I've always held a soft spot for VHunter07, for I remember vividly that she was the very first reviewer on my very first fanfiction ever, back when I first joined the site in January. A great encouragement to a scared newbie, and I'll never forget it.
To you, Violet, everyone's favorite (fanatical) reviewer – with many thanks for your encouragement and undeserved praise for my stories; for always bringing a smile to my face (and believe me, that's hard to do). I for one will certainly miss seeing you around here as often as you were.
Here's hoping things look up for you soon, because no one deserves it more than you do!
I must admit to a severe case of writer's block (I tried four different story ideas for a story for VHunter and had to stop every time because it just wasn't working; I've finally run out of time) and a severe lack of time and sleep this week – due to a conference I've only been at home for a total of four hours in the last two days (other than sleeping time).
So this is, I freely admit, more fluff than anything else, somewhat based on a true experience I had recently (shudders - don't ask). I apologise for the lack of plot but in order to get a ficlet up in time I had to get something done. Because of the hectic schedule and the conference, I will probably disappear from here until Sunday afternoon, other than maybe a few minutes late at night.
But I did want to participate in this for Vi before I leave, so hopefully 'twill make you smile a bit if nothing else – that's my only goal here.
It had been a very cold, miserable, damp day in late February that year. And, as usual when the city was drowning in a sludgy downpour comprised of equal parts ice, rain, and soot, a doctor's work was never done.
Pneumonia, laryngitis, and any number of viral infections had been making the rounds more frequently than any physician in the capital ever could, and even non-regularly-practicing doctors such as myself were called upon at all hours to attend the sick and hypochondriacal across the city.
On this particular miserable evening, I was rushing home as fast as the wet pavement would safely allow, wishing miserably for the cheery sunshine and flowers of spring, only a distant memory on the horizon of black wetness at the moment.
Four people in one family with head colds in varying degrees of severity had occupied my entire afternoon and evening, and I was looking forward to nothing more than obtaining dry clothing and going to bed. I had missed dinner, but knowing the saintly landlady we were fortunate enough to have landed those many years ago, she probably would scrounge something up for me.
Sherlock Holmes had been in a mood that perfectly matched the weather in every respect – black, gloomy, with occasional bursts of thunder – all the morning, and I seriously doubted whether the man even realised I had left the flat.
A shiver crawled down my neck when a slosh of dirty water splattered off a swinging shop-shingle, cascading all over what tiny bits of me had been dry a moment before. This was vile weather, indeed, and the joy that filled me upon seeing the sign for Baker Street just ahead was so intense I nearly felt warm again momentarily.
Five minutes later I was splashing through a puddle on my way up to the front steps, only to see furtive movement in the shadows to my left, near the alley.
Years of living with a human magnet for trouble had made my instincts more wary than most, and my first inclination was to duck out of the light against the building, trying to peer through the rain that plopped steadily in fat oily drops around me.
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, but when it died away I heard the scuffling sounds the noise had masked – a small scrambling noise and shrill voices, very young if I was any judge.
Feeling no danger, I decided the sounds to be mere vagabonds in the alley, probably attempting to find shelter from the rain, and so I turned back to the door of 221B, fumbling for my latchkey. I glanced up at the sitting-room window; the fire was still lit, thank heaven. I was soaked through and chilled to my very marrow.
I had only just unlocked the door when a clanging sound shattered the steady drip-dropping, and a shrill yelp followed soon after, followed by the sounds of a scuffle and young Cockney cursing.
I sighed and leaned against the doorjamb to wait, peering out from the circle of soft lamp-light into the darkness.
After a half a minute of hearing swearing and the sounds of a scuffle, I reached out with both hands and snagged the coat-collars of two lads who were making a dash down the pavement past me.
"Oi! Leggo o' me!" the one yowled in a blind panic, swiping at me with a grubby fist and not coming anywhere close to hitting me.
"'Old it, Bert," a more familiar voice, tinged with relief, chirped. "'S th' Doctor – 'e's all right."
"'E don' hafta grab a bloke out o' th' dark like tha'," the other, Bert, muttered, squirming in my grip.
