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Title: Shadow - 1/2
Rating: PG
Pairing: Sherlock/John (sort of)
Word Count: 4,236
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to Auntie Beeb and Uncle Moff; Sherlock Holmes belongs to the world.
Spoilers: None, really.
Warnings: parental alcoholism, family dysfunction, one racial slur
Thanks: to my lovely beta/Britpickers [livejournal.com profile] ilovewales , [livejournal.com profile] mountland, and [livejournal.com profile] oncelikeshari  ...all lingering mistakes are just me being awkward.
Summary: When he was five years old, John Watson had a cat called Shadow.

Notes: God help me, I have written a cat reincarnation fic. Vaguely inspired by the lovely story Fishsticks by [livejournal.com profile] kaitoufic.



“His name’s Shadow.”

The cat looked up with lazy yellow eyes. It was huge and black with a face like vampire and dear God how long had Johnny had been feeding it behind their house?

“It’s a stray, you tit-box. Strays don’t have names.”

“He does. He’s black like a shadow and doesn’t make no noise when he walks. So he’s called Shadow.”

Harry caught a glimpse of jagged yellow fang lurking like a dagger behind the cat’s lip. “Oh, Christ, Johnny, stay away from it! It’ll bite.”

“He’s hurt,” Johnny replied calmly. He was only five; he should have been easier to argue with. He was right, though: a nasty red gash ran from the corner of the cat’s head all the way across the soft bit in front of its ear. Harry wasn’t surprised. She thought she’d seen this cat fighting with Mrs. Addington’s nasty Alsatian that was always getting loose. The cat had won. At a cost, it seemed.

Harry stepped forward, trying to get between the death-clawed menace and her idiot baby brother. “Seriously, Johnny, Mum’ll have a fit if that thing scratches you - “

There was a sudden low, eerie noise, like an airplane losing altitude. The cat never once looked up from the table scraps Johnny had set out for it,  but gave a second warning growl when Harry didn’t step backwards. She didn’t need telling a third time.

“See! It’s growling at me. Come on, Johnny. Now. Before it rips our faces off.”

“He doesn’t like people to bother him when he’s eating.” Again, that irritating matter-of-fact tone that was impossible to argue with. Harry chewed her lip.

“I’ll tell Mum.”

“And I’ll tell Dad you drink that stuff out of those bottles in his wardrobe when he’s not home.”

“Do not!”

“Do so.”

It was a stalemate. Johnny wasn’t going to budge, but Harry wasn’t about to leave him alone in the alley with that dark whiskered menace.

When the cat finished eating it stepped away from the scraps to show it was full, then stretched and took a few moments to wash its face. Then, content with its after-dinner toilet, it folded its lengthy paws up underneath its chest and half-closed its eyes. It looked for all the world like it was meditating.

Slowly, Johnny got up and sat down next to it. Harry held her breath. Maybe the only way the little moron would learn to stay away from stray cats was if one of them clawed a good chunk out of him. The cat didn’t scratch him, though. It sat perfectly still as Johnny said soothing things to it...and to Harry’s amazement, it actually let her stupid, idiotic, soft-hearted and clinically insane baby brother stroke it.

This time the noise in the alley was like a car engine warming up. Jesus, that nightmare thing was actually purring. Then Johnny took something from the back pocket of his school shorts. It was the tube of savlon Mum used when they cut their fingers or scraped their knees.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me. Does Mum know you’re got that? That’s for people, you muppet; how do you know it’ll even work on cats?”

“It works.” Johnny insisted. “I been giving it to him since Monday. He’s getting better.”

Harry watched him squeeze some of the ointment onto his small finger, then lean over to daub it onto the gash in the cat’s head. This is it, Harry thought. This is the moment I become an only child.

The cat’s ears flattened slightly. That and a brief pause in its purring were the only hints that it might not be overjoyed with her little brother’s actions. It must have hurt. But the cat sat absolutely still, allowing itself to be doctored without so much as a sniff.

Johnny wiped his hand on his blazer and put the tube back in his pocket. Then he stroked the cat again, telling it not to wash the ointment off cause then he wouldn’t get better. Then he stood up, retrieved the abandoned Tupperware lid that had held the table scraps, and walked calmly out of the alley towards the Watsons’ front door. Harry stared after him in amazement.

The cat just sat there purring.

*****

“By God, he’s a right rangy bastard enough.”

“Looks like he might have a bit of Egyptian Mao in him.”

“Looks like he might have a bit of the postman in him, and all. Has anyone checked Alfie’s still got both legs?”

