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Title: Shadow - 2/2
Rating: PG
Pairing: Sherlock/John (sort of)
Word Count: 4,212
Disclaimer: Sherlock belongs to Auntie Beeb and Uncle Moff; Sherlock Holmes belongs to the world.
Spoilers: None, really.
Warnings: parental alcoholism, family dysfunction, death of a pet
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.



Shadow had appeared in the house so many times when they thought he was locked out that Harry half expected him to be sitting quietly on Johnny’s bed the next morning. But he wasn’t there.

Neither was Johnny.

“Harry love, where’s he gone?” Mum took her by the shoulders, her voice calm but her fingers digging into Harry’s arms as she shook her awake. “You have to tell us. If you know where he is then for God’s sake please...”

“Ouch! What? Mum - I don’t know!”

“Come on, Johnny lad.” Mr. Watson knelt down and looked under the bed. He was moving very slowly this morning, like Grandpa Oliver with his arthritis. He always moved like that on mornings after he came home late. “Ollie Ollie oxen free! Time to get up, son.”

Johnny wasn’t under the bed. He wasn’t in the wardrobe, or in the bathroom cabinet, or hiding in the broom cupboard. He wasn’t anywhere in the whole house.

“It’s your fault,” Harry told her father over her breakfast cereal as Mrs. Watson phoned the police.

Mr. Watson rubbed a hand over his face. “You’ll keep a civil tongue in this house, young lady.” Harry got up and went to the sink. She deliberately made as much noise as she could with the dishes, satisfied at the pained look on her father’s face with every loud clink and clatter of the crockery.

Johnny didn’t turn up at school, and he didn’t come home that afternoon. Or that evening. By nightfall, Mum was almost hysterical.

“We’ll find him, Mrs. Watson,” the WPC assured her. “He can’t have got far. We’ve got a canine unit on the job and I’m sure they’ll find him in no time.”

Eventually Mum and Dad made her go to bed. Harry had thought Shadow’s eerie, growly purr in the dark was the creepiest thing she’d ever heard. She was wrong. The bedroom’s empty silence was much, much worse. Finally she couldn’t take it and dragged her pillow and blankets over to the sofa. But that felt wrong, too. The sofa was Shadow’s. So she curled up and went to sleep in Mrs. Watson’s padded armchair instead.

She listened down the hall. Her parents’ bedroom was as silent as hers and Johnny’s. For once, Harry thought, they must be too scared to argue.

******

Johnny still wasn’t home the next morning. Harry got herself up and dressed for school without anyone in the house speaking a single word…unlike everyone in the playground, who wanted details of the hottest piece of gossip ever to hit the second form. Harry had to bloody a few noses to teach their owners a lesson about keeping them out of other peoples’ business...and for once, to her surprise, none of the teachers punished her for it.

Finally, just before home time, a teacher’s aide pulled her out of class. “They’ve found him. In an old warehouse down by the tracks. They’re trying to talk him out right now.”

It was an old building alright; crumbling to pieces. It smelled like dirt and rust and damp and old metal. There were boxes and crates piled almost to the ceiling. Johnny had stacked some of them together to form a sort of patchwork causeway up to a platform whose staircase had rotted away. The boxes looked too flimsy for a grownup to climb, so everyone was gathered at the bottom trying to get Johnny to come down.

“Come on now, son.” Dad had come over from work. Mum was outside, but was crying so much the police wouldn’t let her in. ”Nobody here wants to hurt you. Be a good lad and come home.”

“No!” Harry could see a brief flash of Johnny’s old pullover high up on the platform, the one he wore on cold days. The officers’ torchlights glinted off two tiny specks of light next to the jumper: two yellow eyes. Shadow was up there with him.

Mr. Watson looked down at his daughter. “Go on, Harry lass. You’re nobbut a strip of a girl; clamber up there and bring your baby brother down.”

Harry did not like this idea at all. She was good at climbing trees, not boxes: trees were strong and solid and stayed still when you put your feet on them. But everyone was looking at her, so she had to try at least. She’d gotten as far as the third wobbly crate when that creepy, familiar noise like failing airplane engines echoed through the empty warehouse. Harry rankled. Out of the whole family, Shadow only ever growled at her. Why the hell did he hate her so much? It didn’t strike her until years later, remembering his eerie silence in front of the bulldog and Mr. Watson, that maybe she was one of the few people he considered worthy of giving a warning to first.