"Alfie, do I want to know what you were doing in that alley?" I asked sternly, releasing the two boys from my grip.
A pair of wary green eyes peeped at me from behind a ragged muffler. "Prob'ly not, Doctor," the lad said truthfully.
"'Twas Ratter's fault, any'ow," Bert retorted. "'E started it!"
I was unaware of any of Holmes's little urchins named 'Ratter,' though that did not negate his existence. As it was, I was freezing at this point and judging from the two boys' sneezing and sniffling, they were not much better. It would indeed be heartless to turn them away without at least a warm drink at this point, and so I unceremoniously shoved both of the into the hall ahead of me.
"Oi don' wanna go i' there…" Bert wailed, trying to duck out.
"Oh, stow i', Bert," Alfie muttered, shaking himself like a wet dog and splattering the hall walls with muddy water. "The Doctor'll give us some cocoa, won' yew, Doctor?"
At this rash promise, Bert's eyes brightened, and I could vaguely see dirty blonde hair to perfectly match their blueness peeping out from somewhere under that bundle of wet rags.
"We shall see what Mrs. Hudson can get for you, and then you must run home. Alfie, your grandmother is no doubt worried sick about you," I said, starting to take the lad's patched coat.
To my surprise, the boy tugged on it, refusing to let me take the wet article off his shoulders.
"Look, young man, you're going to catch your death of cold!"
"Oi'm all right, Doctor," the boy protested loudly, trying to scamper past me up the steps.
I was not in the mood to fight a child or two over their wet clothing and so contented myself with a caution to be quiet going into the sitting room, in case Holmes were in the middle of mixing volatile chemicals or practicing his aim with his favourite hair-trigger revolver. The two lads scooted – and sloshed – eagerly up the steps while I asked Mrs. Hudson to bring up some cocoa or warm milk.
I then shed my dripping coat, jacket, and collar in my bedroom and donned a warm dressing-gown before making my way down to the sitting room to see what havoc the children had wreaked whilst I was in my room.
To my surprise, both boys were seated quietly on the settee in front of the fire, their hands in their respective pockets, and merely looking about curiously. Holmes had apparently gone out, as his coat, hat, and umbrella were missing from where he had thrown them atop my desk earlier; but he had left a tornado of papers scattered in his wake which were now serving as blotting-paper for two pairs of muddy, ragged shoes.
That would teach Holmes to leave his files lying about for someone else to pick up.
"Mrs. Hudson's bringing you up some cocoa," I said pleasantly, pulling my chair close to the fire with a slight shiver. "So…Bert, is it, young fellow?"
"Aye, Doctor," the lad mumbled in some discomfort.
I had seen the child in question before once or twice but only briefly, in the mad rush that tramped up our steps occasionally to report to Holmes and steal whatever leftover treats we had on the dinner table.
I rubbed my hands together, trying to dispel the chill that had wrapped round them more tightly than my gloves. A small squeak broke the silence.
"What was that, Alfie?"
"Oi didn' say nothin', Doctor," our little lieutenant said quickly – too quickly, shoving his hands further into his pockets and scrunching up on the sofa in a wet ball.
I quirked an eyebrow at him pointedly, for obviously he was hiding something. Alfie squirmed uneasily, and suddenly his face assumed a panicked expression as a peculiar mewling sound emerged from his and Bert's general vicinity.
"Alfred Weber," I began sternly, turning a formidable parental glare on the boy. "What the devil are you hiding?"
"Umm…well, Doctor, 's loike this, y'see…" he began, hastily hunching up on the seat when another yowl was heard from his person. "Y'see, we was… well, we was…"
"We was mindin' our own business, like," Bert interjected quickly, looking up at me. His face blushed pink as a tiny, steady squeaking noise became progressively louder as they tried to explain.
"An' we seen Ratter an' 'is bunch o' toff mates…"
"An' boy did we teach 'em a thing or two!"
"Bert give Ratter a black eye, he did…"
"Wait!" I nearly shouted in a commanding tone, raising a hand to stop the incessant chattering flow that threatened to distract me from my original question.
