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John Watson wasn't a cat person. Wasn't much of a dog person, either, if he was going to be honest. Wasn't much of a pet person just in general. He supposed he could place the blame on his parents for not having a cheerful old golden retriever when he was growing up, no ratty old cat named Patches or something. He'd never even had a goldfish or a hamster, for that matter. He'd never been bitter or angry about that, of course—it had simply been the way it was. When his schoolmates had had to walk their dogs or clear the litter boxes, when they'd come to school puffy-eyed and miserable because old Scrabbles their gerbil had been lying stone dead on his wheel when they woke up that morning, John had been outside kicking a football or practicing for rugby. He liked animals, of course, but he'd just...never had any pressing desire to share his living space with one.

 

And he still didn't. The little flat he'd moved into after clearing out of 221b Baker Street was quiet and peaceful, not quite large enough to feel empty and not nearly small enough to feel cramped. The only things he'd kept from the old flat was the skull (now placed just out of sight on the top shelf of the tallest bookcase) and one of Sherlock's second-best scarves. (The best having been, of course, buried with him on that awful day.) It had been a sentimental thing but, surprisingly enough, had yet to send John into broken-down hysterics. Sometimes he wore it, on the coldest days during the coldest months of the year, but usually it simply hung on the hook, mostly hidden by his coat. John didn't make a point of looking at it, but he also didn't make a point of not looking at it. He imagined that, when he'd first moved in, it had still retained a bit of Sherlock's scent—sweat and shampoo and just his skin in general—but it had certainly faded by now. It...it was just a nice scarf, with very few bad memories attached. He liked it.

 

The lady in the flat below him had a dog—a great big shaggy mess of a thing, far too large for the small building, but quiet, at least. She was good-natured and friendly—the dog, that is: the woman was largely uninterested—but with the bad habit of jumping up on John's chest with her muddy paws when he walked into the yard. That was more human-animal interaction than John had had for most of his life, and more than he was really looking for.

 

One evening, though, as John was on his way home from his new job at a new clinic far away from his old place (Sarah's eyes, despite her best efforts, always held too much pity for John's tastes), he heard an unfamiliar sound coming from the tiny, gated yard of his building. Maggie—the dog—seemed to be barking and growling at something. As John got closer, he heard a strange hissing sound, punctuated now and then by loud yowling. When he finally got close enough to see what was going on, he saw the usually-sweet Maggie snapping at what appeared to be the top of an old black mop back into the corner of the yard. After a moment, the mop stretched out a paw and swiped Maggie right across the nose, sending her skittering backwards but only for a moment.

 

“Hey!” he snapped. Just because he didn't love cats didn't mean he wanted this one to get mauled. Not to mention the fact that it would be hard to look at the big old mutt the same way ever again if she managed to kill the poor cat. “Maggie! Off!” Apparently his Army Voice worked on canines as well as humans, because, after a startled glance up at the short man in the gate, the dog finally darted to the other side of the yard. That didn't get her very far away, of course—the flat was just on the outskirts of town, but that didn't mean that there was a lot of space for her to roam—but it worked well enough.

 

John continued on to the door, figuring that was that, but as he fumbled in his pockets, he heard a sound on the walk behind him. He turned around to see the mop—er, cat—sitting just a few feet away from him, looking at him with blue eyes. John found himself wondering at that (the only other black cats he'd ever seen all had green eyes) but not for long.

 

“You too,” he said. “Go on, now. Scat!” He made himself very large, took a menacing step toward the stray, but it did nothing, not even when he threw his arms out. The cat lifted one paw and began to lick it. John shook his head. “Fine, that's fine. The dog's not going to stay away from you forever, and it's not like I'm going to stick around all night to save your life again. Your funeral.” He turned back to the door and unlocked it, and even before he was crossing the threshold, the furry old lump had darted between his legs into the building. He swore under his breath and went after it, chasing it up the stairs. It seemed to melt into the shadows as he reached his door, and after a cursory glance around the top of the stairs, John shrugged (a bit guiltily, of course: who knew what havoc the cat would wreak in an enclosed space) and entered his flat.

 

Just before he could get his door closed, he saw another streak of dusty black shoot into the room and over behind the sofa. Well, great. Maybe that's what he got for not caring around leaving the thing in the building. John grunted as he sank to his knees to try to dig the blasted creature out. Psychosomatic or no, his limp had started to return just after the—well, after, anyway—and while he didn't need the cane anymore, his leg still ached constantly. The cat was just out of reach, and it seemed to know it: it just sat there blinking at John in the half-light of the room. It looked...satisfied.

