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The Wonder of Ignorance

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If anyone who had known John Watson before 21 November 2011 had seen him the following year, they wouldn’t have recognised him in passing. He spent months in mourning, cutting off contact with just about everyone he had ever been friends with. Phone calls, text messages, and emails went unanswered, house-calls were greeted with blank stares, monosyllabic sentences (when he felt like talking at all), the occasional broken teacup (which he always replaced later either in kind or setting aside the monetary funds to replace it), and eventually, locked doors. The most he ever said to anyone was to Mycroft Holmes, three days before he disappeared. He visited Mycroft in his office at The Diogenes Club, which was as much a surprise to Holmes as it was to anyone else due to the fact that before he showed up at the private club, he hadn’t been seen in a week.

“If there’s one thing you should remember about me, Mycroft, it’s that I learned from observing. I saw, I observed, I learned. I’ve been gone for a week? Dodging your cameras is child’s play for me these days.” He leant across the desk, “I’ll disappear, and you won’t find me. Ever. Until I want to be found.”

“Don’t be foolish, Doctor Watson.”

“At least give me the courtesy of my fucking name, Mycroft! Jesus! I know you don’t like me, but this is a new low for you!” He snarled, stepping back from the desk and falling into parade-rest, a default when he was under stress, his eyes some incongruous dark colour that couldn’t quite be named. Pulling his shoulders back, hesitating a bit on the left due to the injury that had knocked him out of service and left him struggling to piece his life back together when he was finally out of the hospital, he tilted his chin and stared down the powerful man on the other side of the desk. 

“You know something, Mycroft. You know something important. You haven’t told anyone. I don’t care why, but I do care that you seem to think I’m just that stupid.”

“Sherlock is dead, Doctor Watson.”

“Yes, I know.” A falter, a crack in the armour, “I was there that day, I know. You seem to take delight in reminding me. Sherlock may be dead, but he does not deserve to be treated the way he has been. Dead or alive, he deserves dignity. I know how hard Greg Lestrade is working to clear his name, and I’ve helped him. And don’t forget what I did to Moriarty. I’m not an idiot, Mr Holmes. There is nothing I despise more than being treated as one, and being lied to. You’ve already made me well-aware of your thoughts on my keeping company with your brother, you always thought he could do better, you told him to keep me out of the loop when this happened. Not to protect me, no, to get rid of me.”

“I never said such a thing.”

“Bullshit.” Stormy eyes narrowed, “If I ever find out that you lied to me, about anything, not even your PA will be able to protect you. Sherlock was more than just my friend. He was my everything. My world shattered that day, for the second time in two years. And I was barely able to pick up the pieces the first time, never mind having to see my best friend laid to rest six feet underground because you sold him out!” A flash of light across dark eyes, his voice wavered, but he did not bend, “I don’t know who was holding Moriarty’s strings, or yours, for that matter, but you are responsible for every single damn thing that happened to Sherlock. I will never forgive you for that, I can’t. I’ve made arrangements and I’ll be going away soon. I haven’t decided where, or how long I’ll be gone, but I have arranged for my pension and savings to pay my half of the rent at Baker Street for Mrs Hudson’s sake. I’ve left everything there, including my gun. It’s locked in a safe in my closet, I gave the combination to Greg. If I come back to Baker Street and anything has been moved, of mine or Sherlock’s, I will take it back by whatever force is necessary.

“I’m going to keep my key, Mrs Hudson wouldn’t take it back when I offered. I will not return to Baker Street for a very long time, if I ever do. There is nothing for me there. My life was there, and to move on, I have to leave everything behind. Maybe someday, by some astronomical chance, I’ll go home.” John took a deep breath, this was not easy for him, “But without Sherlock, without your brother, I have nothing and I am no one. I’ve already shut down my blog and quit at the clinic. That was actually very easy, seeing as I hadn’t worked a decent day in six months. It was a mutual parting of ways, but I don’t think I will ever work as a doctor again.”

“Why not?”

“No one wants to be treated by a doctor who is more broken than they are. I’m not the one who matters, I never have been.” He turned neatly on his heel and went to the door, looking over his shoulder as he opened the door. “Goodbye, Mycroft. It has not been a pleasure.” The door closing was very loud in the quiet office and Mycroft was left to consider many things that shouldn’t have mattered and suddenly were quite important. He had underestimated John Watson, but he wasn’t the one who would ultimately pay the price for that. Shaking his head, he turned to his work and spent the afternoon tracking an operative in Europe.

---

A week after the final confrontation at The Diogenes Club, John Watson had quite literally disappeared. When questioned, Martha Hudson admitted only to seeing him leave with a rucksack full of clothes early one morning, upon inspection of the flat it was discovered that he had taken cash, his driver's license, and passport but nothing else. Two weeks worth of clothes were gone, as well as one of Sherlock Holmes’s dressing-gowns, a much-worn and beloved blue silk number that had been retired after an accident with sulphuric acid and cow tongues had burned a hole in one sleeve. No one had been hurt in the accident, but the last time the robe had been worn was the night before Sherlock had become one of London’s most wanted potential criminal masterminds. His toiletry kit was intact, which led to the understanding that he would have purchased the necessary items as he needed them.

The former soldier was nothing if not clever and crafty and resourceful. He had withdrawn a hefty sum from his bank account, nearly wiping it out in fact, which had given him the cash he needed to go off-grid completely. Cameras were useless, as he proved rather adept at hiding in blind-spots and blending with the crowds of London when he couldn’t.

None of the usual resources useful for keeping track of the residents of 221B Baker Street were able to provide any knowledge of his whereabouts when put under duress, and the line of questioning stopped when Mrs Hudson stood up to Mycroft Holmes and told him “Even if I did know where that boy was, you would be behind the last person I would bother to tell! You go back to minding your own damn business, Mr Holmes, and leave me to mine! I’m of half a mind to use this rolling-pin on you, get out of my house!” And he had quietly acquiesced to the irate landlady. His source at The Met went cold when Greg Lestrade pretty much locked him out of the office and told him to stop coming ‘round. He was too busy with honest work to bother about John’s whereabouts. The Homeless Network closed its ranks as well and Mycroft was left with no leads or resources. God help him if anything befell John Watson, Sherlock would never ever forgive him.

After a few months, he popped up on CCTV in Trafalgar Square, and again on Vauxhall Bridge. It was obvious he’d been out of the country, but with no credit-card to track, there was no telling where he’d been. It was a very different John Watson who returned to London from Gods alone knew where, and after following him by camera and spook for two weeks, which he was surprisingly allowed to do without any fuss, Mycroft lost track of him again. This kept up for a long while, John resurfacing for a few days before disappearing again. Never a word was spoken, just a quick nod to a camera before he ducked into a crowd or dark alleyway and vanished like a ghost. 

So it was with an uneasy conscience that Mycroft informed his freshly-returned and very much alive brother of things in late October of 2014.

“John Watson is not in Baker Street anymore, brother.” He said carefully as he watched his brother get dressed, “He has not been for quite some time.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course he is!”

“No, Sherlock. Listen to me, John is not there, you won’t find him at Baker Street!” I don’t know where he is now. He thought dismally. “He’s…moved on.”

“Why? How could he? I’ve been away.” Oh, the look of betrayal. “What have you done?”

“Kept him alive. You’re welcome.”

“I highly doubt that. Where is he, Mycroft?”

“If I knew, wouldn’t I tell you?”

“No, you wouldn’t.” Sherlock shrugged into his coat, not the Belstaff that had been replaced during his time away, “Whatever you’ve done, Mycroft, I do not forgive you. Not now.”

“Where are you going?”

“To find John Watson and save his life!” That was yelled back to him as the door slammed. Mycroft looked at his PA, who was fixated on her Blackberry.

“Where is he?”

“Vauxhall Arches last week. Worked his way north towards Baker Street, spotted around Regent’s Park two days ago.”

“He’s going home.” Mycroft groaned. Did John know somehow? Had he worked out the lies for himself and learned that Sherlock was alive? Not a man of religion, Mycroft Holmes found himself praying for forgiveness. And for peace. Not just for himself, but for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.


 

Chapter Text


It took a week to find someone who knew John’s name, and three days beyond that to put eyes on him. When Sherlock Holmes realised that he had overlooked the unassuming panhandler who sat in the alleyway leading to Tolmer’s Square just up the street from the Baker Street flat, minding his own business and watching the world pass him by without so much as a second glance, it was a “lightning strike” epiphany. Sherlock always dropped a coin or two in the small plastic cup, but never really paid him much mind. He only really paid attention when he heard a quiet voice as he passed by the alleyway on his way back from a long walk trying to clear his head.