“Shadow’s growling,” Harry said, grateful for an excuse to climb down. “He won’t let me near him.”

“Try again, pet.”

“First tell Johnny Shadow can come home.” Harry didn’t believe the words were actually coming from her mouth. Was she really trying to get that rangy mog back inside their house? But it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that that was the whole reason Johnny had run away in the first place.

Mr. Watson hesitated, but Johnny had already heard. “I’ll come back home if Shadow can!”

Mr. Watson rubbed his fingers on his palms. It was something he and Johnny both did when they were nervous. “Son, that cat’s dangerous. He’s already clawed me; next time he might bite one of us. He might bite you or Harry.”

His voice was calm and steady and soothing. The police all looked at him, probably thinking what a good, patient father he was. They didn’t know that he’d come home late two nights ago and made Johnny run away.

“He clawed you because you were drinking that stuff! That stuff that made you drunk!”

For a minute Harry couldn’t believe Johnny had actually said it. Then she saw the look on her father’s face.

“What did you say, you young - “

“It’s true!” The angry tears welled up in Harry’s eyes again, and the police were all looking at her now but she didn’t care, she couldn’t stop herself. Didn’t want to stop herself. “He knew you were drunk and you’d hurt is if you got too close. You never mean to hurt us but you always do. You always do!”

Her words echoed in the dusty silence. The look in her father’s eyes was the worst thing she’d ever seen in her life. It swung between fear, and rage, and betrayal…and then finally, shame. He slumped his shoulders, wiping his hand restlessly on his trouser leg like a scared little kid. Harry wanted to cry for him. He was the best father in the whole world. He was gentle and patient and he built them things and made them Yorkshire pudding and told them funny stories that made Johnny laugh so hard his chocolate milk came out his nose. Why couldn’t he be like that all the time?

The police didn’t seem to know where to look. They didn’t think Mr. Watson was such a great father now. Partly Harry was ashamed of that, but mostly what she felt was a savage satisfaction.

“Alright, son.” Mr. Watson’s voice trembled. “He can come home. But he has to sleep outside. Come on down now like a good lad. Come back to your mother.”

Johnny did. The soft sound of four furry feet followed him down the boxes: ka-thump…ka-thump…ka-thump…. Then they were both back on solid ground. Johnny had scraped knees and scruffed hair and ripped clothes and he was unbelievably dirty, but other than that, he looked okay. Mum ran in from outside and hugged him so hard it looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his head.

“Ouch, Mum! You’re hurting me.”

Harry stood back and watched her parents fuss over her precious baby brother. Now that he was safe they were ignoring her, as usual. But for once, she almost didn’t mind.

That evening Mr. Watson made Johnny promise that Shadow would sleep outside. Johnny promised. But of course, in a week’s time, Shadow was right there on the foot of his bed every night. Just like always. Harry understood. If Dad could break his promises, then Johnny was allowed to break at least one. Just this one. Just the one that mattered.

After that, things went back to normal. No one ever talked about Johnny running away. For a while Harry worried that someone might come round because of what she’d said about Dad’s drinking in front of the police, but they never did. She was grateful, and relieved.

It didn’t occur to her until several years later that maybe she should have been angry instead.

******

It was a beautiful clear Saturday. The air still nipped, but the sunshine had a hopeful warmth about it that said spring was on its way.

“Come on, Slowpoke. While we’re young.” Harry gave Johnny’s bike a doubtful glance as he wheeled it over. Dad hadn’t come home late again since Johnny ran away, but Harry noticed that the bottles in his wardrobe got emptier quicker than they ever had before. Last night his hands were shaking when he took the chain off Johnny’s bike to grease it up. He’d fixed it though; the squeak was gone. The only thing wrong with it now was a funny sort of catch, like the chain froze for a split second every few cycles to hiccup, then kept on going.

It was only a little thing, though. The bike still worked. It would be fine.

