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Fic: In From the Cold (Holmes/Watson)

Title: In From the Cold
Verse: book
Characters/Pairings: Sherlock Holmes/Dr. John Watson
Wordcount: approx. 2,660
Rating: PG
Genre: romance
Summary: Approaching Christmas, 1894; though living together again, relations between Holmes and Watson remain strained. What happens one wintry night could make or break things.
Warnings: some angst
Disclaimer: only the kitten is mine

   Watson was taking an unusual amount of time coming inside, Holmes noted in the portion of his mind not presently occupied with the bubbling chemicals. It had not yet been long enough for him to become truly concerned but still, unusual, especially given how cold it was outside. Even indoors, there was moisture on the inside of the windowpanes and here, away from the fire, Holmes was rather chilly.
   The front door opened and then closed again at last and Holmes distantly noted the sound of Watson stamping snow off his boots and then his steady but slightly uneven (and that would be his leg playing up in the cold) tread in the hallway; up the stairs; across the landing.
   “You are late,” he remarked as Watson opened the door.
   “I’m amazed you noticed.”
   “I notice.” Holmes did not immediately turn around, but when he did he saw Watson was cautiously holding something. Whatever it was, it was wrapped in Watson’s scarf and Watson didn’t seem to have any intention of revealing it to him. Holmes could have used his powers of deduction to work it out but sometimes just blurting out the question was far more satisfactory. “What have you got?” he asked.
   “Ah, if you are hiding it from me then it must be something scandalous.”
   “Or it might be your Christmas present,” Watson said pointedly.
   “Is it my Christmas present?”
   “What is it then?” Holmes bounded across the room and whipped back the scarf to reveal… “Watson?”
   “I know.” Watson sounded faintly bitter; he seemed slightly embarrassed now, anticipating mockery from Holmes and chastising himself for his silliness all at once.
   “Why have you brought a dead kitten in here?”
   “I found it in the street, in an icy puddle. I’m sure there’s still some life in it.”
   Holmes poked at the sad, wet little scrap of fur with one slim finger. A tabby, soaked and cold. “I’m afraid it’s an ex-kitten, dear boy. Not the right time for kittens, I expect, not in this dreadful weather.”
   Watson carried the bundle over to the fire and laid it carefully upon his chair. “I really don’t think it is dead,” he said.
   Holmes followed him, hands stuck in his dressing gown pockets, and shrugged. “Well, you’re the doctor.”
   “Yes, I am.” Watson began to rub the kitten vigorously with the scarf. The scarf became steadily wetter; the kitten almost imperceptibly drier, but it remained lifeless. “Holmes, would you…?” He looked at Holmes, tentatively. “Would you take over? I need to fetch a towel; this isn’t really working.”
   Holmes sighed, but decided that indulging Watson and engaging in this pointless charade to try to resurrect the tabby would ultimately be far better than not doing anything. Either way the cat would stay dead, but if he didn’t help then Watson would find some way to make him feel as if it were Holmes’s fault and Watson being upset with him for something he had done was one thing; Watson being upset with him over an animal Holmes had not killed though was quite another. “Fine; give it here.” He took the limp, soggy thing in the equally soggy scarf and moved closer to the fire, sitting down in front of it with the kitten in his lap. Watson went off in search of Mrs Hudson or the maid and some dry, warm towels. Holmes sat there, staring at the kitten.
   “Silly creature, why did you have to come to die outside my home?” he muttered, rubbing the kitten’s little body anyway. It was pointless; hopeless; it was… what Watson wanted him to do. Watson, who was so used to losing those he loved – his parents; his brother; his wife. Even Holmes, who had let the doctor think him dead for three years. Watson who could never have nice things because Holmes always managed to find some way to accidentally spill acid on them or set them on fire or just verbally tear them to pieces, even though he had to know – didn’t he? – that Holmes only did these things because he liked being close to him (sometimes far too close, physically); liked to acknowledge the things that Watson cared about but simply could not bring himself to give out praise so he offered only criticism instead.
   Because he loved him. He loved Watson. He just didn’t know how to make him understand that he did; that he cared – not without compromising himself and pretending to be someone he was not, and clearly the real him was not enough for the doctor. It had not been enough to stop Watson leaving him for a wife; it was still not enough now that that wife was gone and Watson had returned, and it was surely only a matter of time before Watson walked out again.
  “Breathe, damn you,” he said.
   Sometimes those thought dead do come back to life. Holmes himself was proof of that, and perhaps the cold might not have quite killed the cat. Holmes had conducted a little research into the effects of cold on the body, mostly because he had been interested in how cold affected decomposition of dead flesh, but he recollected an instance of a small child who had fallen into an icy pond and had finally been revived despite being underwater for some minutes and being quite blue when retrieved. The cold seemed to have slowed down her bodily functions sufficiently to save her from breathing in the water and thus drowning, and slow warming had eventually revived her.
