, yes, indeed. He actually called you, why, that's practically a proposal." Cool eyes assessed John calmly. "Which is why I'd like to make you an offer. I'd be happy pay you a decent salary in exchange for your continuing to keep an eye on him."

"And why would you want to do that?" John asked. He crossed his arms over his chest, hiding the sweaty clench of his hands. "Why not just swoop him up in your vulture mobile and trundle off with him?"

"Sherlock is hardly as amicable as you are," the man said with a polite sort of smile.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," John replied easily. "You can keep the money; I'm a medical student, I'm hardly going to play spy for you."

"Oh, how terribly dramatic," he sighed, shaking his head sadly. "I'm not asking for you to spy on him, just…let me know if he contacts you. If he's injured, that sort of thing."

"Answer is still no." John forced himself not to step back. From his captor's expression, he wasn't a man used to being refused.

Instead of threats, though, he came back with coaxing, "Come now, I'm only asking for your help in keep track of my brother. My underage brother," he stressed, "Who could use a friend."

"Then he's got one," John returned swiftly, "And he's not underage, he's eighteen. You might not like him living on the street but that doesn't mean—"

"He is not eighteen," the man correctly sharply, "Sherlock won't even be sixteen for another month."

"Six—" John trailed off, taken aback. Christ, he really was just a kid and John had let him go back out on the street, battered and bruised and alone. "Why the hell don't you snatch him back home then? You obviously can, you snatched me off the street easily enough."

"Yes, catching him tends not to be the problem," the man sighed with a familiar, world-weary tone that John had heard from broken families time and again. Strange to hear it from this man; he'd probably hate to think he had anything in common with the lesser folk. "Keeping him, on the other hand—"

"Yeah, I can see how that might be a trouble," John said slowly. He bit his lip, considering. "I'll try to keep an eye on him."

"Excellent," the oily smile that lit the man's face grated across every nerve John possessed, "I'll have the funds deposited the first of every month, with an advance of course, for your past efforts…"

"Keep it," John said shortly, already turning away. Wherever they were, he was bound to be able to catch a cab somewhere. "I'm sure you're used to a different sort of person but where I'm from, friends don't require a cheque."

"Of course, Doctor Watson."

"I'm not just yet," John muttered, striding quickly away. He felt like he should have a shower, felt dirtier than he ever did after a vomit-filled night on call.

"Only a matter of time," was called softly after him and John walked faster, practically running now as he wondered just what the hell he'd gotten himself into.

~~*~~

A week later and he'd nearly forgotten the strange incident, his brain was needed for more current events, chasing after the letters that he wanted to follow his name. It wasn't until he was on his lunch break, catching a bit of fresh air alongside a cup of coffee that John was jolted with memory in the form of a soft voice saying his name.

"John?"

He startled, nearly dropping his Styrofoam cup as he whirled towards that voice. Lower than it should be, Sherlock was crouched down by the curb, looking up at John through a tangle of dirty hair.

"Christ, you gave me a start!" John sighed. Sherlock only shrugged his bony shoulders, half-hidden in his heavy coat. "Are you hurt?" he asked, automatically scanning over his slim form.

"My brother spoke to you," Sherlock said, starkly. John blinked down at him and returned his shrug, shivering a little in the cool air. Scrubs weren't much of a barrier to the chill and while it woke him up as much as the coffee, he hadn't intended to stay outside long enough to chat with his unusual stray.

"He did," John agreed, not bothering to deny it. Not much point, was there?

Something in Sherlock's expression soured, his eyes going the same shade of cold as his brother's. "And he told you, didn't he. I suppose now is when you tell me that I should be going home, that my family obviously loves me and someone of my tender years needs to be back at school. My entire life is ahead of me and I need to embrace it, of course."

John tossed back the rest of his coffee, grimacing as it burned its way down, before throwing the cup into the rubbish bin. "My shift isn't over for another six hours. If you're here, you can come home with me and borrow my shower. You might not want to embrace your life but you could certainly stand to smell better."

He didn't bother waiting for a reply, only glanced back at unreadable blue eyes before walking back into the hospital. A little over six hours and a dozen patients later, John came back out, shrugging wearily into his coat and when a tall shadow stepped up to his shoulder to follow him, John gave him a little nod of acknowledgement.

"Can you leg it or do I need to get a cab?" John asked quietly. He heard the rustle of a coat, hands being tucked into pockets, perhaps.

