Cats are connoisseurs of comfort. - James Herriott
Five ways in which Felisians are not (much) like cats:
It was a mistake many people made when faced with a Felisian. John blamed it on the ears and tail, even the name. You couldn't look at one and not think “cat”. However, it didn't take long for Sherlock to start disabusing him of any notion he might have that there was anything particularly feline about him beyond some similarities in appearance.
The milk was a case in point. He'd honestly believed Sherlock would drink it by the glass-full, and the bottles he bought emptied soon enough. It rarely went off, unless they were away from the flat for several days at a time, and even then Sherlock seemed to find a use for it.
That said, John had never seen him consume it, not in large quantities. He put a bit in his tea and had it on cereal, though he'd only use a small amount and pick whatever he was eating out of it, leaving a pool of white liquid in the bottom of the bowl. That particular habit made John lose his temper whenever he forgot, tidied up the dishes and slopped milk all over the kitchen floor.
Still, the stuff in the bottle had to be going somewhere, and John made a point of making sure they never ran out. Sherlock never bought it himself and probably didn't even know what the inside of a Tesco looked like. He definitely seemed out of place in the one they were in now, scowling at the contents of one of the shelves as if everything on it was labelled in an alien language.
Tinny Christmas music saturated the air, more annoying than joyous, and John sighed. 'Get some milk,' he ordered, prodding his flatmate in the side as he perused the shopping list. He'd promised Mrs Hudson he'd pick up some sugar for her baking, but she hadn't specified what kind and the choice was rather overwhelming. Demerara, or caster? Muscovado? Did it even matter?
Squaring his shoulders, he chose one of the bags at random and put it in the basket before turning to see Sherlock glaring at the cooling unit that held the milk as if the bottles' colour-coded lids were some uncrackable enigma. His head was cocked to the side and his tail curled like a question mark up behind his back, the end twitching.
'They don't have any full-fat, which is the kind you prefer.'
'Ha, I like semi-skimmed better, Sherlock, or at least my waistline does.' He picked up a green-lidded bottle. 'We get unskimmed because of you. Got to sneak those calories into you somewhere, and with the amount of milk you drink...' John trailed off, abruptly aware of the narrow-eyed glare Sherlock was shooting in his direction. 'What?'
'What makes you think I drink milk?'
John experienced the sudden uncertainty of having stepped into a conversational minefield. Sherlock's body was tense, and there was a hint of a derisive grimace on his lips. John didn't even need to say a word. Guiltily, his gaze flickered to the ears on top of Sherlock's head, and the response was instantaneous.
He whirled around with a huff, his spine rigid as he strode away, leaving John to swear and hurry after him, ignoring the looks of the other customers as he stammered apologies.
'Sherlock, wait! I'm sorry, okay? Oi, just hold on!' He gripped Sherlock's elbow, pulling him up short and turning him around so they were facing one another. John looked up at his friend. He could read every trace of irritation in those aristocratic features and, underpinning that, the faint hint of disappointment, as if he expected better of John.
It was nothing he didn't deserve. He was an idiot to make assumptions about anyone based on their appearance. It hinted at prejudice, even when about something seemingly benign. 'I'm sorry. I admit that when I moved in, I might have...'
'Extrapolated irrelevancies from my physical characteristics?'
'Made a stupid guess when I should have known better, but you do drink milk! The bottles end up empty, don't they?'
Sherlock looked at him as if he were blind, or an idiot, or perhaps both. 'Yes, because of the amount you consume. Seriously, John, on a day when you're not at work, you have at least seven cups of tea, each of which contains at least two tablespoons of milk. You have cereal for breakfast, and often lunch as well, since it's quick and easy to put together. It's no wonder we get through more than a pint in twenty-four hours.'
John paused, scratching his chin as he considered the validity of Sherlock's statement. He hadn't realised his habits were being monitored so carefully, and there was something flattering about Sherlock, who deleted almost everything he deemed as irrelevant, remembering the kind of milk they bought because he thought it was John's preference.
'And you... don't.' He deflated, realising his friend was right. 'You're using the gone off stuff in experiments, aren't you?'