“Y’know. There’s whispers around that Sherlock ‘Olmes is back from the dead. Rose like Lazarus from his grave, right.” The soft voice, thick with a Highland accent, startled him. Sherlock stopped dead and looked over.

“I’m sorry? Did you…say something?”

“Ya heard me, posh.” The man tipped his head but didn’t raise it, “Said there’s whispers. Streets talk, y’know?”

“Yes, I suppose they do talk.”

“Say that Sherlock ‘Olmes, great detective, is back from the dead.”

“Who says?”

“Whole Network. Smart people, they are, good to those on hard times and down on their luck.”

“What do they say about John Watson, then?” He stepped closer, desperate for any word of his missing friend. Sherlock wouldn’t be surprised if someone told him John was dead and buried these three years, “If they’re talking about Sherlock Holmes, what are they saying about John Watson? Surely they’re talking about him?”

“Watson?” A dismissive sound, a bored shrug, “Who bothers with the side-kicks? All he did was keep ‘olmes out of trouble. For what thanks?”

“What do you know?” Sherlock swept back the tails of his coat, thinking of all the times John had grabbed it to keep hold of him on the run during a case, and knelt by the Homeless, “You’re new.”

“Nah. Been here a long while, sir.”

“I’ve never seen you before. You’ve only been here a week and three days that I’ve seen you.”

“Used to say somethin’ to the lot of ‘em, all the coppers.” The Homeless man raised his head and Sherlock finally got a look at his face. Slightly gaunt, pale, a short, trim beard of two months’ growth or so, thin wire-rim glasses, high-cut hair more grey than blonde from what he could see under a knit cap. The man wore a grey hoodie and ratty jeans, both were recently laundered but worn many, many times. Behind the glasses, his eyes were an alarming and intriguing blend of grey, brown, blue, and green.

“What did…he say?” Sherlock caught himself. He’d almost said “What did I say?”, and that would have been A Bit Not Good.

“Used to say “You see but you do not observe.” Funny words for a genius like that.” The man chuckled, a soft, warm sound that shot through Sherlock’s heart and settled in his core, “Wise words, those. Learned more from that smug bastard than anyone else in my whole life.”

“You knew Sherlock Holmes?”

“Sure I did!”

“How?”

“He was my best friend. Saved m’life, that one, didn’t know he’d done it, neither. Never said it, didn’t want to.”

“Let me see your hands.” Sherlock pulled his gloves off with his teeth and pocketed them. The Homeless obeyed, he noticed a marked tremor in the man’s left hand, an intermittent tremor caused by an old injury. Leg? No, shoulder. But he had a walking-cane. A simple thing of metal and plastic. Sherlock picked out details of the man’s life, running them through his head, comparing new data to existing data, finding matches all over the chart. Interesting.

“Afghanistan or Iraq?” Sherlock schooled a passably straight face and looked up into those intriguing eyes, now familiar to him.

“Sorry?” A wrinkle appeared between his eyebrows, he was caught off-guard by the question. Had been the first time, too, if Sherlock recalled rightly. And he never forgot. Never forgot a single thing about the man who was John H. Watson, Captain of the 5th Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Soldier, doctor, friend, best friend, brother, voice of conscience, voice of reason, conductor of light, blogger, crack-shot. John Watson had been so many things, so many important things, at different times as called upon to be.

“Which was it – Afghanistan or Iraq?” He briefly raised his eyes to the other man’s. He just smiled.

“Afghanistan. Sorry, how did you know…?”

“How do you feel about the violin?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I play the violin when I’m thinking. Sometimes I don’t talk for days on end.” Sherlock got to his feet, looking down at the unassuming homeless man before him, “Would that bother you? Potential flatmates should know the worst about each other.”

“How did you…know about Afghanistan?” A hint of defiance, a flash of the old John Watson. What in God’s name had happened to him?

“How do you know anything about me?”

“I know you’re a soldier, you’ve been invalided home from Afghanistan. Happened quite a few years ago, 2008 or 2009 I would guess. I know you’ve got a sister who’s worried about you but you won’t go to her for help because you don’t approve of her – possibly because she’s an alcoholic; more likely because she recently walked out on her wife. Or did the wife do the walking this time? And I know that your therapist thought your limp’s psychosomatic – quite correctly, I’m afraid. Shame it came back like it did, though.” John narrowed his eyes and looked over at the unused cane leaning against the wall beside him. Sherlock grinned, “That’s enough to be going on with, don’t you think?”

“How did you do that?”

“You’re a doctor. In fact, you’re an Army doctor.”

“Yes. I suppose I was, once.” A grimace of a pain far beyond the physical passed across John’s face, and he struggled to stand. Sherlock quickly offered him a hand up, it was the least he could do.

“Any good?”

“Very good.”

“Seen a lot of injuries, then; violent deaths.” They both knew the answer to that question, ta.

“Mmm, yes.” A tightening of his expression was all the warning he got, it was time to tread carefully.

“Bit of trouble too, I bet.” A great deal more than a “bit of trouble”, to be completely honest.

“Of course, yes.” A faint waiver, a sharp inhale, “Enough for a lifetime. Far too much.” Sherlock leant in until he could almost see himself reflected in John’s eyes, certainly in his glasses, and smirked.

“Wanna see some more?”

“Oh God, yes.” If those weren’t tears in John Watson’s eyes, Sherlock was truly an idiot. He hadn’t let go of John’s hand after getting him off the damp pavement, and Sherlock tightened his grip, thinking of the last time he’d been able to hold John’s hand at all. Ignoring the crowds on the street behind them, Sherlock stepped into John’s space and leant in close.

“Come home, John. Please come home.”

“How did you find me?”

“It took far too much effort, consider yourself fortunate I cared enough to spend the time and effort to even bother.”

“Oh, you love me.” A soft, sad chuckle, “I’m so sorry, Sherlock.”

“Why are you apologising?”

“Because you had to find me like this.” A dismissive gesture at his state of dress and appearance. It was the worst Sherlock had seen John in...well, he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen John this dishevelled. 

“At least I found you.” He sniffled and put his arms around the sturdy, stocky doctor who had been his guiding light, his North Star, his moral compass. John Watson had been so many things at such different times for him.

“Does Mycroft know?” John murmured against his coat. Sherlock shook his head and let out a slow, shaky breath. No, he brother did not know that John had, in fact, helped Sherlock on several dangerous missions.

“He does not know.”

“That’s fine. He doesn’t deserve to know.” John muttered, “Moron.”

“John!” He choked, “Oh, I missed you!”

“And I missed you too, Sassenach*.” Oh, he’d pulled out that old nickname, had he? Sherlock giggled and buried his face in John’s good shoulder.

“Oh, John. John Watson, you keep me right! Always!”

“Well, that’s my job, innit?”

“I suppose it is! Come on, it’s started to rain.”

“Oh, look at that. It has. Well, welcome to London!” John collected his few things and squinted at the sky, “I don’t suppose Mrs Hudson knows you’re alive, does she?”

“No. Not yet.”

“Does anyone?”

“Nope.”

“Oh, lovely!” John chuckled, “You don’t look a thing like yourself, y’know.”

“Neither do you!”

“Kind of the point, yeah?”

“Precisely the point.”

“Poor Mrs Hudson.” John linked arms with him, “But she’s not a stupid woman.”

“No, she’s not a stupid woman, but she’s never seen us in this state before.”

“Mmm. You’ve a point there. Well, nothing for it! Onward!” It was a blessedly short, uninterrupted jaunt to the black door of 221B Baker Street, and John knocked first, just as he had all those years ago the first time they’d decided to take rooms together in the cluttered little flat that had become home to both of them in ways neither had expected. They had to knock twice before the door opened from inside, just enough to let their long-suffering landlady peek out.

“Hello, Mrs Hudson!”

“John!” She flung the door open, having recognized John despite his current state, and stood with her hands on her hips, “Where have you been, young man?!”

“Very sorry for all the trouble, Mrs H. Any chance we can come in out of the rain? It’s a bit wetter than we’d like out here.”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake! Come in, you two! Just like you to get caught out in the rain, hmm?” She practically dragged them into the house, as she had many times in the past when they got caught out on a case and forgot or lost their keys.

“And you, Mister, had better have a very good reason for all that awful business!” She said this to Sherlock as she poked him in the chest, “Nearly gave me a proper fright, you did! The both of you, pair of fine idiots!”

“We’re very sorry, Mrs Hudson. Really.” John looked up the stairs, “Everything upstairs as we left it?”

“Dusted it yesterday, love.” Mrs Hudson patted him on the cheek, “Drafty and chill with the weather we’ve had, but not a thing’s been touched.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs Hudson.”