    Holmes eyed the kitten again, appalled by the thought that had slipped into his mind. He couldn’t possibly do something like that – it was unseemly; ridiculous; humiliating. Still… he quickly untied his dressing gown; yanked undone his neck tie; undid his collar and the top several buttons of his shirt, and promptly pushed the kitten down inside his clothes so that the damp, cold little thing was pressed to his own warm skin. He pulled his dressing gown back around them both and sat there on the rug, leaning back against Watson’s chair, staring into the fire, barely aware of the kitten resting over his heart. It was so light; so lifeless still. But he had tried. He really had, because Watson wanted him to and he knew he had disappointed the doctor far too many times and never been able to say he was sorry – truly, properly sorry - and even if Holmes was still the same old reticent, repressed creature he had always been, Watson had changed since Holmes had come back. Even though Watson had consented to move back in with him; even though he forgave him, Holmes – as terrible as he was with always understanding emotions – knew that Watson didn’t trust him as he once had. Watson would still follow him into hell but he didn’t know any longer whether Holmes cared for him (and of course he didn’t yet know that Holmes was the one who had put up the money so that Watson could sell his medical practice and move back to Baker Street, because Holmes could not willingly tell him such a thing).
   Holmes was tired of disappointing Watson. It was so unreasonable because surely by now Watson must understand that this was who Holmes was and he could not change himself into the kind of person who demonstrated his affection constantly, but that still didn’t stop Holmes feeling wretched whenever Watson looked at him as he went off without him, privately hurt but prevented from saying anything aloud because of his pride; looking as if he thought that Holmes might not come back again each time he left the flat. It didn’t stop him from hating himself when Watson seemed a little too quick to move away from the table at breakfast or supper, as if he was terrified now of the awkward silences that existed between them – silences that had once been perfectly comfortable.
   He didn’t want the kitten to stay dead – he was not so heartless, but he wished very much that Watson had not noticed the poor creature; not brought it here; not given Holmes this responsibility and a problem he could not solve. The cat was still dead, surely, and Watson would still be disappointed and somehow Holmes would again feel that he was to blame for this. Yet this was absurd too, he chastised himself, to assign so much importance to such a tiny thing. It wasn’t as if he had killed the blasted cat and it wasn’t his job to save some unwanted, wretched little stray that apparently nobody else – most of them supposedly more human than he – wanted either. Yet Watson had brought it here; he wanted it to live, and Holmes was suddenly convinced somehow that if the kitten did not survive then neither would their relationship.
   He laid his hand over the small bulge on his chest beneath his shirt and dressing gown. It was still not moving. The poor thing did feel warmer now, as it took warmth from him, but he was sure all this would succeed in doing was speeding up its decomposition, and where on earth was Watson? What was taking him so long?
   Holmes had just decided to remove the dead kitten from his chest lest Watson actually see him in such a state when-
   He felt something.
   He must have imagined it. It was his own heartbeat, surely. The kitten was really, truly, quite dead.
   And then he felt it again. Such a tiny shift of movement; the flicker of a second tiny heartbeat; the twitch of a foot.
   Holmes let out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “Watson!” he shouted. Before he even got to the sitting room door, Watson was entering, warm towels draped over his arm.
   “What’s happened?” Watson asked.

   “It moved; I felt it.” Holmes pulled the kitten out of his clothing. Snatching up one of the towels, he laid this down on the chair and placed the kitten on it. Kneeling in front of the chair, he wrapped the towel around the creature and began again to rub at it, trying to spread the warmth through it; trying to bring it back into the world of the living, like a mother cat licking a newborn into life. Suddenly it let out a tiny peep – not even a meow but something so much more pathetic – and Watson clutched at his shoulder.
   “It’s alive, Watson.”
   “It is.”
   “It’s alive.”
   “Let me take it.”

   “No!” Holmes continued towelling the kitten, more gently now, until finally it seemed dry. At last it raised its head and let out a stronger meow. “Watson!” Holmes clapped his hands, delighted by this. “Should we give it something to drink?” he asked after a moment, looking up at Watson earnestly. “Warm milk?”
   “Perhaps some sugar in warm water might be best,” Watson replied. He squeezed Holmes’s shoulder, more gently now. “Keep it warm; I’ll go and fetch some.”
    When he returned, Holmes was seated cross-legged in his chair, the kitten – still wrapped in a towel – nestled in his lap.
   “How is it?” Watson asked, as he mixed up the sugar and warmed water. He brought over his medical bag and took out a hypodermic syringe, minus the needle, and drew up some of the solution into this.
   “Getting stronger,” Holmes replied. Indeed now the kitten was able to hold its head up.
