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MAHOOSIVE ETA: Well, basically am in the process of totally rewriting this so that it, you know, makes sense.

Back we go, baaaacccckkk in time to when I wrote this fill for, um, my own crackheaded gypsies-tramps-and-thieves prompt: Sherlock was born in the wagon of a travelling show, Mycroft used to dance for the money they'd throw, Mummy'd do whatever she could etc etc etc. This is a continuation/prequel/sequel/who knows what. I've added it to the original thread too.

2500 words. Warning for a broken wrist, (this part of the story based on the fact that practically every teenage boy I know has broken his wrist at some point - skateboarding, playing football, just freaking falling over; it makes me think being a teenage boy's quite a dangerous thing.) Sherlock/John, angst (I suppose that's what you call this?), Sherlock being hurt, John fixing him. THEY DON'T EVEN KISS. what is wrong with me. at least it is heavily implied that they want to.

So here we are: this is how raggedy!vaudevillian!urchin!Sherlock and bored!medicalstudent!John meet for the first time. Part question mark of question mark, PG (question mark?) for medicine and sadness. AU, so very AU, basically the present day but with music halls and travelling shows still in operation. (how, I do not yet know, maybe there is no TV or cinema, maybe that never took off and we were stuck with this sort of thing for much longer) John's RAMC requirements are genuine but they are from the 1870s.





SHERLOCK WAS BORN IN THE WAGON OF A TRAVELLING SHOW, MYCROFT USED TO DANCE FOR THE MONEY THEY"D THROW. MUMMY'D DO WHATEVER SHE COULD - PREACH A LITTLE GOSPEL, SELL A COUPLE BOTTLE OF DOCTOR GOOD. (Sherlock was sixteen, John was twenty-one, and Mummy would've shot him if she knew what he'd done.)






It was half-past-four and already dark. Dr Bell put his head around the door and said, “John, Mrs Markham’s called, her youngest has a fever - you can finish up for today, can’t you? Nothing too testing out here by the looks of things.”

“You know me,” said John, “if I can’t deal with it, I’ll use a lot of sticking-plaster and pretend it’s sorted until someone comes along to correct me. I’m sorry, what am I saying - I meant Sellotape, of course. On everything. I’ve got three rolls in the desk, that should be enough.”

There were only a few more patients to see, so John took down his bag from the back of the door and started packing his things away; only a few days now until he went home.

“Sellotape is wonderful stuff, John,” Dr. Bell said, very seriously. “And we’ll try to get you onto one of the midwives’ cases tomorrow, get another one under your belt before you go off home for Christmas,” he continued. “You haven’t got that long left, you know.”

John had stayed later than most of the others in his year. The fact was, the RAMC had requirements, and John had to have fulfilled them, and that included having being present at twelve midwifery cases, and learn basic meteorology and botany, and just various things that John simply wasn’t going to be able to do during term time. And so John was helping Dr. Bell with clinic duties and clerking (and at least Dr. Bell had a fondness for the eccentric cases that showed up, and they got on well; if he was thirty years younger or John was thirty years older he wasn’t sure he wouldn’t have wanted John to become a partner in the practice), when most of his fellow students were drinking and rejoicing and generally enjoying their respite. Mike’s family weren’t too far away; he’d visited them, endured Mike’s teasing about Army doctors, and teased back about gentleman physicians who never get their hands dirty.

“At least I’ll be comfortable,” Mike had said, grinning, “at least I don’t have to learn all these bloody things you have to that aren’t anything to do with doctoring - marching up and down, calling people ‘sir’.”

“Oh,” John had retorted, adopting the same pose as Mike, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms - “look at me, I’m going to spend all my time seeing the same patients over and over, with the same dull illnesses that everyone in England gets, and if anything interesting ever comes up, I get to pass it on for someone else to deal with.”

“It’s worse than that, John. You’ll be stitching up gaping wounds, I’ll be writing papers on how to stitch up gaping wounds, maybe even teaching other people how to stitch up gaping wounds-”

Mrs Stamford, pouring out more tea, interrupted him. “Don’t be cruel, Michael, I think it’s very brave of John to go in for the Army. And the girls do love a soldier, remember that the next time your young Annie says she’s too busy to go to the pictures.”

“Oh no,” said Mike, biting down on the inside of his cheek, “John never has any problems with girls,” and John kicked him under the table, because that really wasn’t something Mike’s mother needed to know. And he did like girls, anyway, sometimes.

So John had been, most of the time, alone, in a cold dark city, and the truth was, he’d rather enjoyed it. Most people think London’s miserable at the end of November - wet, foggy, slushy with melted snow and mud, but John loves it.

John loves London, the beating, pulsating, teeming heart of it, loves it the way only a home counties boy who never set eyes on Trafalgar Square till he was seventeen can, and John particularly rejoices in loving London when most people hate it. It’s easy to like London in the early summer, when the trees in the parks are in flower, or in October, with the smell of woodsmoke always in the air - but John loves the deserted icy mornings, and even found himself smiling to himself when he got splashed by a cab that cut a corner.

