Characters: John, Gladstone
Warnings/Triggers: references to John's PTSD, a hurt (but not abused) puppy
Spoilers: The Reichenbach Fall
Word Count 2,635
Summary: John Watson is acquired by a dog.
Author's notes: The story of how John and Gladstone met. Technically set in the Abby 'verse, but well before John and Sarah get back together. Set during The Hiatus.
John supposed, in the end, that he didn't so much acquire a dog as he was acquired by a dog.
The puppy met him when he stepped off the bus after work. He didn't notice this until he was halfway down the street and became aware of something walking beside him. The little dog was keeping pace as he walked, tripping over its own feet in its eagerness. John stopped and the puppy stopped. John moved and the puppy moved. John stopped again and the puppy stopped again.
“Where did you come from?” John asked. The puppy cocked its head to one side, like it was listening. “Are you lost? Let's take a look, huh?” He crouched down and the dog skittered back in surprise, then trotted back up to him. “Do you have a collar? Can I look?” He gently moved the puppy's head to one side and earned several licks of a tiny tongue as he did so. “No collar. Did you run out of someone's house? You're pretty small to be out on your own.”
He stood up again and looked around for anyone who might have lost a dog. There was no one running around, no names being call, no one looking panicked or as though they were searching for something. John's fingers wiggled by his side, not sure what to do. He crouched back down and took a better look at the dog. It looked a little too thin and a bit dirty and, as it romped around in front of John, he noticed that it was limping.
“I'm not really that kind of doctor,” John said. “So, if you're trying to make an appointment, you've chosen the wrong fellow. Still, I suppose I can't leave you here, can I? S'a bit too late to take you anywhere tonight. C'mon then.”
He carefully picked the dog up and tucked it under his arm, then headed back to his new flat. He still thought of it as his 'new' flat, even though he'd been living there for nearly four months. He couldn't stay in Baker Street—it was too big and too full of memories. He still visited Mrs Hudson regularly, but he'd moved into a smaller flat in a less expensive part of the city. It was a nice place, if a bit cold in comparison to 221B's eccentric wallpapers and furnishings.
John let himself in and put the puppy on the floor, realizing immediately that this was a mistake. The puppy dashed around madly, knocking over a bin and skittering around on the parquet until it crashed into wall. It yipped excitedly and got back to its feet, making another mad dash around the living room until John cornered it and picked it up again.
“Yeah, maybe a bit too much freedom to start with,” John said. “Let's just stick to the loo for now.”
He brought the dog into the little bathroom and put the bin up on the sink. There was room for it to run around, but nothing for it to get into in there.
“Let's take a look at that leg, huh?” John said, sitting down on the edge of the bath. He picked the puppy up and turned it over, causing it to squirm madly in protest. “Well, I guess you're a boy dog. I wonder what your name is? Shh, I just want to look. Do you have a sore paw? Oh, I see the problem.” There was a small abscess on the pad of one of its back feet. “You must have stepped on something sharp. Yeah, it's a bit warm there. I bet that doesn't feel good. I can probably help you out a little until you get to the vet. Let me get my things.
He put the dog back on the floor and closed it in the loo while he went to get his First Aid kit. It was in an old-fashioned doctor's Gladstone bag, a gift from Harry when he was accepted to medical school. He brought the bag with him back to the loo and set it on the floor, picking up the puppy again and setting about treating the abscess. He cleaned it up, wincing at the sad puppy noises it made when he put the antiseptic on it. Then he wrapped some gauze around the paw so no further dirt and debris could get in.
“I could drain it,” John said. “But I'm really not qualified for dog surgery. Hopefully that'll do for now. I'm gonna go and take a look on the Internet and see if anyone's looking for you. Maybe we could get you home tonight.”