'Well I'm certainly not drinking it,' Sherlock replied, wrinkling his nose and grabbing John's cuff between his fingers, pulling him along. 'I'm shocked that a man of your education assumed that ears and a tail somewhat reminiscent of a cat's somehow equated to me liking milk. If nothing else, you should know that just because cats lap up a saucer of the stuff in the blink of an eye, it doesn't mean it's good for them. They can't digest it once they're weaned. You end up with a vomiting, flatulent animal to look after.'
'Is that your way of telling me you're lactose intolerant?' John smirked to himself when Sherlock shot him an annoyed look, holding up a pacifying hand as they headed towards the checkout. 'I'm kidding. Consider the message received. You're not a cat, you're a brilliant consulting detective; the only one in the world.'
'Flattery will get you nowhere,' he said with a sniff, but John saw the glimmer of a smile at the corner of those lips. He knew Sherlock's forgiveness when he saw it, and he breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
A few days later, when he got home from a long day at work, he opened the fridge to find a new bottle of milk, green-lidded and semi-skimmed.
Just the way he liked it.
John huddled in his coat, swearing quietly and stamping his feet to ward off the chill. A bitter north wind drove sheets of drizzle before it, soaking everything in an icy, December mist. He wanted to be back home in Baker Street, sat in his chair with a nice hot cup of tea. Instead, he was standing in some bleak, empty car-park, watching Sherlock and Anderson get into yet another spat over a corpse.
The Forensics Lead's expression twisted in a familiar sneer, his arms folding over his chest and his shoulders rigid as he attempted to look down his nose at Sherlock. Somehow, he was failing, despite being taller than Sherlock since the latter was hunkered down beside the body, his sharp eyes roving its slack face and rumpled clothes for clues.
John didn't spare the victim more than a glance. It had been out in the elements for a while, and the sight was enough to make his dinner churn in his stomach. At least the cold and the rain meant the stink didn't get far, although how Sherlock could stand being so close to it, John had no idea. Sherlock's sense of smell was superior to that of anyone else here, yet he didn't seem to be the least bit bothered.
Quickly, he took in his flatmate's appearance. At first glance, the Felisian man appeared calm, but John had lived with him long enough to know the signs of Sherlock's control. His tail moved in a sinuous, lazy curve, but if Sherlock were truly indifferent, it would be still and poised. The soft, dark ears protruding from his curls were in a similar state, angled forward and alert, but every few seconds, the left one would twitch.
Anderson was getting on his nerves, that much was obvious, and John wondered if anyone at the Yard realised how much Sherlock hid from them. If he allowed his body language to come to the fore, then John knew his tail would bristle, the dense fur standing on end and easily tripling its thickness. The ears would flatten perpendicular to Sherlock's head, and he'd be baring his teeth: angry and vicious.
A quick look at Greg told John he wasn't the only one who'd noticed. The DI was standing a short distance away, torn between amusement and resignation. He kept shooting warning glares at Anderson, but they were being ignored in favour of antagonising Sherlock.
'Well?' he demanded, his nasal voice abrasive. 'We're waiting for you to amaze us all with your “deductions”.
John rolled his eyes at the use of air-quotes, shifting closer to Sherlock's side, near enough that he heard the tiniest fraction of a growl sharpen the edge of his sigh.
'What would you like to know?' he asked rhetorically. 'As I arrived, you were telling Lestrade the man was homeless, died of exposure and the damage to the body was caused by predation. Did you fail to notice the distinct tan-lines from multiple items of jewellery?' He reached out a gloved hand and grasped the body's wrist in demonstration, pointing out broad bands at his wrists and fingers. 'With no discolouration of the skin to suggest cheap metal, the chances are these rings were gold or platinum, the same as the bracelet. All were removed from him at approximately the time of his death, before his digits became swollen and made simple extraction impossible.'
He gestured towards the man's face. 'Then there's the colour of his skin. He's Caucasian in descent, but strongly tanned. Not likely in the British winter, and if he was using a sun-bed, he would have removed his accessories. He's just come back from overseas. The clothing he's wearing is two sizes too big and the buttons are done up incorrectly; he's been redressed.' Sherlock looked up, the bright lights of the lamps flooding the scene narrowing his pupils to predatory slits. 'Would you like to change your assessment yet, or should I go on?'