“Gentlemen, start your engines!” They were at the top of Drover’s Lane, a road which wound downhill next to the canal. It was brilliant for sledding in the winter, and for bike and go-cart races in the summer. In a few months she’d be kicking Mike Arrington’s stupid stuck-up arse and winning every race they ran, but for now a few quick races with her baby brother would be good practice.

Johnny mounted his bike. He’d only learnt how to ride without the stabilizers last year.

“Remember to go light on the brakes. You don’t need to really hit them until the red house by that blue van.”

“I know,” Johnny rolled his eyes. “I’m not a baby. I’ve gone down here lots of times.”

“Okay, Mister Touchy. Sheesh.” Harry swung her right pedal into position and placed her foot on it. “Ready…steady...go!!!”

They pushed off.  Johnny took an early lead, his smaller bike and lighter frame giving him an edge over Harry’s battered old yellow war-horse. But Harry’s greater weight was a bonus the more speed they picked up, and she soon shot ahead. And then...

“Yes! Harriet Watson wins the cup! Raaaaahhhh!”

Harry won the first race. Johnny won the second. After that he wanted to go home to watch cartoons, but Harry pushed for one more go. One-all was only a tie. There needed to be a winner.

On their third time down, Harry was ahead by a few lengths when she suddenly heard a clatter behind her. She looked back. Johnny’s bike was down. She braked hard and swerved, banking around to pedal back up the hill. Johnny wasn’t the kind of kid who faked a crash just because he was losing a race. As she got a little closer she saw his front wheel sticking out from under the side door of a parked car. He wasn’t crying, but he was stuck. The bike had wedged between him and the car and pinned him underneath it.

When she was sure he wasn’t hurt, Harry grinned. A joke about mousetraps was on the edge of her lips when she heard a gut-sinking noise at the top of the Lane.

A car engine.

Shit...!

Dad drove her and Johnny down Drover’s Lane all the time. They loved going over the little rises too fast, feeling the giddy lurch in their stomachs as the wheels left the road for a split second. But the fourth rise was always a little scary because it was bigger than the others, and you couldn’t see what was beneath it - another car coming, maybe, or a dog crossing the street - until you were already over.

Johnny’s bike was stuck just under the fourth rise. Trapped beneath the car, pinning him with his head and shoulders out in the middle of the road.

“Johnny!!” Harry’s legs felt like lead. It was uphill; she was never going to make it. “Johnny, move!!” She knew it was useless even as she screamed it, he couldn’t move, and she could see the car now oh God a big red rusty Leyland barrelling over the first rise...

Johnny heard the car now. He shrieked and writhed under the bike, trying to wriggle out, but the back wheel pinned his leg and the chain was caught on his coat...the loose chain. The loose chain their father had supposedly fixed with his shaking hands the night before.

The Leyland was over the second rise. Oh God...Harry prayed without realising it, pumping for her life on her bike pedals and going about as fast as a fly through treacle. She couldn’t make it. She couldn’t make it. Johnny couldn’t get out oh please God please no NO and just as the car crested the third rise a flash of black shot out from a side street and streaked across the road.

Brakes shrieked. Tyres squealed. There was a small thump like wheels on a speed breaker, and the car skidded to a halt at the very top of the fourth rise.

Harry opened her eyes. Johnny lay metres from the Leyland’s front grille, crying and fighting to get out. It hadn’t hit him. He was alive.

Car doors opened. “What the bloody...?” Harry finally reached her brother. She threw her bike aside and yanked him free, badly skinning his leg on his own bike’s pedal in the process, but she wouldn’t know that until later. She made him stand up. He was crying now, but he was safe. Safe. Relief turned her fear into anger and she rounded on the Leyland’s driver, ready to give him the biggest telling off of his entire life for speeding down a hill where little kids were playing.

That’s when she saw the crumpled black shape lying in the road. A second later, Johnny saw it too.

Harry had never heard her brother scream like that.

“What’s going on?” Neighbours had begun to emerge from their front rooms, wondering if there had been an accident. One of them, a tall man with a moustache, saw the black shape in the road and turned to his wife. “Here, isn’t that Johnny Watson’s Shadow - ?”

Johnny ran past him and tore up to the hill to the huddled mass of sleek black fur lying on the tarmac. After a moment, Harry followed.

