"No," Sherlock is shouting, even as John walks up the stairs to the closed door. "No!"
John realises, with a sinking, exhausted heart, that Sherlock has, it seems, already realised what he's done - is doing - and is, apparently, not as indifferent to the idea as John had hoped he would be.
Clearly the feelings are strong because they prompt Sherlock to not only get up from whichever chair he'd been folded onto, but to throw open the front door and glower down at John, who halts, protectively, in front of the will-be problem. Dressing gown flapping about him just a little too much for decency, Sherlock's slight frame appears to take up much more of the doorway than it ought, his 'intimidation' stance fully activated. It is, John thinks, from this angle, almost effective. Were it not for the dressing gown, it might even work.
"Go back insi-" John tries, working from the why-must-you-be-so-tiresome voice outwards.
"Take it away." Sherlock is absolute.
"Away. Or I am closing this door and changing the locks from the inside."
"No, you're not. Come on." It is, John concludes, worth an attempt at wheedling.
"Mrs. Hudson won't allow it." That's Sherlock's version of clutching at straws, fortunately.
"Mrs. Hudson is most excited about i- her." John's not stupid.
"Take it away." The edge of pleading is present.
"No." Be firm, now, it'll be fine.
"Please, John." This is Sherlock trying his last resort, which he has discovered does work from time to time - wide-eyed, apparently-genuine sadface, with careful application of that oh-so-important word 'please'. Honest pleading. Honestly.
"Get out of the way, come on. She's lovely. You'll enjoy this. It's only a couple of days. Harriet's incredibly grateful." Matter of fact. It'll do you good is what John wants to say, but doesn't.
"You shouldn't have dogs if you can't look after them."
"It's three days. She's going on holi-"
"She won't like the south of France. It won't be worth the money. Too windy for a woman with that much hair, at this time of year, and she won't get the overnight tan she's expecting. She'll miss the bitch and come back all cooing and soppy about how awful it's been for mummy without Topsy or Canoodle or whatever abominable name this thing has, meanwhile our lives will be turned upside-down, important cases left unsolved as we can't possibly let poor Wibble go one ickle hour without her mashed up rabbit. And that's before you consider the sheer amount of time you'll be devoting to walkies and the fact that it will shit everywhere constantly."
"Have you ever had a dog, Sherlock?"
Sherlock's eyes narrow in a way that suggests, if he hasn't, he's certainly met one or two, and that those meetings were unfortunate, for one, the other, or both. "Irrelevant," he says, after a contemplatative shudder.
"I think not. Look, she's a sweetheart, you'll find you've quite changed your mind after a few hours. Move, come on. You're not giving her the best start to her holiday. And I'm not sure from that previous torrent of words exactly what kind of woman you think my sister is."
"Yes, well. If she's the sort to entrust her dog to a man she's never met in a place she's never been..."
John sighs, and shifts, irritated at this conversation taking place at all, never mind at his still being on the stairs. "She has both met you, and been here, Sherlock, you know this.
"What? When? I most certainly did not -"
"That's enough. Get inside. This dog is going to be infinitely easier to deal with than you are, let me tell you that. And her name's not Toodles, or whatever you were saying."
"What is it, then?"
Sherlock looks blankly at him. "I don't get it."
"Not everything has a punchline. Would you get out of the fucking doorway so we can come in?"
"So that you can come in, yes..."
John tugs a little on the lead, and whispers come on! in a pleasant enough, but not patronising, tone, and this little scruffball of a terrier shoots out from behind him, clatters up the stairs and dives through Sherlock's legs in an instant.
"I..." Sherlock syllables, and the look he gives John is one of violation.
John just smiles, and continues to the top of the stairs, where he puts a hand on Sherlock's shoulder, and gently manoueveres him around and back into the living room.
"Get me some gin, immediately," Sherlock says, sitting down, looking a shade weak.
As he sits, there is a sound that combines the words 'squeak' and 'yowl' admirably, and Dolly Parton jumps and squirms and fights not to be sat upon. Sherlock freezes, stiff as a board, pale, and, for once, silent. Dolly Parton snaffles around him, placing an introductory paw on his thigh, and Sherlock jerks sideways, and does his level best to disappear between the cushions of the settee, to no avail.
"Call it off!" he hushes, between clenched teeth.
John does something like snapping his fingers without snapping them at all, and easy as butter, the dog skips down and trots over to his heel.
"See?" John says. "Perfectly trained."
"This isn't. Happening."
"And yet, it is. I promise, you won't even notice she's here. I've got it all under control, don't worry. I'll be walking her morning and night, feeding her as and when required, everything."
"What about me?"
"What about you?"
"When shall I be fed and walked?" The sincerity in Sherlock's voice is distressing.
"I've heard a rumour that you, as a grown man, can manage this all by your very self."
"With a feral beast in the house, I feel all my energies shall be spent restraining myself from testing the toxicity of some very interesting new chemicals I've just acquired from China."
"See, we're making steps forwards. I'm sure a year ago you might not have understood that chemical testing on my sister's beloved pet wasn't the best and indeed kindest thing you could do."
"It would be the best thing for London. Possibly for humanity."
"But not, Sherlock, for you. Because I'd have to kill you. Which I shall, if you harm one tiny hair on Dolly Parton's head." John allows himself the edge of a smile.
Sherlock does not like being mocked, bettered, or threatened. And yet, in this instance, he can't think of a viable comeback. Fucking dog is putting him off, with its tail-wagging, gentle nuzzling of John's calf, and general "adorable" behaviour. It's not natural. "Fine," he ventures, finally. "Fine. I'm going to my room."
"That's nice," John says, turning away, with Dolly Parton neatly shadowing his right leg's every move, to unpack the backpack which contains everything and more a man might need to keep a dog alive for 72 hours.
Sherlock debates waiting for more and better attention, and then decides that he is not going to be reduced to competing with this rat-catcher of a beast, clicking, as he thinks this, that this might well be why John suggested he look after it in the first place. It has been busy, recently. Perhaps John has felt neglected. It would be, Sherlock thinks, applying everything he understands of human relationships to the facts, all at once, understandable. He is, after all, John's sole source of self-worth (because curing mild disease and doing pill-poppers' paperwork is not Sherlock's idea of fulfilling). Nonetheless, even if this is the case, it must be made clear that such behaviour is never reasonable recourse. He slinks into his room and forces himself into a study of the properties of standard office printing inks.
* * *
John is fond of dogs. Well-trained ones, at least. Preferably small ones, too. Harry's had Dolly Parton for about eighteen months, now, and, as dogs go, she's a delight. Granted, she's a little over-curious about a couple of the more pungent things that litter 221B, and there's a nasty moment early on when John sees, just too late, that she's chewing...swallowing something that was almost certainly a dead man's big toe, but there we are. It's not going to do her any more harm than the evil-smelling 'chocolate drops' Harry's had her trained on, he's sure.
It's a pleasant day. They take a short walk up to and around the square, and, even in that time, three women and a man pause to pet and comment favourably on Dolly Parton's sweet little face. They talk about their own dogs, past and present. John thinks that there's room for a dog in their line of work, if only because they seem to work wonders about getting people to talk about things that they really ought not to. Still, there's no point in even trying to convince Sherlock of this.
Mrs. Hudson does indeed make a great fuss of the dog. "Isn't she nice? Oh look, isn't she clever?" This last as Dolly Parton stands smugly on her hind legs doing her best "feed me some smoked salmon" face. She isn't quite clever enough to know that there will be none of that here. Nonetheless, it doesn't seem to spoil her mood.
The blogosphere does not react well to John's well-intentioned portraits of Dolly Parton. First of all there are the "I thought this was going to be an investigation about silicone and soulful country rock; this is a seriously misleading title..." comments, then there are the "Baker Street gone soft?" linkbacks to grizzly journals concerned that a pet will ruin London's finest, and then, initially pleasingly, but quickly irritatingly, there are the incessant ZOMG CUTEE!!! comments, which are followed up by increasingly bizarre manipulations of Dolly Parton. One is of her 'wearing' the now-infamous deerstalker hat, which is, granted, very funny, but then another is of her replacing the deerstalker on Sherlock's head, which looks plain weird to John, and that comment has even more comments than the post itself, which he finds a little frustrating. Fun as the blog is, it is going in a direction he isn't at all sure he understands.
