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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.


Part One is here.



~~*~~

Days passed, the blur of the Emergency Department mingled with quiet days off watching telly or taking walks. John had never been much of a pub fellow anyway and there was hardly time for it at all during internship.

The only interruption at all in the normalcy of life came from his mobile, the occasional call from a number John didn't recognize. There was never anyone on the other end, no one responded to his oft-said hellos, and if John lingered, he could hear someone breathing, slow, soft breaths.

Not often, just once every few days and on the fifth call, John listened to the breathing for a long time before he ventured, softly, "Sherlock?"

The breathing stopped and John thought the call had dropped. Just as he was about to hang up, he swore he heard a single word, a familiar voice.

"John."

He never called again.

~~*~~

Nearly a month had flown by since the last call, until one night John was startled by a clap on the shoulder by one of the other interns glancing up from his clipboard to see Mike Stamford giving him an odd smile.

"Might want to switch clipboards with me, John," Mike said easily, brandishing his like a fluttering shield of papers.

John gave him a wary glance. "And why is that? Why would you want to exchange for a possible sprained ankle?"

Mike raised both eyebrows, "Why, indeed?"

"Come off it, what's up, you have an anal lesion that needs lanced or something?"

"Nothing of the sort!" Mike said heartily, clasping a hand to his chest. "What I have is a young man, late teens, who looks like he took the rough end of a beating. Only, he's insisting that you look after him and heaven knows I'm not to argue with him when he knows you by name. It's not often we get to take requests."

Of course. John pinched the bridge of his nose. "Name is Sherlock, I assume?"

"And this is our well-spent education at work, ladies and gents!" Mike gestured to John grandly, to the amusement of passing staff members. "He'll be here all week, please remember to leave a tip!"

"Oh, just give over, Mike!" John snatched up the clipboard and flipped through it with a scowl. "Christ, what has he gotten himself into this time?"

"Looks like he fell into a fresh batch of contusions and lacerations by way of someone's fist," Mike said absently, already paging through his newly acquired sprained ankle. "He's in exam room two, kicking up a fuss according to the nurses. Be off with you and see if you can't calm him down before they drag out the restraints."

"Right." John was already walking, rounding the corner to the exam rooms and from the sound of it, kicking up a fuss was a minor way of putting it. A deeper voice was raised over the higher sound of the nurse and John winced at the fluent swearing flowing outward in a verbal river of obscenities.

There was a loud clang of a bedpan hitting the door and John darted in and around the privacy curtain, ducking from a jar of tongue depressors that fell over him in a wooden hail. A nurse bumped into him, backing towards the door and John steadied her automatically, taking in the scene before him. Swabs, instruments, and other various implements were scattered across the floor and Sherlock was backed into a corner, his hair falling across his battered face. He was dressed in a hospital gown, a medical wristband secured around one wrist but that seemed to be as far as they'd gotten before all hell had broken loose.

"All right, calm down now," one of the nurses was saying, her hands spread out, placating, and Sherlock swung in her direction, glaring fiercely.

"I don't need a sedative!" Sherlock snarled, heaving in sharp, angry breaths. "I'm not about to let any one of you put me under, I'm not!"

"Then stop acting like a mental patient," John said sharply and every eye in the room was suddenly on him, two shocked nurses and one patient who went still, swaying where he stood.

"John?" Sherlock asked, voice surprisingly small and John stepped up and caught his elbow, guiding him to the gurney. It took him a second to put it to rights, straightening out the padding before pushing Sherlock gently to sit.

"Easy, there," John soothed, taking in the pounding Sherlock must've had. Christ, but Mike hadn't been joking. Sherlock was a walking bruise, his face battered and John could see more through the gape in his gown, scattered down his back and lower. He tightened his lips, taking it in, and Sherlock was trembling lightly, leaning against John's shoulder in a rather inappropriate way. Two nurses were treated to the sight of one of their newest interns gently wrapping an arm around a patient, patting his back soothingly. "It's all right now, I'm going to take care of you."

"Don't let them sedate me," Sherlock rasped out. "You can't. My brother will have me spirited off, I know he would, you can't let them, please, John!"

"Here now," John sighed, "Calm down and think a moment, would you? If your brother wanted to spirit you off, he wouldn't need to wait for an opportune moment, would he? He'd just do it, I think. I've only met him the once and he managed to kidnap me for it."

Just in the line of his vision John could see two nurses gawping at him and surely the hospital gossip line would be burning through this particularly tasty bit for some time. He shooed them away irritably, keeping focus on the young man trembling in his arms. Slowly, the tremors eased, until Sherlock drew away from him and met John's eyes with his own swollen, damp ones.

"You're right, of course you're right," Sherlock muttered distractedly. "I'm sorry, I'm not usually this," he waved an impatient hand. "Foolish."

"You're in shock," John corrected, and he took a moment to flash his penlight into Sherlock's eyes, checking his pupil dilation. At least that was normal. He bent closer, peering into Sherlock's bruised eyes and it was only when he felt breath on his face that John realized how close their mouths were, Sherlock's soft exhalations were tainted with blood and the tang of it was sharp in his mouth, bruised lips tender against John's as long fingers threaded into his hair and pulled him down into a kiss.