As if on cue, the mewling started up once more from both boy's positions. I resisted the urge to moan, wishing Holmes were here to take care of this problem. As the man conveniently had a habit of never being around when one needed him, but expected me to drop all to assist him when commanded, I was all alone to deal with the issue.
I looked into two pairs of wide childish eyes and sighed, extending my hand.
"Hand them over."
Bert blinked and glanced at his superior quizzically.
"'E's th' Doctor, 's all right," Alfie whispered in a highly confidential tone, shooting me an approving glance and removing his hand from his left jacket pocket.
Three seconds later a wet, squalling black ball of fluff had plopped into my outstretched hand, followed by a brother; also black, but with tiny white socks.
I was slightly taken aback, but more so when from Bert's pockets emerged two others, one white and one orange-striped. I dropped the four kittens on the hearthrug, where they meowed pitifully and shivered, wet fur sticking to their too-thin bodies.
"Oi, we fergot this 'un," Alfie said suddenly, starting to unwind his woolen scarf. Two large eyes and a head of wet grey fur poked up from the cloth, peeking about and letting loose a squall that either meant pain or irritation at being disturbed. I was not sure which, not being an expert on the subject of feline noises and their interpretations.
"This 'un's got 'urt, Doctor," Alfie said earnestly, holding the little kitten gently in two grubby hands, shoving it into my face for inspection. "'Is leg's got 'urt, see?"
To a child's eyes, a doctor was a doctor, obviously, medical or animal or otherwise. I sighed and inspected the mewling ball of damp fur. Indeed, the poor thing's leg was bleeding slightly, as if it had been bitten by something or cut on a sharp object.
"Yew can fix 'im, can't yew, Doctor?" Alfie asked eagerly, poking the grey kitten's nose and receiving a tiny-clawed swipe in return.
"Erm…yes, Alfie…but it's a girl, and where the devil did you get these?" I asked, trying not to step on the other four as I climbed out of my chair and went for my bag.
Grey kitten did not appreciate being moved and paid me for my medical care by biting me firmly on the thumb.
"Ouch! Alfie, hold the little monster. Where the devil is Holmes…" I moaned inwardly as I retrieved my bottle of iodoform.
"Loike we said, Doctor," Bert was apparently relinquishing his initial fear of me and was chattering eagerly, playing with the white-stockinged kitten on the rug. "'Twas Ratter and 'is mob. They was bein' mean to 'em in th' alley there, we follered 'em from Ratter's da's place. His da's tabby 'ad six kits a few weeks ago, an' Ratter was gonna kill 'em all b'cause they was so noisy."
Alfie's tender-hearted spirit apparently was more deeply moved by compassion than his fellow's, for he looked up at me with a tear-filled expression. I counted hastily…five here. Six to begin with…
As if reading my thoughts, Alfie nodded and patted the grey kit's head gently. "Bert give Ratter a black eye fer wha' 'e did, Doctor…oi didn' tell yew 'bout the kits a' first 'cause yew warned me 'bout fightin' people, but we 'ad ta stop 'im, y'know?" He stopped to sniffle, wiping his nose on a ragged sleeve.
All my irritation with the boys vanished on the instant, and I affixed a small bandage to the kitten's leg after disinfecting the wound, dodging a set of sharp four-week-old claws.
"You did the right thing, Alfie," I said finally, going back over to the hearth and standing beside Bert in an attempt to corral the kittens, which apparently were blissfully unaware of how close they had come to meeting their little brother's unfortunate fate a few minutes before, but for the courage of two gallant little boys.
The black kitten's wet tail suddenly whisked back and forth rapidly, and before I could move the little fellow leapt at the belt of my dressing-gown, which had been dangling enticingly halfway up my leg.
I yelped as the infernal beast's claws sunk into my leg, but the kitten only growled and bit the tassel furiously, sending Alfie into a fit of giggles.
Just then the door slammed below as only Sherlock Holmes could slam it, and the three of us instantly shot each other guilty looks, this one moment making us instant comrades in conspiracy. Holmes was not fond of any animal besides the odd poisonous frog or snake, and he especially hated anything small, fluffy, or possessing any other desirable characteristic.