Which is a shame, because the little scruff is so damn photogenic. Casting aside the internet, John reads the paper, whilst Dolly Parton sits happily - and warmly, very welcome in the draughty apartment - on his feet. There are no arguments, no sudden movements, no crude demands. A very nice change indeed.
Sherlock doesn't come out of his room again. John calls a 'good night!' to him shortly after nine - early, yes, but it was an early start, as Harry was off to the airport for five, and all that fresh air of the walking has taken a merry toll. Sherlock doesn't answer the 'good night!' but being as his boots are still in the hall and there's no discernible scent of fire or melting, John decides not to check on him. He can't just sulk like this and expect attention.
John leaves his door open a crack in case the dog makes any kind of noise in the night - needs to be taken outside, or anything. He spent a time clearing everything at dog-level out of the way, but she's a good girl, she's not going to go upsetting things, he's sure. And he sleeps well, more or less confirming that.
* * *
Morning seems virtually over when John wakes up, judging by the fact that the sun is right overhead. It's Saturday, so he has no alarm set, but generally of a Saturday Sherlock is up and about early, examining the morning news for any hint of excitement that he might be able to get his teeth into. This is not the quietest of things, so the strange silence that hangs over 221B is a little concerning.
Then he remembers the dog.
That should definitely cause - have caused - some kind of sound.
His door appears to be open, still.
There's not a sound.
Cautiously, willing things to be better than bloodshed, John pushes the door wide in a single, fluid movement.
No part of him is expecting the scene that lies before him.
Sherlock is sat - crouched, tangled, hunched - on a chair, as Dolly Parton sits, bright-eyed and bushy-coated, square on the floor in front of him, staring at him with all the delight as if he were a particularly charming piece of Saturday morning children's television.
John wastes a second trying not to laugh, then can't think why on earth he's doing that, and lets go of all the laughter he's got, because such moments are rarer than they might be.
"It's not. Funny."
"What are you doing, Sherlock?"
"What am I doing? What's it doing?"
"Waiting for you to play a game with her, or perhaps feed her, by the looks of things."
"It won't. Stop. Looking at me."
"Perhaps you should stop looking at i- her."
"That's what got me into this mess."
John does that thing with his hand again, and Dolly Parton, completely distracted from Sherlock, is up, and off, greeting John like the comparable long lost friend he is.
"It's not like she's going to attack. You can cross her path, you know."
"Anything could happen."
"What do you think might happen?"
Sherlock narrows his eyes. "I'd rather not say. Don't want to give her ideas."
"If I didn't know you better, I'd say you were taking the piss."
Sherlock frowns at John in some confusion, and John both regrets and is pleased by the fact that he does, indeed, know Sherlock so very well.
* * *
"You missed an excellent case," Sherlock says, when John returns, having spent the entire day enjoying the sunshine down by the river. It's been good to get out in the fresh air, no excess of staring at one person or another, no cares in the world aside from playing the odd game of Fetch, and wondering if the swans ever get sick of crap bread.
"You're lying," John replies, without a second's hesitation.
Dolly Parton bounds happily for Sherlock, but John catches her without any force at all, simply by putting his hand in front of her and redirecting her towards his room. "No point love," he says, and gives Sherlock a bit of a glare, following it up with, "and I know you're lying because your boots have Thursday's mud on them stll, and your scarf hasn't moved from under the heap of experimental crochet you were doing."
"It isn't crochet. And I went out in...in disguise."
"No, you did-" John starts because he knows Sherlock is making things up, which is annoying, but then he stops, because something wasn't quite right about the way Sherlock spoke. He's like a deflated balloon.
Can't even be annoying properly.
Dolly Parton scuffs her way around the table and settles down for a nap. John would like to do the same, but it appears that Sherlock requires attention, if only to stop him from being insufferable.
"Stop it Sherlock. She's only here another day, and then it'll be back to normal."
"I'm not sure it will."
"What's got into you? And don't start telling me you're bored again."
"I'm not bored. I've plenty to occupy myself."
"Then what is it?"
"I'm concerned people will think I have a dog. She is shedding little white hairs of distraction all over the place. Who knows what kinds of conclusions people might draw on seeing my soiled trouser legs?"