"Stop," John managed, the word blurred into Sherlock mouth, "Stop, you cannot do this, I'm your doctor-"

"John," Sherlock whispered. His pupils were wide, the grey nearly obscured by blackness and there was only a thin curtain hiding them from the entire hospital and a scandal that would ruin John's career before it even started.

"Stop it," John said sharply and he tore himself away from Sherlock's grip. For the briefest of moments, Sherlock's face crumpled, hurt shining from him so brilliantly that John's heart clenched. It was smoothed away so quickly that John couldn't even be sure he'd really seen it; Sherlock's face was a measure of blandness.

"Apologies," he said crisply. He shoved back the hair falling into his face impatiently, only for it to slide back down immediately. "I seem to be somewhat off balance tonight."

"Yes, well," John licked his lips and regretted it as Sherlock's eyes followed the movement, the faint taste of his mouth sharp on John's tongue. He cleared his throat severely, dragging his eyes down to the chart. "Understandable, all things considered. What happened?"

Sherlock only shrugged, his face lapsing into familiar sullen lines. "Nothing that you need to worry about past treating the injuries."

"Kind of you to offer but I think I can choose what I do and don't need to worry about. Aside from that, injuries tend to be easier to treat when I know what caused them."

His lips pursed, Sherlock visibly wincing as it pulled at the cut on the corner of his mouth. He licked at it gingerly, reaching up to touch the fresh welling of blood, studying the crimson staining his fingertips. "I suppose," Sherlock said slowly, "I could tell you that not everyone possesses your iron will when it comes to turning away favours." He spat the last word and John honestly felt the blood draining from his own face, swaying as realization hit.

John swallowed, trying to work moisture into his suddenly dry mouth even as he mentally went over the list of things he'd need for an exam. A rape kit, certainly, perhaps Sherlock would accept a milder sedative; probably useless to try to get him to speak to a counsellor but at the very least John would try.

Something of his horror must have shown despite John's efforts to keep his expression neutral because Sherlock's mouth twisted wryly. "Nothing like that happened, Doctor. The injuries I acquired tonight were from me preventing such an occurrence. My virtue is still intact." The glittery heat that rose in his eyes made an entirely different kind of discomfort rise up in John. "Unless you'd care to—"

"Don't," John said shortly. Most of the room supplies were scattered over the floor but there was still one cart left and John rummaged through it, digging out antiseptic wipes and bandages. After that, it was all by rote. Cleaning the lacerations while Sherlock sat docilely and allowed it, tipping his face this way and that as John murmured directions.

There were a collection of nasty bruises on Sherlock's ribs, ones that John recognized as coming from a brutal kick. He bit his tongue and held his silence as he probed them, decided that it wouldn't be worth getting Sherlock to hold still for an x-ray. There was a nasty gash over his eyebrow that John wanted to put a few stitches in, though, and he went after the sutures himself rather than calling for a nurse. Curious looks followed him, including a raised eyebrow from his Foundation Doctor and John offered him a weak smile and a shrug. Questions would surely be coming all too soon and John wanted Sherlock gone before they arrived.

By the time he came back to the exam room, Sherlock was drowsing on the gurney, grey eyes snapping open as John rustled past the curtain. "Come on, then," John said gruffly, nudging him over on his side so that he could reach the sluggishly bleeding cut. True to his nature, Sherlock refused to allow John to numb the area, only lay there with gritted teeth as John neatly sutured the wound.

"Why are you doing this?" John asked quietly as he deftly pulled the thread tight, sliding the needle in to knot another stitch.

Sherlock didn't pretend to misunderstand. "It's an experiment."

"Yes?" he prompted, tying off the stitch. Gash was a bit longer than he'd thought, the edges were clean. A knife, maybe, Sherlock must have had some reluctant guardian angel other than John watching over him that had kept him from losing an eye.

"I'm studying human nature," Sherlock informed him, stiffly.

"From the streets?" John paused and favoured him with a disbelieving look. Blue eyes flicked up at him, Sherlock still unmoving as John finished the last suture.

"You wouldn't understand."

"And these?" John snatched up Sherlock's wrist and turned his arm upward, exposing half-healed injection marks. "Shooting up is part of your experiment?"

Sherlock wrenched his arm away, glaring at John as he repeated coldly, "You wouldn't understand."

"You're right about that, I don't," John matched his cold tones with heat, snatching up the clipboard and writing furiously. "I want you to stay here for a few hours for observation. The nurses are going to check on you and you're—"

"I don't need to be observed!"

"And you're going to let them. I'll have someone bring you a breakfast tray as well. Eat all of it," John continued relentlessly. "You are going to have a sleep until my shift is up and then you can sleep more at my flat--"

"And I don't need your help!"

"After I check you over again and make sure you didn't manage to scramble your brain or break any ribs or pick up an infection during your experiment," John snapped out. It was a battle of wills, each of them glaring and John looked away first, signing his name to the bottom of the clipboard. "I don't care if you don't need my help," John muttered, hanging the chart from the end of the gurney. "You're getting it anyway."

From Sherlock's mutinous expression, John didn't think he much agreed. He didn't care, didn't offer another argument. Instead, he caught the handle of the plastic garment bag beneath the gurney, filled with a layer of clothing and topped with a familiar coat.