I yanked Black Kitten off my dressing-gown – or tried to, for the thing stuck fast, worrying at the tassel on the end of the belt. In desperation, I finally shoved the kitten and tassel and all into my pocket while Alfie and Bert scooted the three uninjured kits into a pile on the couch and put a pillow in front of them. The one I had bandaged Alfie hastily hid under his cap, which was lying on the floor beside my chair.
We resumed our positions only seconds before Holmes flung the door open, neatly punching a hole in the wall-plaster with the knob, and threw a tray of cups and cocoa onto the table.
"Carried it up for Mrs. Hudson – ah, Watson, back from the Spencers' abode, I see – what the deuce are you lads doing out so late in the evening?" Holmes bellowed without taking a breath. He vanished into his bedroom to change without waiting for an answer.
It really was not that late; darkness fell early in February, but that was not worth pointing out at the moment. Within a minute Holmes had changed into his dressing gown and slippers and came to sit opposite me by the fire.
"The boys were out in the wet, so I invited them in, Holmes," I explained, repressing a yelp of pain as the kitten in my pocket decided to attempt to bite its way out of the cloth prison.
A pitiful, half-suffocated squeak came from the direction of the couch-pillow, and Alfie hastily coughed long and hard, causing Holmes to stare at him over the bowl of his pipe, in the act of lighting it.
"You'd best be careful, Alfred, I don't want the Doctor here having yet another patient to attend," he warned, only half-facetiously.
Alfie scowled at the use of his real name, but the frown faded as another mewl broke the stillness.
"Did you hear that, Watson?" Holmes asked, cocking his head to one side curiously.
"Mm?" I replied with false interest, wincing as ten sharp claws dug into my skin. "I heard nothing, why?"
"Oh, no matter. I did finally remember where I had seen that Sanders fellow before, Watson – you remember the Blanchet forgery case back in '87? Sanders, or Ghander as he was called then, was the fellow's financial advisor. Now when taken in consideration with current events, this could very well mean that Sanders in all probability has the knowledge necessary to pull off a stunt of that financial magnitude and to do it undetected by…"
I glanced up from trying to yank the kitten's claws out of my leg as Holmes's voice trailed off incredulously. When I looked up, I saw that he was staring fixedly at the floor in front of me, and I followed his gaze.
Alfie coughed discreetly to hide his growing fit of hysterical giggles, and Bert was grinning outright. I put my face in my hand, pinching the bridge of my nose wearily. Oh, dear…
Alfie's cap was slowly but steadily moving across the floor in the detective's direction.
I looked up in time to see Holmes's pipe fall from his lips unheeded, and he slowly rose from his chair and pounced on the moving item of headgear. Completely unaware of the three amused glances he was receiving at the moment, the detective warily picked the cloth cap up…
…and was greeted with an indignant hiss and a fluffed-out ball of grey fur as the irate kitten growled and promptly bit his hand.
The startled detective yelped and dropped the cap, staring at his tiny attacker. Before I could stop the lad, Alfie mischievously retrieved the orange-striped kitten from the couch and dropped it on Holmes's shoulder, where it frantically dug its claws in to hold on as the detective leapt to his feet with a startled cry, twisting in ways I never should have thought anatomically possible to try to shake the animal off.
Alfie and Bert collapsed onto each other, howling with laughter, as I rose cautiously to my feet in an vain attempt to calm my friend.
"Watson, what in heaven's name – ouch! – get it off me! Now!"
"I am afraid I'm not much of a success at that action," I drawled, removing my belt tassel from my pocket and futilely trying once again to detach the bulldog-kit that refused to let go.
Holmes dropped the orange kitten as if its fiery hue had burnt his hand, but stopped suddenly when he looked more closely at the grey one, which was now pouncing merrily on a drifting piece of paper. He picked the animal up by the scruff of the neck, holding it at arm's length, and peered at the small bandage on its leg.
I blushed as he turned a sardonic glance in my direction.