He closed it back up in the loo and did a search on the Internet to see if anyone was missing a puppy matching its description. He guessed it was a bulldog, judging by the wrinkles on its face. There were no ads that fit, however. It didn't mean no one was looking. They might not have put up a notice yet. He did another search to see what sort of care he should be giving and went to the kitchen, getting a small bowl of water and an apple from the fridge.
He opened the door and found no visible puppy, just a Gladstone that was moving slowly across the floor from a wiggling mass inside it. A moment later, the puppy stuck his head out, a tongue depressor in its mouth.
“Hey, that's mine,” John said, laughing. “I suppose that's the least expensive thing you could be chewing on in there. Still, not very healthy. Can we trade?” He put the bowl of water down and wrestled the tongue depressor from the dog, who growled playfully and shook its head back and forth before letting go. “There we go. Get out of there. I have a treat for you.”
He plucked the puppy out of the bag and set it on the floor. It went to investigate the bowl of water and started to lap it up with great energy. It was clearly very thirsty. It drank the whole bowl up in a few minutes. John felt a surge of pity for the little guy.
“Are you hungry?” he asked. He sliced off a piece of the apple and held it out. The puppy sniffed and took a tentative bite, then plucked the whole slice from his hand and carried it to the corner of the loo, where it ate it secretively and came back for more. They repeated this process several times, each slice being carried to the corner and protected while it was eaten. “You don't have to do that, you know. That's your apple, I don't want it.”
Once it had eaten its fill, John decided to give it a bit of a clean-up. He took a flannel and wet it with warm water, then picked up the puppy and ran it over its fur, carefully avoiding getting the gauze wet. The puppy couldn't seem to decide if it liked this or not. It seemed to enjoy the petting part, but not the getting wet part.
“There, that's good for now, I think,” John said, after he'd dried it off with a towel. “Not much more I can do for you until morning. Will you be all right in here while I have dinner? I don't want you running around the flat. You seem like a bit of a trouble maker.”
He received several licks to his hands and found it hard to put the puppy down, as it seemed to be enjoying being held so much.
“I'll be back, I promise,” he said, as he closed the door on a curious puppy face.
He made a quick dinner and ate it, returning to find the puppy back in his Gladstone, which he'd forgotten to pick up. The puppy had curled up inside it, its head on the rolled up ace bandage.
“You are a very strange dog,” John told it, as he bent down to give it a pat. “You're lucky I'm used to strange flatmates.”
John left the puppy in the loo for that evening, coming back every once in awhile to make sure it was all right. After the Gladstone had been safely removed, it made a little bed for itself on the bathmat and seemed content to stay there, though it always greeted John with enthusiasm when he arrived.
John took it outside before bed and it appeared to be house-trained, as it seemed to know what to do.
“Now, where are we going to put you for tonight?” John asked, when they'd come back in. “I don't like the idea of you being by yourself all night. Let's see if we can make you some sort of pen.”
In the end, he made a little area out of boxes of things he still hadn't unpacked. They were heavy enough that the puppy couldn't move them around and he used his bedroom wall as one side of the pen. He spread some newspapers, just in case, and put a towel down for a bed. The puppy nosed at the boxes, but wasn't big enough to either push them aside or climb up onto them. There were some sad noises at this and it barked when John put out the light, but a few murmured reassurances and studious ignoring eventually calmed it down. When John looked over again, it was curled up on the towel, asleep.
And John thought he was in trouble, because he was growing rather too fond of the thing.
He woke up in the morning and for a moment, wondered what the hell all those boxes were doing by his bed. Then he remembered and was greeted with an excited bark when he got up to check on the puppy.
“Good morning,” he said, and received a thorough licking of his hand. “C'mon, let's get you out and fed. I'll see if I can get us an appointment at the vets. Maybe they'll know what to do with you there.”
He found a bit of cord to make a little lead for it, and the puppy sat happily in his lap in the cab on the way to the vets. It looked out the window and made excited comments the whole way there.