Unbelievable. Their parents were actually allowing that mangy brute inside the house.

“Could be useful, mind. I’ve seen the odd mouse round the kitchen. And in the shed.”

Harry began to wonder, not for the first time, if she was the only sane person in her entire family.

“It gets into fights all the time. I’ve seen it! It’ll scratch us and give us all blood poisoning.”

“Well, he seems gentle enough now.” Give it credit, the hairy menace was a good actor: it sat next to Johnny on the sofa, purring contentedly as he stroked its head. It looked like it wouldn’t hurt a fly.

When Harry had wanted that little baby rabbit last spring, Mum and Dad had lost the plot. Lectured her about fleas and the price of pet food and how its cage would stink up the whole house. But for precious perfect Johnny? They were giving this flea-bitten furbag the royal treatment.

Harry felt sudden tears of rage welling up.

“Fine! Let him move in and crap all over the kitchen and give us all fleas. You lot don’t care if I get scratched to death and die! I HATE you!” She stormed off to her and Johnny’s bedroom and slammed the door behind her, not answering when both her parents knocked.

Later she overheard them speaking in the kitchen. “She’ll get over it. You know what girls her age are like. And it might be good for Johnny. I think he wants to be a vet when he grows up.”

Of course. It was all about Johnny. He was the important one. He was the boy. All Mr. and Mrs. Watson ever expected Harry to be when she grew up was married. It wasn’t fair.

She went to sleep that night hating them all: her idiotic parents, her precious perfect baby brother, and especially that two-faced freak of a cat.

A week later, after the fight with the bulldog, she felt somewhat different.

******

“Don’t move, Johnny! Keep still.”

They were walking home from school and didn’t see the dog until it jumped out at them from some upturned rubbish bins. It was Mr. Hanscom’s bulldog. The one that bit Gareth Andrews so bad he’d had to have nine stitches in his leg. It snarled at them, ropy twists of slobber flying from its jaws as it barked.

“Don’t move, I said! If it chases us we’re dead.” Johnny was holding his rucksack like he meant to use it as a weapon. Some weapon. Harry looked around for a brick or a stone or please God a broken bottle; anything that would make a dent in that ugly monster’s head, but found nothing.

Johnny’s voice was dry with fear. “If we split up, he won’t know which one of us to chase.” Oh, brilliant. So only one of them would end up in hospital.

“Shut up. Move towards the wall. Slowly!” Johnny was too short to climb it, but Harry might be able to lift him over and then scramble up herself before the dog got her by the ankle. Maybe.

A sudden clatter made them all look round. Johnny’s stray black cat had jumped down from the wall onto one of the bins. From there it hopped lightly to the pavement, never taking its eyes off the snarling bulldog.

“Shadow, No!” Johnny wailed. “Go home!” Harry didn’t give a toss about the cat, but she knew a good distraction when she saw one. She grabbed her little brother and flung him up onto the wall, jumping up after him and looking round for a neighbour or passerby who could call the police.

“Run, Shadow! Run!”

“Shut up, Johnny! I’m trying to get help.”

But there was no help. They were all alone in the lane. Reluctantly, Harry turned her attention back to the cat. It strolled lazily up to the dog, ignoring its vicious snaps and snarls, and actually sat down...eyes half open, one ear casually flicking away a gnat. The only hint that it was even aware of the ugly brute barking out sharp toothy death at it was the tip of its tail: it twitched and flicked, almost like the end of a hook dancing about to catch a fish.

Then, with no warning...it leapt.

One minute the bulldog was growling and snapping at the bored-looking cat, the next, it was yowling and yipping and trying to dislodge the clawing whirlwind of black fur attached to its face. Harry watched, rapt. It was like an American rodeo: how long could the cat hold on? She counted four seconds before it threw the fight to the bulldog - it didn’t fall off; it deliberately let go - and went flying across the lane, landing on its flank and skidding on the pavement as the bulldog ran yipping and yelping in the opposite direction.

Harry had to stick an arm out to keep Johnny from jumping off the wall. The cat didn’t seem hurt, though: he got up and washed his right front paw to recover his dignity, then stretched and sauntered over to the pair of siblings on the wall.

Reluctantly, Harry slid down and lifted Johnny after her. The bulldog had retreated down the lane. It gave them a menacing growl as their feet hit the pavement...but the black cat had only to turn its head in warning to send the ugly brute whimpering off with its tail between its legs.

“Good boy, Shadow. Good cat.” Johnny stroked the cat’s angular black head, and that familiar noise of a guttering car engine filled the lane.