 

“You're not staying here, you know that, right?” John gritted out, giving one more pointless attempt at grabbing it. “I don't have a bloody thing in this whole place that will interest you and I don't even like cats.”

 

The cat was unimpressed. It stretched out on the floor now with a yawn (boredom, most likely, the arrogant thing...) but remained out of reach. John swore again.

 

“You want me to get the broom? I don't want to hurt you but I don't want you pissing all over my carpets.”

 

A beeseeching mew, and another yawn. Well...the thing had just survived an attack by a vicious monster, John found himself reasoning, and didn't cats sleep most of the day anyway? Nocturnal creatures or no, he could understand the thing wanting to nap or something. He sighed, feeling thoroughly ridiculous.

 

“Fine. You win.” He raised his hands, palm outwards, in defeat. “Stay there, see if I care.” He struggled to his feet and went into the kitchen to start making dinner. Molly was coming over later, and he'd agreed to cook for her.

 

That was something—Molly. Strangely enough, she never looked at John with pity, or at least she kept it hidden well enough and looked away quickly enough that John never caught her. She was also strong, stronger than he would have expected. To say that her thing for Sherlock had been glaringly obvious would have been a very kind understatement, but she was never weepy or anything like that. She'd go along with John's wistful stories when he got into a really sentimental, reminiscent mood, but she was always smiling that sweet smile of hers and keeping things just upbeat enough.

 

He didn't fancy her, and she had absolutely no interest in him, either. That had been made abundantly clear one night early on in the horrors. John had been astoundingly drunk one evening and she'd helped him home to Baker Street. He'd made a move: a clumsy, ill-timed and (he cringed just thinking about it) sloppy kiss, but she had sidestepped it easily and laughed—actually laughed. Once his pride had gotten over her giggles, things had gone back to normal between them, only...friendlier. They saw each other about a night a week, sometimes every two weeks when their schedules got really crazy. It was nice.

 

John dropped two pieces of salmon onto a pan and, with a thoughtful look towards the sofa, then added a third, the smallest piece in the package. If the cat disappeared, then at least he'd have something to eat if he got a break tomorrow. He sprinkled the fish with an herb mixture he'd gotten at the shops ages ago, but left the smaller piece untouched and far from the other two. He had no idea what was toxic to cats, and he didn't want to risk finding that thing dead on the rug.

 

John didn't hum while he cooked, didn't dance or recite poetry or talk to himself as though he had his own cooking show. Too often lately he found himself wondering if he'd used to do such things, but he could never remember. He was now in the practice of Not Remembering, so it was an effort to recall any memories, even ones from before he met—

 

The buzzer sounded, and John rushed to press the button that would allow Molly into the building. That was another nice thing about this building: the technology. Presently, his guest arrived with a friendly grin and shrugged off her coat. Their greetings were typical and unremarkable, and John offered her something to drink while she waited for everything to be ready. She retired to the sofa while John prepared a salad.

 

Just as he was placing the last of the meal on the table, he heard a delighted squeal coming from the direction of the sitting room. What in the... He poked his head through the doorway and found the raggedy black cat curled up on the sofa right next to Molly. She was scratching it behind the ears and it looked rather pleased with itself. “When did you get a cat?!” She exclaimed happily. “I love cats!”

 

John shrugged. “I didn't. It just sort of...followed me home tonight.” A realization struck him. “Shit, Molly, don't touch it, it might have fleas or something.”

 

Molly pulled the creature into her lap and set about inspecting it carefully. The cat, surprisingly, remained complacent. All the cats John had ever known would have been scratching and clawing their way free. “No, he's fine,” she finally pronounced, nuzzling her nose against the cat's. “Completely clean, though he is a little bit too skinny for a guy his size.” She released the cat and, instead of retreating back behind the sofa, it merely curled up in her lap. Molly squealed again, but softer this time. “John, look how lovey he is! Definitely a he, though, he hasn't been...you know...fixed. I wonder if he even has a home.”

 

If the cat knew the answer, he revealed nothing. John studied the two of them for one long moment and then tilted his head toward the table. “Food's getting cold,” he finally said. “Or...warm, in the case of the salad, I guess.”

 

Molly reluctantly deposited the cat back onto the sofa (John was tempted to say something about keeping him off the furniture, but it was already a shabby old couch: what could one cat do to it?), then quickly washed her hands and joined him at the table. Their conversation was familiar and easy. Mostly they wound up talking about their respective patients. A part of John realized that dead people and weeping infections were hardly normal dinnertime conversation, but then he was hardly normal anymore.