It wasn't quite as excited about the vets, however. It kept shooting John betrayed looks as the doctor looked it over. It was in good shape, though a little underfed and undersize, probably the runt of the litter. John also found out that it wasn't a purebred bulldog, but some sort of mixed breed, maybe with some beagle in it. John thought that might be why he couldn't find anyone looking for it—he'd only searched for bulldog ads.
The abscess on its paw was drained and cleaned and bandaged. They checked to see if it had been chipped or tattooed, but it hadn't. The vet recommended that John call the Humane Society and let them know he had found a dog, in case anyone was looking for it. Until then, he was stuck with the puppy and a rather large vet bill.
For the next week, he checked everyday to see if anyone had put up a notice about losing a dog matching its description. There was nothing in the paper, nothing on the internet, no posters up in the area, no response from the Humane Society and no reply to the ad he'd placed himself. He and the puppy, whom he'd named Gladstone because he felt it needed a name and it seemed appropriate, fell into a routine and John had somehow acquired a proper lead and a bowl and dog food and biscuits.
And, he admitted at the end of two weeks, he'd also acquired a dog.
As the months went by, Gladstone turned out to be a very nice companion. He was gentle and playful and happy. He grew up into a funny looking dog, with a bulldog's wrinkles on his face, but not as pronounced as a purebred, and a longer, leaner body and floppy ears. He had a nice, happy face and a baying sort of bark and alternated between being full of energy and lying unconscious somewhere, all four paws in the air. He loved to cuddle on the couch and watch telly, or sit on John's feet when he was working on his laptop. He was a good dog for a flat, not needing too much exercise and good on his own for long periods of time.
It wasn't all smooth sailing. Gladstone had a habit of chewing on anything he could get to and it took a lot of work to curb his enthusiasm for the bag that was his namesake—and the tongue depressors contained within. He also got very creative if he was left too long to his own devices, rather like another flatmate John had known. And he was also liable to snuggle, lick, or wee on anything new that entered the flat—which sometimes included John's dates or their things.
“I had a friend who wasn't fond of my dating either,” John told him, after one woman's very expensive handbag had been destroyed. She had huffed out after John's, admittedly ill-thought-out, comment that if it was that expensive, she shouldn't be carrying it around. “He was never quite so crude in his showing his disapproval, though. He usually just insulted them until they went away. Though, I guess that's probably what you did, in dog language.”
Gladstone also turned out to be very good at handling the symptoms of John's PTSD, which had never truly gone away, even when Sherlock was alive. They probably weren't that much worse after his death, but it seemed that way because John wasn't running around like an idiot and distracting himself. If he had nightmares, Gladstone hopped up on the bed and woke him up. If he had flashbacks, Gladstone nudged him and barked at him until he snapped out of them. And if had panic attacks, Gladstone put himself in his lap and licked at his face until he was calm again. He did all of this without any training or prompting from John. He just seemed to know what to do and John appreciated it immensely.
He even accompanied John to the cemetery on the one year anniversary of Sherlock's death. John hadn't visited the grave since he'd said his goodbye. He didn't believe in the afterlife and even if he did, he thought it would be very unlikely that Sherlock would be hanging around his grave, waiting for visitors. He'd be off haunting Mycroft, or bugging saints or having tea with Poe. But Mrs Hudson had suggested they both go and pay their respects and John couldn't deny her anything. So they went, and Gladstone lay solemnly between them as they stood and reminisced about the madman who had been such a big part of their lives.
“I miss him a lot,” John said, once he was back in his flat. Gladstone was a good listener and John had long since stopped feeling silly about talking to him. “He was my best friend. He wouldn't have liked you, I don't think. He didn't understand dogs. He didn't understand people a lot of the time. He was a genius. But a bit of an idiot, too. I miss him.”
Gladstone cocked his head to one side and whined softly. John smiled and gave him a scratch behind his ears.
“We're all right, though,” John said, and meant it. “We've made it out all right. So... thanks for that. You've been a big help.”