“Yeah. Thanks. I guess.” Harry still didn’t quite trust the rangy stray, and probably never would. But even she had to admit that what he’d just done to that bulldog was pretty bloody cool.

Harry watched her baby brother stroke the cat who had just put the fear of God into the former neighbourhood terror. After a while, Shadow flopped down on his side to let Johnny rub his belly, purring like an overgrown kitten.

******

After that, Shadow was part of the family. The former stray now had a home. And a name. Two names, really...Mr. and Mrs. Watson always put his and Johnny’s names together, like some sort of weird title: “where’s Johnny’s Shadow gone?” or, “has anyone seen our Johnny’s Shadow?” After a while, even the neighbours joined in: “Here, isn’t that Johnny Watson’s Shadow up on the bins?”

Either way, the name suited him. It described both his sleek sable coat, and his uncanny habit of suddenly popping up wherever Johnny was: outside friends’ or relatives’ houses; inside the Watson home when they thought all the doors were shut and locked; up on a wall near school or church...lurking...waiting. You could almost set your watch by him.

Harry was glad. With Shadow trailing Johnny everywhere she didn’t need to watch him as closely as she used to. The cat’s mere presence was enough to discourage even friendly people from approaching, let alone enemies. It wasn’t that the cat was ugly, exactly. He wasn’t. But there was something about him that was slightly...offputting.

Maybe it was his face. Shadow Watson was so tall and thin he looked like someone had taken a normal cat and stretched him out like a piece of Silly Putty. It almost made him look like a space alien. His cheekbones were so long and sharp it looked like you could slice bread with them. And his eyes...two big yellow moons in a midnight sky; angled upwards at the corners like a samurai warrior.

“That cat has lovely eyes,” Mrs. Watson remarked.

“That cat looks like a Jap,” Mr. Watson scoffed. His brothers had been in the War. At least that’s what Mum always said whenever he was being racist about foreigners. Harry rolled her eyes and walked to her room so she wouldn’t have to hear another one of Dad’s stories about what the enemy had done to poor uncle Barton in the camps.

It wasn’t just the cat’s odd looks, though. It was his whole manner. ‘Regal’ was Mrs. Watson’s word; ‘creepy’ was Harry’s. He had a way of staring right through you like you didn’t exist. And his voice sounded less like a tame little ‘meow’ and more like a lion in a mine shaft. The collection of battle scars decorating his pelt like war wounds told the world to keep its distance; this cat was one tough customer.

Harry was pretty sure she was the only one who knew just how smart he was too, though. She saw it for herself when Johnny had the chickenpox.

Johnny was in their bedroom, sick and itchy and miserable. Harry was in the drawing room reading a stack of comics uncle Gordon had brought back from America, lingering over the pictures of Wonder Woman and wondering what it would feel like to slip her hands inside that lovely winged Wonderbra, cupping the soft curves of flesh underneath… Shadow held his usual perch on the sofa. Harry wasn’t sure exactly when the drawing room couch had become Shadow’s personal domain, but nobody was ever completely comfortable sitting there while he was on it. He’d stretch out on his back with his chin pointed heavenwards, as though inviting a hand to scritch under the angular jaw…paws folded in an odd prayer position, as though he’d fallen backwards in the middle of chanting a hosannah.

Mrs. Watson brought some soup and bread in to Johnny. Harry could hear him whinging that he wasn’t hungry. Mrs. Watson left the tray in case he got peckish later on and went to do some washing up.

When she’d gone, Shadow suddenly sat up on the sofa cushion. The unexpected movement roused Harry from her comic. The cat’s ears flicked back and forth, testing for sounds unknown. Then he yawned and stretched and hopped down to the floor. Harry watched the tip of his tail over the back of the sofa as it swished its way towards her and Johnny’s bedroom.

Harry got up and followed him. She didn’t hate Shadow anymore, but she still wasn’t exactly in love with him, either. If he tried to steal Johnny’s soup then maybe her parents would put him out for the night instead of letting him sleep in their bedroom. Hearing that low growly purr in the dark gave her the creeps.

When she arrived, Shadow was lounging up by Johnny’s pillow. Then, just as she thought, he stuck his long sharp face over the bowl of soup and started to sniff.

“Don’t you dare let that cat eat your soup,” Harry warned her miserable speckled sibling. “Mum made it for you, not him.”

“I’m not hungry.” Johnny sat up and pulled the tray closer, scooping up a spoonful of the steaming broth and holding it out to the cat. “Here, Shadow. You want some?”