   “Here.” Watson handed him the syringe. “Try and get some into its mouth, but not too fast; don’t choke it.” He stood by Holmes’s side as Holmes very cautiously worked the end of the syringe into the kitten’s mouth. As he had been when seeing Holmes with the young Irregulars, or even when watching him manipulate his fragile scientific instruments, he was struck by Holmes’s gentleness. He was also glad to see Holmes using a syringe for something other than injecting cocaine into himself.
   “How old do you think it is?” Holmes asked, carefully easing down the plunger.
   “I don’t know; a few weeks I suppose; I think it may be the runt of the litter though.”
   “Will it be able to take solid food then?”
   “Perhaps. Let it have that though for now.”
    Holmes slowly emptied the syringe into the kitten’s mouth, careful to let it swallow before squirting more down. “Do you think it will survive then?” he asked, dabbing a little of the sugared water away from the kitten’s chin with the corner of the towel.
   “I hope so.” Watson still stood there, his hand resting against the side of Holmes’s chair.
   “I hope so too,” Holmes said, and turned his head to look up at Watson. “I-” Before he could say any more Watson had gripped him by the chin, turned his face up and pressed his lips to Holmes’s.
   Holmes looked bewildered - not unhappy, but confused, which seemed to amuse Watson. He gently brushed his fingers across Holmes’s cheek. “You stink of wet cat,” he said.
   Holmes laughed.
   “I’ve missed you,” Watson said.
   “I’ve been back for months now,” Holmes pointed out. “You’ve been back here too for months.”
   “Yes, but we weren’t… I mean… You’ve remained distant, as if you’re always still hundreds of miles away from me. There was something missing, didn’t you think?”
   “A kitten?” Holmes suggested with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
   Watson grinned. “Perhaps so.” He watched as the kitten tried to get up now.
   Holmes gently lifted it off his lap and set it down on the rug. There it took a few wobbly steps before falling over. At once Holmes leant forward and scooped it up again.
   “May we keep it?” Watson asked.
   “Well… Mrs. Hudson might object,” Holmes said, avoiding Watson’s gaze.
   “I doubt it; she’s been complaining about the mice downstairs.”
   “Well if you want to keep it and Mrs. Hudson wants to keep it…”
    “And do you?”
    Holmes glanced back at Watson again. “I would… have no objections, I suppose.”
    Watson laughed – the first time Holmes had really seen him laugh in far too long. “Holmes,” he said. “You are incorrigible.” He patted Holmes lightly on the arm. “Perhaps I should find it something to sleep in?”
   “Your violin case would work exceedingly well.”
   “Watson!” Holmes exclaimed, then too late realised that he was being teased.  “Ah, your vein of pawky humour reasserts itself, I see.”
   Watson smirked to himself. “I’ll find a box,” he said, turning away. “I have one in my room, I think.”
   “Watson,” Holmes called.
   “Yes?” Watson turned back to face him.
    “I... I have… I will go and fetch the box. Sit down.” He stood up and held the kitten out to Watson.
   “I’m all right.”
   “Your leg is troubling you. Please… you take this.” He pushed the kitten into Watson’s grasp before Watson could protest.
   Watson sat down, stroking the kitten but watching Holmes stroll across the room. Holmes was trying to appear nonchalant. Watson was not at all surprised though when he paused as he reached the door.
   “Watson,” he said, looking at the door rather than at the doctor.
   “I… have missed you too.” He gave Watson the briefest of glances – a tiny sideways shift of his eyes; barely long enough to meet Watson’s gaze; only long enough to ascertain that Watson had smiled in response to his words. He all but bolted from the room then before Watson could say anything to this.
   Watson watched him go, still smiling. As these things went, he supposed, it wasn’t much – not the explicit declaration of love he had had from Mary or from others before her – but from Holmes it was enough. He looked down as the little kitten sat on his stomach and mewled at him. Still terribly weak; it was by no means certain that it would survive, but now Watson knew that there was still hope.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 5th, 2011 03:34 pm (UTC)
I really liked your text. Can I translate it into Russian, please? Necessarily send a link, of course.
Dec. 7th, 2011 09:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you. You mean translate it to post elsewhere? As long as you make it clear it's by me and link back to this, yes.
Dec. 5th, 2011 11:05 pm (UTC)
D'awwww. I'm now picturing the two of them asking Mrs. Hudson for permission to keep it.
Dec. 7th, 2011 09:31 pm (UTC)
Holmes would make Watson ask her though. Because he totally doesn't want to keep it himself. Not at all. Honest. XD
Dec. 23rd, 2011 04:05 am (UTC)
Oh, this is lovely. I'm glad you showed that things were perfect just because they were together again and that Holmes felt actual guilt for things John went through. I don't see that as much as I'd like to. This was fantastically written.
Dec. 24th, 2011 09:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )