“Where’d you get the idea for the name Gladstone?” Greg Lestrade asked as the gangly puppy mauled his trainer with small enthusiastic play-growls.
“The carrier he came in,” John replied as he handed Greg one of the two beers he’d just pulled from the fridge. “It was a Gladstone bag… so… there you go.”
Taking the bottle, Greg glanced at John for just a beat or two longer than receiving his friendly beer ought to entail. “Cheers. I’m surprised Mrs. Hudson didn’t have a fit.”
“Me, too, actually, but we’ve an understanding that anything he ruins, I’ll replace.” John took a drink and watched the pup instead of Greg, knowing he was being assessed as much by Detective Inspector Lestrade as he was by his friend Greg. “I’m alright.”
“Never said you weren’t,” Greg answered easily, shaking his foot, renewing the intensity of the attack and bringing the volume of puppy-growls up again. “Strong little bugger.”
“Going to be big, but… well…” Shrugging, John could tell Gladstone was getting too worked up and reached out to nudge him in the hip. “Easy, boy.”
Gladstone broke off to look over at John, one of Greg’s shoelaces still in his mouth, triangular upright ears pricked toward his master. John rubbed the dog’s hip with his shoe-tip, letting him know it was alright.
“Play nice, Gladstone,” John murmured. The dog’s mouth fell open and he panted happily for a moment or two before returning to the conquest of Greg’s shoe, but he wasn’t tearing at them anymore, just gnawing them playfully.
“Smart, hm?” Greg asked.
“Very. I’ve looked up obedience training and downloaded some guides. If he’s going to be as big as those paws promise, he’ll have to be trained.” John spoke firmly, knowledgeably, because he’d had a few dogs in the past and knew what a mess they could make; however, he couldn’t keep the fondness from his tone. Only a month now and he loved the little beast, despite the difficulties of potty-training and teething and the immense chore of pet-proofing the flat from knee-level down.
“God, I know. One of my first girlfriends had a mastiff that would just barrel into people and knock them over. All in fun, mind. He thought he was being friendly, but he was constantly getting people banged up and I almost bashed my brains out on a table once when he bowled me over.” Greg laughed, though, so obviously nothing genuinely serious had occurred, but John nodded, smiling just a bit in answer to Greg’s. “John, a bunch of us are getting together next week for a card game, I thought you might like to join us.”
John shook his head, sipping his beer. He wasn’t ready. Whenever he spent any appreciable time with anyone who knew he’d been close friends with Sherlock, the topic inevitably came up. Inevitably ended up with John feeling heartsick or furious, sometimes both.
“John, you can’t do this. It’s not good for you.” Greg’s voice was kind, but not condescending. He was a good man and John truly liked him. His face genuinely sincere, Greg rested his elbows on his knees and held John’s eyes as he said in a low, slightly rough-edged tone, “Look, I know it sucks balls what they’re all saying. No one’s sorrier than I about it, especially considering what I…”
“Don’t. It’s alright. I know.” John held out a hand as if he would touch Greg’s nearest arm, but the gap between them was just a bit too large for it. “That’s what Moriarty was good at, twisting things. He meant for everyone to turn against Sherlock—” Breaking off, the name still sometimes too hard to say aloud without his throat closing and his eyes stinging.
It had been just over two months now, and a part of him grumbled that it was time to man-up and start getting on with his life, but John couldn’t seem to stop feeling like it had only just happened. He still dreamt that moment in the street, still woke with his hand stretched out, fingers curled as if Sherlock’s wrist were there. Half the time he would remember feeling a weak flutter there and half the time… nothing.
Back then, almost two days after witnessing his dearest friend in the world plunge to his death from the roof of Bart’s, John had swum to the surface of lucidity to be told he’d had a nasty concussion—he still doubted it wasn’t something more insidious, but could prove nothing—and that Sherlock’s body had already been officially identified, autopsied, and cremated.
John was still a little bit proud of the fact that Mycroft’s security people hadn’t even suspected what he’d been about to do before he knocked the elder Holmes brother on his arse with a single rage-fueled punch. Greg told him later that he’d loosened two of Mycroft’s teeth and the man was going to have to have a crown redone, but his jaw hadn’t been broken. Not for lack of John’s trying. He hadn’t spoken more than a dozen words to Mycroft since.
The thing was, John was relatively sure Mycroft knew why and—damn the man—probably even forgave him. If only for his dead brother’s sake. He hadn’t pressed charges, had John disappeared or killed, and had apparently paid the rent on the flat at 221b Baker Street through the end of the year. Mrs. Hudson hadn’t meant to tell John, but when he started getting angry, she’d talked him ‘round to seeing it as Mycroft only fulfilling his brother’s obligations. John had let it go, planning to argue the point later, when he could talk to Mycroft rationally.
“John? C’mon, John,” Greg said, startling John slightly by touching his hand to John’s shoulder. John hadn’t even noticed him get up.
Nodding, even as he was blinking furiously, John didn’t flinch away from the concerned touch, but didn’t lean into it, either. “I’m alright,” he said after a thick swallow.
A soft whine alerted John a moment before sixteen pounds of puppy jump-scrabble-crawled up John’s legs and into his lap, cold nose prodding John’s jaw and cheek, warm tongue slurping in its wake. Gladstone forced John to wrap his free arm around him to keep the silly pup from falling.
“See? You’re worrying the dog,” chided Greg gently.
“Can’t have that,” replied John hoarsely, turning his face this way and that to avoid getting a slimy puppy tongue up his nose or in his mouth. “Okay, Gladstone, okay!” John put his beer on the nearby table and leaned back a bit, holding the puppy more securely, letting him lay along John’s torso and wriggle his whole body in an effort to wag his tail faster and harder.
Greg squeezed John’s shoulder, then petted the puppy as the animal did his best to adore John out of his mood. “I think I know why Mrs. Hudson hasn’t complained much about this little guy.”
Smiling just a little, fruffling Gladstone’s head so his ears wobbled and his tongue lolled happily, John nodded, just saying softly, “Yeah.”