Harry sat down on her bed and watched him like a hawk, ready to fetch Mum the second the cat’s slender pink tongue touched the broth. It didn’t, though. Shadow sniffed a few more times, then licked his lips...and looked away, as though suddenly bored by the whole idea of soup in general.

“Come on, Shadow. It’s good. Nummy nummy.” Johnny took a sip himself to show that it was good, then held the spoon out again. Unfortunately his sip had used up most of the broth in it, so he leaned over for another scoop. Again, Shadow looked keen at first, sniffing with great interest…then abruptly looked away. This strange scene repeated itself several times before Johnny finally gave up...but by that time, he’d eaten enough of the soup to realise how hungry he really was. He put a fragment of bread in the next spoonful and shoved it in his own mouth, sloshing the broth on his chin in his eagerness to get it down him.

Harry shook her head in awe and disbelief. That mangy, sneaky, diabolically clever mog had just tricked her idiotic baby brother into eating his dinner, and he didn’t even know it. Recognising an audience, Shadow hopped down and strolled over to the foot of Harry’s bed, blinking up at her with his tail swishing as though awaiting words of praise for his cleverness.

“Smug git,” Harry acknowledged, and went back to admiring Wonder Woman’s breasts.

******

A few weeks after that, Dad came home late. He’d promised Mum he wouldn’t do that anymore. After last time, he’d promised Harry and Johnny, too.

“Keep your voice down! It’s a schoolnight; you’ll wake the kids.”

Harry heard Mum’s loud whispers, and Dad’s weird slurry giggles that sounded like he had marbles in his mouth. Harry looked across the darkened room. Johnny was awake too.

“Stay in bed,” she told him, putting on her dressing gown and creeping to the doorway.

She opened it a crack. Mum and Dad were arguing in the kitchen. Mum said you promised. You promised us you wouldn’t. Not after last time. For God’s sake Harold, if you can’t keep your word to your own children...

“Does he smell funny this time?” Johnny’s tense whisper was right behind her.

“Stay in bed, I said! And how the hell would I know, you numpty; I can’t smell him from here!”

But it seemed she would soon get the chance. Squeaking floorboards and loud unsteady footsteps sounded in the corridor. She and Johnny dove for their beds, not quite making it before the door swung open and the light flipped on.

“See there, Maggie, they’re still up!” Even squinting in the brightness, Harry could see Dad’s shiny red cheeks and nose. “Come on, kids, come’ere an’ give yer old man a cuddle.”

Neither of them moved. When Dad came home late, he liked to wake them up to play. Sometimes it was funny, like when he kept falling all over himself playing Twister. Sometimes it wasn’t. When Harry needed three stitches after he accidentally knocked her head against the wardrobe trying to teach her how to swing dance, no one laughed. Well, Dad did, until he saw all the blood. Then last Easter he’d dropped Johnny playing paratroopers. Johnny’s arm had been in a sling for three months.

“Well, come on...what’s wrong wi’yeh? Aren’t you glad to see yer old man? Eh? I’m only the one who pays the bloody bills round here, that’s all!”

He wasn’t like this normally. Only when he came home late. Harry knew he never meant to hurt them.

But he still did.

There was a soft thump behind them. It was the sound of four furry feet hitting the carpet beside Johnny’s bed.

Mum appeared in the doorway. “Look at them, Harold.” Her words were soft, but her voice had a coldness in it that Harry only ever heard when Dad was like this. “They’re afraid of you. Your own children. Is that what you want? They love you, but you’re making them afraid.”

While they were talking, Shadow strolled across the bedroom carpet. He sat down squarely between Mr. Watson and the children, blinking disinterestedly. The tip of his tail twitched.

“Oh for God’s sake, woman, stop being such a bloody drama queen!” Harry wondered if the neighbours could hear Dad talking so loud. “We’re only after a bit of fun, eh, isn’t that right Harry? Johnny?”

“Dad...step back.” Harry’s eyes were fixed on Shadow’s tail. It had twitched exactly like that when he stared down the bulldog in the lane.

“What?” Mr. Watson missed the concern in her voice.“What did you say, young lady?”

“Daddy, please!” Johnny had seen Shadow’s tail now too. He rubbed his little fingers against his palms, eyes darting anxiously from man to cat.

Mr. Watson ignored him. “Fine thing; your own daughter bossing you about in your own home. Well I’ll tell you one thing, Missie, you may think you’re Queen of the World, but in my house - “

But Harry would never hear how things were in Mr. Watson’s house, because at that moment, Shadow leapt.