“And for Lord's sakes, take a shower! Please!” She called up as they ran up the seventeen familiar stairs, “Both of you, my goodness! Pair of rightful hooligans!”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson!”

“I’ll wait until I hear that water go off before I bring up tea, you had better be decent when I do.”

“Of course we will be.” Sherlock rolled his eyes and hauled John into a flat that looked very much as it had that day so long ago. Nothing looked like it had been touched. A few things had been moved, a few things were missing, but nothing he couldn’t do without. The Evidence Wall was bare, the science equipment was gone from the kitchen, and he suspected the refrigerator was quite empty. But that didn’t matter a whistle. Objects could be replaced, people couldn’t. And if there was one thing Sherlock had learned during his years away from Baker Street, it was that John Watson was the most important, most valuable thing in his life.

He still remembered the first time he and John had reunited and the month of recovery that followed when John made him sit still long enough. He had stumbled into the cramped, dank flat in Dublin after taking out one of Jim Moriarty’s high-level operatives, drenched and bleeding. It hadn’t taken him the time necessary to close and lock his door to realise he had company, less than that to realise he had a friend.

“You’re a fucking idiot, Sherlock Holmes. Take off your coat and strip.” Those had been the first words out of John Watson’s mouth, and they were beautiful. Sherlock had gladly done so and been bundled into dry things and John had dutifully tended to his wounds, pulling a bullet from his right arm and stitching up a few nasty abrasions. That had been the beginning of their international adventures, John proving himself very useful in taking apart Moriarty’s network. Sherlock had apologised for lying to him, for keeping him in the dark about just how much trouble they were really in before The Fall, John had been very forgiving. 

And now, now they were home. While he ran the water hot for a badly-needed shower, John got a fire going in the sitting-room to heat the flat a bit. Desperate for contact, after three months without, they made quick business of showering. Getting dressed in pyjamas, having no plans to leave Baker Street again tonight or anytime in the near future, Sherlock took John’s hand in his and settled on the couch with him. Stirring the fire a bit, he took his place next to John and got comfortable. He thought it interesting, and perhaps a sign of their state, that despite a thorough shower, neither of them had shaved much more than to trim up and clean up. 

---

When Mrs Hudson came up with tea, she found them curled up together, wrapped in a hand-knit Afghan blanket, listening to a recording of some of Sherlock’s music. All she did was smile and set their cups on the coffee table where they could reach them but said nothing. It was very clear that she was excited they were home but knew to keep it to herself. It was quiet in the flat, no one spoke, but when Mrs Hudson collected their empty cups, she leant over and patted him on the cheek.

“You’re a good one, Sherlock Holmes. Stay that way.”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson.”

“And you two, take care of each other properly. Don’t be a pair of idiots about things anymore.” This was said with a sharp look for John, who had settled himself with his head in Sherlock’s lap, “Either of you boys, I’ve had enough tip-toeing and such nonsense.”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson. We know.”

“You need to eat something, I’ve got a bit set aside for you, I’ll go bring it out.” She just smiled and disappeared again.

“Thought she wasn’t a housekeeper.” John murmured once she was out of earshot.

“I heard that, young man!” Mrs Hudson called from the kitchen. Sherlock looked at John and they both snickered. When she returned from the kitchen, their patient, indulgent landlady had a plate of cold-cut sandwiches for them and fresh tea. 

“It’s not much, of course, but it won’t do for the pair of you to keep starving yourselves and since you won’t be bothered to look after yourselves, someone’s got to.”

“You’re a wonder, Mrs Hudson.” John sighed and sat up to make the most of the offerings.

“You two just take a night in. Not like anyone’s going to come calling on you, is it?”

“And if they do…”

“I’ll send ‘em off again. No sense bothering you boys on a night like this. Can’t be any good reason for it, either.” She chuckled and wandered off again, muttering to herself about the sorry state of things and how the two of them could use a week of hot showers and a month’s worth of food.

“God bless Mrs Hudson.” John muttered, “She keeps us right, Sherlock.”

“Yes, she does. Patience of a saint, that one.” Sherlock smiled. John just rolled his eyes, deigning not to talk around a mouth full of food. It was quiet while they ate what was most likely the first proper meal either of them had eaten in far longer than bore thinking of. 

But learned habits died slowly, and every time they heard something slightly out of place, they both froze. Once, they saw lights and John stalked the window, staying out of sight with his pistol in one hand, pulling back the curtains just enough to look out.

“What is it?”

“Nothing. Just a patrol passing the house. Standard procedure.” John let the curtain fall back into place and safed his weapon, putting it on the coffee-table, “And even if they saw me, they wouldn’t stop.”

“Wouldn’t they?”

“Nah.” John shook his head and collected empty plates, “Greg knows I come back here when I need a safe place to stay. Told the boys over there at The Met that if they saw the curtains move, don’t bother until they got called.”

“So he knows where you are?”

“He knows where I was.” John came back and sat down again, “I haven’t seen him or heard from him in a few months.”

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Did you tell him?”

“Yep. But we’re both in the same boat about Mycroft, so I guarantee you he doesn’t know that we know, and he won’t. Greg knew it was a fake as soon as he heard.”

“He’s smart.”

“He’s a friend and a resource if we need anything.” John leant his head back, a familiar posture of exhaustion. Sherlock took his hand and got him off the couch. Without a word, they went back to the bedroom and after making sure the flat was shut down, banking the fire and turning off the music-player, closed and locked the bedroom door. It was normal and familiar to brush his teeth next to John, who pushed him out to do his business before taking one side of the bed.

“My turn?”

“Yep. Don’t forget the light.”

“Ta.” He finished up quickly in the bathroom and shut off the light. As soon as Sherlock had turned down the bed and taken his side, John switched off the bedside lamp and rolled so they faced each other in the dark. They had slept many nights like this, bodies and minds aligned and calm, and when he felt a touch on his hand, Sherlock reached back. John was exhausted and was out in minutes. The familiar, soft snores were comforting and Sherlock let himself fall asleep. He hadn’t slept well for months, years even, but tonight he would sleep well knowing that it was safe for the moment.


 

Chapter Text


When John Watson woke to dim daylight in the back bedroom of Baker Street, it only took him a minute to piece together how he’d ended up here. At some time in the night, he had rolled onto his front and his head had landed on a bony shoulder that still made a better pillow than anything stuffed with feathers or polyester fluff. He was in Baker Street, in the back bedroom, sleeping on Sherlock Holmes’s shoulder while he read something on the iPad John had bought him as a gift for his birthday back in 2011. The bed was soft, warm, and he was disinclined to move for much beyond a trip to the loo and maybe food. He yawned and shuffled over, peeking at the screen.

“Anything good on?”

“A couple of interesting potentials.”

“Do we have to leave the house?”

“Not necessarily.”

“Right.” He smirked, “Anything above a 5?”

“No.”

“Bull.”

“Maybe a 7.”

“Really?” John pushed up for a better look, “That’s big! Who from?”

“Mycroft.”

“No thank you, sir.”

“You don’t like my brother, do you?”

“He doesn’t like me, it’s mutual. Your brother’s a bigger pain in the arse than you will ever be, and far less likeable.”

“I’m likeable?”

“Shh.” John poked him in the ribs, “Wouldn’t have stuck around and risked my neck for you all those times if you weren’t.”

“Hmm.” And if that didn’t just make the tall git so bloody pleased with himself. John snorted and flipped onto his back, sitting up to read along with Sherlock.

“Did you have any plans to leave the house today?”

“Not for anything short of royal summons.”

“Oh, don’t say that.” John rolled his eyes, “Last time that happened, you showed up in a bloody bed sheet and slippers, you prat.”

“You liked it.”

“Maybe I did.” He snickered, “Such a shame the sheet didn’t fall off.”

“Oh, you’re a bad man, John Watson.”

“That’s news to you?” He grinned and dropped a kiss to the scruffy cheek before he hopped off the bed, “Who’s the bad influence, Sherlock?”

“Both of us to the other.”

“Precisely!” He finished his business in the bathroom, took one good look at his reflection, and groaned. “Oh Lord.”

“Something wrong?”

“Nah. Just realised I could walk right past Greg and he wouldn’t know it was me.”

“Do you look that different?”

“Hasn’t seen me in nine months, Sherlock, you in three years.” He went out again after washing his hands, “You’re not hungry, are you?”

“Maybe? I could be convinced. Why?”

“Just a thought. Tend to function better with food in my stomach. You’re a freak of nature, but I’m just a pretty normal bloke who doesn’t do well on an empty stomach.”

“I eat!” Oh, he looked so insulted it was a shame to laugh at him.