'Sherlock,' Greg warned. 'Just give me whatever you've got.'
Sherlock rolled his eyes, his tail hitting the back of John's knee as it lashed, once, in annoyance, before flicking away again. 'The injury that Anderson says was caused by predators is too deep and straight. It started as a stab wound to his gut. No blood means he was killed elsewhere, probably during a mugging. They stole his clothes as well, then dumped him here dressed in rags, hoping someone would write him off as a vagrant.' He scowled in Anderson's direction before turning to Lestrade. 'Check the pawn shops. The man's well-groomed, his fingernails manicured. He cared for his appearance. His jewellery won't be anything mass-produced, and should be relatively easy to find. You might get lucky and locate a lead to your killer.'
'Oh, come on, you're making that up!' Anderson turned to Donovan for support, but the sergeant simply folded her arms and huddled in her coat with a frown. Clenching his jaw, he glared at Sherlock, his expression shrewd. 'If you're such a genius, then why don't you sniff the culprit out for us while you're at it?'
Sherlock got to his feet, a fluid movement of strength as the Belstaff whispered around him. The drizzle had caught in his hair, halo-bright in the lamps, and his ears twitched as his nostrils flared. 'I'm a Felisian, not a blood-hound. I can smell the foxes, rats and occasional dogs that made a meal of our victim. I'm able to detect faint traces of the cologne he used to wear, but it's almost overwhelmed by the stink of your deodorant – none of which has transferred to Sally, suggesting she's moved onto greener pastures. However, the amount you've used implies you're sweating more than usual: nerves or glee, Anderson? Whichever it is, I'm sure it's directly related to the loose catnip in your pocket.'
'What?' Lestrade sighed, scrubbing his hands over his eyes as he glared between them. 'What the hell, Anderson?'
'If he can smell it, then it must be having an effect!' The man grinned, and John tensed, scowling as he saw where this was going. 'We already know he has a drug problem. He'd have picked up on the catnip as soon as he arrived at the scene, but instead he's only just mentioning it. He's been here, what, twenty minutes? Took his time to enjoy the high, I expect.' He rocked back on his heels as if he'd proven his point. 'He's more than happy to give you important, case-involved information while he's under the influence. What does that tell you? He's never going to admit he's got something wrong, even if he's too drugged to see straight. Where will he draw the line?'
'When I become incapable of a logical train of thought,' Sherlock retorted. 'By that same rationale, you should never have undertaken your chosen profession, since you appear unable to work through basic intuitive processes. It's been clearly demonstrated for decades that Felisians share no more commonalities with feline DNA than a standard example of the human species. I might look somewhat like a cat, Anderson, but that doesn't mean I am one. Five minutes on Google would have informed you that the Nepeta cataria you're carrying would have no more influence on me than it does on you, rendering your shallow effort to discredit me useless.'
Jerking his collar up, Sherlock turned on his heel, his lip lifting to reveal the needle sharp points of broad canine teeth as he called over his shoulder. 'Next time you attempt to drug me, remember I prefer class A narcotics.'
'Sherlock,' Greg groaned, the sound swiftly over-ridden by Anderson's squawk of outrage.
'See what I mean? He admits it!'
'And I don't see you denying the fact that you were trying to chemically influence one of our consultants without his consent. You're not innocent in this, Anderson!' the DI snapped.
John sucked in a breath through his teeth, waving a brief farewell to Sally before hurrying after Sherlock. He was tempted to stay and defend Sherlock's name, his outrage a low buzz in his blood, but Anderson was Greg’s problem, and John knew he couldn't be considered an unbiased spectator in their ongoing war.
He had to jog to catch up, and when he fell into step, he nudged Sherlock with his elbow. 'Not good,' he murmured, 'mentioning the narcotics, I mean. Lost you the moral high ground a bit.'
Sherlock snorted in annoyance. 'Not as much as Anderson. Besides, did you see his face?' A hint of a grin flirted across his lips, tempting and contagious. John had to admit the way Anderson's eyes had bugged out of his head at Sherlock's parting shot was almost worth it.
'He'll never let you forget it,' he pointed out. 'He'll call your deductions into question at every single scene.'
