Which makes it seem more serious than I mean it. Really it was a chance to play with fic-writing again. Enjoy.
John supposed London would be full of them, in either century: men without a bed, rough-shaven and with that certain growl in their stomach. Their more respectable brethren would be there, too, he knew. Army-doctors, say, returned to England after they’d out-lived their utility abroad, playing at dice and cards, losing more than they could afford; or maybe just making slow work of the bread-and-apple they’d bought as they stood in the alleys watching the world go by. Anything if it put off returning to the best rooms they could afford on her Majesty’s largesse. Which John could well imagine would be depressing indeed; or rather, didn’t have to.
Really, London was London, and the wheel would ever go round and round.
Some of them men might be play-acting. No class of characters, real or fictional, could be without its less reputable examples. Out-of-work ostlers caught slouching outside the church, offered a coin for their troubles; or the Neville St. Clairs, much missed by wife and child, but still preferring the jail-cell to what a good wash would reveal. Shame on him, but his shame, and no excuse to leave the rest to their squalor.
He imagines them, tells their stories to Rosie as she coos around her rattle in the old second bedroom in Baker Street, weaves them into the accounts he writes down later, when she finally drifts off to sleep. Longhand; he likes the feel of the fine stationery under his fingers, damn it, the simplicity of a fine pen resting between thumb and pointer, and because a computer password stands little enough chance against Sherlock’s curiosity in any event. Some of them will stay consigned to the margins, the penniless and nameless boys who always seemed at hand when his Holmes needed them. (Always Holmes; the distance a shield against the hope lurking behind the written word.) Or his Isa Whitney, if he’d run through his wallet and the opium-den master had turned him out into the street where he belonged.
John stops himself short at that thought, keeps himself from remembering a lankier, younger consulting detective, how he’d been tossed out into Montague Street after one too many experiments went badly; how he’d probably been tossed out more than once, when he shot the rent up his arms. He won’t think about that. He won’t think, either, about Hilton Cubbitt, after his pride made him a prisoner in his own estate, refusing to be run off by so many dancing-men scrawled along the brickwork. Or Violet Smith, after that Woodley’s advances left her so ill at ease in her employer’s home. He won’t imagine her skin crawling as she stripped down in her rooms, scrubs at her skin as if it would wash off the stain of his gaze from across the hedge.
They were hardly the sort John’s own enlightened time would call the social workers for, but John – who had spent six weeks sleeping on Lestrade’s couch after the incident in Magnussen’s office, equally because it was convenient to the clinic and Sherlock’s hospital-room and because he couldn’t quite make himself sleep in the same postal code as Mary, not after that – John knew that subtler form of homelessness entirely too well, thank you very much.
So he wedged the cot in beside his old bed, and spent Saturdays (cases permitting) down at New Belvedere House, lending a helping hand and a ready ear. He looked, and he saw, as much as his own battered mind could manage. And there was tea, really so much tea: at St. Bart’s over tests on liver enzyme activity, and in New Scotland Yard as Dimmock and Gregson took their statements. (Because really, boys, do you have any idea the paperwork when you actually break through a padlock…. ? ) And later, much later, when the dreams woke him and Sherlock wordlessly placed the mug and biscuit in his hand and whispered something about sugar as a cure for shock: there was tea then, too.
And if (when) Sherlock placed a tentative hand, really just a brush of knuckles against each other in silent reminder that I am here, and you are here, too, with me?
Well. It wasn’t home, quite, it wasn’t the hope he kept so far at bay in the stories threatening to flay him open from sternum to coccyx, lay his heart open to Sherlock’s too-keen sight. But it was closer, and would be closer still tomorrow and the week after. It would do for a start.
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