“Because I make you.” John rolled his eyes and rifled through the closet for something decent to wear. Even if they never left the house, he would feel much better wearing normal clothes. The question remained would any of his old clothes fit him still? He pulled down a pair of trousers he hadn’t worn since leaving Baker Street, finding a button-down and jumper to go with it, then dug up socks and looked for shoes he could wear.

“What are you looking for?”

“My shoes. I left everything here when I left Baker Street.”

“Most of your things are still upstairs. I moved your clothes down to my room after I came back.”

“Smart move.” He got dressed and made a face when the trousers fit. “Damn it, Mycroft.”
“Hmm?” Sherlock looked up from getting dressed.

“Your brother is a meddling sneak of the worst colour, came in here and took my clothes, had them altered, and brought them back.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Only if I gain back all of the weight I lost in the past three years.” He sighed and dragged the jumper over his head. It was a little loose on his frame, but not awfully. Sherlock looked him up and down and came over, sliding two fingers under the waistband of his trousers with a nonchalance that would have annoyed John any other time. He hummed and gave a quick tug.

“You wouldn’t outgrow these alterations even if you gained an extra five pounds past what you weighed in 2011.”

“You would know.” John rolled his eyes and tucked Sherlock’s shirt into his trousers. For once, his friend and partner had not elected for his usual bespoke-tailored suit and dress-shirt. Instead, he wore a well-tailored pair of denims, white dress-shirt, and a black brocade waistcoat, casual yet still classy. Going upstairs, John found shoes and trotted back downstairs to sit on the bottom riser and put them on. Sherlock was standing by the door, waiting for him with their coats. John took the green parka with a raised eyebrow. There was history to this coat, important history. Shrugging, he took it and headed down the stairs. Sherlock was right behind him, focused on his phone in one hand. As he held the door for Sherlock, he looked at his watch. It was barely gone seven. He raised an eyebrow, he seemed to be doing that a lot this morning.

“Early start, Holmes?”

“Perhaps.”

“We can’t stay away from it, can we?”

“Nope.” Sherlock just beamed at him as he stepped out of the house, wrapping on his scarf. He had already shrugged into his coat, a new one John had bought for him last Christmas. He still had his Belstaff Milford, the original long wool coat that he had worn absolutely everywhere before the incident at Saint Bart’s, but he didn’t wear it much these days. Instead, he preferred the Belstaff Panther coat John had given him. It was a lovely thigh-length leather racing jacket with a waist-belt cinch to offer a better fit and showed off Sherlock’s arse rather nicely. They walked to the end of Baker Street and hailed a taxi there, and John let Sherlock give the address of their destination. Wherever they were going, it beat out the morning in bed they had both anticipated.

“Mycroft’s case?”

“Nope.”

“You know we can’t just show up on a Met scene like the old days, Sherlock. Almost no one there knows I’m back, never mind you.” John shook his head and looked out the window, “Where are we going?”

“City. Someone called in a body washed up under Millenium Bridge. Apparently, very interesting.”

“Are you wanting to give Greg a heart-attack?”

“Don’t we always?”

“Not in a few years, you git.” He sighed and looked at Sherlock, “How did you find out about this?”

“He called you.”

“You didn’t answer did you?” He could only imagine how that phone call might have gone if his idiot partner had answered it. It had been done before.

“No, I let it ring to voicemail.” Sherlock handed John his phone and let him dial into his voicemail to see what Greg had to say.

Hi, John, it’s Greg. So sorry about the hour, I mean, Christ, the sun’s barely up. Anyway, sorry to call you, mate, but I think we might need you. Christ, I’d pay a ransom for Sherlock, and I’m not even sure if you’re in town again or not, but it’s worth a shot. We’re down here at Paul’s Walk by the Millennium Bridge, we’ve got a body here that looks like something you might be interested in. Looks like another one of those calls, for what that’s worth. Hope to hear from you or see you soon, son. God knows I could use a hand. Ta.” That was the end of the message and John made a face.

“Please don’t tell me it’s another one.”

“Another one?”

“Someone’s keeping the River Police very busy, this will be the…fourth body they’ve pulled from the Thames in six months?”

“Sounds like London has a problem.”

“And if he wasn’t three years cold in his grave, I’d say it was Moriarty. But I know it’s not, so…”

“Copycat?”

“Maybe. Definitely an amateur.” John drummed his fingers against his thigh until Sherlock took his hand to stop him.

“Stop twitching. You’re nervous.”

“He called me, Sherlock. He only calls if it’s really bad. I haven’t set foot on a scene in nine months.”

“You’ve been gone, John.”

“Yeah, there is that, too. Never mind my credibility and reputation tanked after Moriarty’s last stunt.” He squeezed Sherlock’s fingers, “It would have the bastard rolling in his grave to know you’d survived that day.”

“And he didn’t.”

“Nope. I made sure of that, too. About three weeks after the hospital, I caught the slimy fucker sneaking around.”

“What’d you do?”

“Played my role, lured him in, poisoned his tea, and called Mycroft to take care of the body.”

“Oh, John.”

“Don’t regret a minute of it. I got my gun back six months after I left when I swung back through here on a stop-over, Greg had it for me and just gave it back when he came to find me.”

“Did you bring it?”

“Never leave without it. My reputation stands and most people aren’t stupid enough to take on a veteran anyway, never mind the fallen Doctor Watson.” John wrinkled his nose, “We’ll have to come up with something, Sherlock, now that we’re back in Baker Street. I can’t work as a doctor anymore.”

“Do you want to?”

“Nope. I’ve seen too much of the world to care about the small problems of the masses. Too many days of thankless work for a few hours of gratitude and gratification.”

“Couldn’t the same be said about working with me?”

“Yeah, but I enjoyed working with you, I loved it. Even on the days you all treated me like shite, I didn’t care.” He rubbed his jaw, feeling a stiffness there that always got worse on very cold days, “It was exciting and gave me a reason to get out of bed in the morning to write the next blog-post.” Sherlock squeezed his hand tightly and leant against his shoulder.

“You know, I’m rubbish at emotions and such things.”

“Yeah, I know. What’s on your mind, Holmes?”

“I’m not very good at people, but you…stayed. You kept staying, you didn’t leave, and when I lied to you and didn’t deserve forgiveness, you forgave me for lying to you for our sakes, my sake, and hurting you like you never deserved to be hurt,” Sherlock looked out the window for a moment, collecting his thoughts, “Then you came and found me and put me right again and helped me. I never wanted to ask you to do that, I never wanted you to give up the chance of a normal, happy life.”

“Sherlock?”

“Hmm?”

“You are my normal, happy life.” He rubbed his cheek on Sherlock’s hair, “I would do anything for you.”

“You did, many times.”

“And I’ll do it many times more, son.” He closed his eyes and let the sway of the cab lull him until they reached their destination. He got out behind Sherlock and paid the fare, just like the old days, thanking the driver, and looked around.

“Dismal day, ain’t it?”

“Could be worse. Where are they?” Sherlock turned up his collar and looked around. They had been dropped off on Peter’s Hill at Queen Victoria Street, the bridge was ahead of them to the south, St. Paul’s Cathedral was behind them. John pointed south towards the bridge.

“Down that way. Off Paul’s Walk on the beach-head. Tide’s low right now, which is why they found the poor sod.” John gauged traffic and grabbed Sherlock by the hand, “Come on.” And just the like old days, before Moriarty threw their world into disarray and pushed John out of the only stable home he’d known since joining the Army, they were on the hunt, moving in sync at a brisk clip as they wove between early-morning crowds. 

There weren’t many people this morning, it was too cold and too foggy, and they took the stairs down to Paul’s Walk, which was blocked off at the foot of the stairs by tape and a few sleepy-eyed constables. John pulled Sherlock along behind him and approached the tape. They were, of course, stopped. He held onto Sherlock, who looked over the tape, vibrating with excitement, and gave his name to the constables.

“Name’s Watson. Here for Inspector Lestrade. He called me.”

“Oh, right! Yeah! Go right ahead, Doctor Watson! Didn’t think you’d be in town, sir!”

“Just his luck. And don’t worry about this one,” He looked at Sherlock as he ducked the line, “He’s with me and won’t be a bother to anyone.”

“They’d down on the bank, Doctor Watson! Hope you wore your sturdy shoes!”

“Found a pair of my old boots that’ll keep me dry! Thanks, lads!” He waved over his shoulder and headed for a secondary line. They stopped short of the line and climbed onto the retaining wall, looking down on the scene from above.

“Oh, look. It’s Anderson.” Sherlock hummed, “And Donovan is with him.”

“Yeah, well, bollocks to the both of ‘em.” John huffed, folding his arms across his chest, “Feel like giving The Yard a bit of a shock, then?”

“Can I?”