Alarm washed over Sherlock's face, sweeping away anger, "Those are mine, you can't—"

"Can and am," John said airily. "I'll send a nurse in with a tray and a blanket while I just put these somewhere safe, shall I?"

The door swinging shut behind him cut off the sputtered profanities and John allowed himself a grin. That should hold him for a time.

~~*~~

He was less than amused some hours later to find that not only had Sherlock managed to escape the hospital, he'd left behind all his clothing as well which meant he was either stubbornly walking the streets in a thin hospital johnny or more likely, he'd stolen clothes from someone else. Guilt was a heavy taste at the back of his throat; he should’ve realized someone as stubborn as Sherlock wouldn't be deterred by something as simple as a lack of coat. Should have known he couldn't collar this particular stray.

The only bright side to all of this was that there was a surprising lack of questions from the other medical staff about John's wandering patient. The paperwork vanished smoothly, the attending doctor demanded not a single answer and John was left wondering when his life had become so strange.

John took Sherlock's clothes with him when he left, setting the bag by his front door on the off chance Sherlock stopped by in search of them. Drank a cup of tea to soothe the pain of a headache just starting to form behind his eyes and curled up on the sofa. Working, sleeping, eating, and the occasional appearance of a strange young man, that was his life during his internship.

Sometime in the middle of the day a knock at his door drew John from his sleep and he answered it irritably, signed for the certified letter with sleepy confusion.

The envelope was fine stationary and his name was written on it in elegant script. It almost seemed a shame to tear it open and John did it gingerly, pulling on the single sheet of paper with thumb and forefinger. Unfolded it and read it in the glaring kitchen light.

Doctor Watson,

I'd like to take this occasion to remind you that while my brother has recently celebrated the day of his birth, the year of the occasion still only numbers sixteen. It falls somewhat short of your own twenty-two, therefore, while I appreciate your tender concern over Sherlock, I would like to kindly suggest you keep your hands and other various body parts to yourself. Do try not to forget this as another reminder is likely to be unpleasant for all parties concerned.

With sincerity,

M. Holmes


Unpleasant. Right.

John rubbed his eyes wearily, crumpling the paper into a ball before tossing it in the bin. For a brief moment, he thought fondly of days past when passing medical school was his only concern, before he'd had to worry about teenagers who insisted on kissing him and their brother's whose warning seemed to indicate a shallow grave could be arranged on short notice.

Later, when there was a scratching knock at his door and opening it revealed Sherlock, dressing in trousers that were much too large and coat that looked like it belong to a woman, John only held open the door.

He didn't intend on holding open his arms for Sherlock to step into, thin body trembling against him, tall enough to rest his chin on John's head. John held him through it anyway, stroked between the jutting points of his shoulder blades, rubbed his back until the shaking eased. His much-abused sofa groaned out a protest when two bodies sprawled down on it, Sherlock curling up and tucking himself against John's chest. The afghan was a large one, enough to cover them both, thick enough to hold in heat and John wasn't thinking about shallow graves as he held Sherlock while he slept, petting his dirty hair as he would any stray cat.

John did give his hair a little warning pull when Sherlock pressed a kiss against his chest, murmuring out, "None of that."

Silence greeted him and then soft, even breathing. John closed his own eyes again and wasn't at all surprised to find his arms empty when he woke. The wafting scent of tea, however, was, and he took the cup Sherlock offered him with a raised eyebrow and nod of thanks, noting absently that it was made just as he liked it, a touch of milk and no sugar.

Sherlock twisted his fingers together restlessly, his own cup of tea untouched. "John, I want you to have sex with me."

The tea went down smoothly, more so than that statement did, waking John up a bit. He took another sip and shook his head. "Mmm, no. Not going there, Sherlock, I'm sorry."

Grey eyes bore into him, "You're aroused by me."

No point in denying it, as many times as Sherlock had been pressed against him, he would have been bound to notice the reaction of John's body. "You're fine enough to look at, that's true. You're also a patient of mine, you think that you owe me sexual favours in exchange for my help and no matter what your I.D. says, I know for a fact that you're only sixteen."

"Sixteen is the age of consent."

"Not when I'm your doctor," John countered. He set his cup back in the saucer and rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger. "All combined, I'm thinking that not only could I lose my license before I even have it, I'm almost sure your brother would have me murdered and buried in an unmarked grave. Be a terrible waste of all my training."

Sherlock's frown deepened, his eyes went thoughtful, considering, "So the issue is my age."

"For Christ sake, Sherlock," John sighed.

"My age and not that you don't want me," Sherlock continued doggedly. His tongue flicked over his lips and John couldn't help watching it, knew that Sherlock knew he'd looked. God damn it, anyway.

"I barely know you." John had both hands up, warily, as Sherlock stood and stepped in close. He'd showered sometime while John was asleep and the vivid bruises stark on his face should have dwindled any amount of desire. Instead, John only recalled how he'd gotten those bruises, defending his virtue, he'd said, which meant someone had tried to rape him.

Tried, and failed, and now Sherlock was trying to take control of his sexuality, perfectly normal response that John was not about to take advantage of because he was a good man. He was.