'He already does. In the end, it's his own incompetence that's dragged into the spotlight.' Sherlock lifted a hand to flag down a taxi, waiting for one to pull up to the kerb. His hand was on the door-handle when Lestrade's shout echoed across the car-park, sharp and brutal in the late night air.
'Shut up, Anderson and do your job! If you pull something like this again, I'll see you're kicked off the team. Do you understand?'
John met Sherlock's eye, trying not to laugh, but it was hopeless. One twitch of Sherlock's lips and they were both chuckling, guiltily enjoying Anderson's much-deserved misery. Maybe it would come back to bite them in the arse one day, but for now, it felt like he was getting his overdue just-desserts.
'Let's leave them to it,' Sherlock said, holding the door open for John and waiting until he'd slid along the back seat before joining him. 'They'll solve the case by sunrise. Home?'
John leant back, pushing his concerns away as he looked over at his flatmate. He had never believed, when he'd limped back into England, that he'd ever find somewhere he could call his own. Now, he knew different. London and Baker Street, 221B and, most importantly, the man he shared it with had all come to mean more to him than he could bring himself to admit.
And he loved every minute of it.
'Sherlock, what's this?' John wasn't even sure why he was asking. It was covered in feathers, dead and in their fridge. What more did he need to know? 'Where the hell did you find a barn owl in London?'
'It was on the side of the road. Probably flew into a vehicle and broke its neck,' Sherlock said from where he lay on his front on the sofa, skimming through messages on his phone.
'So you thought that the thing to do was bring it to the flat and put it next to our food?' John shut the fridge door, then opened it again, torn between pretending he hadn't seen it and the undeniable knowledge that the damn louse-ridden thing was probably contaminating his dinner. 'This, this bringing home dead things. Or bits of dead things. It's got to stop. You're always saying you're not a cat, but you know this is pretty typical behaviour of one, don't you?'
There was a huge sigh from the direction of the couch, accompanied by a soft squeak from the leather sofa cushions, suggesting Sherlock had sprawled out in dramatic indignation.
'I'd have been happier if you'd left it on the doormat.'
'Oh for God's sake,' Sherlock huffed, jumping to his feet and yanking his robe back onto his shoulder before stalking towards John. 'You say it like I do it on a daily basis.'
'Well it's not far off.' John shrugged, shutting the fridge again and smiling to let Sherlock know he was teasing. Normally, it was hard to get a rise from him, but this was definitely a weakness. John almost felt bad for making the most of it, but Sherlock was particularly striking when he was angry, and he rather enjoyed the reckless, delicious thrill that shot through him every time he found himself being stalked, Sherlock's body less akin to that of a domestic tabby and more leonine.
'Cats bring home rodents and the like to their owners as offerings of food. In their own way, they're trying to teach you to hunt, or at least provide sustenance.' Sherlock lifted an eyebrow, stopping a few inches away and leaning into John's personal space. He shifted away, finding himself backed up against the cool metal of the fridge with the warm expanse of Sherlock in front, not quite pressed against him, but near enough.
'Of the two of us, who insistently provides food for the other, regardless of whether the recipient is actually hungry?'
'Someone's got to feed you,' John pointed out, trying not to sound breathless. His fingers twitched at his side, itching to reach up and touch Sherlock's ears as he'd done in the past, but somehow it seemed too inappropriate in this context, where good-natured teasing and mock annoyance was rapidly gathering an edge of something charged that John could not quite discern.
'I am more than capable of feeding myself,' Sherlock rumbled, and John drew in a shuddering breath as his focus scattered beneath the sudden spark of heat that shot down his spine. Unstoppable, his gaze drifted down to Sherlock's mouth and his tongue darted out, moistening his own lips as his pulse tripped in his chest. They were too close, their frontiers too blurred, and suddenly all the quiet potential that simmered between them seemed to be reaching a boiling point.
Abruptly, Sherlock stepped back, dropping into one of the kitchen chairs and pulling a knee up to his chest before propping his chin on its summit. He regarded John with an unblinking stare, and John hoped he hadn't heard the small, tight sound of disappointment that caught in his throat at the abrupt distance.
'In motive at least, the one of us displaying the typical feline behaviour is you.'
