Fandom: Sherlock BBC
Summary: "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Word Count: 4394
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not really theirs either, though.
Spoilers: Through Reichenbach
Note: It's been a hella long time since I've posted fic and this is my first (perhaps only) in this fandom. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed thinking it.
THE LEAST AMONG US
There was a new homeless on John's route to the surgery. John had never paid much attention to street people, before Sherlock. He was a doctor, but he was also solidly middle-class, with all the vague prejudices of his upbringing. The service had cured the worst of it, he liked to think, but there weren't a lot of homeless in the Army. Sherlock and his network had made them people to John. John had noticed, then he began to pay attention, and by the time Sherlock fell (John didn't say the "d" word, even in his head), John was one of a small group of unofficial service providers to the itinerant population of London. There were others, of course, and not all of them had been recruited by Sherlock Holmes—people who would provide shelter, food, clothing, medical attention, even jobs and education, outside of the official system.
Sherlock got along with outsiders: petty thieves, prostitutes, bag-ladies. The tin-hat wearers, and street kids. They didn't ask him to be anything other than he was, and he returned the favor, well aware that there were many reasons for being homeless. Sherlock didn't judge, he wasn't a reformer or an evangelist. He wanted information, he was willing to pay for it, and he didn't ask what the informer was going to spend the money on.
Not that he always paid in coin. Sometimes he paid with gloves, or food, or Dr John Watson's medical services. Occasionally, he had a word with Lestrade, and someone was let off with a warning instead of entering the system. Sherlock didn't do favours, and he was appalled when John used the word.
"It's not a favour, John. It's payment. She doesn't require charity, and she doesn't want pity. She'd be offended to hear you call it that." He'd flounced about for a bit, then added, "In fact, I'm offended. Take it back!"
So John had taken it back, amused, but the words had stirred him, and he'd eventually come to respect the dignity of Sherlock's network. John had also learned to respect the skills and expertise that Sherlock's irregular network encompassed, despite the ASBO. They weren't Sherlock's friends, they were colleagues, and all parties concerned were happy with the arrangement.
But John wasn't Sherlock, and so he came to consider some of them something like friends. Sherlock had never commented on John's occasional inquiry into the health and well-being of the network, or the way he made conversation, offering biscuits and tea, if one happened to show up at Baker Street. And it seemed to John that his subdued regard was returned, for he often saw Sherlock's homeless on his daily routes, now; more often, by far, than he had before. He felt obscurely comforted, as if they were watching out for him, making sure he was okay. And, John had to admit, they were a tie to Sherlock that didn't hurt.
So he paid attention, noticed those who were most ignored, and therefore made note of the new man on his route. John marked the heavy beard, the multiple tattered layers, the boots mended with tape. The third time John saw him, he had a large dog at his side, which was reassuring. Dogs were useful: they provided warmth, security, and help finding food, as well as companionship. John had learned that homeless people were often exceptional pet owners, although most would object to the term "owner," if not to the entire concept of ownership.
The man became a regular, often huddling in an alcove across the street from John's usual Starbucks, dog at his side. John didn't cross the street, or try to approach, but he did mention him to a few of the network.
"Oh, yeah, I know who you mean," Megs said. "That's Harry. Hairy Harry's what we call 'im. Quiet bloke, seems mostly harmless."
"Well, let him know that I'm around if he needs looked at, okay?" They were well into winter, the killing season for street people. A new person might not know where to go to stay warm and safe: the cold weather took some directly, some through illness and infection, and some through fights over a thick overcoat, or a heated squat. "And let me know if..." John shrugged.
"If we find his corpsicle, someone'll come," Megs reassured him, in her not terribly reassuring way. Sherlock had quite liked Megs.
"Thanks," he said, and they sat companionably silent on the stoop, sipping their tea. When she was done, Megs left her mug on the ground and trooped away. She didn't say anything, but John knew he'd see her again in a week or two, leaning next to his door when he got home from work or the market. He would invite her up for tea, she would refuse, he would bring down out two cups five minutes later, and she would still be there. Megs liked tea, but she refused to go through a door, or into a building. He didn't know why and didn't ask. People had their own reasons for things.