 

When they had finished eating, Molly cleared everything away (she insisted), and John deposited the extra fish onto a small plate, which he placed next to the side of the couch. The cat had disappeared again, and he could just make out the glint of one of its strange eyes in the shadows. He returned to insist upon drying the dishes, at least and by the time they retired to the couch with their mugs of tea, the little plate was empty.

 

“You're going to need supplies!” Molly exclaimed, switching once more into John There's a Kitty Here! mode. “You'll need a box, and some dishes, and some food, because John you can't serve him real salmon all the time, it's hardly a balanced diet, and probably a collar—oh, wouldn't purple look lovely with his fur?—and toys and maybe treats and, oh a bed and a scratching post and—”

 

She paused to draw in a breath and John took advantage of the moment. “Molly, I'm not keeping him. I don't know where he came from. There could be some kid outside right now looking for him. Not to mention he could have any number of diseases and, really, Molly, I'm not a cat person.”

 

The woman looked over at him and arched her eyebrow in amusement. He followed her gaze along his body and down to his fingers, which were stroking absently through the strange cat's fur. It had apparently given up its hiding spot and jumped onto the sofa again during Molly's stream of words. It was pressed against his thigh and he could feel the rumbling vibrations as it purred, eyes narrowing into slits with pleasure. He sighed.

 

“Let me take him to a vet tomorrow while you're working,” she almost pleaded. “I'll get him looked at and get him all the shots he needs and I'll have him checked to see if he's chipped or tattooed or anything, alright?” John was about to protest, something about the hassle or the cost or the combination of the two, but she powered on ahead. “I know a guy, a student, he...kind of owes me a favor.” She blushed, which intrigued John but he didn't push. “And I never got you a housewarming present, did I? Please, John. Please?” Her eyes were wide and pleading now, and she reminded him so much of her old self (small, sad, so pathetic and really in need of protection from Sher—no.) that he relented for the second time that night. Maybe he was growing mellower with age. Maybe he was going soft.

 

“Alright. Sure. If he's still around tomorrow whenever you stop by, and he doesn't run off when you try to take him, go right ahead.” He wasn't convinced that the cat would even stick around for the rest of the night, let alone throughout the day tomorrow, and certainly not while Molly tried to haul him to a vet. Molly let out one more excited squeal and leaned forward to throw her arms around his neck (jostling the cat in the process and earning the two of them a look of irritation), then settled back into the couch. There was a James Bond marathon already in progress on the telly, and that was enough to occupy them for the rest of the night, until Molly finally rose and excused herself.

 

The door closed behind her, and John turned to look at the cat. “Just me and you now,” he said out loud, with another shrug. “Look, I'll leave a window open for you if you want to get out, because there's no way in hell that I'm leaving the door open, alright?”

 

The cat just blinked at him.

 

John was about to ask it if it would be comfortable there on the couch before he realized what he was doing, and pressed his hands against his face. Cats couldn't actually answer back. Rolling his eyes, he grabbed a handful of towels and piled them down at the other end of the couch, just in case it wanted...right. Still a cat. Very few actual needs and/or wants. Well, just in case, anyway. He wrestled one of the windows open, after making sure that it led to a ledge large enough for a small but graceful creature to follow until it, and made his way to bed. 

Chapter Text

When he woke up the next morning, bleary-eyed and with a mouth reeking of morning breath, John padded across his room into the bathroom. On his way, he trod across a pile of his jumpers—the pile he'd been meaning to take to the laundrette. His foot brushed against something alarmingly warm and furry, and he threw himself off-balance just before placing all his weight onto the offending foot. He was caught up in a rush of panic for a moment, before silvery-blue eyes glared up at him and brought memories of the night before flooding back. The cat, to its credit, did not hiss or take a swipe at him.

 

Sorry, mate,” he apologized (it was too early for him to feel self-conscious about talking to an animal just yet), and reached down to pat its head. The cat chirruped and wound itself through John's legs before leading him out of the room.

 

John showered quickly and ate breakfast just as quickly, remembering the cat only when he heard a plaintive meow in the doorway. He didn't have time to bake any more salmon before work, and he obviously didn't happen to have any cans of cat food sitting around anywhere. “Uh...” he mumbled, searching through his pantry and deciding what was the least-bad idea to give to a cat. After a moment, his fingers closed around exactly what he was looking for—a can of tuna. It had been a long time since he'd bought tuna, but—he checked the date—it was still good. He opened it quickly and plunked it down onto another little plate. “Don't go getting spoiled, alright? Just because I've fed you real stuff twice now doesn't mean it's going to become a habit. It's going to be canned crap from here on out. If that bothers you...well, the window's open, alright?”