"I'm perfectly capable of walking."

"Hope so because I am not perfectly capable of carrying you," John glanced both ways before jogging across the street, light footsteps following him. Another stray following him home only this one already knew the way.

~~*~~

John's flat was little more than a bedsit, the kitchen barely large enough for his tiny table and the shower was hardly bigger than a closet. What it lacked in size, however, it provided in plenty of hot water and John was never more grateful for that than when he shoved a dirty teenager into it with an armful of towel and pyjamas. Not that they'd fit him; from what John had seen, Sherlock was rail-thin beneath that coat, but it was miles better than his grubby denims and layers of dirty t-shirts. He waited until the water was splashing before ducking back in, snagging up the clothes into his feeble old laundry basket and hauling them down to the washroom.

It was enough to make him wish he'd brought home a pair of gloves, ugh, how long had it been since Sherlock had had a decent wash? He turned the water to hot, poured in the detergent, and left the washer to its work. Sherlock was still in the shower, probably for the best, all things considered, and John took a moment to call out for takeaway. His budget was tight and didn't much allow for hungry teenagers, particularly surly ones with no business living on the street.

He ordered double of everything anyway and then sank down on the sofa, slouching back into its loving, decrepit embrace and closing his eyes. Christ, what a day. All the normal hustle of in Emergency Services and now he had this to deal with. Turning the kid away though hadn't even occurred to John, fuck, no, just the thought of that gaunt body draped in that coat would have haunted him till the end of his days.

A detective, his brother had said. An experiment of some sort. John wondered, sleepily, just what sort of experiment required living on the streets, filthy and half-starved. He was still turning the question over and over in his head, his own little mental Mobius puzzle, when a heavy weight dropped into his lap, startling a grunt from him.

His hands caught at silky fabric and long limbs, along with a wealth of warm, bare skin and John opened shocked eyes to find Sherlock straddling his lap, wearing only the top to his pyjamas. Tall as he was, they barely brushed his upper thighs and it was painfully obvious he was naked beneath them and…Christ.

He'd never seen Sherlock without his ever-present layer of grime and to suddenly have him soapy-clean, pale and fresh-faced and *on top of him* was a bit of a shock. Beneath the shabby clothes and dirty hair he was surprisingly healthy, cheeks flushed from the shower and his mouth was soft and plush, tasting of minty toothpaste and pressing against John's, the tip of his tongue sliding wetly over his lips and---

"What the hell are you doing!?" John blurted and he shoved at Sherlock hard enough to send him sprawling on the floor, all gangling legs and scowling face.

"Isn't this what you wanted?" Sherlock bit out scathingly, glaring at him from beneath the fringe of his damp hair. Clean, it pulled up into loose curls and along with those wide grey eyes, he was nearly as pretty as a girl. And not quite sixteen, Jesus.

John drew in a shaky breath, let it out slowly, rubbed his damp palms on his trouser legs. "No, it's not," John forced his voice to a level tone. "I wanted you to have a shower, food, and a sleep, in that order."

The bark of laughter Sherlock let out was far too bitter for one so young, "I see, and buggering me was nowhere on your little list for the evening?"

"No, it's not," John said, softly. "Go finish getting dressed. And dry your hair, it's dripping everywhere."

Walking away from a set of confused pale eyes was getting to be a habit. A knock at the door was at least an excuse and John left Sherlock on the floor to pay for their dinner, making sure to keep the door closed as much as a possible. Somehow, he didn't think he'd be able to properly explain a half-naked teenager in his sitting room to the deliveryman, no matter how much of a tip he gave.

~~*~~

The Chinese wasn't the best in London but it was cheap and plentiful, and from the way Sherlock was nimbly shovelled it into his mouth with his chopsticks it might as well have been manna from heaven. John ate his with only a fraction more restraint, his lunch hour a long-ago memory and the hot, slightly greasy food was no small comfort.

He was scraping the bottom of the waxed carton, chasing a recalcitrant piece of broccoli, when Sherlock finally spoke to him again through a mouthful of fried rice. "Why are you helping me, then?"

"Hmm?" John mumbled, more concerned with food than questions at this moment.

Sherlock swallowed, washing it down with a sip of the elderly soda John had found lurking in the back of his fridge. He said, clearly, "If you don't want to fuck me, then why are you helping me?"