Shadow lay across Johnny’s lap. He was still breathing. Just. Harry didn’t want to look at the horrible broken angles under his skin or the dark blood matting his fur, but Johnny was looking. If Johnny could take it, so could she.

Shadow’s flank quivered. His breath hitched. Then a long sigh drifted out of him. He didn’t move again.

For a long time Harry just stood there. She didn’t know what else to do. She wasn’t going to leave Johnny here all by himself, but it was horrible, standing out in the middle of the road with a bunch of strangers staring at them and listening to her brother sob. It wasn’t the way little kids normally cried. It was the kind of crying that had almost no sound, except for a spooky, whispery, high-pitched whine, like a rusty nail slowly being pulled from a board. The sound made her shiver.

Eventually, Harry felt Mum’s hand on her shoulder.

“What happened, love?”

She let her mother walk her to the pavement. She could hear Dad saying something to Johnny, and then - slowly, gently - the two of them carried Shadow over to the curb.

Harry gulped. “Shadow got run over. We were racing and the chain broke off Johnny’s bike and he crashed, and…” She found the rest of her words buried in her mother’s shoulder, muffled along with her tears. She was too old to cry like this. But she did anyway.

There was one thing she did not tell her mum or anyone else, the one thing she knew for certain: Shadow had done it on purpose. Maybe he hadn’t meant to get run over, but he had seen the car coming from wherever he usually lurked, keeping an eye on Johnny, and he knew a sudden distraction was the only thing that would make the driver stop. It was just like the time she’d seen him trick Johnny into eating his soup: no one else would believe her, but Harry knew.

Harry forgot most of what she could about that day. The one thing she couldn’t forget, the thing she would always remember, was the sight of her little brother huddled on the pavement, sobbing his eerie whispering sobs, cradling his dead cat and slowly, gently stroking him from head to tail, as though it would do him any good.

******

Time passed. Life happened. Johnny got over Shadow’s death as much as he could, with only one lingering result: he decided to become a doctor instead of a vet. Harry understood. It was probably much easier to treat people than animals. It hurt a lot less when you couldn’t save them.

A few months later they were all sat round the telly. Harry had reclaimed the corner of the sofa that used to be Shadow’s. That night they were all watching a wildlife documentary, and when a sleek black Jaguar stalked across the screen, Johnny left the room crying. He still missed his cat.

Shame, though; the programme was really interesting. Johnny would have like it. Harry learned that most male cats were solitary animals, which meant that they lived by themselves…and that made her wonder something for the very first time. People had often asked why Johnny loved Shadow so much: “Why that wily rascal, of all cats?” “What on earth? You’d think a proper boy would want a dog.” But now, for the first time, Harry wondered why a rangy, solitary stray cat would be so attached to her idiot baby brother.

She thought about it. It must be awful, being a stray. No family to feed you or take care of you, or let you sleep in their nice warm house when it rained. Probably no friends, either: Harry only ever saw stray animals fighting, never cleaning each other or playing like housepets always did. And even though they were solitary animals, maybe boy cats still got lonely sometimes.

That kind of made sense, Harry thought. Maybe John Watson was the first friend that that odd, freakish creature had ever had in his life.

******

The first time she met Sherlock Holmes, Harry did a serious double-take.

“It’s uncanny,” she whispered to Johnny when they had a moment alone. Sherlock was pacing in the kitchen, ranting something in German down his mobile.

“What is?”

“He is. Go on, who does he remind you of?”

Johnny thought. “No one. I’ve never met anyone like him.”

“Really?” Harry grinned. “So, you two picking out curtains soon or what?”

“Harry...”

“Okay, just asking. Anyway, yes you have. You just don’t remember.”

“Who then?”

“Go on. Tall, rangy brute; dark and skinny, eyes like a samurai...voice like a lion in a loo stall...”

“Harry, for God’s sake! You know I hate guessing games.”

“Oh, Johnny, he’d be so hurt. You honestly can’t see it?”

He couldn’t, and at that moment Sherlock returned muttering something about a Czech diplomat clearly faking his own death because of the marks on his wife’s left earring, and the subject was forgotten.

Until two weeks later. A letter came for John in the afternoon post. It contained a single photograph and a note of just three words in Harry’s jagged handwritng: “SEE IT NOW?” John frowned. Cryptic messages weren’t usually Harry’s style. He pulled out the photo.