With a deep breath, John pulled himself together, turning towards the kettle and trying to subtly adjust his jeans to reduce the pressure at his crotch. That kind of reaction to Sherlock wasn't a new one, but it seemed to occur more frequently these days, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Squaring his shoulders, he tried to keep his voice level as he spoke. 'That's faulty logic, and you know it. It's not the caring bit that's like a cat, it's the dead things.' He shook his head, flicking on the kettle and addressing the steam that rose from its spout. 'New rule: no road kill in the fridge. Nor anything that should be in a morgue, got it? I'm throwing the owl out.'
Sherlock made a grumbling noise in his throat, and John realised he was on the receiving end of a high-and-mighty glare. 'It could be worse,' he pointed out. 'I could have banned them from the flat all together. Put entrails in the bath if you must, but nothing else in the kitchen, all right? I mean it, Sherlock, that's where we keep the food, and I have no wish to die of food poisoning.'
'Why would I let that happen? You're no use to me dead.' Sherlock tipped his head back, looking at the ceiling as if he were making a huge sacrifice. 'Fine. You might want to watch out for what's under your bed, by the way.'
'What? What's under my bed?' He turned to see the tip of Sherlock's tail vanishing out of sight as he disappeared into his room and shut the door in his wake, leaving John spluttering in the kitchen. No way was there anything unsavoury upstairs. When had Sherlock even had the time to put it there? He'd been lying, hadn't he?
Within a minute, John's resolve crumbled, and he abandoned the kettle as it came to the boil, trotting off to check Sherlock's claim.
Nothing turned the air rank with a rotten edge, nor were there any unsanitary stains on the carpet. His knees clicked as he hunkered down, peering into the small space beneath his mattress. Mercifully, there was nothing more threatening than a few clots of dust, and John sighed as he realised Sherlock had been pulling his leg.
Worse, he'd fallen for it.
Distantly the sound of the fridge door being closed reached his ears, and John bowed his head, not sure whether to laugh or swear. He had no doubt in his mind that Sherlock had retrieved the owl, probably ferreting it away for later experimentation before John could dispose of it. If he was lucky, he'd never see it again. If not, he'd discover it somewhere vile when Sherlock forgot about it and it started to stink up the place.
John picked up Sherlock's tail from where it lay on his side of the couch, his fingers almost lost in the dense darkness of Sherlock's coat. The softness tickled at his skin, downy yet strong, and he smirked to himself as the tip wrapped around his wrist. Sherlock's tail wasn't prehensile or anything, the muscles in it weren't powerful enough for that, but it did have a tendency to curve over things of the right diameter. As far as he could tell, it was an unconscious act, but John was secretly pleased every time Sherlock did it. It felt possessive, like Sherlock thought he was worth hanging onto.
He was probably fooling himself, but John shrugged the thought away as he settled into the corner of the couch, his book in his lap as he traced the ridges of delicate vertebrae that were almost lost beneath the forest of the silky pelt that covered them. He noticed that it felt thicker than usual, and he tweaked the tip, smothering a smile when Sherlock flicked it out of his grasp before wrapping its length over John's arm again.
The man himself was engrossed in whatever email he was reading, but the second time John tugged lightly on the hairs at the very tip of his tail, he looked up, casting a frown in his direction. 'What are you doing?'
'Your fur's thicker.'
Sherlock blinked before glancing out of the window at the blustery winter's evening beyond the pane. 'Yes,' he drawled. 'A rather natural response to dropping temperatures.'
'Not for most of us,' John pointed out. 'I've never noticed you moult in the spring, though.'
'That's because I don't. Felisians don't shed, at least not any more than their human counterparts. The apparent increase in density is caused by the hair strand plates expanding to trap warm air. Since neither our ears nor our tails are covered by clothing, there's no fabric to rub away at the follicles and cause damage. Some physiological conditions cause us to lose fur: stress, recovering from drug dependencies, that kind of thing.' Sherlock wrinkled his nose. 'It's remarkably unattractive.'
John held in a sigh, sure that Sherlock spoke from first-hand experience. His use of drugs in the past was something to which he occasionally alluded, and it stood to reason Sherlock had to suffer withdrawal at some point. Perhaps as a doctor, John should feel nothing but acknowledgement for cause and effect, self-inflicted addiction and recovery, but as Sherlock's friend, he couldn't help the spark of pity at the thought of him suffering, miserable and alone.