 

The cat ignored him, already devouring the offering. On his way out the door, John remembered that the cat had no water, and rushed back into the kitchen to quickly fill a bowl. He was running late now, or he would be very soon, and he groaned as he pulled the door shut behind him. After hiding his spare keys under a tacky ceramic rabbit in the yard he hurried on his way to work. He'd text Molly the location on the way.

 

***

 

[11:06]Okay. He hates this travel carrier but it might be because it still smells like Boots.

 

[11:15] Did you know that your cat will sit perfectly fine in a regular seat?

 

[11:19] Did you know that taxi drivers don't notice when you've got a cat sitting on their backseat?

 

[11:23] Did you know that taxi drivers don't like it when they notice you've got a cat sitting on their backseat?

 

[12:37] Clean bill of health! He's perfect! Except underweight like I said! And no chip or anything!

 

[12:59] What time do you get off tonight? I might catnap your cat until you get home. So fluffy!

 

[13:03] What are you going to name him? It'd better not be something like Tom.

 

[13:14] John. You're not actually going to name him Tom, are you?

 

[13:16] If you name this beautiful cat Tom, I am going to permanently catnap him.

 

[13:32] Call me when you get home.

 

When John finally got time to check his mobile, he had to laugh at the series of texts from Molly. He slipped into his coat and bade goodbye to the woman sitting at the desk on his way out—Mary, possibly, or...Terry—dialing in Molly's number as he hailed a cab. She sounded almost guilty.

 

“John! Don't be mad at me, okay? I...may have gotten a bit carried away.”

 

That didn't sound good. “What are you talking about? Where are you?”

 

The voice on the other end of the line answered just a bit too quickly, a bit too chipper. “I'm at your flat! I just popped out to the shops to pick up some things for your cat, since I noticed you don't have any cat food or anything, and...” The line went still for a moment or two as she hesitated. The back of John's neck prickled, like he was being watched, which was ridiculous because obviously it was just him and the driver here: everyone else was flying by too quickly to notice him. “Well, you'll see when you get here, I guess.” There was a clicking sound, and then the line went dead. John stared at his mobile a bit uneasily, but then sat back and fretted until they pulled up in front of his new building.

 

The first thing John noticed was a large carpet-covered structure standing just a few feet from the door. The second thing he noticed was Molly's sheepish face just a few feet from the carpet-covered structure. “It's a scratching post slash climbing tower!” she said, holding her arms out as though presenting it to an audience. “And your cat loves it!” She attempted a winning smile, but her face looked just a bit too guilty for it to be successful. As if on cue, a shaggy black head poked out of one of the holes in the tower, just above the height of John's waist and mewed softly. John grinned despite himself and reached out to pet the cat. It was then that he noticed the thin purple collar, the color rich and brilliant in contrast with the dark fur. “He needed a collar,” Molly explained. “Everything that I got is completely practical. Cats need toys to be entertained, and obviously you needed a food and water dish, and cats really do better with a wide variety of foods in their diet, and...” She made her way into the kitchen as she spoke. John thought it wise to follow her.

 

A strange blue contraption sat on the floor, near the wall. It was clear that Molly had tried to put it somewhere out of the way, but it was just the right size to always be in the way in the small kitchen. “Cats don't really like drinking water that's been sitting,” she explained as she crouched next to it. “So this bowl sort of, you know, runs it through like a fountain. It's good because then he'll want to drink more water, which is good for cats anyway.” John vaguely remember the kidney infection that had killed Molly's cat just a few months ago, and managed a grateful smile. He couldn't refuse these gifts from Molly, because they weren't for him. They were for the cat, and maybe also the cat she had lost.

 

“Thank you, Molly. You've been brilliant, seriously. A huge help. You didn't need to go to all this, though...” John tried not to think of how much money she must have spent on this stray cat who might, ultimately, end up leaving him anyway. Instead, he folded her into a friendly embrace. After a moment or two, a soft thud on the table beside them made them pull apart. The cat was now sitting there and looking at them. He almost looked betrayed, and John had to laugh.