Which made him think that this kind of pre-nostalgia was a bit self-indulgent. But he wasn’t going to be in London for that much longer, and he wanted to enjoy every sweet stinking breath of air he could.

John said, “Go, go on, what can there possibly be out there worse than Mrs. Markham. Send them in.”

‘Them’ was a woman with a boil that needed lancing, a man who wanted his next prescription for his back pain, and then a thin worried girl of fourteen or fifteen with a satchel over her shoulder that had a broken buckle; she wore shoes that clacked on the floor. With her was a dark-haired sullen boy a couple of years older, with a sling holding his forearm across his chest underneath an winter coat that was slightly too big for him. He was tall, long-limbed with that lack of physical certainty that came from not being sure whether or not you’d stopped growing.

“He’s broken his wrist,” said the girl, “I don’t know how, he just slipped and put his hand out to stop himself -”

“That’s fairly common,” said John, “A lot of ki- a lot of people do that, especially with the dead leaves you get this time of year, it gets slippery. Let’s have a look.” He pulled up a chair to the other side of a small table.

He gestured and boy came closer - no closer than he needed to - and sat down. He had a violin case in his good hand, but didn’t seem to want to let it go until the girl touched his hand and whispered to him.

John undid the sling and laid the boy’s arm out; yes, swelling, bone clearly wonky beneath the skin.

“Elsie was dancing and I was playing and we were handing out flyers, I stepped into the gutter and didn’t look and didn’t fall right,” said the boy dully. “She says she doesn’t like looking at it, it makes her feel sick.”

“It’s a funny angle,” said John, inspecting, “not too bad, though. Brave of you to bandage him up, though, Elsie.” He smiled at her.

Elsie blushed, and the boy scowled.

“Elsie, keep talking to him,” John said, “keep him concentrated on something else. You should take off your coat, I’m going to need to check nothing else got smashed.”

“Sherlock doesn’t get distracted,” said Elsie, undraping the boy’s coat for him, since he didn’t look like he was going to move - John delicately began to feel along the boy’s wrist and arm and shoulder, looking for any more swelling anywhere else, any tell-tale winces - “and he doesn’t get worried about pain, it worries me, I think he’s in shock.”

The boy - Sherlock - rolled his eyes. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s just something that happens, whether you feel it or not makes no difference to what it is or how long before it goes away.”

“You probably are in shock,” said John, working very gently, and glanced up to see Sherlock glaring at him. “Or, maybe not, what do I know, I’m only a doctor. Here - try to move your fingers for me, would you.”

“You’re a doctor in training,” retorted Sherlock, “you clearly haven’t finished, you’re not old enough, and also you wouldn’t be stuck here lancing boils - yes, I can see the needle by the sink. You should learn to tidy up between patients. You’ll have to be a bit neater when you go abroad, you know what the Army’s like.” He twitched his fingers defiantly.

John let go of Sherlock’s hand on the table and stared at him. “That’s - how did you do that?”

Sherlock stared back mockingly. “I also know what you do at the weekends. I don’t think you want me blurting that out in mixed company.”

“Don’t mind him,” whispered Elsie to John, “he does this trick, he tells you where you grew up and what your sister said to you two weeks ago and what’s the best way to eat your bread-and-dripping. His mother tried to put him onto fortune-telling, but he’s rubbish at it, only tells people things that make them upset.”

“All traveling show people can do it, sort of,” said Sherlock, quietly, “they can tell who’s going to spend money, who’s spoiling for a fight, who wants to get drunk. I can see more than most people, that’s all.”

There was a tap at the door. John raised his voice, began to say, “Can you wait a few minutes please-” but another young man - the same age as John, maybe slightly older - came in without waiting, clutching a clothes-bag with ostrich feathers sticking out at one end. He said, irritably, to Sherlock, “Are you finished?” and John saw Sherlock’s jaw clench.

“Actually I’m in the middle of something,” said John. “Can you wait outside, please. There is such a thing as patient confidentiality.”

“For god’s sakes, man! I’m his brother. He’s got to hurry up. I suppose you didn’t even finish handing out those flyers, did you -”

Elsie looked like she wanted to scream. She went over and stood pointedly on the other side of the door until the brother had gone out too and then slammed it behind her. John heard her voice and the brother’s raised in argument, and thought this was perhaps not something he needed to get involved in.

“Where are you performing?” John asked, trying not to hear what was going on outside. He palpated the swelling again - yes, only the one break, and no damage to the other joints; he’d need to look again in a few days to make sure.

“Vauxhall, Brixton, then all around the London suburbs,” said Sherlock, looking at the floor. “I - I don’t perform, not really. I play the violin but I don’t have an act, I do tickets and flyers and help set up and when we’re traveling I’m part of the orchestra. Elsie’s great though, Elsie sings really nicely. Elsie’s not going to be in the show for much longer. She’s off the bill as soon as we start heading north, her mother doesn’t like her going too far away.”

Sherlock looked like he might cry. John could see that Sherlock’s good hand was clenched at his side and trembling slightly, and decided to go with, “You’ll see her again, won’t you?” but Sherlock stopped him short with a shake of his head.