'You might find the occasional hair from my ears or tail,' Sherlock carried on, unperturbed, 'but it doesn't fall out any quicker than yours.' He reached out a hand, running it through John's short blond hair in demonstration. It was a firm yet careful gesture, not pulling, just a comforting skim over the contours of his skull that made some of the tension in John's spine slip away. He tipped his head into Sherlock's grasp without thinking, blinking when the touch retreated and Sherlock held out his palm so John could see the few hairs caught against his skin.
'Hey, careful,' he protested. 'There aren't as many of those left as there used to be.'
Sherlock snorted, tilting on his hips so that he was leaning against John's shoulder, his eyes once again fixed on the screen of his laptop and his tail twitching against John's thigh. It stopped when John's hand touched it, stroking along the lower half, taking as much comfort from it, if not more, than that which he was giving to Sherlock.
He didn't even notice when he moved his hand to Sherlock's right ear instead, exploring the slender covering over their peaks and the thick clots of it next to Sherlock's scalp. The scar from his childhood was a thin line beneath John's touch, and he smoothed his finger over it before tracing the shape of Sherlock's ear up to the long tuft at the top.
Steadily, the minutes turned into an hour, then more, and it wasn't until the weight of Sherlock's head settled on John's shoulder that he emerged from his book. Looking down in surprise, he found Sherlock's eyes were shut, steady, deep breaths whispering between his lips. The computer slumped off his uneven lap, but John didn't dare make an effort to retrieve it. Not at the risk of disturbing this, unexpected as it was.
Sherlock would probably huff and sulk when he woke up, hiding embarrassment beneath annoyance, but John couldn't bring himself to care. This peace and trust was more than worth the eventual price of Sherlock's mood, and, for as long as it lasted, John planned to cherish it.
The rich perfume of pine filled the confines of the flat, coating the air in the heady scent of resin as John battled to get the tree to stay upright in its stand. Christmas had hit them in a rush, the city decking itself out in lights of every colour imaginable as the rain fell in icy blasts. Snow looked unlikely this year, at least in the middle of the metropolis, and John was eager to forget the gale-force winds rattling the windows and the overcast skies.
So here he was, determined to festoon a slightly asymmetrical tree in as many lights as possible while Sherlock looked on, his expression repulsed.
'What are you doing?'
John shot a glare through a gap between the branches. 'Taking up gardening. What does it look like I'm doing? I'm putting up the Christmas tree.'
Sherlock frowned, his gaze skimming to the door as Mrs Hudson wandered in, her cheeks flushed from some sherry and a smile brightening her face. 'Is that really necessary?'
'Oh Sherlock, don't be such a Scrooge,' she chastised, placing a steadying arm on John's elbow as the tree wobbled and almost knocked him over with it. 'Careful. Lights first, John, dear. It's easier that way.'
Untangling the cables took a disproportionately long time, and John devoted himself to the task while Mrs Hudson unwrapped and cooed over Christmas decorations: treasures to be revealed once a year. Sherlock, of course, remained above it all, perched on the back of his armchair with his feet on the seat and a book written in German held in his hands.
John muttered a quiet curse, battling with a particularly complicated knot. He looked up, mouth open to demand Sherlock give him a hand, and paused, realising that his friend was not as oblivious as he seemed. The book was still parted and cradled in his palms, but rather than his eyes being glued to the page, they were watching the floor, where a row of lights moved a few inches every time John tried to untangle them.
His pupils were dilated, huge pools of black banded by silver, and his ears were pricked forward, alert and almost quivering. Behind him his tail was motionless, and his hips shifted a little where he sat, as if he were trying to stop himself from leaping: predatory instinct rushing to the fore.
Experimentally, John twitched the cable, cursing inwardly when the movement seemed to snap Sherlock out of it. His tail whipped and his gaze fell back to the book, every inch the consummate consulting detective. No doubt Sherlock would see the lapse as embarrassing, but John was fascinated to see something so raw on his face. He never looked quite like that, not even when they were in the depths of some of their best cases. It was as if the bastions of his intelligence were side-lined in favour of something visceral that John had never witnessed before.