 

“He doesn't like that we're not paying attention to him anymore,” Molly observed, and though it still seemed strange to anthropomorphize an animal like that, John had to agree with her. He hesitated for a moment, then reached out to pick up the cat—his cat. He was half afraid that the thing would try to scratch or bite him, or that he would hiss and back away, but the interaction went off without a hitch. Soon the cat was purring contentedly in his arms, pressing the top of his furry head against the underside of John's chin. Cat person or no, John thought to himself, I could really get used to this.

 

***

 

And he did.

 

At his insistence, he and Molly had (reluctantly) put up “Found: Cat” fliers, but as the weeks went by with no calls, John began to relax a bit. He also stopped expecting the cat to have disappeared each morning, and, as the days got colder, finally closed the window in the sitting room. They quickly settled into a routine: John would wake up, would now step over the cat, who would almost always wind up sleeping in whatever clothes John had discarded from the day before, and would get ready for work. During breakfast, the cat would jump up onto the table. John would remove the cat from the table. The cat would then wind himself through John's legs as he sipped his tea or coffee. John would put down a bit of food and make sure the weird fountain-bowl thing had plenty of water in it, and head off to work.

 

When he got home, if Molly hadn't slipped into the apartment to play with the cat (he'd never asked for the spare keys back, and she hadn't volunteered them), he'd make dinner for himself. The cat would jump up onto the counter to watch. He would remove the cat from the counter. He soon started putting the cat in a chair instead of the floor, feeling a bit guilty for not letting him watch him cook. He soon stopped feeling ridiculous for feeling guilty for not letting him watch him cook. After dinner, he would put down a bit more food for the cat and, if necessary, give him more fresh water.

 

Sometimes, on Friday or Saturday nights, he would go out to a pub with Lestrade, talk about anything and everything except what actually mattered. Greg and Molly were the only ones who knew better than to bring up Sherlock, and John was immeasurably grateful for them. Usually, John stayed in, having long since given up on going out on more than one date with the same woman. On these nights, he would brew two cups of tea, dump one down the drain with a sigh, take his cup to the couch, and read through medical texts or the newspaper or sometimes a novel or two. When he was feeling a bit more lazy, he would forgo the reading and grab a beer and the remote control, watching mindless telly until bedtime. Whichever one he ended up doing, the cat inevitably wound up jumping up onto the couch and stretching out next to him with his paws pressing against John's thigh. John never removed the cat from the couch. He would reach out and pat his quiet little friend, scratching his belly until the playful bites turned just a bit more serious. Eventually, his hand would still on the cat's back and a calm feeling of peace would descend over the flat.

 

When it came time for bed, John would rise, rinse out his cup, and give the cat one last pat before heading to his room. The cat would pad over to the cushion Molly had bought him to use as a bed, but John knew that, when he woke up the next morning, the cat would be on the floor in his room.

 

Less frequently, if Molly was over, they would talk about their days over dinner, like usual. Sometimes they went out for drink or to the cinema. It was still just friendly, and soon Molly began talking about the new guy she was seeing—the vet she'd taken the cat to. She looked happy when she talked about him, and John couldn't help but feel happy for her. If they both went back to John's flat after their night out, coming through the door laughing and talking about some funny scene from the movie or possibly just a bit too loud, a bit too tipsy, the cat would almost always stare evenly at them from the top of his scratching post slash climbing tower. He seemed to disapprove of their antics.

 

One night, returning home just a bit more wobbly than usual, John broke down into giggles at the serious look on the cat's face. Molly, less inebriated but only just, looked at him with confusion. “He looks so angry!” he laughed, gesturing at the feline presiding over the entrance. His giggles were catching, apparently, because Molly tittered a bit as well.

 

“What's his name, anyway?” she finally asked, as they made their way over to the sofa. John was not going to be standing up for much longer, so he figured he might as well embrace it and take a seat. He'd meant to reply that he still hadn't got one, that he was simply “the cat” and something about how he didn't really even need a name, did he, but his mouth answered before he could get his brain into gear.

 

“Sherlock.”

 

The name felt sharp in his mouth, and he realized he hadn't spoken it in months now. He sobered immediately, looking across the room at the cat, who was still perched at the top of the tower. Molly's laughter dried up as well. She sat up a bit straighter.

 

“John...” Her voice sounded strange, uncomfortable. Maybe this was what it sounded like when she pitied someone.

 

“No, it is.” Might as well go with it now, yeah? “Christ, look at him. His fur. Those eyes.” He looked over—Molly looked concerned. “Molly, I'm not completely round the bend. I know it's not actually Sherlock. He's...he's gone. Fine. But that cat is the Sherlockiest cat I have ever laid eyes on, and that's his name whether either of us likes it or not.”