John blinks rapidly, as if this will clear the nonsense from the room, but it doesn't.
"Sherlock, you are the only person on this earth, or at least in this city, that would come to such specific judgements with such rapidity. Come on. Lighten up."
"Lighten up? I don't see why I should. I don't like dogs."
"You don't have to like her."
"I don't have things in the house that I don't like."
"That's just not true. You hate that painting, and you tell me that more often than not."
"I don't have to feed it, though."
"You don't have to shoot it, either, and you do that plenty."
"Stop playing with me," Sherlock says, and leaps out of the chair with quite startling forward motion.
Dolly Parton tilts her head to one side, watching, with moderate interest, as Sherlock grabs his coat, shoves his feet petulantly into the muddied boots, and is out of the door before he's even buttoned and fastened everything up properly - virtually unheard of.
John resolves to ignore this, but he is beginning to feel like he may just have overstepped the mark. Dolly Parton hops up next to him, and lays her head on his knee. At least, John thinks, ruffling her ears,
It's only a matter of an hour or so until Sherlock returns, looking disgruntled and irritable as ever.
"Where've you been?"
"Don't be obtuse."
Sherlock narrows his eyes, and has no comeback. He scowls at Dolly Parton, who hasn't moved much since he left, having had, she thinks, more than enough exercise in the last 48 hours. Harry is a good dog owner, but not so given to long walks and playing as John, it seems, and Dolly is rather over the outdoors for today. Indeed, she's really over moving much at all. She isn't interested, either, in this unpleasant human who has no concept of Fun and Games, nor of Hugs and Biscuits, and thus is completely inconsequential to her. She curls around John's leg, and does her level best to sleep a little more. John, grateful for the warmth, again, allows her to do so. Sherlock continues to scowl. Dolly Parton remains disinterested.
"Would you make me a cup of tea, please?" John asks, as he does, from time to time, ever hopeful that this will work out, and that if it doesn't result in tea, at least one day it might train Sherlock how to ask for such a thing nicely.
"Not everything is a teachable moment, John," Sherlock hisses in response, as if he heard the workings of John's head, rather than his words. "And no, I won't. You haven't asked me a thing about today, nor about my cases, which for a time I felt sure you valued as our cases, and all-"
"This is because there is a dog in the house for three days?"
"This is because you have no respect for me, nor for our home, and I-"
"Haven't gone and found anywhere else to live in the meantime. Aren't lecturing me on the dangers and difficulties of dogs. Aren't back in your room doing god knows what. What you are doing is berating me where you don't need to when you know it won't do us any good at all, suggesting to me that you want something from this situation that surprises even you."
Sherlock goldfishes, which is always a gratifying sight. His eyes focus and refocus, suggesting he's searching for words or concepts that are just, just evading him.
"I think you're scared," John says, with a smile that causes a rise of such irritation in Sherlock's chest, he clutches at his throat with pale fingers to try to keep it down.
"I'm not..." Sherlock starts, and, consciously, because he knows that either way he's belied the words now, shuts up and grits his teeth. He walks around the side of the room, as far as possible from Dolly Parton at all times, and stations himself backed up against the bureau.
"Thought so," John says. "Want to tell me about that time when you were brutally savaged by a chihuahua?"
"Want me to -"
There is a moment at which John thinks Sherlock is going to 'open up' a little, but it doesn't quite happen. Instead, Sherlock maintains a steady, silent pose.
"Okay," John says. "Please yourself. I'm going to read the paper, and then I'm going to see if there's anything interesting on the blog, and then I'm going to take her out for another walk.
These things done, Sherlock is out when John returns. With Dolly Parton's routine to be considered, John doesn't wait up for him.
* * *
John enters the living room bright and early to find Sherlock not only already home and awake, but sat cross-legged on the floor, eyes fixed on Dolly Parton, who sits on the settee, tongue hanging out happily, smiling right at him.
"Everything, er, okay?" John asks. "I thought you didn't want her on the furniture?"
"She jumped up there..." Sherlock hisses, "and I don't know if she'll ever get off."
"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?" John says, snapping his fingers and pointing at the floor.