With a sigh, he finished what he was doing and began to wrap the lights around the tree, standing back now and then to check that there were no dark patches as he and Mrs Hudson chattered away, laughing about what was on telly and discussing their plans for the fast approaching holiday. The tinsel came next, great ribbons of the stuff, cheap and gaudy but undeniably festive.
It wasn't until their landlady touched John's elbow and jerked her head in Sherlock's direction that he glanced over. One end of the garland was swaying down over John's shoulder in a dazzling, drunken pendulum, and Sherlock looked half-hypnotised by it. The book was almost falling out of his grasp, and his expression was intent. If he pounced now, he'd probably knock John off his feet, but part of him still wanted to see that happen, just to know it was possible.
Mrs Hudson leaned in so she could murmur in John's ear. 'It's been a while since a good case has come his way. He needs something to chase.' She quirked her eyebrows, and John wasn't so sure she was talking about the tinsel any more. Clearing his throat, he tried not to blush, glancing back over his shoulder to find Sherlock reading again, apparently engrossed once more.
He accepted a bowl of baubles from their landlady, hanging them on branches and stretching on tiptoe to reach the higher boughs. One of the spheres, thankfully plastic, fell from his grasp and bounced across the floor. The movement made Sherlock twitch in his chair, his head snapping up and his eyes narrowing as his tail whipped from side-to-side.
John retrieved it as if nothing had happened, catching the smug look on Mrs Hudson's face. A few minutes later, he watched as their landlady rolled one of the plastic orbs in her hand over the carpet, letting it skitter over the tread-worn pile. This time, Sherlock's grip tightened on his book, and John heard a strange noise, almost like a chitter as his teeth rattled together, yet still he didn't move from where he sat, despite the apparently powerful temptation.
Pushing his luck, John waited as long as he could – another seven minutes – before trying one more time. The bright red bauble danced over the floor, but the instant John looked up at Sherlock, he realised the game was up. Gone was the hunter's focus. Instead, Sherlock looked undecided between irritation and fond amusement. To anyone else, he would probably have been cruel and spiteful, but for John, at least, there was some mercy from the sharpest edges of his temper.
'Stop it. I don't “play”.'
'Don't?' Mrs Hudson asked archly, peering around the Christmas tree and smiling in Sherlock's direction. 'Or won't? You should learn to have a little fun, Sherlock.'
Before he could reply, the trill of his phone echoed through the flat, and Sherlock moved as if electrified. It was like all the energy in his body was released in the whirl of his frame and his restless stride.
'Is that Lestrade?' John asked, already putting the bowl of baubles aside and smiling in their landlady's direction as he reached for his coat. 'Got something for us?'
'One of the banks has had a robbery. Problem is, there's no sign of forced entry to the vault, and no indication that anyone ever went in or out.' Sherlock's grin could have lit up half the country, and John smothered a laugh as they clattered down the stairs and out into the miserable heart of London's winter.
Kittens chased toys and pieces of string, but Sherlock hunted criminals, and John knew precisely which he preferred.
And one in which they are:
Plus One: Affection
Christmas Eve at the surgery was a nightmare like no other. It seemed the entire city had decided that they needed John's advice for everything from a sniffle to what turned out to be a brewing case of pneumonia. By the time he was done for the day, darkness had fallen, and a steady curtain of sleet dappled the pavement, threatening to turn the world slick with ice.
His breath steamed in front of him in chattering bursts as he hurried back along Baker Street, thinking of a warm cup of tea and steaming take-away. His gasp of relief was loud in the quiet hall as he let himself in, feeling the sharpest edge of the freezing air recede and a rash of pins and needles spread into his fingers. Of all the days to forget his gloves... Sherlock was right; he was an idiot.
He clumped up the stairs, pushing his way into the flat and blinking at the gloom. Only the Christmas tree was illuminated, the fairy lights glowing in rich, artificial hues and sparkling off the decorations. The peace was almost absolute, broken only by a soft crackling sound that John couldn't place. Easing forward he craned his neck, gratitude swamping him when he saw the fire blazing in the grate.
And, curled up on his side with his face towards the flames, was Sherlock.