 

Molly murmured something that could very well have been a concession. “Okay.” She was making an effort to make her voice bright and cheerful again. It seemed that all the levity had been drained right out of the room, but she was determined to ignore that simple fact. “Okay. Come here, Sherlock! Here, kitty, kitty...” Her efforts earned her a disdainful look before the cat went back to licking his paw. Her laughter returned, bubbling up through a well of nerves this time. “You're right. Just look at him!”

 

John snorted and willed himself not to sink into the dark pit that still waited beneath the surface of his cheerful facade. “Sherlock the cat.” Fine. It was fine. “Don't worry, mate,” he called across the room. “We're just mates, me and Molly! She'll never take your place in this cold old heart!” So much for avoiding that pit, then. John tried not to look at her. The cat jumped gracefully from the tower and crossed the room, only to leap onto the couch and knead his way into John's lap.

 

“I should get going...” Molly still sounded a bit odd. “I'll talk to you later, John.” She leaned forward to give him a quick hug, then disappeared out the door, leaving John the bitter old man with his pet cat and the new realization that this might actually be as good as it would get for him from here on out. Sherlock was purring.

 

Chapter Text

"Most cats, when they are out want to be in, and visa versa, and often simultaneously." - Louis J. Camuti

One morning, John awoke with a lead brick in the pit of his stomach. Without really thinking about it, he glanced over at yesterday's clothes. No cat. Well, that was fine. He didn't get out of bed just yet: just laid there staring at the cracks in the ceiling above his bed. How was it that, even in his sleep, first thing in the bloody morning, his entire being knew what day it was? Three years. It had been three years as of today. He groaned to himself and started to get out of bed, before realizing that there was a warm lump settled on top of the blanket between his legs. So he hadn't abandoned him after all. Feeling a little silly, he reached down to scratch the cat gratefully between his shoulder blades. The cat responded with a soft chirrup and a relaxed yawn, then rose to press his head against John's palm. He smiled a bit and scratched his ears. “Thanks.”

Time to face the day. John pushed back the covers and went through his morning routine. It was only a little difficult to fight the urge to stay in the shower all day, hiding in the steam that filled the room. No. This would be the year that he would stop letting the day keep him locked up in his flat. Last year had been a valiant effort—he'd gotten halfway down the block before a tall thin man in a swishy coat sent him running back to the lonely safety of his own flat—but this year he would get all the way to work. He started his tea. Yes, he would get all the way to work, and he would work all day and if Molly or Greg called him then he would go out with them and pretend that it was just a normal day. If no one called him—which was fine, just fine—he would come home after work, have a beer (two, at the absolute maximum), and watch telly with Sher—with the cat until a reasonable hour of the night, at which point he would go to bed. It would be just like all the other days. With that, John set about preparing the cat food like always.

The cat was not interested. He glanced at the dish for a moment, then meowed plaintively up at John. John leaned down to pick him up for a moment, pressing his face to the top of his head. He would allow himself this one indulgence, and it would get him through the day. The cat purred, and John found himself grateful once again that the furball had followed him home that day so many months ago. He put him down on the chair. “I'll be back later.” He wasn't sure why, but it felt like he needed to reassure the cat of his continued existence.

John headed to the door, and from downstairs he could hear his neighbor and Maggie coming in from outside. It happened in a matter a seconds. As soon as he opened his door, Sherlock leapt down off of the chair and dashed outside and down the stairs. In a moment, he heard Maggie snarling and snapping, despite her owner's attempts at controlling her. By the time John had made his way downstairs, the cat had apparently disappeared out the door. He didn't have time for this. By God, as much as he loved that cat, he...didn't have time for this. The neighbor looked at him in confusion. “My cat,” he offered, noting over her shoulder that the gate was open. Bloody brilliant.

Panic rose in him as a few quick sweeps around the yard did not reveal the cat. He couldn't have gotten far: he'd only been gone a few seconds! John stared helplessly down the street (first one way, then the other). He absolutely could not go looking for that cat, not if he wanted to keep his job. He was just coming off of the probationary period and he'd already been late a handful of times this month, and had gotten a precautionary memo from the director last week. Before he knew what he was doing, his mobile was out, and he was ringing Molly's number.

“Sherlock's gone,” John blurted out as soon as she'd picked up the other end. There was a pause, and John could all but hear her trying to formulate a logical but supportive response. Yes, John. We remember. You can get through this day just like the rest of us. He scoffed in frustration. “The cat, Molly. He's just run out. I have no idea where he went, but I have to go to work or I'm going to get fired and then I won't have money for rent and...Christ.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.

