John stands in the sitting room doorway, plastic shopping bags drooping from around his wrists. They are dripping with rainwater, as is his coat. He gives Sherlock a look, mouth slightly open and one brow a little higher than the other. His arms come up to convey his confusion, lifted outwards from his body.
“I know your birthday was last month, but Molly wouldn’t let me take him until he was ten weeks old.”
“I require more of an explanation than that.”
The ghost of an almost-smile flitters over Sherlock’s face. “Of course you do.”
“Don’t.” There is a warning in John’s voice and in his eyes. He crosses the room in swift, agitated strides, setting the shopping on the kitchen table and taking off his coat. Turning to face Sherlock, he fixes him with a serious stare the entire way to his armchair. Upon sitting, he lowers his head to the object of his distress, curled happily in Sherlock’s hands. “You didn’t think to ask me what I thought?”
“Then it would hardly have been a surprise, John,” Sherlock says a little dramatically. “Besides, I didn’t need to. You’re a cat person.” He looks up into John’s face, as though waiting for a signal or code word.
John sighs. “Go on, let’s hear it.”
“Cat hair can linger for years, and several still remain on the surfaces in your bedroom: duvet, coats from years past, the insides of your shoes. Gray and black, probably a silver tabby—“
“Gladys,” John nods, looking a little forlorn.
“—The copious amounts on the duvet suggest you let the cat sleep in the bed with you; you were very attached to your pet. You don’t become visibly upset when presented with those horrid animal support ads until the first cat is displayed, upon which you immediately look away and change the channel. Seeing dogs in states of distress makes you upset, but not nearly as much as suffering cats. In conclusion, you’re very fond of cats, and therefore there was no need to ask for your opinion on getting one.”
“But what about Mrs. Hudson?” John asks, bringing a hand to his temple. “Did you think to ask if our landlady approved of pets at all, much less a cat?”
“Unnecessary; Mrs. Hudson loves cats. Her sitting room is covered in photos of cats from years past.”
“Okay, Sherlock, that’s fine, yes, but did you actually ask her?”
Sherlock looks down at the furry creature purring in his hands. The kitten, finally being addressed directly, raises its head to stare up at him and squints its little grey-green eyes in satisfaction. Sherlock cracks a tiny grin. He was always rather fond of cats as well.
“No.” He makes direct eye contact with John and holds his gaze for a long time.
John is clearly upset. His mouth is set in a terse line and his fingers are digging into the arms of his chair. In an attempt to distract John from the current topic of discussion, Sherlock holds out his hands, full of inquisitively sniffing kitten, to John. John’s eyes immediately soften when presented with his belated birthday gift, though they harden again when he realizes what Sherlock is doing. Regardless, he eagerly takes the offered kitten into his arms, holding it tenderly to his chest and smiling when it mews and bumps its fuzzy head underneath his chin. Crisis averted, Sherlock stands to attend to his chemistry titration in the kitchen.
“Oh no, no no no,” John says around the tiny paws that are trying to climb his face, “We are not done, Sherlock. Get back here.” Knowing that Sherlock will not, in fact, get back here, John stands to follow him in the kitchen. The kitten digs its claws into John’s cardigan at the sudden change in distance from the floor and he grimaces. “You said Molly gave you the kitten?”
“Oh yes, you remember.” Sherlock snaps on a pair of bright turquoise rubber gloves. “Her Bengal queen had one more kitten than she had anticipated. She had not found a buyer for the extra so I offered to take it off her hands.”
“Bengal?” John scoops the kitten from his shoulder to inspect it. His first observations had revealed it to be nothing more than abhorrently cute and extremely small, still able to fit in the cup of his hands at ten weeks old, but now that he was actually looking at it, he was struck by its exotic markings. The kitten’s fur is a vibrant orange-brown and is covered black rosettes, almost like a leopard. Its belly is decked out in little black spots and the face is decorated with an intricate pattern of black stripes. Its little mouth is lined with little black lips, and the fur around them is lighter, almost white, giving it an adorable little goatee of sorts. “Christ, but that must have been expensive,” he breathes.
“Molly was selling the others for £600, but she let me have him for £300, provided we neuter him.” He waves off John’s stunned expression with a hideously gloved hand. “Runt of the litter, short notice buyer, all of that.”
“Jesus, Sherlock! £300!” John sputters. The kitten cries and attempts to climb over his shoulder and down his back before John grabs at it again. “You spent £300 on—on a cat!”