"You know me," Sherlock said, softly. He didn't try to touch, no coaxing or seduction. He only stood with loose jeans hanging off his slim hips, the collar of too-large t-shirt sagging down to expose the pale shelf of his collarbone.

"No," John said, and he hated himself for the faint desperation in his voice. "I'm not doing this."

"All right." Sherlock slid his feet into his trainers, tying them while John watched mutely. Shrugged into his coat, the one he'd stolen from God knows where abandoned on the floor. John only found his tongue when Sherlock opened the door.

"See you around," John managed. He kept his eyes on his tea set, an old chipped set of crockery that had been a hand-me-down from his mum.

"I'm sure you will," The silk of his voice was such a contrast to the person it came with that John closed his eyes, couldn't watch Sherlock walk away from him. It was only after the door clicked shut that John stood, stepping over the scattered remains of borrowed clothes and into the bathroom where he turned the water to hot and stood beneath the scalding spray, let it beat away his threatening headache.

~~*~~

The call, when it happened, came to John at the hospital in the middle of his shift, one of the nurses calling to him from between patients that there was a police officer on hold for him.

"The police?" John repeated, confused, and the duty nurse nodded. He took the call in one of the empty exam rooms, warily speaking into the mouthpiece, "Hello?"

"Doctor John Watson?" Came a tinny voice from the other side. Not the best connection, like someone was calling him from their mobile from inside a large building.

"Speaking, yes, what can I do for you?"

"I'm Sargent Lestrade, down at station 17. Got a fellow here with your hospital's business card and your number on it. Is the name Sherlock Holmes familiar?"

John closed his eyes. "Yes, it is. What's he done?"

"Can you come get him?" Sargent Lestrade sounded pointedly short, irritated even and John wouldn't have been surprised if the officer had already had a long chat with a man in a fine suit.

"I….yes," John said heavily. "I'll come. Where are you again?" He wrote down the address on a scrap of paper and the Sargent rang off without so much as a goodbye.
God damn Sherlock, anyway.

When he'd gone to his Foundation Doctor, trying to think of a reasonable excuse for leaving in the middle of his shift, the man was already waving him away, rearranging the white board.

"Go on, Watson, take care of your problem child," he said wearily.

"I'm sorry," John said awkwardly, Christ, how many people had to be involved in this odd game that Sherlock was playing?

"Don't be." Douglas Halloran, John knew, was a good doctor but not one to pass up opportunities. He wondered with no small amount of sourness if there was an occasional bump to his savings account, payment for paperwork lost.

The anger simmering just beneath the surface was a sticky tar pit of resentment by the time John was led down to the holding cells. At the very end, alone, curled up on a small bench, was a familiar form. His head jerked up and John didn't have to see his wildly dilated eyes to guess just why he'd been arrested tonight.

"Let's go," John said shortly and Sherlock stumbled mutely to his feet, watched as John signed paperwork, collecting up his meagre personal affects. Amongst them was dog-eared and creased business card, the number John had written on it gone over again with a different colour of ink

They rode together in the cab to John's flat in silence, Sherlock's occasionally violent twitch went unremarked. Until John helped him up the stairs, pushed him roughly through the door as Sherlock stumbled and fell, narrowly avoiding the coffee table as he sprawled on the floor. He managed to turn over, cringing into the floor shivering and hollow eyed as John loomed over him.

"Bad trip, tonight?" John asked acidly. He knelt down and yanked up Sherlock's sleeves, the injection marks still livid and raw.

Sherlock blinked up at him with red-rimmed eyes, pupils wide enough that John could see himself in them, the reflection of his own fury.

"John—"

"You've been all but begging me to have sex with you," John said, low and cold. "Tell me, why precisely would I want to fuck a scrawny little junkie like you?"

Sherlock flinched, the crease between his eyebrows deepening. "John, please--"

"Might as well dip my prick in a vial of HIV tainted blood as in you," John pressed a thumb against one of the glaringly reddened needle marks, watched as Sherlock shrank back, gasping at the pain. "God knows how many needles you've shared."

"I--I don't share," Sherlock's eyes were wide, shocked. It was the first time he'd ever looked his age and the sight only fanned John's rage. This boy, this goddamned child manipulating how many people for whatever game he thought he was playing. Experimenting with all their lives as well as his own.

"Right, I'd believe you," John scoffed. "You're a walking, talking lie, all of you."

"No, no, I don't," Begging, yes, scrabbling at the front of John's shirt with shaking hands. John slapped them away, leaning back on his knees as he glared down at the pathetic, quivering wretch sprawled on his sitting room floor. All thoughts of stray kittens, lost souls, had fled and there was just this. All that proud, cool disdain lost, everything that was Sherlock, and John was left with this empty shell.

"Living on the street like it's a game, and why?" John leaned in, sneered it at the thin, reddened face. Wetness was starting to leak from the corners of Sherlock's eyes, dampening his cheeks and just then, John could have hated him. Could have pressed his thumbs into the soft flesh under his chin and choked some sense back into him. "Tell me, Detective, how long are you planning on running this experiment?"

"John, I swear, I don't--" Sherlock pushed up on shaky elbows, wavering on his knees as he crawled up to John. He knelt stiffly, unresponsive as Sherlock pressed a desperate kiss against his mouth, chapped lips rough against John's until he grabbed those thin shoulders and held him away.