"Pretty language," John said, too lightly to be a scold, then added, seriously, "Is that how you normally pay your way? Because if it is, you really should be tested. I know we already ran a panel last time but—"

"Calm yourself, Doctor," Sherlock broke in, the dryness in his voice rivalling the Sahara, "Surprisingly, very little of the London population has invited me into home and hearth. In fact, you're the only one and I assumed it was because you wanted me."

"I'm not a doctor just yet," John corrected automatically, "And why would you assume that?" The greasy food was settling somewhat heavily into his gut and John had to blink away the thought-image of Sherlock sprawled over a different lap, one not quite as selfless as John's. He'd said he didn't do that sort of thing but the 'yet' seemed heavily implied, considering he'd been willing enough to offer the exchange tonight. John had treated his share of prostitutes in his time at the Emergency Department, many of them shockingly young, younger at times even than Sherlock.

"Observation," Sherlock said coolly, staring at John with hooded eyes. He had his legs drawn up, elbows resting on his knees and the chopsticks were dangling loosely from his fingers. John's pyjamas were alternately too short and far too large on his slim frame so his bony ankles were exposed while the rest of him was swallowed in silky fabric. Sherlock plucked at it idly, fingering the satiny texture. "Frequently, the other homeless will offer certain favours in exchange for cash or commodities. It was a logical deduction that you would do the same."

Terribly posh tones from a homeless teenager and John wondered, again, just what the hell this boy was trying to do. He shrugged, snagging up the other carton of rice and digging in. "I guess you deduced wrong."

From the flare of Sherlock's nostrils, John guessed that wasn't the answer he wanted. "Is my brother paying you then?"

Startled, John nearly inhaled a mouthful of rice and he coughed it back out into the carton, fumbling for his own bottle of beer. He swallowed down a cool draught, clearing away his starchy attempt at choking before he cleared his throat a bit, shaking his head. "No, no, he isn't. Not going to lie and say he didn't offer though."

The sound Sherlock made was decidedly rude and he slumped back against the sofa arm, glaring up at the ceiling. For a long time there was no sound but John chewing, the occasional sip of beer following a bite until he finally sighed, belching softly and wiping his mouth with a napkin. He gathered up the scattered cartons, tossing the empty ones in the bin and tucking the leftovers into the fridge, sparing a brief glance from time to time at his silent guest.

It was only when John tossed the afghan back onto the sofa, yawning out a goodnight that Sherlock finally spoke again, eyes still focused on the ceiling. "If you aren't being paid and you don't want sex, then why are you helping me?"

John only shook his head. "If you have to ask that, then I don't think I can explain it to you."

Pale eyes finally slid away from the ceiling, focused on John, "That's not an answer."

"Maybe not, but it's the only one I have. Goodnight," John said firmly. Morning would come all too soon and he was on the early shift this next week. He left the light on, shutting his bedroom door against it and hesitated, the temptation to lock it was strong. Just the thought of Sherlock creeping into his bedroom tonight, determined to offer some form of payment for John's assistance, sent a curl of nausea through his stomach. When he found out some weeks later that Sherlock was all but a virgin, John was not comforted, the memory of Sherlock's mouth against his a ghost of its own.

He left it unlocked anyway, sagging down into his thin mattress. Tired as John was, Sherlock wasn't likely to get far anyway, he decided wearily, and he was asleep almost from the moment his head hit the pillow.

The next morning John woke to the blare of his alarm, yawning away his sleepiness and scratching at his belly as he shuffled into the living room. From beneath the heavy afghan on his sofa there were only the lumps and bumps of a body, a mop of dark curls poking out from the top. John set the coffee to brew, stumbled downstairs to toss Sherlock's wet clothes into the dryer and ventured back up to the aroma of liquid caffeine. Even his cheap coffeemaker was better than nothing and miles less expensive than from the shops and John tossed back a quick cup, poured another to sip as he showered quickly and dressed.

Through it all not a sound emerged from the sofa and John left without waking him, leaving out a clean mug to go with the last of the coffee.

The dishes were washed when he got back home that night, coffeepot rinsed out and his sofa was empty but for the folded afghan. John shook it out, draped it over his lap as he sprawled out on the sofa and turned on the telly. He was drowsing almost from the moment the game began, the lulling green of the pitch as soothing as a lullaby and he pulled the afghan up snugly, hardly aware of breathing in the scent of his own cheap shampoo and something else. An unfamiliar tang, oddly soothing, and John inhaled it deeply, drifting off to sleep.

~~*~~

Continue to Part 2
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