The next time John saw Hairy Harry, he was in front of the Starbucks, peering in through the large front window. John was running more than a bit late, his alarm clock having decided to retire from active service sometime in the night. Sarah had been understanding, but harried; it was 'flu season, and the clinic was constantly behind. Still, John saw no point in taking a taxi, so he was walking briskly along his usual route, but not planning to stop for coffee, when he nearly ran into the man.
Hairy (that was how John thought of him, Harry being his sister) jumped back, grunting with surprise.
"Oh, sorry, sorry!" John also backed off a pace, hands out in a placating gesture. "My fault, I wasn't paying attention."
The other man ducked his head, hunching his shoulders as if expecting a blow. Not an uncommon defensive gesture, but it made John both sad and angry. It also made him realize how tall and very thin the man was, under all those knitted caps and layers of coats. His big hands were half covered by ravelling knitted gloves, the ends of his fingers white with cold.
John automatically checked the other side of the street, looking for the dog. It wasn't there. He frowned.
"I'm sorry, I don't mean to pry, but where's your dog?"
Hairy looked up sharply, then away, again. His voice was low and raspy. "How'd you know about me dog?"
"Well, I see you almost every day, just not on this side of the street." John smiled, and nodded towards the empty doorway. He stuck his hands in his pockets and tried to look non-threatening. "Hard not to notice a dog that handsome."
And it was. Hairy turned his head and whistled, and the dog came bounding out of the alley next to the cafe to stand next to his—no, her—companion. John hadn't seen her closely before, obviously, although he'd recognized the strong build and admired the sleek brindle coat. Mastiffs were usually fawn, but the brindle would blend into shadows, a distinct advantage for a street dog and her person, which she clearly considered Hairy to be.
"What's her name?" John asked, smiling without teeth at the dog. She was alert, defensive, having placed herself in front of Hairy, but not showing any aggression. Secure, then, and visibly healthy; probably healthier than Hairy.
"Gladstone," the rasping voice offered grudgingly. "She bites."
"All dogs bite," John replied, amiably. This was true. Dogs bit. He was a doctor and he'd served with K9 units; people who claimed that 'their dog doesn't bite' were a special brand of idiot. "I'll try not to give her a reason, though. Unusual name for a dog. Especially a bitch."
Hairy peered at him from under the scraggly, dark fringe poking out of his caps, and nodded, as if he'd decided something. "Gladstone, say 'Hi' to-" Hairy stopped abruptly and stared at the window.
"John," he offered, holding out a loose fist and making eye contact with Gladstone. "Dr John Watson, pleased to make your acquaintance."
Gladstone gave him a suspicious look, and glanced up at Hairy. He looked back and nodded, so she paced cautiously forward, and gave John's hand a perfunctory sniff. Then, slowly, she lowered her head to his shoes and slobbered all over them, as she thoroughly investigated everywhere he'd been, before working her way up his legs to his crotch. When she was done, John felt as if he'd been analyzed and dissected. She reminded him of Sherlock, strangely, and John laughed, earning another piercing glance from Hairy.
"Smart girl," John said, watching as she paced back to Hairy's side, fractionally less concerned than she had been before the ritual. Hairy nodded, again, this time at John, and not Gladstone.
"Normally," John said, "I'd offer you a cuppa, but I'm running late. Sorry to be rude, but it was nice to meet you, anyway. Maybe next time, right?"
John blithely ignored the way the man stared at him, accustomed to it, from a year and half—now almost two—of interacting with Sherlock's network. They always seemed vaguely pole-axed the first few times, as if he had two heads. Sherlock had told him it was "indubitably the shock of being treated like a human being, a feeling to which I myself am not immune."
With a little wave, John continued past the pair, hurrying a little to make up for the lost time. He briefly wondered why Hairy had been looking into the Starbucks, and thought maybe he should have made time to get him coffee and maybe a muffin. Perhaps he was so hungry that he had contemplated going inside? John turned around to look--would have gone back--but Hairy and Gladstone had disappeared. He sighed, and continued on his way, mind already jumping ahead to the day's tasks.
John didn't see Hairy for almost two weeks after their encounter. Afraid he'd spooked the man, or worse, that something had happened, he mentioned it to Megs during her next visit.
"He's a skittish one, that's sure," she agreed. "Don't say where he kips, hardly talks. Still, he seems mostly harmless," repeating the same words she'd used before. This time John smiled.
"Mostly harmless," he murmured.