"Just shut up," John said wearily. "Go to sleep. You can go back to trying to kill yourself tomorrow." He helped Sherlock to his feet, nearly dragging him to the sofa and pushed him down on it. The afghan was still neatly folded across the back and John snagged it, roughly, tucking it around Sherlock's trembling form.

"I'm sorry." Small and soft, voice choked snottily with tears and John stopped, took a deep breath, another, and suddenly, he wasn't angry anymore, only tired. He'd met dozens of homeless, treated them and released them back into the wind so why was it this one had managed to dig out a home somewhere inside John?

Strays, he reminded himself, learned to find warm doorways and arms, and at the end of the day, John couldn't save them all. The plastic bag with Sherlock's personal effects was tipped over on the coffee table, spilling out the meagre contents. At the top was his business card, well-worn, his name stark in blue ink. John plucked it free with two fingers, held the slip of paper between them.

He could tear it in half right now, leave it sitting on this very coffee table and tomorrow when he woke, Sherlock would be gone. He knew it as surely as he knew the sun would rise, the earth would continue to spin, and John could go back to work, back to his internship and there would be no more late night phone calls, no more tantrums or threatening letters from shrouded brothers. No more of this, patching up wounded teenagers and leaving them to sleep on his sofa.

No more Sherlock.

John held the card for a time, the sweat on his hands turning the letters of his name smeary. Then he tucked it back into the bag alongside Sherlock's battered wallet and gloves.

Beneath the afghan, Sherlock was still twitching, muscles jerking as he came back down from whatever drug-addled plateau he'd found. His eyes flicked open when John smoothed back his damp hair, lost, hopeful eyes that drifted closed again when John pressed a kiss against his forehead and breathed in the sourness of his heroin sweat.

"Go to sleep," John said, low, and Sherlock nodded, burrowing into the limited comfort John's sofa offered. He sat there until he was sure Sherlock was asleep, tangling his fingers through perspiration-soaked curls and made mental lists for tomorrow. Hot shower, hot breakfast, washing clothes, and taking a vial of blood for testing. Back to his internship with Sherlock lurking in the back of his mind, and it was all right. John was a caretaker, had been since he'd been born and he didn't think he'd ever known anyone else who'd ever needed his care more.

~~*~~

John came awake in his own bed to the low murmur of voices in his living room, blearily confused until memory came back. Sherlock's voice he knew, a low murmur but who the hell…he jerked on a pair of jeans and yanked a t-shirt over his head, stumbling out of his bedroom to find an impeccably dressed man sitting in his ratty armchair, looking for all the world ready for tea with the Queen.

Instead, there was only Sherlock, crouched on the sofa with his legs drawn up tight to his chest, sullen eyes on the coffee table.

"What the hell are you doing here?" John burst out and the urge to yank Sherlock away from his own brother was as ridiculous as it was overwhelming.

"I called him," Sherlock muttered, the very last thing John might have expected and he could only stare, uncomprehending, the last dregs of sleep still clouding his mind.

"Yes, it seems my dear little brother is ready to return home, finally," Mr Holmes gave John a smile that reminded him of nothing so much as a shark. "Via a private clinic, I imagine."

"You…"John could only blink stupidly. "You're…going home? Now?"

"Not home," Sherlock didn't look up. "I offered to go to rehab and Mycroft was oh, so terribly delighted to assist." He lifted his chin, a hint of defiance. "That's what you wanted, isn’t it?"

"Mycroft?" John repeated, more than a little lost. He'd woken to a different reality than he'd expected and all his senses were scrambling to catch up.

"It's my name," Mr Holmes, apparently Mycroft, said patiently. "Our parents were quite the traditionalists."

"Sorry, I didn't catch it before when you were trying to bribe me," John said, stiffly.

A faint smile quirked Mycroft's lips. "Quite. Well, I'm happy to express my gratitude at your caring for my brother in his time of need. I'm quite sure a handsome monetary settlement would ease your way through the rest of your internship—"

He droned on, the words blurring in John's ears and all he could see was the way Sherlock's shoulders stiffened, his eyes darkening, looking anywhere but at John.

"Keep it," John broke in, shortly. "Sherlock? Is this what you want?"

"No, John, I'd much prefer to scratch out my living on the streets for the rest of my days," Sherlock bit out. "Thank you for your assistance but my experiment is over." His eyes flicked up, and John couldn't help but note his pallor, the snaps of red in the sclera of his eyes, the darkened circles beneath them. Rehab would probably do him a world of good and yet…

"Experiment is over and it's time to go home, then," John said, slowly. "Did it work?" And when Sherlock only looked at him, he clarified, "Your experiment, did it work?"

"I sincerely doubt you'd understand," Sherlock said coolly. "Brother, dear, do make sure Dr Watson gets a decent payment for services rendered. It's past time to settle accounts."

"Keep it," John repeated and he shook his head. "I told you before, it's not about the money. I don't want your money."

The first real emotion cracked over Sherlock' expressionless face and he stood, stalking over to John and glaring down at him. "What is it about then?"

