It had been months since John and Sherlock had last been to the Holmes family estate. Christmas last, to be precise. And before that there'd been a Halloween-time trip, John's first introduction to Sherlock's mother, Celeste, and other denizens of the house. There was no holiday or special season involved this time. Nothing mystical to, theoretically, bring the world of the living closer to the world of the fey, or the world of the dead. However, John could not help wondering if he might still be visited by a certain young ghost. He expected the chances--based on the dash of research he'd done on a library computer to avoid Sherlock discovering it in his browser history--were good due to the third member of their party: the dog, Toby.
They'd borrowed the ridiculous looking mutt for a case, and with the case closed but the dog not yet returned, had received word that Toby's owner was called away. Urgent family matter, Sherman's voicemail had vaguely explained. The trip here was not to be delayed. Lestrade had said a regretful but firm "No." when asked to dog-sit. Mrs. Hudson had been adamant that she would not be responsible for him. They'd even tried to pawn the pup off on Molly, who'd have been happy to take him if her landlord would have allowed it, which he did not.
So now John held the dog's lead as he followed Sherlock up the grand front steps to where the Holmeses' butler, Sneller, waited at the open door, while a footman was engaged in retrieving their overnight cases from the boot of the taxi.
"Is she in?" Sherlock asked without preamble.
"No, sir. She left instructions not to hold dinner for her." Sneller took Sherlock's coat and waited patiently while John divested himself of his jacket and handed it over. He made no mention of the four-legged creature at John's feet, sniffing the floor of the entryway, but his expression was so carefully schooled that John could read displeasure in the man's blank diffidence. "Is there anything else, sir?"
"Very good." Sneller nodded once and departed.
Toby chose the moment of his exit to begin barking furiously, his baying tone amplified by the entry's acoustic properties.
"Toby, quiet!" John scolded sharply. "Toby!" He tugged the lead to get the dog's attention and Toby quieted to a snuffling whine. He was clearly on edge, and when John looked around he immediately saw why. Across the foyer there stood a young boy dressed in the clothes of the mid-1970s. And looking utterly transparent. Sherrinford. Not that John could say anything out loud to the ghost. Not while Sherlock was there observing.
"Must have caught a scent that set him off, right?" John said, trying to deflect attention from Ford, at whom Toby now stared intently, his tail wagging a rhythmic thump against John's leg. "He is a scent hound, after all."
Sherlock shrugged one shoulder dismissively. "Logical." He spared Toby a glance and his own focus narrowed abruptly on that of the dog's. He dropped to a knee beside the mutt and tried to match his gaze. "Although it seems as though something has caught his eye rather than his nose."
"Genius, he is," said Sherrinford sarcastically, and John fought not to laugh. Sherlock's eldest brother was always a bit snarky and teasing about his youngest sibling. "I'm only standing right here. Aren't I, Toby?"
Toby barked once as if in reply. Perhaps he had, indeed, heard his name spoken. John had heard it, and his research had said animals were more attuned to spirits than humans were.
Ford knelt down in a pose that was a perfect miniature of Sherlock's and put an ethereal hand out. "Come say hi, Toby? Come here, boy."
John bent and unclipped the lead, and Toby trotted across the slick marble floor, nails clicking with each waddling step.
"What did you do that for?" complained Sherlock, rising back to his feet.
John shrugged. "I thought if he saw something, he'd go to it." It was even true, although Sherlock wouldn't believe it. He watched Toby and Ford together wondering if either could actually feel the other's touch. Did Toby know Ford was scratching behind his floppy left ear? Could Ford feel the softness of the dog's fur? When Toby rolled onto his back and Ford began to scratch his exposed belly, he suspected the answer to both was yes.
"I love dogs," Ford said with a tone of melancholy John couldn't recall hearing from the ghost before.
He quite likes you, too, he wanted say, but refrained.
"Odd." Sherlock pursed his lips into a thin line.
Yes, it would look odd to anyone who couldn't see the boy next to the dog. Poor Sherlock. There were limits to logic, thought John.
"We'll be here a couple of days," John said for Ford's benefit. "We might as well settle in," he added so that Sherlock wouldn't accuse him of stating the obvious. Not that it worked.
Ford didn't look up from Toby, but he still spared an insult for Sherlock. "God, he's a tosser. How do you stand him?"
"Practice," John replied without thinking.
"What?" asked Sherlock.
Ford laughed and Toby rolled onto his belly and barked once. "Good dog!" Ford looked up at John. "Thanks."
John smiled. "I'll take Toby for a walk after dinner. Do you want to come along?"
"No," said Sherlock at the same moment Ford exclaimed, "Yes!" Then the ghost rolled his eyes. "See? A tosser and no fun at all."
"There are positives aspects to him, you know."
"Not that I see."
"I am aware of the benefits of fresh air, walking, and even dogs," said Sherlock. "Why are you rambling on, John?"
"No reason. Toby, come." He patted his leg and Toby rose to his stubby legs and trotted over. He patted the dog's head and rubbed his silky ears. "We'll have a good walk and some play time later. All right?" He glanced up sideways at Ford, who grinned widely.
"He can't answer you, John. He's a dog. Are you going to be this absurd all weekend?" Sherlock asked.
John shot Ford a grin. "Yes. I expect I am."