“Okay. Don't worry, John. He survived on his own before he found you, so I'm sure he'll be fine for the afternoon. Loads of cats are outdoor cats. But here, if it makes you feel better, I've got the day off. You go to work, and I'll be over in a bit to look for him. I'm sure he'll be home before you, even.”

It was easy to let himself believe Molly. She was right, after all. The cat had managed on his own for at least a few hours before following him indoors. It would be fine for today. John drew in a shaky breath and raised his arm to hail the cab that was coming at him. They so rarely passed by this way, since he was so far out of the city, but maybe today he would catch a break. He slid into the comfortable interior and gave his destination, watching all the while for a streak of black fur to dash down the block.

He was distracted all day, but at least it was about his cat, he told himself, and not his long-dead flatmate. Granted, it was still probably really strange for a man of his age to be so concerned about a cat (not even a dog, which were supposedly man's best friends, but an arrogant, aloof old cat!), but it was far more understandable than the alternative. When the endless day finally drew to a close (without anyone asking him to cover the rest of their shift or pull a double: would miracles never cease?), John dashed out of the building and hailed another cab. Usually he walked home, since cabs could get so expensive so quickly, but now he just wanted to get there as quickly as he could. Molly hadn't texted him any good news, but, he told himself, at least that meant she hadn't texted him any bad news.

The cab dropped him off in front of his building and he ran up the stairs, the constant ache in his leg completely forgotten in his haste. His flat was empty—of course. Molly would be out looking for the cat. That, or she'd given up looking and had gone home. He allowed himself a moment, standing forlornly in the middle of the room and staring blankly at the scratching post slash climbing tower, to feel the day's losses, harsh and stinging somewhere inside him. “Why today?” he asked the air, and the pathetic sound of his voice was enough to motivate him to keep moving. Today, though, of all days for that bloody cat to start running about again. Earlier that morning, it had seemed he'd understood the significance of the day, but that, of course, had been ridiculous. Sentiment. John could almost hear his old flatmate spitting the word with disgust. He was a cat, that's all. A cat with an interesting and charming personality, granted, but a cat all the same.

Still, he was John's damn cat, and this was where he belonged, not out there on the street. John took out his mobile to send Molly a request for any updates, rushing back down the stairs. When he threw open the door to the outside, he nearly barrelled right into someone on the other side. He was facing away from John, looking out into the street, and John saw a cab idling a few doors down.

“Can I help you?” he asked, a bit too impatiently. If his neighbor had ordered a cab, she'd better get out here already: John had other things to do. The cabbie turned around slowly, and it took only a second for John to recognize the bundle in his arms. “My cat!”

“He had this address on his collar,” the man offered in a deep voice, strangely accented. “I feel terrible. He just ran out in front of me...” He offered John the lifeless body, but John couldn't take him. Instead, he studied the man's face. Most of it was hidden—his collar was turned up against the cold, and a hat was pulled down low around his ears and forehead. An odd patchy beard covered the lower half of his face. It was all John could do to keep from laying him out right there, but he drew in a few steadying breaths. It wasn't as though he'd done it on purpose. His eyes quickly scanned the rest of the man's body. His coat was clearly secondhand: ripped in several places and hastily repaired. His jeans were similarly worn, with one hole across most of the left knee that had obviously defied several attempts at patching. There was a very slight bulge at the man's hip, and John recognized it as a concealed weapon. Well. As long as he didn't reach for that gun too quickly, neither man would be in any danger. Finally, John eased the cat out of the man's arms.

Sherlock was still warm, but already long gone. John could just tell. Luckily, he wasn't too gory, but most of the ribs on one side were broken and even his fur seemed dull now. John resisted the urge to bury his face in the cat's neck. He knew how it must look—a grown man reduced to tears by the loss of a pet cat—but he couldn't bring himself to care. This was just the last straw, that's all. Today of all goddamn bloody days to add to the loss in his life. “Oh, Sherlock...” he managed mournfully. The cabbie seemed startled.

“Sherlock? Wasn't that the name of that fake detective nutter a few years ago?”

For a moment, John felt an expanding sense of peace. He was almost zenlike as he looked up, searching the man's face to determine whether he was serious. When he realized that he was, in fact, quite serious, the zenlike state deepened as he shifted his cat into just one arm, freeing the other to pull back and release a fierce left hook. He paused for just a moment as he locked eyes with the man in the doorway—silver-blue-green eyes that were hauntingly, painfully familiar. Fist still suspended in the air, he froze. “Sherlock?”