“Well, your hair’s about four inches shorter than it was when you jumped, you’re a couple stone skinnier, and you’ve got a beard. If anyone actually recognises you, I’ll be shocked.”

“What about you?”

“Eh, the lads are used to seeing me like this.” He shrugged and turned, hopping off the retaining wall.

“John!” Sherlock called him back, “Sit!”

“Hmm?”

“Sit down!” he was already sitting on the damp concrete, and patted the spot next to him, “We can finish our coffee.”

“Grand idea.” John grinned and settled down next to Sherlock. They spent a few minutes watching the trio of Yarders below them arguing over the gods knew what business, enjoying the last of their coffee. All of a sudden, Greg threw his hands out and turned his back on Donovan and Anderson.

“God damn it, I don’t have time for this! Has anyone seen or heard from John Watson in the last five minutes?! If you have, find the bastard, if you haven’t, call him now!”

“Oh, Jesus.” John coughed, nearly choking on a mouthful of coffee, “Is it that bad?”

“Yep.” Sherlock popped the “p” like he always did and gulped the last of his coffee, “Shall we, then?”

“Before he commits violence on any of his team? Yeah, probably.” John drained his cup and unceremoniously wiped his mouth with his sleeve. Clearing his throat, he pursed his lips and whistled sharply.

“Not that any of us would mind if he took it out on either of those two,” Sherlock muttered, setting aside their empty cups. John snorted.

“Oh, be nice, Sherlock.” He scolded as Donovan caught sight of them and pointed them out to Greg, who turned in their direction and shaded his eyes. Like two cheerful kids, they waved and John distinctly saw his lips shape the words “What the bloody hell?” when he saw them sitting up there. It wasn’t long before Greg was standing below them, arms folded across his chest as he looked up at them.

“Took you long enough!”

“Sorry, Greg!” He leant his elbows on his knees, “What’d we miss?”

“We have a serial killer.”

“Want us to take a look for you?”

“If you can find this fucker, I’ll pay you twice the Agency’s rate!” John and Sherlock looked at each other. There was no way that would ever happen, but they understood the sentiment.

“Yikes, that bad?”

“Come on down, I’ll fill you in.”

“Be right there!” he swung around and hopped off the retaining wall. Sherlock was right behind him as he headed down the slick, narrow stairs.

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“Did he recognise me?”

“Might have. We’ll see in a minute.” John slipped at the bottom of the stairs and Sherlock caught him. Somehow they both ended up on the wet sand, laughing like a pair of idiots with the breath knocked out of them.

“Ow!” 

“Jesus, sorry! You didn’t hit your head going down, did you?”

“Nope. Ow!” Sherlock fought to sit up, “Get off.”

“Sorry.” John rolled and got up on his knees, “Oh, my knee didn’t like that.”

“None of you should have liked that, that hurt.” Sherlock brushed sand out of his hair, “You alright?”

“I’m fine.” John leant his head back and looked up at Greg, who stood before them with his arms folded across his chest and doing his game best not to smile.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the dishonourable Baker Street Boys.” One eyebrow went up and a muscle in his jaw twitched, “Thought the both of you would be dead and buried by now. Never thought you’d turn up on a scene.”

“You called me, Greg, I usually show up when that happens. Kind of habit, yeah?” John held out one hand, “Help me up, mate.”

“Yeah, sure. Word had it you’ve been on the streets these past few weeks?”

“Eh.” John shrugged and collected his cane from the sand, brushing off his clothes and hair.

“Jesus, Watson.” Greg rolled his eyes and peeked around John to Sherlock, who still sat on the wet sand, “What about you, then?”

“Not dead.”

“Obviously. Come on, you, up you get.” Greg offered a hand to Sherlock and looked at the pair of them, “Jesus, you look like a pair of the Homeless Network.”

“That’s the idea, Greg.”

“You back in Baker Street, then?”

“Yesterday.” John flicked a piece of sand off his collar, “Did we really get another one?”

“Looks like it.” Greg pointed to the body sitting just above the tide-line, “Go take a look, tell me what you think.”

“Glad to.” John took the gloves Greg handed him, offering one pair to Sherlock, “Take it the Evil Twins aren’t thrilled about this?”

“Told me not to waste my time calling someone who might not be around to take the call. I told them to kindly sod off.”

“Oh, I bet they didn’t like that much.”

“No, they didn’t.” Greg shrugged and followed them back to the body, dismissing the other two to wait at a safe distance. He gave them the name of the victim and let them do the rest. Sherlock circled the body, muttering to himself, while John leant against his cane and watched for a bit before joining him in his inspection.

“Sherlock?”

“You have a problem, Inspector.” Sherlock looked up. Between them, they had picked apart the scene, time and cause of death of the victim, and Sherlock had figured out that he had been dumped downstream of where they’d found him and been moved by the currents. 

Greg had taken dutiful notes and as he looked at what he had written already, he glanced at the pair of them as they crouched over the body, talking in quiet voices, conversing in French. John was very aware of the scrutiny and looked up.

“Think you boys can close this for us?”

“If you want us to. Might have to touch a couple of strings and do some legwork, but whoever did this is still around.” He shrugged, rubbing his nose with his sleeve, “By the way, if you can keep it quiet that we’re both alive and back to work, that would be lovely.”

“The lads picked you out, John, I called you.”

“Yeah, I know. Just…please.”

“Sure. I’ll do what I can. They respect you, and I can muzzle the gossips.” Greg ruffled his hair with one hand, looking like he hadn’t slept in weeks, or at least not well. What was it with people not looking after themselves properly? Shaking his head, John shoved unsteadily to his feet, using his cane and Sherlock for leverage and balance. He knew when Sherlock put one hand on his hip, leaning against him to provide a support, and John gratefully squeezed Sherlock’s shoulder. Once he was stable, he reached down and pulled Sherlock to his feet.

“I’ll bring the other case files over for you boys, see if you can put the pieces together before he strikes again.”

“She.” Sherlock stripped off his gloves, balled them up, and shoved them into a pocket. “The killer is a woman.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“It makes sense.” John nodded, “All but one of the victims has been male. All within a certain age-range and of varied geo-ethnic groups.”

“Spurned lovers?”

“Makes sense.” Sherlock narrowed his eyes, “Black Widow killer, perhaps?”

“Definitely bi-sexual, the second victim was a woman. Young, and rather pretty, I remember.” John shuffled and looked at their new victim, “Do you want our statements now, Greg?”

“Yeah, before you disappear on me again.”

“Sure.”

“Give me a minute. Wait above.”

“No problem. Come on, Sherlock.” John took Sherlock’s hand and went back up the slick stairs. There were no slips or spills this time and they waited ten minutes while Greg turned things over to forensics and to his secondaries, sharing a cigarette while they watched from the top of the wall.

“Have you consulted on other victims before this one?”

“No, but I’ve been following the case pretty closely.” John shrugged and took the cigarette from Sherlock, “I think I know who the killer might be, but not a clue how to get to her.”

“So you think it’s a woman, too?”

“Know it is.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I looked up the victims and their histories.”

“What tripped your radar?”

“I know them.” He looked down at the body now covered by a sheet, watching as a couple of techs took a gurney down to collect the body.

“You...what?”

“I know them.”

“How?”

“They’re all former patients of mine.” He cleared his throat.

“John, you don’t think…”

“Someone’s after me?” He looked sideways at Sherlock, “Maybe. But for all anyone in London knows, I’m either dead or off the grid. And no one who knows would have talked.”

“What about them?” Sherlock waved at Anderson and Donovan, who were talking with their heads together.

“It’s not me they hate.” John sighed, “I’m not stupid, and I’m definitely not helpless.”

“One of Moriarty’s, do you think?”

“Maybe.” He scrubbed out the dog-end of the cigarette and tossed it onto the wet sand below as Greg came up, “Let’s go. And don’t say anything to Greg.”

“Yeah, no. No problem.” Sherlock shook his head.

“Alright, you two, let’s get back to headquarters and get your statements.” Greg looked tired as he waved them to follow.

It was a quiet drive back to The Met for them and it didn’t take long to settle into Greg’s office. John didn’t miss the side-long looks and whispers, but he ignored most of them. He wasn’t a stranger here anyway. He was cursing the headache behind his eyes as he wrote down his statement, but he didn’t miss when Greg’s assistant popped her head in.

“Saw you were back, Boss. Can I get you anything?”

“Uh, just…coffee I think, Mary. Ta.”

“Got it! Three?”

“Yeah, might as well. Thanks.” Greg gave a tired, dismissive wave as he focused on the paperwork cluttering his desk, looking for the rest of the files. The attractive blonde just smiled brightly, a bit too friendly, and looked at John.

“Good to see you again, Doctor Watson!”

