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Off The Streets

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He stared longingly at the freshly baked bread that had just been left out to cool on the windowsill. Even though he was across the streets from the bakery, he could still smell the scent of fresh bread, as it wafted towards him, causing his stomach to growl.

 

It had been so long since he’d had something proper to eat… definitely not since he arrived in this village.

 

However, with the number of people along the streets, pinching a loaf was a huge risk.

 

As he watched the crowd thin out slightly, he quickly made up his mind.

 

Glancing around quickly to make sure that no-one was watching, he ducked down behind some boxes and snuck over to the bakery. The closer he got, the stronger the scent from the fresh bread was, and as the smell got stronger, the louder his stomach got.

 

Silently he cursed it, willing it to be quiet so that it wouldn’t give him away.

 

By now he was very close to the bakery, pretty much under the window, huddled behind a cart and out of sight. His eyes never left the cooling bread on the windowsill.

 

Carefully, he watched the shop-keeper and the few people walking through the streets, waiting for the perfect opportunity to dart out, grab the bread and make a run for it before anyone could stop him. He moved into the pre-run position in anticipation.

 

When he finally saw an opening, he wasted no time sprinting from his hiding place and snatching the two loaves. He heard someone gasp as the baker cursed, prompting him to speed up.

 

Except he forgot one thing.

 

He was a small child, with a small stride. The baker was tall, fit with a longer stride, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the back of his shirt was grabbed, and he was pulled up off the ground.

 

“Lemme’ go! Lemme go!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

 

“Damn pest…” the baker muttered, “… stealing my bread. Someone call for Valentine!”

 

“Excuse me.”

 

Both the baker and Sid looked up at the new arrival. A priest, dressed in the traditional garb smiled warmly at the pair of them, not seeming to notice the tension in the air, “May I ask what’s happened here?”

 

“This… urchin was tryin’ to steal two loaves of bread Father Brown… little thief that he is.” The baker then shook Sid a little bit, as if trying to make him drop his ‘well-earned’ prizes.

 

Sid however, only clutched at them tighter, little whines coming out as a protest.

 

“Ah, I see.” The Father reached into his pockets, “How much are they?”

 

Sid’s eyes widened as he turned his full attention to the priest. The older man was nothing remarkable… just an average looking priest by the looks of it. Brown/blonde hair that was starting to thin, a goofy yet genuine smile on his face with sparkling blue eyes.

 

“I-I’m sorry Father?”

 

The Father tilted his head to the side, almost in confusion, the goofy grin still on his face, “Sorry? Whatever for? Are they no longer for sale? Have you decided to simply give them to this poor boy… who, if I may say so, looks terribly hungry?”

 

“W-well- I-I-I- “

 

The Baker glanced over at Sid, who tightened his grip on the bread, just as his tummy started to rumble again.

 

“And sounds terribly hungry…” Father Brown added, smiling at the baker. When there was no sign of the baker simply giving the bread away, the Father gave an almost disappointed sigh.

 

“I see.” He pulled out a few coins and handed them over, raising an eyebrow when the baker didn’t let Sid go.

 

When he did put Sid down, it was a little roughly.

 

Sid glanced up at the Father, receiving a warm smile.

 

“Hello there…” the older man greeted warmly, “… and what’s your name?”

 

Lowering his eyes, Sid just shook his head, his stomach growling once more before bolting in the other direction.

 

The Father’s warm smile never left his mind.

 

……………………………………………………………………………………….

 

Mrs McCarthy was long past expecting anything Father Brown did, to make sense. He was a traditional priest and if there was even the slightest hint of a mystery, the Father was there in the thick of it. She’s accepted that… or at least she thought she had.

 

Maybe she wasn’t as accepting as she’d hoped.

 

“I’m sorry,” She said, cutting the Father off mid-sentence, “Did you just say that some… child we’ve never met is moving in with you?”

 

“I hope so.” He shot her a charming smile, before turning back to sorting out the bed in the spare room.

 

“And… you’re giving him this spare room?”

 

“It’s not as if I’m using it.”

 

Mrs McCarthy pursed her lips, clearly wanting to protest, before shaking her head, “Do you even know his name?”

 

“Ummmm- “

 

“- So, that’s a no.”

 

Father Brown shrugged, “It was only a brief meeting…I didn’t really want to push him.”

 

“And what makes this boy so special?”

 

“There was just something about him.”

 

Mrs McCarthy stared at the Father for a few moments, before shaking her head wearily, “Alright.” She sighed, resigned, “He can stay. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. He’s your responsibility, I’ve got enough on my plate as it is.”