It was an old one. He hadn’t seen it in ages; it must have come from one of the family albums Harry had inherited when Mum died. It was a picture of himself in the drawing room, aged about five or six, and perched next to him on the end table by the sofa was...

Shadow!” For a moment, the face of the man became the face of the boy; thirty-five years slipping from his features at the surprise and delight of seeing an old friend. Then sadness crept into his gaze and he bit his lip, stroking his thumb over the image of the sleek black coat. “Aw, Shadow...hey. How are you, mate?”

“...Fine.” Startled, John looked up. Sherlock was donning his coat. “That was Lestrade on the phone; there’s been a triple murder in Soho. Three bodies; locked room; no weapon or motive. Brilliant! You coming?”

“Oh. Uh. Yeah. Course.” John pocketed the photo, following his flatmate out the door and down the stairs.

Once he’d done his preliminary exam at the crime scene he stood back, superfluous as usual, and took the photo out again. God, he hadn’t thought of Shadow in ages. Hard to believe he’d only been with the family less than a year...nine; ten months at the most. Funny how some people in your life could have such a huge impact in so little time.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous; the time is irrelevant! Look at the clasp on her watchband!” Distracted, John looked up...and it was a moment before he remembered how to breathe. His eyes had traveled seamlessly from one long angular face to another. Sherlock was staring daggers at Lestrade, and his look of intense concentration exactly mirrored the face of the cat in the photo.

John suddenly remembered Harry’s note: “SEE IT NOW?” Oh God…how could he ever have missed it? The eyes; the cheekbones; the long gangly limbs and haughty regal manner...Sherlock’s razor-sharp gaze moved from Lestrade back to the bodies on the carpet, darting this way and that, analysing every square inch of available surface for clues.

If he had a tail, it would have been twitching.

“Oh my God!” Sherlock and Lestrade both looked up. John had said it out loud. Oops. Crime scene. No giggling. He cleared his throat.

“Um. Sorry. I wasn’t laughing at the, er - “ he indicted the bodies on the floor. “I was just, uh, thinking of, um...sorry, I’ll shut up now.”

Both detectives instantly returned to their argument, ignoring him as usual. Their voices were getting heated. John foresaw another missing badge in Lestrade’s immediate future. Unnoticed by both of them, John took advantage of their distraction and held up the photo so that Shadow’s face was directly underneath Sherlock’s. Uncanny. Positively unreal.

After that, he couldn’t unsee it: the way Sherlock moved when they were stalking a criminal, a dark and silent shadow in the night...the way his nose twitched at anything he found distasteful...the way he dried himself after shaving; never daubing the towel over his whole face like most people, but stroking it from the tip of his nose to the back of his ear, one side at a time, over and over again...

One night John was looking out the window down onto Baker Street, trying to think of something to write in his blog. Sherlock was on the sofa as usual. As John turned towards his computer desk Sherlock rolled over onto his back. John froze. The sharp chin was pointed heavenwards as though inviting a hand to scritch underneath the angular jaw; the hands folded in a prayer position as though he’d fallen backwards in the middle of chanting a hosannah.

“...Yes, John?” Even with his eyes closed, Sherlock Holmes knew when he was being watched.

“Nothing,” John muttered, then heard himself add, “just wondering if that pose means you want your belly rubbed.”

The angular blue eyes opened. His flatmate’s politely inquisitive expression seemed frozen on his face: one of the very few ways, John had learned, that Sherlock Holmes ever expressed confusion. John chuckled.

“Never mind. You just really reminded me of someone there. Carry on.”

John left him to his puzzlement and sat down at the computer. This was definitely not going in his blog. John Watson did not believe in reincarnation.

But he did believe in friendship.

Later on, though, whenever the police questioned his loyalty to Sherlock, wondering why anyone would repeatedly risk their own life for a self-affirmed sociopath; or when London’s criminals mocked him for trailing in the wake of a spoiled child genius, John only shrugged. It didn’t bother him. He didn’t mind being Sherlock Holmes’s Shadow.

After all, it only seemed fitting. Turnabout’s fair play.







“A study of family portraits is enough to convert a man to the doctrine of reincarnation.”

- Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles


Q

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