So did Mr. Watson. Harry swore later that he bumped his head on the woodwork all the way above the door frame. And it was absolutely the worst, wrongest time ever to laugh, but the crazy dance Mr. Watson did trying to shake the furry bundle of claws and teeth loose from his crotch - and the noises he made while doing it - were the funniest things Harry and Johnny had ever seen in their lives. Their fear burst like a balloon and they both exploded into fits of shrieking, near-hysterical giggles.

They stopped laughing when they heard a bump and a crash in the drawing room.

“Shadow!”

There was a rustling whack! Mr. Watson had found the kitchen broom. Shadow must have thrown the fight and taken refuge under some bit of furniture.

“Harold!” Another bristling swipe, and a tinkling clatter...one of the ornamental plates on the drawing room wall had just taken a hit. “Harold, stop it! Leave him; you’ll wreck the whole house!”

Another whack. Another crash. Harry and Johnny stood rooted to the spot, not daring to move. Finally they looked at each other...and Johnny bolted for the door.

“Johnny, no! Wait!” Harry lunged and grabbed him by the arm. She could see it all in her head more clearly than a picture on a movie screen: Dad wouldn’t mean to hit Johnny, he’d feel terrible about it afterwards, but if he was dizzy and clumsy and couldn’t see where he was swinging...just then they heard the front door open. There was another rustling thump, then the door slammed shut so hard it made the windows in their bedroom rattle. One of Harry’s ballerina figurines toppled off her knicknack shelf and shattered on the floor.

Heavy footsteps returned. Harry backed away from the door, automatically pushing Johnny behind her. Mr. Watson had never laid a hand on either of them in their whole lives, but when he was like this, Harry wasn’t taking any chances.

Their father reappeared. “You think that’s bloody funny, eh? Cat claws me knackers off and it’s all a big joke? Well here’s a good’un for yeh...that bloody beast’s gone out of this house and he’s never coming back! Laugh that one up, the pair of you!”

He tried to slam their bedroom door, but missed. The attempt made a flimsy little swish of breeze ruffle his thinning hair instead. He grabbed for the handle again, and only succeeded in whacking his knuckles painfully on the knob. Harry felt a crazy urge to laugh again as he shook his injured hand in the air, but she bit down hard on her tongue to stop herself. Finally Mr. Watson got hold of the doorknob and pointed an accusing finger at them.

“And stop that bloody snivelling. Don’t want to hear it. Be a man.” Harry realised Johnny was crying behind her. She could feel his small chest hitching against her back. Their bedroom door finally closed, and a choked sob broke from his throat as soon as the hasp clicked.

“Stop it,” Harry hissed. “If he hears you he’ll come back.” She took her little brother by the shoulder and led him over to the pillow on his bed. “There. Cry into that. Quietly.”

Johnny did, collapsing face-first onto the mattress. After a while, Mrs. Watson gently opened the door.

“Hush, love,” she soothed Johnny, then looked up at Harry. “Go back to bed, both of you. We’ll talk about this in the morning.”

“Daddy killed Shadow!” Johnny wailed, his wavering voice thankfully muffled by the pillow.

“No, sweetheart, he didn’t. He just chased him outside.” Mrs. Watson glanced over at Harry’s broken ballerina figure on the floor...then quickly looked away. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” she repeated, and closed the door softly behind her.

For a while Harry just sat there, listening to her brother cry, tasting blood where she’d bitten her tongue to keep from laughing. Then she got up and put out the light, sliding into her own bed and turning her face to the wall. Johnny’s sobbing slowly went from from bawling wails to whimpering, choked sniffles.

“Shut up,” Harry murmured. “Go back to sleep. Don’t be a crybaby.” There was no real anger in her voice, or any real feeling at all. Right now she didn’t want to feel much of anything.

After several minutes the whimpering stopped. Johnny’s breathing slowed and steadied. He was asleep. Harry got up and shoved him the rest of the way onto his bed, pulling the blanket up over him. Then she went back to bed herself.

She could still hear Mum and Dad arguing in the kitchen as she fell asleep.



Continued...




Q

Date: 2011-05-19 01:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rabidsamfan.livejournal.com
Rereading (already!) and I have to say how much I love it that you did this story from Harry's point of view, and how much I love the way you made her feel like a real kid in the process.

Date: 2011-05-19 02:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] qthebadwolf.livejournal.com
Thanks! I so want to see Harry Watson as a character in s2; she's way too interesting for the writers not to explore.

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