He remembered those words over the next couple of months. Hairy reappeared, and John got two coffees, one extra-large with lots of sugar and cream, and three muffins. He carried them over to what he thought of as Hairy's alcove.
"Coffee?" he offered, holding out the larger one. Once the cup had been accepted, albeit warily, he sat on the step and offered the bag. "Muffin? They're all blueberry; chocolate's not good for dogs."
Hairy looked doubtfully at his free hand, at John, at the bag, and at a hopeful Gladstone, then reached in and extracted a muffin. Gladstone's tail thumped against the cracked and stained tile of the doorway.
While they sat and sipped, and Hairy shared first one and then two muffins with Gladstone, John looked around. The alcove was wide, and rather deep, with a glass door at either end. The nearest door had a For Lease sign hanging behind the glass, and a large waste bag pushed up into the corner in front of it. A sleeping bag was neatly rolled and secured with rope, which had also been looped into some kind of harness, so that it could be carried on Hairy's back.
Being so close to the man, John also took the opportunity to observe. He seemed relatively clean, his garments dirty and old, but not filthy. There was a faint odor of cigarette smoke, but no stench of illness or human waste. The skin on his face was dark, reminding John of Afghanistan and wary Pashtuns, but his fingers seemed paler, the contrast emphasized by a fine line of black grime under short nails.
After a few moments, John stood. He brushed off the seat of his trousers, nodded at the pair, and walked away, leaving the bag with the last muffin on the step.
This became something of a ritual. The first day of the week that John saw Hairy and Gladstone, he brought them coffee and muffins, whether it was a Monday or a Friday. Sometimes, John thought he caught a glimpse of Hairy other places, ducking into alleys or around a corner, but it was hard to tell. They didn't talk much; John thought that maybe speaking hurt Hairy, that the rasp was due to some sort of injury. He didn't want to cause pain, just because he was curious.
The hands kept bothering him, though, enough that he carried around a pair of Sherlock's stupidly expensive and warm gloves for nearly a week, until he could give them to Hairy. Hairy turned the soft leather over in his hands, his head bent so deeply that John could only see the tip of his nose past the hair and mufflers and beard.
"They're too big for me," John said, casually. "My flatmate had huge hands. Someone should get use out of them. You can put them on under your mitts, yeah?" So that they would be less noticeable, and less likely to cause trouble. John didn't want Hairy to be killed for a pair of expensive gloves.
Hairy rumbled, while Gladstone nosed at the leather, intrigued and drooling. Shyly, almost as if he were getting naked, Hairy removed a mitt, pulled on the soft glove (lined with cashmere, because for all of his protestations of the body being just transport, Sherlock was (had been) a hedonist of the first order), and tugged his mitt over the leather. He repeated the procedure on with the other hand, while John pretended great interest in the Starbucks facade.
John watched from the corner of his eye, struck anew by the whiteness of Hairy's hands, by the long, aristocratic fingers. He saw the strong tendons and fine knuckles, not swollen by age or cold or hard labor. Anomalous hands, he thought, a Sherlock word, and reminded himself that one never knew why someone ended up living on the street. There were poets sleeping in doorways, as well as junkies, and sometimes they were one and the same.
Things went on in that vein for what John would later think was a ridiculously long time, although it was only a few weeks after the gloves—maybe a month—that he sat straight up in bed and said, "that fucking, fucking bastard!"
And then he yelled, rather loudly, "Sherlock, you miserable fucking bastard, I am going to kill you!"
And then he went back to sleep.
The next morning, a Wednesday, John called in sick. Sarah was sympathetic this time, as the worst of the winter 'flu season was over, and the early Spring round hadn't yet begun. They didn't really need him, but he needed the work—not so much for the money, as for something to keep him occupied, although he hadn't told Sarah that. Learning that Sherlock had left John all his worldly goods, including a sizable inheritance, would only have further convinced her that he and Sherlock had been lovers.
He'd already seen Hairy Harry that week—John's jaw clenched at the thought and his teeth ground—so he would have at least five days to think on what to do, assuming that John called in sick for the rest of the week, as well. John wondered how long it would take for Hairy to start peering in windows and haunting the Tesco.
He was going to murder Sherlock, with his own two hands, and no one would ever know, because the bastard was already dead. Right? Right.