“Yeah, yeah, you, uh, you too.” He rubbed the back of his head, grimacing. With a parting wave, Lestrade's assistant was gone again.

“You okay, John?”

“Just a headache.” He took off his glasses and set them aside for a minute, pressing the heels of both hands to his eyes, “No worries.”

“You haven’t been sleeping well, have you?”

“Hard to when you’re on the streets.” He cleared his throat and picked up his glasses and biro again.

“Who’s your assistant, Lestrade?” Sherlock asked neutrally as they worked.

“That’s Mary Morstan. She’s been here about a year or so, I think?”

“Hmm. Where did she come from?”

“Says she’s got family in Kingsteignton. Her credentials were good and she cleared the probationary period without any problems.” Lestrade separated two files from the stacks on his desk, “There’s two of the files, I’ll have to do some hunting for the other one.”

“Thanks.” John pulled them towards him as the door opened and Mary came back in with three takeaway cups of coffee. She set them on the desk and asked if anything else was needed.

“No, we’re good. Uh, make sure no one else bothers us, please?”

“Sure thing, boss!” Mary smiled and winked at John, who was trying to figure out what it was about her that made his neck itch. As soon as the door had closed, he got up and locked it.

“Don’t touch that coffee.” He said calmly.

“Hmm?”

“Don’t drink the coffee.” He collected the cups and set them aside, “Trust me.”

“What’s wrong, John?”

“I don’t know who she is, but that woman is not a friend of ours. Not someone to trust.” He took a clean sheet of paper and wrote on it, sliding the paper across to Greg.

 

Mary Morstan is the Black Widow Killer.

 

Are you sure about that?

 

Absolutely positive. Every one of her victims were former patients of mine. I’d be shocked if she isn’t working for Moriarty.

 

What on earth could anyone want with YOU, though?

 

I killed her boss.

 

“Oh my god, John!” Greg looked at him, eyes wide, “What are you going to do?”

“Act as if I know nothing. Let her think I’m ignorant.” He finished his report and handed it to Greg, who added it to to the file.

“I’ll have to get Mycroft involved.”

“Good luck with that.” John rolled his eyes.

After they finished their reports, Greg gave them a ride back to Baker Street, and a case that had stumped The Met so completely it was sitting on back-burners buried under a lack of new leads or any movement at all. It was another serial case, but very different.

“What’s different about this one?”

“It’s a serial kidnapping.”

“Any victims?”

“Several. But, um, you’d better take a look. This one landed on the back-burner, we can’t make anything of it.” He handed them the file and let Sherlock open it. Inside was something entirely unexpected.

“Dogs?” John and Sherlock looked at each other, then at Greg, stunned.

“I know. But not just any dogs.”

“Someone’s stealing litters of Dalmatian puppies? How long has this been going on?”

“A couple of months, by our guess.” Greg shrugged, “I thought this might be right up your alley. Feel free to reach out to any of the affected breeders and families. We have no idea who would do something like this.”

“A collector.” Sherlock was already building an Evidence Wall, “John, what should we call this one?”

“Do you want us taking the credit for this case, Greg?” John looked at the kind D.I. who had always looked out for them, “I mean, I know your bosses don’t like us getting all the glory while you lot do the hard work.”

“We haven’t made a dent in this case in almost a month. It’s all yours. If it goes live again, you’ll know.”

“Alright. Thanks, Greg.” He left the file with Sherlock and saw Greg down to the street, “And let us know if you hear anything from Mycroft?”

“Definitely. You two might get moved to a safe-house for this, so don’t let him get too comfortable.”

“No problem.” John shook hands with Greg, who decided a hug was in order, and watched until the silver car was out of sight before locking the front door and going upstairs to the flat. Sherlock was studying pictures of the missing dogs and he could tell it disturbed him deeply that someone was stealing puppies in Central London and the surrounding boroughs.

“Sherlock?”

“Hmm?”

“Don’t get too comfortable, Greg’s gonna see about getting us moved.”

“That would be wise. But, John, all of these dogs.”

“I know, I know. It’s awful.” He grabbed his laptop and sat down on the couch with Sherlock, browsing news-sites for any information on the case he was calling A Spot of Mystery in his head. There wasn’t much, maybe a couple of second-page spreads, a few ads placed in the wanted columns. They spent the rest of the day working on the dognapping case. 

The next morning, they had no solid leads but they had made a bit of progress. Mycroft came over to move them to a safe-house in Suffolk, in Shimpling, Bury St. Edmonds, and they continued to work from there.


 

Chapter Text

 


It was nearly Christmas before they got word that Morstan had been neutralized. They had no leads on the dognapping case, but they did have a final count for the puppies that had been stolen: eighty-four puppies, averaging between five and thirteen puppies taken per hit – including three full litters of ten, ten, and twelve each. This was definitely the work of a collector, but no idea who was behind it. But there were parallels between the dognapping case and another case that had flagged the attention of the Baker Street Boys when it happened. An incident at the London Zoo had resulted in the death of the venue’s three-year-old female Siberian Tiger, who had been killed and skinned about nine months ago. It was John who made the connection. He was staring at pictures and maps when it hit him. Sherlock was in the kitchen doing…something, but came running when John gave a yell.

“What, John? What is it?”

“Whoever’s been kidnapping the puppies is the same person who contracted the killing of Sue Ling at London Zoo!” He turned, clutching a handful of photographs in one hand, “Sherlock, I swear, it’s the same person!”

“How do you know? No one knows who contracted that hit.” Sherlock frowned at him as he ran for his laptop, “What are you doing?”

“Do you recognize this woman?” He typed a name into the Google browser and waited for results. When he got a hit, he turned the screen, “Her. Do you know who that is?”

“No. Should I?”

“That, friend, is Cruella DeVil. She owns a fashion-house in London, a bit of an odd bird.” He ruffled his hair with both hands, “I met her once.”

“How?” Sherlock picked up the laptop and examined every bit of information he could get.

“Uh, Stamford’s cousin is a photographer and took me along to a fashion-show where some of the pieces out of House of DeVil were being shown. She was…not right in the head. There was something off about her, she was very rude to just about everyone there.”

“She looks like a perfectly horrid individual.”

“Tell me about it. Being around her made my hair stand up.” He shuddered, “If she’s not behind this, then I don’t know who would be?”

“Should we say something?”

“Not yet. She’s got influence like nobody’s business. I don’t feel like levelling accusations that heavy against a woman far better equipped to fight me in court without solid evidence.”

“You think she’ll do it again?”

“Yeah. She will. There’s something about Dalmatians, puppies especially, that has her attention and her desire.” He watched Sherlock pace, let him spout off his deductions, and knew that if DeVil, or whoever she had hired to kidnap the Dalmatian puppies of London, struck again, they would take the case and see it solved. Whatever that meant. John was very fond of dogs, all breeds, and had owned a Dalmatian as a boy.

---

A week later, they were summoned back to London. The dognappers had struck again, and this time, the owners had called Scotland Yard. That was how they found themselves in Gabriel Gate Mews in Lambeth knocking on the door of a nondescript, quaint house that apparently belonged to the heartbroken owners of the last fifteen puppies that had been stolen. As they waited outside, John looked at Sherlock.

“Alright, now no deducing these people right out of the gate, they’re not going to appreciate you being yourself.”

“I can be nice. These people lost their puppies, John, that’s serious business.” Sherlock batted snow from his coat, “Do you really think it was DeVil?”

“I’d put money down on it.” He turned as the door clicked and was opened for them by a homely, kind woman about Mrs Hudson’s age. She was very sad, it didn’t take a pair of crack-shot street tecs to figure that out. 

“Can I help you, sirs?” She looked out at them suspiciously, and he suspected the house had been staked out by the press for a while. He and Sherlock were no strangers to that.

“Er, yes. Is this the home of the Radcliffes?”

“It is, yes, who are you?”

“We’re here for The Met, we just had a few questions.”

“Are you detectives?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Sherlock and John showed their badges. John’s was few years old, he’d been running cases with The Met as a contracted consultant, badge and all, a little longer than Sherlock, who had nicked Greg’s badge ages ago and carried it with him until he could get his own. All that mattered was the shield, names were insignificant at this stage. At least for the moment.

“Oh. Well, I don’t know what we can possibly tell you, but you might as well come in.” She invited them into the house and closed the door behind them, “I’m sorry that Roger and Anita aren’t here.”

“Are they at a doctor’s appointment?” Sherlock asked, looking around the sitting-room for clues to the life these people led.

“Yes, how did...”

“That’s a sonogram photo.” Sherlock indicated a little printed black-and-white photograph.

“Oh. Yes, they are.”

“Are the dogs here?” John asked, “The adults.”

“Yes, they are.”