He'd dragged his quilt through and placed it by the hearth, making a nest for himself. His knees were tucked up close to his chest, and his tail lay motionless, covering his toes and striking a dark line through the wavering shadows that bled over the living room floor. Sooty lashes formed fans against his cheeks, and his skin was marbled gold with firelight. The merry glow of the lights on the tree scattered gems across the canvas of Sherlock's frame, and, unashamed, John drank in the sight of him.
Quietly, he turned towards the stairs, noticing Sherlock's Belstaff draped over the newel post. A quick brush of his fingers showed that the heavy wool was still damp, almost soaked in places, and he realised Sherlock must have been out in the hideous weather, probably for most of the day. He'd had the right idea, getting into dry clothes and huddling by the fire, and John wasted no time in following suit.
He crept up to his room, making quick work of his garments and draping them on the cool radiator. His pyjamas were chilly from where they'd been folded between the sheets of his bed, and he tried not to shiver as he shrugged on the well-worn fabric and shrouded his freezing toes in thick socks.
Padding back down to the living room, he smiled when he saw that Sherlock hadn't so much as twitched. All thoughts of dinner and a cup of tea were overwhelmed by the strong heat coming from the fireplace and the allure of the man bathing in its glow. Inching closer, he watched for any sign of Sherlock stirring, slowly allowing himself to settle on the very edge of the quilt, with the cold air of the room at his back and the enticement of the fire lapping at his chest and face.
Both sensations, however, were almost overwhelmed by the soft fist of emotion that closed around his heart: contentment, happiness and gratitude that, of everyone, he was the one Sherlock trusted enough to allow so close. Even putting aside the rough jolts of desire that occasionally swirled in his blood, John had never experienced a friendship like this before – nothing he'd ever shared with family or lovers had ever felt so precious, and he wasn't quite sure where that left him.
Here, obviously, staring at his flatmate like a lovestruck teenager and hovering on the periphery of his peace.
Carefully, he reached out, nudging Sherlock's shoulder and watching wakefulness find him. His ears and tail fluttered in unison, and a coarse hum rumbled in Sherlock's chest: the forewarning to his motorbike-engine purr. John loved that noise and revelled in it whenever he got the chance. Now, the deep sound resonated in the air, husky with sleep as Sherlock stretched his arm above his head, his hips and spine giving a sensuous roll before he blinked open hazy eyes and smiled in John's direction.
'I didn't hear you come in.' His voice sounded hoarse with slumber, inviting in ways John tried not to consider, and he licked his lips as Sherlock writhed where he lay, his muscles lax and torpid in the fire's heat.
'I've not been here long,' John promised, unable to suppress a shiver as Sherlock's eyes slid half-closed, looking drugged with lethargy. The tremor didn't slip beneath his notice, however, and the next thing John knew long fingers were tangling in his own, striking lines of heat against his hand.
'You're freezing,' Sherlock muttered, his chest lifting with a sigh before he grabbed John's wrist and pulled with unceremonious strength.
There were a few moments of tangled limbs and confusion before John found himself on his back between Sherlock and the fire. His side was pressed to Sherlock's front in a seam, and one of Sherlock's arms banded his torso, heavy and firm. The warmth was almost overwhelming, and John tried not to melt beneath its onslaught as the frost seeped out of his bones.
Vaguely, he thought about protesting the loss of his personal space, or pulling back to re-establish a few boundaries, but how could he when this was what he craved? Sherlock's affection was a rare gift. Like a cat, it was something that had to be given on his own terms, rather than being available on demand, and John was unwilling to break the spell.
'Better?' Sherlock asked, blinking at John's smile before burrowing into his side. 'Tell me about your day.'
'Can't you deduce it?' he asked, turning so that they were face-to-face, timidly wrapped up in each other's arms.
'Too tired.' Sherlock hummed, wrinkling his nose. 'Talk.'
And so John did, his voice little more than an intimate whisper as he laid out the details for Sherlock's amusement, sharing laughter and intrigue in the benign health complaints of London's populace.
And all the while, Sherlock's hand rested over John's waist. Not quite an embrace, but close enough.
Together, they basked in the hot kisses of the firelight, and John lost himself in the constant warmth of Sherlock's quiet affection.