John waited. No more was forthcoming.

Sherlock said, “You’re going to have to set the bone now, Mycroft won’t wait, and I don’t have the money for the bus back south of the river and we won’t be back in time for the show otherwise.”

“That’s ridiculous - you need an anaesthetic, you’ll have to stay for observation- I’ll give you the money for the bus - I’ll take you down there myself -”

“Do it, John,” Sherlock said, angrily, and when he saw John start at the use of his name, Sherlock smiled weakly and said, “You’ve been writing letters at your desk, the blotting-paper’s got the imprint of your name on it.”

“This is without a doubt the stupidest thing I’ve done all day, Sherlock,” said John. “You think you’re okay. You’re clearly not.”

Sherlock said, “Not entirely true. I’m fully aware that I’m not okay, but there aren’t any other options for me right now.”

So John set the bone. Sherlock hissed between his teeth and dug his fingernails into the fleshy base of the palm of his hand and John had to bite the side of his mouth to make himself go through with it.

John finished off the crepe bandage, and let Sherlock’s arm rest on the table. Sherlock was breathing heavily.

John said, “What do you play, then.”

“Dance tunes. The usual popular drivel, just like everything else on the bill but even worse.”

“Ah, alright. No need to see the show after all.”

“No, not really,” Sherlock said, biting his lip, and looked up at him, surprisingly earnest. He had an extraordinary face. “But - I would like it if you came to the show. I think I’d like that, it’s difficult to know, but I think I’d like it if you came.”

“I don’t know what it means when you say that,” said John, and at the same time he thought, there should be someone else in the room with us, this isn’t proper.

“We’ll be moving out of London in the New Year, we might even be going through your town. You’re from somewhere not too far away, Essex I think, I bet it’s -”

“Stop,” said John, “it’s not good for you to know that. It’s amazing, yes, but - no, not good,” and Sherlock was hugging himself with his good arm and looking once more like he might cry.

So John said, despairingly, “I’ll catch it if I can, alright?” and Sherlock said, choked, “I wish I didn’t have to do this, I wish I could -”

The irritable brother burst back in, followed by Elsie. Ostrich feathers flew into the air.

“Tell me, now, for goodness sake, you must be finished by now!

John said to Sherlock, “Your brother should learn to be patient.”

“He’s nervous because he’s put on five pounds and his skirts might not fit,” Sherlock told him.

The brother snapped, “Three, Sherlock,” at which Sherlock looked smug.

“Don’t be too rough on yourself,” said John, looking at Sherlock, “that crepe bandage and the splint are only temporary. You’ll need to come back here to get the plaster put on in a few days. The swelling needs to go down before I can do that.”

“We’re moving on the day after tomorrow,” said Elsie. “I suppose we’ll find another doctor somewhere.” She hitched up the satchel, bursting with flyers, onto her shoulder.

“Goodbye,” said John, “I hope - I hope the show goes well.”

He knew in the back of his mind, as he slipped the sling back around Sherlock’s neck, that there was something he could say to make Sherlock feel better and could not for the life of him think what it could be, but he was only a little unnerved when Sherlock nodded, very slightly, but utterly seriously, like he understood exactly what John meant.

Sherlock got up, stiffly, not used yet to his immobile arm, and shook John’s hand, an ostentatiously adult gesture.

“I do hope you can see the show,” he said. “We have quite the line-up for the Christmas season.”

Then he picked up the violin, walked out of the door, and John was left looking at the poster Elsie had left for him, and wishing he knew what it was he’d meant to say.












AND THEN THEY NEVER SAW EACH OTHER AGAIN HAHAHAHA



but seriously, when will I be able to write paragraphs that are longer than one sentence? when will I be able to make a convincing excuse to ask my cousin to reenact how he broke his wrist? when will I be able to make it clear how far this is an AU?

John's RAMC requirements are the 1870s ones which btw also required doctors to be unmarried. I named Elsie after Elsie Carlisle, because I am a nerrrrrrd, though I'm basically picturing a teenage Zadie Smith (ever since I read her say that she took tapdancing lessons for ten years before realising MGM musicals just weren't being made any more, I have imagined there must be a universe where she was as a child a vaudevillian urchin tapdancer, SORRY ZADIE SMITH). I named Dr. Bell after Joseph Bell even though that's kind of a pointless reference that doesn't make narrative sense, ohhhh but I will MAKE it make sense just you wait.

I suppose I wrote in Elsie because I thought Sherlock's life was getting far too unhappy? - I thought, Dr Bell is John's non-sexual Ur-Sherlock, Sherlock needs a non-sexual Ur-John, i.e. Dr. Bell helps John along with finding exciting stuff to do in his life, thinking 'ah the dear boy, so keen', Elsie is protective and tries to smooth over the occasions when Sherlock is being socially bizarre. BUT of course neither of them are ultimately exactly right for these tasks - John's still craving adventure, Sherlock's still finding life very difficult. Also this piece of the story is not so silly and amusing and that annoys me, that it became this great pile of woe instead of silly fun, le sigh.
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