"Taking up a side occupation as a veterinarian, are you?" he asked dryly, dropping the squirming kitten into Alfie's outstretched arms.
Bert had got hold of the three others, leaving only the black one still growling and hanging by its teeth and claws on my dressing-gown.
"Yew can 'ave tha' one, Mr. 'Olmes," Alfie said generously, indicating the undersized shark attached to my leg. "'E's a nosy parker, jist loike yew – perfect, inn't 'e?"
I choked back a laugh as Holmes's face grew red.
"Alfred. I don't want a kitten. Take the animals and go home," he growled, dusting a flurry of wet orange hair off his shoulder.
"But we wan' yew ta 'ave it, Mr. 'Olmes," Bert said earnestly. "We can' keep 'em all ourselves, an' if we let 'em go loose, Ratter'll kill 'em all!"
The detective sighed through his nose, rubbing his temples as if getting a headache. I experimentally tried to pry the kitten off my belt, lifting the thing to waist level, but the little fellow growled and latched all twenty claws onto my torso, protected only by a thin shirt and gown. I yelped and tried to detach the tiny black paws but to no avail.
"Alfie…Bert…we can't keep a kitten in Baker Street. It'll die here the first time it knocks over a phial of sulphuric acid," Holmes attempted to placate the boys with logic, which of course had no effect on them whatsoever.
"Mr. 'Olmes, 'e'll be good, see?" Alfie protested, patting the black monster's head encouragingly.
Confound the animal, it actually began to purr at the boy's touch, flexing its claws deeper into me.
Holmes gave his closest approximation to a laugh, snorting through his nose at my dismal failure in detaching myself from the little creature.
"Really, lad, the Doctor and I appreciate the gesture, but this house is just not animal-friendly," the detective told the boys placatingly.
"Yes, indeed," I said dryly, shooting Holmes a pointed look – we both knew just exactly what had happened to my little bull-pup in those very early days, an tragedy for which I have still not quite forgiven my friend.
I finally succeeded in extricating myself, detaching the kitten and dropping it upon the floor. It hissed and flattened its ears evilly against its wet head, gazing up at me with an extremely affronted look until Alfie picked it up.
"But, Mr. 'Olmes…" the boy wailed in despair, hugging the animal so tightly it gave a protesting yowl that ended in a strangled squeak.
"Oh, good heavens…" Holmes muttered, glancing helplessly at me. I refused to aid him in digging his way out of this hole, merely grinning at his discomfiture.
But suddenly a devilish smile crossed his face, and he grinned outright in relief.
"Here, lad, you can take those…things…to this address, the person there will take them all I'm sure. Put them in an unmarked box and say you're from the post-office," my friend said with a spurt of gleeful chuckles, handing a scribbled card to Alfie.
The lad pocketed it and the remaining felines with an exclamation of thanks before he and Bert bolted down the stairs, eager to be on their way before the worst of the rain started up again.
"Exactly whose address was that, Holmes?" I asked warily, going to pour myself some tepid cocoa.
My friend picked up his discarded pipe, brushing a white hair off the stem before replacing it in his mouth. He glanced at me over the bowl, and his eyes crinkled in a grin.
"My brother's," he said calmly through his clenched teeth, striking a match and putting it to the pipe.
"Mycroft? He is going to murder you, Holmes!" I gasped in some dismay.
"Perhaps. But you must admit, that was a nasty trick he played upon me last week, sending me all the way to Calais just as a deducing game and to test my abilities to think quickly in a foreign language – merely for the sake of determining me worthy of accepting an assignment in France if the Foreign Office so chose."
I did have to admit his elder brother had been a bit high-handed of late, but still…
"And nothing will aggravate the epicenter of Her Majesty's empire more than having five different colours of cat-hairs scattered throughout his immaculate apartment," Holmes chortled, eagerly downing a cup of cocoa with the air of a thoroughly satisfied younger brother.
A fortnight later we received in the morning post a South American piranha – complete with small water tank and cautionary instructions.
Needless to say, I saw to it that Alfie kept his ministering to all God's little creatures out of the vicinity of Baker Street from then on.