Tall, but not so tall that John couldn't touch Sherlock's mouth with his own. The barest brush of lips and Mycroft's startled protest was engulfed by Sherlock's moan, his shaking hands on John's shoulders as he tried to deepen the kiss. Only to have John step away, pushing both hands against Sherlock's chest until he could look back up into his confused face.

John gave him a lopsided smile. "If I have to tell you, I don't think I can make you understand." He backed away, both hands held out to keep Sherlock back. Unnecessary; he didn't move, only stared at John with that lost expression. John tipped his head, looked past Sherlock at his brother who was gripping that damned umbrella like it was a sword. Hell, for all John knew it was.

"Lock the door on your way out, would you?" John said and he turned on heel, back into his bedroom. Holding a pillow against it didn't ease the ache in his chest but it made it easier to stay here in the dark, listening to the scuffle of movement in his living room and the quiet click of the front door closing behind footsteps.

John stayed in his bedroom for a long while after, unfolded himself from the bed only when his legs threatened to fall asleep. His sitting room was tidy, the afghan folded and draped over the arm. Teacups rinsed and set in the dish drainer.

No sign that anyone had been there at all.

~~*~~

Less than a month later, London was caught in a torrential downpour, days of rain and grey-soaked misery and all the sniffles and flu that went with it. John worked long hours at the hospital without complaint, did his work thoroughly without a single phone call to interrupt him. Mike had taken to coaxing him down to the pub once a week and John found that he enjoyed the company, Mike's wry, self-deprecating sense of humour was a balm to an ache John had grown so used to that it seemed a permanent part of him.

He kept to a two-beer limit and the pub was close enough to walk even through the pounding rain. John only turned up the collar on his coat and trotted onward, let the chill of it wash through his coat to his skin and imagined that when he got home, the heat of the shower would be an endless glory.

The hunched, shivering form curled on his steps was unexpected and John slowed, halting down on the sidewalk as he stared up at his porch. Dark hair haloing a pale face, a pathetically drenched teenager with eyes as grey as the rain was waiting for him.

John sighed and walked up to him, nudging Sherlock with his foot. "Come on in, then. Before you catch pneumonia."

Sherlock blinked up at him with water-drenched eyes. "You're a medical student, you of all people should know pneumonia is caused by a virus—"

"Shut the hell up and go drip on my kitchen floor while I find you a towel."

John left him shivering in the kitchen, made his way around a pile of books to his tiny bathroom to find a clean-ish towel. He snagged it up and walked back, only to stop cold.

Sherlock was pulling his soggy shirt over his head, baring a long, pale back, slim to the point of malnutrition, and narrow shoulders. His neck seemed oddly long without a shirt collar, his wet hair plastered to his head. Sherlock tossed the shirt aside with a wet plop, his hands already going to the waistband of his jeans and John shook himself inwardly, holding out the towel with desperate haste.

"Here," John brandished the towel like a shield. "Dry off a bit."

"Thank you," Sherlock took it without looking and true to his contrary nature, slung it around his neck before unfastening his jeans.

Standing here watching Sherlock shimmy out of a wet pair of jeans would take more self-control than John thought he would ever possess and he turned away, busying himself with the kettle. Hot tea and a blanket were in order and damn Sherlock anyway for doing this to him. He could feel those pale, fey eyes watching him, heard the soft thud of fabric hitting the floor and wondered if Sherlock was wearing anything beneath his denims.

No.

John gritted his teeth so hard he felt a sharp throb in his temples. No. Not now, not after everything. He would feed Sherlock tea and a couple biscuits and send him to the sofa, just like he should, like he always had before. He yanked open the cupboard and rummage through it, ignoring the chill of his own damp clothing. "I take it rehab wasn't all you'd hoped for?"

"Dull," Sherlock confirmed. "Not that I really needed it."

"No?" John plugged the kettle in with unnecessary ferocity.

"Not at all. Contrary to appearances, I wasn't actually a junkie, John." Soft sound of a towel being dragged over skin and John swallowed hard.

"Well, you're right there. Appearances pretty much leaned in that direction. Also the fact that last time you were stoned out of your mind and the first time I met you, you had infected track marks."

"And that was exactly what people were supposed to see," Sherlock said smugly, "I could hardly fit in amongst the squalor as a public school boy, now could I?"

"Those squalor are also known as people, Sherlock," John sighed, pouring the hot water into the waiting cups. "Why did you need to fit in, anyway?"

"An experiment in human nature at its purest, primal form," Sherlock's voice was muffled, as though he were rubbing his hair with the towel. God, don't think of that, don't. "People on the street are our closest link to the hunter-gathers of old…John, do you really want to discuss this now?"

"Yes," John said determinately. He stared into the teacups as though he could read the leaves through the bags.

"John?" His voice was faintly hoarse, signs of too-long in the rain, and his tone was pure temptation. "I didn’t need the rehab, but it did give me time to consider what you said. I think…I think I do understand. I think know why you can't explain it to me."

"Don't—" John choked out that single word. The rest of his protest collapsed behind his teeth, unspoken.

"John?" Again, softly pleading. It was a lie, a goad, and he knew it, he knew Sherlock, and God damn him, "John, I'm cold."

He didn't mean to look. He told himself that later, promised himself that he hadn't meant to, it was automatic, involuntary, and he glanced back at Sherlock, met those pale, spikey-lashed eyes, and he was bare as the day he was born, nothing but ghostly skin and lips near-blue with cold. His eyes were a siren call, pulling John in and the cup in his hands tumbled to the countertop, a loud clatter that neither of them noticed.

"God damn you," John said helplessly and Sherlock smiled.

The table was hardly comfortable and certainly wasn't warm, not with the way Sherlock hissed as John bore him back against it. He arched up, squirming at the contact of chilly wood against his back, wrapping arms and legs around John and holding on tightly. Blindly, John kissed his neck, that long, slim column begged for kisses and bites, cool skin under his hot mouth as he licked up to Sherlock's ear, mouthed it wetly just to hear him whimper.

"Oh," Sherlock gasped, and when John pulled back enough to look, he found closed eyes, lashes shadowing his cheeks as Sherlock tipped his head back in an invitation for more. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed, lashes flickering open when John didn't move again.

"Always get what you want, don't you," John muttered. His hands had lives of their own, sliding down Sherlock's chest, petting that chilly skin, rubbing colour into his paleness. Thumbing the pebbled softness of his nipples, pinching the taut little peaks as Sherlock squirmed and gasped, shaking his head so that wet curls spilled against the table.

"Not always," he whispered. "Not always. John, please."

"Please, is it, now?" John leaned in, circled his tongue over the hard nub and when Sherlock moaned, he bit down until Sherlock squealed, hands flying to his head. He let go before Sherlock could do more than scrabble at his hair, licked at the tiny wound. "Please, please, John," he whispered, mockingly. "What do you want, Sherlock? Want me to suck you off? Give you a good spanking and send you back home?"

"John…" Sherlock whimpered, his hands uncertain as they drifted down to John's shoulders and gripped, long fingers kneading the muscles there desperately.

"Want me to flip you over and fuck you right here? I could, you know," John slid lower, mouthing the sparse hair on Sherlock's narrow chest, licking at his navel. "You'd spread your legs and beg me for it, wouldn't you?"

"Yes," Sherlock gasped and his hips lurched up. His prick was hard against John's stomach, damp through his thin t-shirt. "Yes, that. John, I want—"

"I know you do," John blew out a sharp breath against, drawing in a calming draught of air. Or tried to, but every breath was flavoured with Sherlock, the clean, rain-damp smell of him and John inhaled it, drew it inside until he had to pull back, looked wild-eyed down at the slim young man sprawled across his kitchen table. Sherlock's lower lip was reddened, bitten, his eyes unearthly wide and John lost a little more of himself in them, bit his own lip as he pulled away from those grasping, desperate hands.

"No!" Sherlock tried to sit up, anger sharp in his voice, on his disbelieving face, "No, you aren't doing this again, no, John, you have to—"

"Hush," John slapped his hands away and grabbed his forearms, hauling him to his feet long enough to spin him around. He shoved and Sherlock went down in a startled crumple, catching his balance against the edge of the table even as John skated his hands down his hips. Tilting them up, pushing him until Sherlock was balanced on his toes.

Christ, the way he looked, dark hair still dripping, and he canted his hips up instantly, begging wordlessly, virgin in body, perhaps, but Sherlock's mind knew instantly what it wanted, what it could offer, and somewhere along the line John had lost the ability to refuse.

"Please," Sherlock whimpered, his nails scratching uselessly at the wood table, "I want you, you said you'd fuck me!"

"I am," John pressed a hand into the small of his back, holding him still as he considered. The first-aid kit was still on the counter top, tucked there from the last time they'd used it, and he reached for it one-handed, sifting hastily through, spilling bandages about until he found a packet of ointment. He tore it open and slicked two fingers, pressed them between Sherlock's arse cheeks against his tiny, clenching hole.

"Oh!" Sherlock made a tiny, surprised sound as John pushed his finger in, sliding it smoothly into the startling heat inside. Virgin tightness, Sherlock was twisting and squirming against nothing more than a finger. The petulant tightness was reluctant to give, reluctant to allow another finger inside but John persisted, until finally the stretch eased, and he could slide his fingers out, ignoring the hopeful upward hitch of Sherlock's hips.

John slapped one arse cheek, ignored Sherlock's outraged yelp as he undid his own trousers. "Hold still," John said, sternly, and then groaned aloud as he pressed his cock shallowly between Sherlock's arse cheeks, rubbing against him, fuck, he shouldn't, he shouldn't—

The sound Sherlock made when John pushed against him was nearly a mewl, his hips squirming so much that John couldn't line up properly. He grabbed them, fingers biting into the soft curve of his arse as John held him firmly and tried again. So tight, so fucking tight, and John buried his face against Sherlock's bony shoulder blade, tasted the sweat beading against his upper lip as he pushed hard. The barely-stretched muscle gave with reluctance, John barely prying the head of his cock in while Sherlock quivered, suddenly still.

John forced himself to stop, gulping in salty puffs of air. "Are you—do you want me to stop?"

A low snarl rose from the slim body beneath him and Sherlock twisted enough to glare over his shoulder, "Don’t you dare!" he hissed, wild-eyed. Gone was the pale, fey creature of before. This was only Sherlock, a ruddy flush high on his cheeks and chilliness had been replaced by sweat sliding down his temples. His shoulders flexed as he pushed up on his hands, trying for leverage that John stole quickly, snatching his wrists and forcing him to sprawl back down. Beneath him, Sherlock struggled, spitting out curses as he wriggled against John's weight, trying to push his hips up.

John held him through it and pressed a single, gentle kiss against the back of his neck, one last moment of tenderness. He shifted to twine his fingers with Sherlock's and pushed into him with one smooth, hard thrust.

Sherlock gave a garbled cry, his head tipping back as John rocked into him, barely giving him time to catch his breath, shoving his cock in brutally deep, the clench of Sherlock around him like something exquisite and Sherlock was gorgeous under him. All glossy dark hair and damp skin, his hips rolling up as much as Sherlock could manage while braced on his toes. Pretty, pretty boy, sweet little virgin, and John couldn't have stopped now if Mycroft had held that obliquely promised gun against his temple.

He pulled Sherlock back a little until his feet were flat on the floor and John could pull him back into each thrust, jerking sharp, rhythmic little cries out of him, until he was a whimpering, lovely mess, the slick heat of his body going tight around John as Sherlock's shoulders tensed, and he came with an almost startled cry.

John didn't stop, pushed him through the quivering aftershocks, fucking into him as Sherlock went lax, his limp body moving against the table with each shove of John into him and the sight of him, dazed as Sherlock never was, made John close his own eyes.

"Yes, God, yes," John chanted, warm, golden light rising behind his eyes and Sherlock was making soft, whimpering little sounds that shot straight up John's spine, setting his nerves aflame. Sensation took over and John was lost to it, there was nothing, nothing but the tight heat of Sherlock's body, the spasms washing over him, rolling through him in waves until John collapsed down on him, a shivering, defeated tangle of sweaty limbs.

~~*~~

Somehow, the two of them managed to stagger into John's bedroom, bare feet bumping as they shuffled along and tangled together in the sheets. Breathing in the lingering scent of their sex, sweat drying prickly-cool on their skin. Sherlock rested his head on John's chest, the damp strands of his hair chilly on the bare skin and John was stroking his fingertips up the silky bareness of Sherlock's back, felt him sigh as John fondled the nape of his neck.

"My brother knows I'm here," Sherlock said sleepily. "I called him when I checked out of the clinic."

John took a breath, let it out slowly. "Right, then. Shall I plan on my funeral for next week or will it be one of those things where I have to be missing for years before they declare me dead?"

Sherlock made a sound that could almost be called amused. "Don't be ridiculous, he'll do no such thing. Mycroft has a certain amount of power but he's hardly the British Government. He can't simply have you disappeared."

"Not sure I want to bet my life on that."

"Hmmm," Sherlock sighed, pushing his head into John's stroking hand as he petted the tangle of his hair. The curls tried to wind around his fingers as though they possessed life of their own. "You're not. He's probably grateful that I have someone determined to keep an eye on me. God knows he tries hard enough to do it himself. I'm surprised he hasn't secreted any cameras away in your bedroom."

"Sherlock," John groaned.

"He said I could stay with you," Sherlock propped his head up on his hand, his pointy elbow digging into John's chest painfully. "Not that I was asking his permission but he agreed to leave us be under two conditions. The first being that I accept my allowance again, which, to be honest, isn't a terrible hardship. The second is that I finish my schooling."

"That…isn't such a terrible idea, either," John offered, softly. Sherlock ignored that, twisting away from John's stroking hands.

"I can stay, can't I?" Sherlock sat up, bare except for the sheet pooling in his lap. There were bruises on his chest, smudged on his hips in the shape of fingertips and those ones John had given out himself. "I'm aware that my age is a concern to you but my I.D. is impeccable, no one will know my true age."

"Sherlock-"

"I won't interfere with your studies, you do still have years of work ahead of you, particularly if you're still planning on specializing in surgery—"

"Sherlock," John tried again, helpless laughter leaking into his voice.

"I can make tea," Sherlock said thoughtfully. "I'll be useful, John, no, I will, " he insisted, resisting John's efforts to pull him back down.

"So long as I don't have to bail you out again in the wee hours of the morning," John huffed out, finally succeeding in gathering up an armful of Sherlock, tugging him down again.

"No promises," Sherlock whispered, softly, and John groaned. "I can stay then, John? Can I?"

John had been collecting strays his entire life; bandaging them up, caring for them. It was part of who he was; becoming a doctor was simply an extension of his nature. Kittens and birds, sad-eyed puppies that he collected and coddled and sent on their way home, lost boys with lost lives and for the very first time, John had found a stray he wanted to keep. Who wanted to keep him.

He buried his face into Sherlock's throat, pressed it into the curve of his neck and shoulder and finally said it. "Course you can."

"Of course I can," Sherlock repeated, softly, and when he pressed his mouth to John's, sliding their tongues together in a slippery kiss, John didn't resist him, kissed him back in a hungry, trembling touch of lips.

"You can stay," John whispered it into his mouth, "You can stay." Against the line of his throat, again, again, breathing the words into Sherlock's skin. "You can stay. Stay here with me. Stay."

Stay.

-finis-
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