“When were the puppies stolen?”

“Two, three nights ago?”

“Were you home when it happened?”

“Yes, I was.” The woman looked uncomfortable, “Tea?”

“Oh, please. Yes.” Sherlock was polite when he smiled. John trailed the woman, apparently the couple’s housekeeper, to the kitchen and watched her. This had hit the family very hard, and he wondered how they could help. Curled up on the floor in a little alcove under the work-top were two adult Dalmatians, who regarded John with suspicion. He smiled and got down on their level, holding out one hand in invitation.

“You’re a handsome boy, yeah? Come along, you, I’m a friend.” The sire got slowly to his feet and approached with typical suspicious body-language. John kept food in his pockets for Sherlock, usually sweeties, but he had a bit of salmon jerky in his pocket and he pulled this out to entice the dogs to befriend him more quickly.

“Come along, I’m a friend.” Smelling the jerky, and probably figuring out that John was a dog-lover, the sire came up to him and sniffed.

“Hi, you gorgeous boy. What’s your name, then? Hmm?” He got hold of the collar and read his tag, “Oh, Pongo! Good, strong name for you, huh? You’re a good dog, aren’t you? That’s it, that’s for you.” He chuckled as the dog took the bit of jerky, “No teeth now, you hear me? A soft mouth on you.”

“You’re very fond of dogs, are you?”

“Oh, very much. Had a Dal when I was a lad. Love dogs desperately.” John looked up at the housekeeper, “When the boys at The Met asked us to take this case for them, we took it in a heartbeat.”

“Who are you?” The woman finished preparing things for tea, “You’re an odd pair of detectives. Are you really with Scotland Yard?”

“We’re consultants.” He stroked Pongo’s head, paying attention to the soft ears, “Just like my Sandrine, you like having your ears stroked.” Turning his attention back to the housekeeper, he smiled, not missing the expression on her face. 

“The name’s Watson. John Watson.”

“And your tall friend?”

“That’s Sherlock Holmes.” If this woman hadn’t heard of them, he’d be shocked. They were infamous. He watched her expression and gave himself a mental high-five when her eyes widened.

“Oh my goodness! You’re the Baker Street Boys!”

“Yes’m.”

“Oh, Lord! It’s you! I didn’t even think of it! You look so different!”

“I suppose we might.” He got up and held out one hand, “We would love to help you find Pongo’s pups. How many were taken?”

“All fifteen. I expect Roger and Anita will be home any minute, they would be happy to talk to you! We were so afraid it would get lost in red-tape or forgotten!”

“No, ma’am. We’ve been on this case the past two months or so.” John patted his leg and the dogs followed him out to the sitting-room. The woman introduced herself as Mrs Michaels and warmed up very quickly to John and Sherlock now that she knew who they really were. Sherlock asked permission to inspect the kitchen, and Mrs Michaels told him to help himself. John stayed in the sitting-room and kept the dogs company. Well, Pongo at any rate. The bitch, a handsome Dal named Perdita, followed Sherlock around. He caught his partner talking to her in French as he searched for clues.

 

Ten minutes later, the Radcliffes returned from their errands and John committed their expressions to memory when they came in to find him sitting on the floor by the coffee-table with Pongo taking more than his fair share of lap-space. He was listening to Sherlock sing to himself, eyes closed, but when he heard the door open, he roused.

“Sher.” He called softly. It got quiet in the kitchen and Pongo raised his head but didn’t leave his spot on John’s lap. A moment later, the homeowners appeared, an early-forties couple, dual-income household until recently, he designed computer games, she had been in fashion-design. She had worked for House of DeVil, in fact. Ooh. This was personal, then. And definitely DeVil’s fault. Nudging the affectionate, clingy Dalmatian off his lap, John got up and didn’t bother to try and brush off the dog-hair as he held out one hand to the couple, who apparently recognized him.

“Mr Radcliffe, Mrs Radcliffe. We’re here for The Met.”

“Oh my god. You’re…John Watson!”

“Reputation precedes me again.”

“What are you doing here?” Mr Radcliffe asked, gobsmacked.

“We’re here to find your puppies and get them back, Mr Radcliffe.” Sherlock appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, “We know who took them.”

“Thank God. Who?”

“We tracked your case to a connection with the case at London Zoo. We weren’t involved with that case, but we heard about it. Only a collector would stake out a protected animal in a zoological park.”

“The tiger?”

“You think it was the same collector, then?”

“Has to be. But taking the fifteen puppies from your house was personal.” Sherlock paced the room, thinking faster than anyone in the room aside from John. “You have your suspicions, I know you do.”

“Of course we do!” Mr Radcliffe looked tired and annoyed. Suddenly, his wife went stiff and her eyes widened.

“Oh, Roger!”

“What? What is it?”

“Where did I put my portfolio, Nanny?”

“Uh, in the nursery closet, dear.” The housekeeper blinked as Mrs Radcliffe disappeared upstairs, her footsteps rushed and loud. A moment later, she came back down with an artist’s portfolio, which she smacked down on the coffee table and flipped open, rifling through the renderings inside.

“You worked for House of DeVil until recently, didn’t you?” John asked calmly.

“Yes, yes I did! And she did steal the puppies! This is why!” She pulled a drawing from the file and thrust it at them. Displayed was a gorgeous spotted coat.

“This…is a coat.”

“Those spots look like Dalmatian spots.” John handed the rendering to Sherlock, “She wants a Dalmatian coat and she’s stolen…what is it now, ninety-nine puppies to do it?”

“I think she’s going to kill the puppies!”

“My God.”

“Can’t you do something?” Mr Radcliffe was appalled, rightfully so.

“I think so. We’ll get in touch with The Met and see about getting word to other local police, I guarantee you those puppies are well outside of London by now.” John rubbed the bony crest of Pongo’s head, “We’ll find out where she went and go there.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so much!”

“We’ll leave you to it, and be in touch.” John got up and they shook hands with the couple. At the door, Pongo came for a final pat and he ruffled the dog’s ears.

“Goodbye, handsome fellow. We’ll get your puppies back. You get on your barking-chain and we’ll work our side of things, right?” He got a soft woof and a paw. As they left the house, Sherlock looked at him curiously.

“I knew you were a dog person, John, but I didn’t know you were so passionate.”

“I love Dalmatians, and detest those who hurt them, or any animals.” John pulled his phone from his pocket and called Greg. It rang so many times he thought it would go to voicemail. It did. Cursing, he left a short message. “Greg, hey, it’s John Watson. Listen, we got a break in the dognapping case. Suspect, names, location, everything. Call me back or I’ll find you. Now!” Hanging up, he redialed.

“Did it ever occur to you that he might be busy?”

“If DeVil disappears on us, we’re screwed. No.” He snarled. Sherlock snickered and hailed a cab. No answer again, he hung up and called a third time. This time, Greg answered.

“It had better be fucking important, John.” He sounded a bit irate, “Three calls and a voicemail? You had better have a viable lead.”

“We’ve got more than that. I have your suspect.”

“How?!”

“Talked to the owners, tagged it to the poaching case at London Zoo a couple months back. Same collector.”

“Oh my god. Who was it?”

“Real piece of work, runs a fashion-house in London. Name of DeVil.” He ducked into the taxi and gave the address for Baker Street. “Uh, 221B Baker Street, please.”

“Sir.” The driver touched his cap and rejoined traffic.

“Cruella DeVil. Find her, fast.” He returned to his conversation with Greg, giving him the name of their suspect.

“Jesus, Watson, when you commit, you commit.”

“Only way anything gets done around here.” John looked out the window of the cab, “Greg, we’re going back to Baker Street, call or come for us when you know something.”

“Roger that, John. Thanks for helping out.”

“Thank me when we get the puppies back.” He ended the call and slid his phone into his pocket. It was quiet as they returned to Baker Street, and they spent the rest of the day looking for other cases in the papers and on the web. Despite having been “dead” for three years, Sherlock’s website was still receiving posts from people needing help and they solved a couple of easy cases. John did the typing since Sherlock was supposed to be dead but he wasn’t.


 

Chapter Text


It was gone seven the next evening before they heard from anyone, and it was Greg who showed up with his car and a squad-car in tow. They had warrants and a potential lead.

“There’s a chance she’s split town, we’ll find out pretty fast.” He let them read the warrants, “If you want to come along, we’re not going to stop you. Pretty sure the family will be there, they called in another tip about DeVil. How did you know it was her?”

“She staked out Sue Ling nine months ago, and she’s been systematically stealing Dalmatian puppies all over London.” John handed him the file they had started on the case, gesturing at the Evidence Wall, which was plastered with photographs, maps, and paperwork.

“Wow. What’s so important about this one?”

“It’s dogs.”