Except obviously someone had to know that Sherlock wasn't dead, because there were forms and procedures, and someone had to fill out the forms that preceded and followed the procedures. One of those someones knew about Sherlock.
John's first thought was Mycroft. Even a minor bureaucrat, which the elder Holmes most definitely was not, might be able to pull it off. John was no stranger to the many inventive ways that things could be made to disappear within a bureaucracy. Witness his highly illegal firearm, for example. The Army didn't exactly send that sort of thing home as a souvenir. And he'd shuffled more than a few papers for the network, with the clinic, secure in his ethical righteousness.
But Mycroft... Mycroft wouldn't have been able to let Sherlock go. John believed that. He would have wanted to use him, would have wanted to keep him safe, would have moved mountains if his brother was alive. Mycroft would have had to believe, as strongly as John himself. So, who, then?
His thoughts circled that question for hours, poking and prodding, considering and dismissing. Some of the homeless network, obviously. Probably including Megs. Lestrade. Yes. No. Yes? No, absolutely not.
Mrs Hudson was right out. Although she'd proven capable of extensive misdirection and deceit under trying circumstances, to say the least. So, maybe Mrs Hudson wasn't out of the running. He had a chance to test his theory just after noon, when the woman herself came up to check on him.
"I thought I heard you rattling around up here. A day off, then?" she inquired.
"I hope I didn't bother you, Mrs Hudson. I'm not feeling well, so I called in." John tried to look wan and sickly, but as he'd been pacing in circles for hours, he wasn't terribly convincing.
Mrs Hudson nodded knowingly, and tapped the side of her nose. "Everyone needs a mental health day, now and then. Why don't you take yourself out for a nice lunch, maybe go to the cinema?"
She was perhaps the only person, other than Mycroft, who knew how the rent got paid. She'd received a considerable sum, herself, and they had commiserated over whiskey after the will had been read. He couldn't believe that all of that had been an act, but if it had... well, what then?
"What would you do if Sherlock were still alive?" he asked, abruptly, interrupting her musings about the state of modern cinema.
"Oh, my dear, is that what's got you in such a state?" Mrs Hudson moved close enough to pat his arm. "I'm sure we would all be going along much the same."
"No, I don't mean if he had never died—well, I do, but what if it turned out that it was all a trick? Some sort of sham, part of a case? If he just appeared one day?" John looked at her intently, trying to read her face, or her body language, to observe.
She blinked and looked thoughtful. "Well, I imagine I would be surprised, of course, because Sherlock was always surprising. Perhaps, I would hug him. And then, of course, I would have to kill him. Maybe throw him down the stairs... well, not really, of course, but I would be very angry. Yes," Mrs Hudson looked John straight in the eye, "I would be very, very upset. That boy!"
John nodded and resumed pacing. "Me, too." He paused, and then came out with it. "Mrs Hudson is Sherlock Holmes alive?"
She gazed at him sympathetically. "Oh, John. You would be the person most likely to know that. After all, you were there."
"Oh." John sat down. Fortunately, there was a chair behind him. "I forgot about that part. How could I have possibly been wrong? I was there!"
"Would you care for an herbal soother, dear?"
"No, no, thank you Mrs Hudson." He waved her off.
"I'll just put on some tea, then."
That was the sticking point, wasn't it? If it was a trick, it was a trick engineered specifically to fool a select group of people. John was a trained doctor, but he was also human, and therefore an idiot, according to Sherlock. He'd been distracted, emotional. And then someone had run into him, and he couldn't see past the lorry. Who there had been part of the trick? Who else needed to be tricked? Mycroft, of course, and by extension the entire British government. Could Mycroft be fooled?
A conversation in a cafe floated to the surface: Mycroft and Irene Adler. What was it? Something about she'd have needed Sherlock Holmes' help to fake her death a second time. When had she died? Or allegedly died, because hadn't Sherlock gone to Sumatra just a few weeks before Mycroft had shown up with her files? John had thought the trip longer than usual, for Sherlock, especially since he hadn't asked John to come, but he'd quite enjoyed having the flat to himself for a week or so.
John rose from his chair and went to Sherlock's room, ignoring Mrs Hudson setting out the tea.