“Bengals are very valuable, John!” Sherlock says exasperatedly over the beaker of his dark pink titration. “They’re bred with small Asian leopard cats for their exotic appearance. They’re intelligent, energetic, curious, and affectionate. Most grow to be over twenty pounds. Very special cats, and I got that one for a very good price. A bargain! Look, he even has papers, outstanding genealogy. I checked. Molly’s a very well-respected breeder.”
John can’t help but be astounded at how unsurprised he is to learn that about Molly Hooper. “Still, Sherlock, that’s a lot of money.”
Sherlock huffs. Mouth set in a grumpy line, he rips off his gloves and marches over, arms reaching out for the kitten. “Well, if you can’t appreciate—“
“Hey, wait a minute now!” John swiftly steps back, holding the kitten out of Sherlock’s reach. He feels like he’s a small boy again and refusing to share his colored pencils with Harry. “I didn’t say I didn’t appreciate anything!”
“It’s your birthday gift.” Sherlock has stopped grabbing for the cat now. He sounds almost vulnerable when he speaks. Bashful, even. “I wanted… It had to be special.”
“Sherlock, you bought me a new electric razor and got us tickets for bloody Cirque du Soleil on my birthday.” John remembers that night fondly; afterwards they had gone to a sushi bar because it was half-price sashimi night and John had grown rather fond of Japanese. “Besides, that was almost three weeks ago.”
“I told you, Molly wouldn’t let me take him until he was ten weeks!” Sherlock sits back down at the kitchen table, arms crossed over his chest resolutely. “I thought you would like it.” The bashful tone is back and he’s turned his head so he’s facing away from John. “You miss your other cat, Gladys—ghastly name for a cat, might I add—and you get lonely sometimes. You can’t keep a girlfriend—“
“Oh, thanks for that, mate, really.”
“A cat would make up for the lack of close companionship. Molly has her kittens to keep her company when her relationships fail. Now you have your own. It’s the same concept, really.”
There are so many things John wants to say but doesn’t. Particularly something about the reason his girlfriends all turn tail and run, namely his overly demanding and sometimes aggressive flat mate. “I…” He inhales and exhales. Reaches out and puts a hand on Sherlock’s shoulder. His head head snaps back to him.
“Thank you, Sherlock.”
He looks almost surprised. His eyes widen by a just a fraction and a small flush dusts his ridiculous cheekbones. John knows he’s not really used to hearing those words from anyone, and the thought sends a little dart of pain through his chest. Nose in the air and lips pursed almost haughtily, Sherlock extends his neck in a single, slow nod and his eyes break away from John’s again.
“You are welcome.”
John smiles and gives Sherlock’s shoulder a friendly clap. His other hand is occupied with now squirming kitten and he moves to hand him to Sherlock so he can put away the shopping. “So it’s a boy?” he asks, being careful not to make too much noise with the plastic bags. Gladys had always been skittish of them and he didn’t want to frighten the new kitten. “What should his name be?”
“His name is Gladstone.”
John’s brow creases. The kitten looks up at Sherlock and meows, quite loudly. Sherlock smiles proudly and John looks away with a strange fluttering in his stomach.
"I can’t even name my own kitten?”
“Gladstone is a fine name. Listen; he even responds to it.” Sherlock fixes the kitten with his glass-colored eyes. “Gladstone.”
The kitten meows again and Sherlock grins again. John huffs. He feels oddly betrayed by the tiny feline cupped in Sherlock’s hands. “He’s probably crying because he’s starving. Did you get any kitten food?”
“Molly gave me some when I picked him up this afternoon.” Sherlock points to a cupboard. “Beside the rainforest soil samples. Rainforest, John!”
John’s hand bypasses the marshland soil samples because, for fuck’s sake, marsh dirt looks exactly like jungle dirt at first glance, and grabs the small bag of dry kitten food. A sudden thought hits him. “Sherlock,” he says suspiciously, “did you pick up anything else for the kitten? Toys? A litter box?”
“No, but you have some errands to run, John.” Sherlock smiles cheekily at him and goes back to stroking Gladstone’s chin. Because, given that new information, John really doesn’t have the patience to argue over the cat’s bloody name anymore.
“Oh my god,” he mutters. “You would. You would bring home a kitten without buying the necessities. You didn't even forget about it, just assumed I would do it.” Slinging the bag of kitten food on the table near Sherlock, he puts his raincoat back on and makes a point to take Sherlock’s debit card. “Do not argue with me when I don’t buy the right color litter pan, or whatever it is you decide to be pissy about when I get back.”
As he descends the staircase to the front door, he hears Sherlock call an echoing “Happy birthday, John,” from the kitchen. Despite himself, John grins as he opens the door and keeps grinning after he locks the door behind him and begins his walk to the nearest pet shop.