The cabbie doffed his cap almost sheepishly. “It's me, John.”

John hesitated for only a moment before deciding to allow his fist to continue through the air. It connected solidly with an overly-angular cheekbone before the world went black.

***

“What's going on? Who are you? John?!” Molly's voice sounded very far away, and perhaps as though it were traveling through a swimming pool full of jelly. John fought to open his eyes, and found that he was propped up against the wall near the doorway. He had fainted. How embarrassing. He groaned even as Molly pushed past the cabbie—Sherlock—who was pressing a hand to the side of his face. “Oh no! Sherlock! What happened?” The cat was lying in an undignified heap on the ground where John had dropped him. Guilt flooded him at the cat's mistreatment, though the rational part of his brain knew that it didn't matter to him anymore.

The cabbie started to answer before either man realized that Molly was, in fact, talking to John. She gave the taller man a strange look.

“He ran out in front of a cab,” John answered quietly. “He's gone.”

Molly crouched near John and the cat, scooping the latter into her arms. “John, I'm so sorry,” she said, and her voice broke. “So sorry...” She pressed her forehead to the cat's side before returning her attention to John. “What happened to you? Are you alright?”

“He just experienced a short occurance of vasovagal syncope,” the cabbie assured her. He sounded bored. “On the other hand, it's quite possible that he's fractured my eye socket.”

“John.” Her voice was reproachful, but also colored with understanding. “I'm sure he didn't mean to do it—”

“That's Sherlock!” he exploded, raising an arm to indicate the man still towering over the two of them. John watched her look down at the cat, confused for a moment, before following his arm up to the cabbie. She didn't seem nearly as surprised as she should have been.

“Facial hair doesn't work for you,” she decided. John's head was starting to spin again.

“I think we've got a bit of explaining to do...” Molly murmured, rising to her feet and offering John her hand. “But first, maybe...a little ceremony?”

John braced himself for a derisive snort from the cabbie—from the human Sherlock—but nothing came. Instead, the unlikely trio made their way up to John's flat. He dug through his closet until he found what he was looking for—a rather large wooden box that had once contained his grandfather's, and then his father's, and then his own shoe-shining kit. He dumped the contents onto the floor while the other two looked on, and then grabbed a towel from the clean stack above him. After lining the box (and mentally daring Sherlock to make an insensitive comment), he took his cat back from Molly and eased him inside.

He led the other two back down the stairs and out into the tiny yard. A shovel stood propped against the side of the building and John found himself thankful for the relatively warm temperatures that afternoon, which had left the ground wet and muddy instead of frozen solid. He handed the box to Molly and began digging near the fence, where he had first “met” the cat. He dug deep enough to keep from attracting the dog's attention when nature began to take its course, and eased the box down into the ground. When it was in position, he knelt despite the pain in his leg. He didn't exactly want the other two to hear his words: they were for Sherlock-the-cat and no one else.

“You were...a cat,” John began awkwardly. He wasn't entirely comfortable, wasn't sure what to say. The words had come much easier standing at his flatmate's grave. Of course, he'd been alone then. “A good cat. I guess it seems like you found me when I needed you. I thought maybe you needed me to save you from that slobbering beast, but I guess we both know that's not true, huh?” He snorted. “I was so alone, and I think maybe you knew that, didn't you?” God, he was just daring Sherlock to say something snarky, but nothing came. Thankfully. He cleared his throat. “And then you brought the other Sherlock back to me, and for that, I am so grateful. So...thank you. I'm not going to forget you, and, ah... I don't know, if there's a cat heaven or something out there, I hope you find it to your liking...”

Weak. John knew he was finished speaking, but stayed in place next to the small grave. Molly stepped closer and took the shovel from him to fill the hole gently with dirt. She said nothing, but she didn't really have to. Not yet, anyway. John would have hundreds, maybe thousands of questions for her in the very near future, but for now he was simply mourning the loss of his small friend.

A thin, scarred hand reached down, offering support, and John slid his hand (filthy now, and aching from the cold) into it. The taller man offered a supportive squeeze, and the three of them stood silently next to the small mound of dirt. One of them was remembering dark alleys and exotic locations and blood—and so much blood. One of them was remember the smaller, weaker person she'd once been and the two cats now which she had lost. The third was remembering a brilliant and mysterious cat and squeezing the hand of a brilliant and mysterious man as though afraid that he would disappear back into the shadows.