 

Enough on her plate, that she really didn’t need to be worrying about what kind of child was living with the Father.

 

She knew she was going to regret it though.

 

…………………………………………………………………………

 

A month later, Mrs McCarthy did regret it… bitterly.

 

But when the Father got an idea into his head, it was very hard to talk him out of it.

 

“Sidney Carter…” she scowled, “… what have you done to yourself now?!”

 

“It’s nothing.” Sidney insisted, avoiding her eyes with a scowl on his face as he clutched his arm. “I just bumped into a table.”

 

“Let me see the ‘nothing’ then.”

 

“I told you, I’m fine!”

 

“And I said, I want to see it.”

 

“It’s- “

 

“Sidney- “

 

“- fine! It’s fine!”

 

They both stood at opposite sides of the Father’s kitchen, both of them scowling at each other. Mrs McCarthy could see the edges of the forming bruise peeking out of Sid’s shirt, and she could tell that he was expecting her to really lose her temper.

 

It’s what he always expecting when they argued.

 

Didn’t stop him from arguing though… that was sort of a blessing in disguise.

 

“Alright…” she took a deep breath and calmed down, “… I don’t care how it happened. But I need to make sure you’re not seriously hurt.”

 

Sid straightened up abruptly, lifting up his chin. “You’re not my mum. What are you going to do if I don’t show you?”

 

“…. I’ll tell the Father.”

 

Sid blinked, the aggression falling from his face.

 

“And we all know what he’d say and do…” Mrs McCarthy continued, going in for the kill, “… he’d give you that disappointed look, shake his head and- “

 

He was in front of her in seconds, biting his lip slightly and pulling up his sleeve, “Please don’t tell the Father.”

 

Mrs McCarthy remained silent, examining the bruise as best she could. It wasn’t as bad as she first thought, but I was definitely bad. Nothing was swollen or appeared to be broken. “You’ve had experience hiding these sort of marks I see.”

 

“… I really did walk into a table this time.”

 

She stared at his face for a few moments, before sighing and nodding. “I know… you’ll need to rest that arm you know.”

 

He smiled faintly at that, and nodded, clearly not wanting to argue.

 

………………………………………………………………………………….

 

Next, Sid came in with a black eye, and Mrs McCarthy felt like her heart was going to break slightly.

 

“Please don’t tell the Father.” Sid whispered sullenly, slumping over slightly, “It’s nothing, really!”

 

“It doesn’t look like nothing.”

 

Sidney shuffled nervously from side to side, “If I tell you, will you promise not to say anything to the Father?”

 

She tilted her head to one side and just waited, vowing that if the little… darling was back to his old tricks, she would be the first to tell the Father.

 

“Some people… aren’t happy that I ain’t stealing for them anymore.” Sidney quietly confessed, stunning Mrs McCarthy, as he wrapped his arms around himself, “I’m trying to stay out of trouble, really!”

 

There was a brief moment of silence, before Mrs McCarthy spoke up again, “Tell me their names.”

 

“… What?”

 

“You heard me Sidney Carter. I want their names.” She shook her head, “They’re not getting away with this.”

 

He did eventually tell her, even if she had to threaten him with no desert.

 

……………………………………………………………………………..

 

“I’m sorry I’m so much trouble.” Sidney whispered guiltily one day over breakfast.

 

Mrs Mccarthy couldn’t help but chuckle slightly under her breath, taking care to hide the sound because Sidney looked ready to run again. “Compared to the Father, when he senses a mystery, you’re no trouble at all. More stressful than shopping, but not impossible to deal with.”

 

Sidney smiled, a crooked little thing that made him look like the kid he should be.

 

“Why don’t you help me cook dinner?” she asked, “You can help peel potatoes for the roast tonight?

 

“Ooo, we’re having a roast?”

 

“Not unless you get to work! Chop, chop!”

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

“I am sorry you know.”

 

Mrs McCarthy frowned at the quiet statement from the Father, prompting her to turn around frown at the way he avoided looking her in the eye. “Why?” she asked, “What have you done now?”

 

“I’m just… I know that you don’t like that I’ve brought Sidney to live with me. I couldn’t leave him out there.”

 

She knew that… in the same position, she’d probably have done the same.

 

“I didn’t think about how much boys of that age eat… how much it would cost.”

 

Mrs McCarthy straightened up, “If I had any problem with it, I’d stop feeding him every time he begs for one of my award-winning strawberry scones.”

 

“Yes, I know, but- “

 

“There is no but. I am happy that Sidney is off the streets… you did the right thing Father. You usually always do.”