He hadn't touched much. John hadn't even wanted to stay at Baker Street for a while, but Mrs Hudson had been insistent, and he was eventually grateful. But at the start, it had been painful, and he'd avoided going into Sherlock's room. He'd come in here for the occasional handout—the gloves, of course, and a few mufflers. He'd packed up some clothes and stripped the linens, but the rest was how Sherlock had left it.
Where would he have put the phone? John began to search.
John searched for most of the afternoon and all of the next day. By the end, he wasn't just searching for Irene Adler's phone, he was searching for evidence. Clues. Not only what was in the flat, but what could be missing. Mrs Hudson popped in and out, even went to the market for him, tsk-ing comfortably, "What are you looking for?"
"I won't know until I don't find it," John replied, as he pulled the covers off the sofa cushions.
"You sound just like Sherlock," she said, fondly, and went into the kitchen to put away the shopping.
By Friday, John had to admit two things. One, that he was unable to find Irene Adler's phone, but that didn't mean it wasn't there, somewhere. And two, more disturbingly, Sherlock's most likely helper was Molly Hooper. Molly! But Molly was the most probable person; all others were impossible. Medically trained, within the bureaucracy, utterly trusted by everyone concerned, and completely overlooked by almost everyone. Everyone except Sherlock, who never overlooked anyone, even the least among us.
On Monday morning, John still didn't have a definite plan, but he wasn't surprised to step outside his door and see Megs leaning against the wall. John was a better liar than he usually got credit for, mostly because he rarely tried to lie. When he did lie, it was apparently the same way Molly did, by appearing innocent and telling selected bits of the truth. So, he just looked at Megs and asked, brows raised, "You okay? You're up early."
She gave him a searching once over, and replied, "You haven't been about, some of the chaps were worried."
"Mmm. Sorry. Just needed some time to myself. I went through," he stopped, and looked away. He was fighting down an emotional reaction, but probably not the one she thought. He took a breath, and continued, "I went through the flat, some of, of his things. You know. It was time."
Megs eyes widened, fractionally. "Oh. Are you... okay?"
"Yes," he said, nodding firmly, like a man getting on with his life. "Sorry, though, I've got to head to work. Did you need something?"
"No." Megs looked at him, again, another hard, searching stare, and tugged at the handle to a shopping cart. There was a large waste bag taking up most of the basket, with a few smaller shopping bags piled on top, all stuffed full. A black waste bag, like Hairy Harry's, not blue, like the ones in the lorry. Blue for recycling, but why? Recycling was picked up with the waste, that's why the blue bags. Why would a lorry be filled with recycling bags? Another piece clicked into place, incomplete, but the right shape.
John smiled at her. "Okay, well, I'm off then," he said, and headed for the Starbucks.
Hairy Harry was in his usual spot, Gladstone at his side. John barely gave them a glance before heading into the cafe. He came out with two cups, one extra-large, and a paper bag. John crossed the street as usual, sitting down on the step next to Gladstone, her companion on her other side. John passed over the large cup and the bag, stretching out his legs and crossing his ankles.
He heard them both sniff and smiled to himself, closing his eyes and lifting his face the hazy sunlight, for a moment. It was starting to warm up, marginally. Soon it would be too warm to go about in coats and caps. The beard would itch. John wondered whether it was fake. He'd never been good about observing those sorts of things.
A raspy voice questioned, "Tea?"
"You like tea better." John almost felt the pause, then heard the bag crinkle, and guessed that the contents had been discovered. The ensuing silence was long, then followed by the sounds of crunching shortbread. Several minutes passed in this fashion, while John sipped his coffee and tried very hard not to think.
"You can't tell anyone." The voice was the familiar, smooth baritone, and John's eyes fluttered closed again, briefly.
"I'm not finished."
"It's not safe for you, not yet."
Sherlock paused. His voice was low, almost the raspy sound that John had believed came from an injury. Maybe it had, at first. "I'm sorry." This time, John suspected, it was emotion. A different sort of injury, perhaps, but no less wounding.
"I know that, too."
"I miss you."
John had to swallow against the urge to yell, or cry. When he could speak, his voice was nearly as rough as Hairy Harry's. "Come home when you can."
He stood up to leave, but before he stepped away, Sherlock asked, "What gave me away?"
John couldn't look at him, but he couldn't not look, either. He split the difference by looking at Sherlock's hands, and the gloves that fit them like a second skin.
"I've always loved your hands," he said, and walked away.