Dolly Parton yaps, leaps off the settee, and comes straight to heel, trotting after John to her bowl, ready for food. She's really not sure whether or not she won the game of stare-out the thin man wanted to play wih her, but it doesn't matter, not to Dolly. It's all about the game and not the winner.
John takes her for a walk, then insists Sherlock come out with them both to eat, and of course in the cafe, it's all, "Oh, here's the little one!" and streams of mindless cooing and more barely-concealed jibes about the extent of his and John's relationship that have Sherlock wanting to fling his arrabiata against the wall and yell STOP INFERRING I AM A BEING WITH FEELINGS but he refrains, because, if nothing else, it's good arrabiata, and he's got a lot to work on as soon as he's allowed back home for some peace and quiet.
John continues with his day, irritated that Sherlock won't talk to him about where he went last night, but presuming it's relating to a case that is at least keeping him quiet and less irritating than he might otherwise be. All the while John dutifully ensures Dolly is safe and by his side, appreciating the quiet companionship.
When he finally returns to Baker Street, he finds Sherlock mind-palacing on the settee. After a brief assessment of the depth of Sherlock's concentration, he figures that there really won't be any harm in his going and having a bath, and leaving Dolly Parton in the same room, because even Sherlock won't cause her any upsets, right? He's so far in there, arranging, fixing, browsing, concluding, he won't notice, and Dolly is all floppy-pawed after her day of serious business.
"There you go," John says, dropping her neatly into her little basket. "Don't go trying to chat to that one over there, have some sleep, okay?"
Dolly Parton nods, the picture of understanding.
John smiles. It's nice to be listened to.
But once his bath is over, he notices first that Dolly's basket is empty.
"Sherlock?" he barks, and the whisper comes back, "John? John? Look."
John half-expects a full-on dissection to await him, and Sherlock gleefully clutching a kidney, which will hold the key to a decade-old mystery.
Fortunately, it is not so.
The scene is a little like the morning's, only Sherlock is bolt upright on the settee, eyes wide.
"Look!" Sherlock hisses, again.
The dog is asleep on his lap.
"Aw. Keep still, then," John offers, his heart rate settling from panic to comic.
"No, you don't understand. What should I do? I don't..."
"Keep. Still." John repeats, firmly. After all, Dolly has been a good girl this last couple of days. She deserves some rest wherever she might find it.
Sherlock obeys, and that's not a pairing of words John gets to embrace that often.
Dolly Parton looks as if she's never been so comfortable in her life. She sleeps quietly, happily, and extensively.
So does John, who ignores Sherlock's whispery pleas, and later his hushed threats, because he knows that if Sherlock meant any harm to the pet at all, he would've long since carried it out. This, he thinks, is the man's one, perhaps only, chance to bond with the animal kingdom.
Sherlock does not sleep a wink. Nor, he thinks, does he bond.
But he does stay there. At one point he readjusts slightly, in the name of circulation, and Dolly Parton, feeling, in her sleep, that her bed is tilting, immediately punctures a fine pair of wool trousers with her claws.
Sherlock, relieved by a logical reaction, finds a thin smile forcing its way about his lips.
* * *
"I shall miss her," Sherlock says, as if he's trying the words out, with a look that suggests he just might mean it. He extends his hand, gingerly, and pokes Dolly Parton in the side. Dolly chases the fingers around and tries to lick them, but Sherlock has already retracted the gesture, a touch wide-eyed.
"We could always..." John starts, but stops, as he realises he's simultaneously pulling the dog away from Sherlock to prevent any last-minute injuries - he's kept the thing alive the whole time, and only now is he beginning to realise just how miraculous this is, that the animal has got out not only alive and in just the one piece, but also, apparently, without trauma. His heart starts to beat a bit faster and the fluffy wriggly animal suddenly feels surprisingly frail in his arms.
"Not a chance." Sherlock snaps out of his hint-of-kindness, is definite, with a full-on ice-cut stare to match.
"Right-o." John cuts the stare in half with an amused smile, and heads for the waiting cab as quickly as he can.
"Bye," Sherlock says, without quite realising the word has come out of his mouth. Dolly Parton, disappearing over John's shoulder, raises her paw in wise acknowledgement.