“I know you both like dogs, but this kind of dedication is a little unusual for you two.” Greg flipped through the file, “I mean, you’re always meticulous and focused, but this…”

“I owned Dalmatians when I was little. Favourite dog in the world.” John took down a photograph of Pongo he had gotten from the Radcliffes, “Owned a Dal named Sandrine through Uni. Died while I was overseas with the Army, old age got her.”

“Who’s this, then?”

“Pongo. He’s the sire of the last fifteen puppies that were stolen from the Radcliffes.”

“Handsome dog.” Greg handed the picture back, “You two coming, then?”

“Far as we can go.” John collected their coats and they followed Greg down to the street. They drove in with him, saving money and time for once.

 

When they reached the residence kept by DeVil out in Hampstead Heath, they joined a small army of Met personnel. DeVil, as suspected, was not home, but her staff was surprisingly talkative. They recovered the tiger-pelt from the zoo case and were informed that DeVil had departed London for a family property in Suffolk. Word was put out to the local boroughs in Suffolk to be on the lookout for the Radcliffe puppies and the rest of them as well. There was a slim chance the puppies were still alive. Desperate to see this through to the end, closed, and the puppies safe, John asked if he could get out to Suffolk somehow. That required a short phone-call to Mycroft, who gave them the chopper and a warning to be careful.

Before they left the Hampstead Heath house, John stopped to speak to the Radcliffes, who looked like their world had fallen apart. Thirteen puppies stolen, and now the adults were missing.

“Doctor Watson.”

“We have leads to follow in Suffolk. Sherlock and I are going to fly out there right now and join the hunt. I promise we’ll find your puppies. And I wouldn’t worry too much about Pongo and Perdy.”

“You think they went to find the puppies?”

“Dogs are smart. I heard the Barking Chain the last couple of days, so I know word got where it needed to.” John smiled and squeezed Mrs Radcliffe’s hand, “They have channels of communication just like we do.”

“Thank you so much for your help, Doctor Watson. We didn’t think we’d get so lucky.”

“Thank me when I get your puppies back.” He shook hands with Mr Radcliffe and headed for Greg’s car after handing them a card with his information on it, “I’ll be in touch, and so will The Met. Keep your phones handy, we’ll call when we know something.”

“Safe travels, Doctor Watson!” They called as he reached the car. He waved as he ducked into the backseat, where Sherlock already waited, busy on his mobile. '

It was a short drive to the London Heliport, where they met the waiting chopper that would take them to Suffolk. The bird was equipped with FLIR cameras and spot-lights, all of which would come in handy. The pilot came to meet them.

“You John Watson?”

“Yes?”

“Word got to us you’re cleared to fly one of these! Come with me!” The man grinned and tossed off a salute. John wondered who in hell’s name had dug up that piece of his history and looked over his shoulder at Sherlock, who stared like he’d parted the Red Sea or something. Shrugging, John headed for the chopper. It had been years since he’d flown, but like riding a bike, it was something you never really forgot how to do. And this particular model was one he had plenty of flight-time in. He and Sherlock were given flight-suits to wear over their clothes and micc’ed helmets after he got a quick tour of familiar controls.

---

Getting airborne was easy, the co-pilot did most of the work, but once they were up at altitude, he took over. The nighttime cityscape of London spread out beneath them in a network of lights, which dropped away to darkness speckled with occasional glimpses of lights below as they flew over villages, towns, and hamlets in the countryside. As they cleared the borders of Suffolk, he dropped altitude and switched on the search-lights, recalibrating the FLIR cameras. As they cleared the borders of Suffolk, he dropped altitude and switched on the search-lights, recalibrating the FLIR cameras.

“Keep your eyes open, people! If those dogs are out here, we’ll see ‘em!”

“John?”

“Hmm?”

“How did I not know you were a helicopter pilot once?”

“It’s always something.” He looked over his shoulder at Sherlock, who had slid the door open and hooked into a roll-bar to sit in the door and scan the darkness that way, “It was never important to our work, was it?”

“Of course it was!” Sherlock looked at him, almost appalled he’d said that, “Everything about you is important to The Work!”

“Well, now you know I’ve got licensing and clearance to fly an EC135M.” He chuckled and looked at the controls, making a small adjustment. The chopper gave a slight bounce as they hit a thermal, but he’d steered through gunfire and the leading edge of a sandstorm, making corrections for thermal turbulence was easy. They searched through the night, stopping once to refuel, and as the sun came up over the village of Risby, three miles west of Bury St. Edmonds where John and Sherlock had spent the past two months holed up in hiding while Mycroft handled the threat posed by Morstan, they got a ping. Sherlock saw it first before the radar caught anything and called it in.

“I’ve got something!” He yelled, “Movement on the fields just to starboard!”

“Roger that.” John adjusted the FLIR cameras and saw a mass of red and yellow moving across the blue. It had snowed here recently, so the mass of…something was very obvious. Dogs. He felt a stab of sheer relief, “Good eye, Sherlock! That’s them!”

“That’s a lot of dogs, think it’s all of ‘em?”

“Must be! We’ll find out soon!” He radioed down to the units patrolling the streets of Risby and got word back that they had also spotted the dogs. Swinging around, he landed the chopper just outside of Risby after doing a low pass over the dogs to make sure it was them. It was. Shutting down, he unbuckled the helmet and tossed it back onto the seat as he hopped out of the chopper. Sherlock was right behind him as they ran towards the centre of town.

 

It didn’t take long for the place to be swarming with pups of all sizes and ages. John rounded up the Radcliffe dogs and got them settled safely, doing a headcount. Two adults and…fourteen pups. They were missing one. They called in a hundred dogs before the missing pup arrived last, making it a hundred and one dogs total.

“M-make that one hundred and one Dalmatians, sir.” The constable who had spotted the dogs from the ground addressed his radio, stunned. John looked at Sherlock and smiled.

“Nice work, Doctor Watson.”

“Just part of the job.” He folded his arms across his chest, “Feels good, doesn’t it?”

“Hmm. Whatever became of DeVil?”

“Not a clue. Haven’t heard anything.” He shrugged, “Trust me, if they’d snagged her, we would have heard about it.” One of the constables took a call on his radio and his eyebrows went up.

“Oh, yes sir. They’re still here, sir. Yes.”

“What’s up?”

“Chief says we’ve got a lock on Miss DeVil. You two called it in, if you want in on it, you can go.”

“Why not?” John wasn’t really that eager to face DeVil again, but he wanted to put eyes on her and make sure she ended up in handcuffs. “You got her associates?”

“Yep.”

“Excellent. Yeah, we’ll go. Sherlock?”

“I’d like to see this woman myself.” Sherlock wore that troubling smile he got on when things were going very well. John snickered and they headed for the indicated car.

It wasn’t long before they were heading for the last known location of Cruella DeVil. Upon reaching the abandoned barn, they got out of the car and watched as DeVil was hauled out of the muck of a pig-pen and hustled into the waiting prisoner-transport van.

“Not much to look at, is she?”

“Not anymore.” John smirked, “Too bad she’ll be going away for a very long time.”

“But, we saved the puppies. Well, the dogs saved themselves, but we did find them.” Sherlock beamed at him, “Good work.”

“Likewise.” John smiled and they shook hands on another case solved. The chief constable came to them as the van pulled away.

“You’re the boys from London, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir. Holmes and Watson. Picked up this case two months ago and followed it here.”

“Good work, boys, you did a good thing today.” The man smiled as they shook hands, “Never thought we’d get two famous names who shouldn’t be around these parts.”

“I won’t be dead much longer.” Sherlock smirked, “This case will be my “resurrection”.”

“Fine way to come back! Good work, you two, clever of you to follow it all the way out here to nowhere.”

“Personal investment, sir. I don’t get on well with the likes of DeVil and can’t stand those who treat animals so badly.” John shrugged, “It was no problem.”

“You’ve got our thanks, boys. Back to London with you, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Let’s get you back to Risby, then.”

“Thank you, sir.” It was a quiet drive back to Risby, and John got them heading back to London once they got the all-clear from the units on the ground. They got back half an hour before the caravan from Risby, and they took the chance to return to Baker Street, take a shower, and make themselves presentable. Greg came and picked them up, driving them down to Lambeth at the head of the Risby caravan.

---

When they got out at the Radcliffe house, John went right to the Land Rover carrying the Radcliffe dogs, one hand on the door-handle as the front door of the small house flew open and the residents came running. As soon as he saw Mr and Mrs Radcliffe, he pulled the door open and let out Pongo and Perdy. Watching the couple reunite with their dogs was perfect, and John leaned against the car.

“That’s just two dogs, how’d you think they’ll take ninety-nine puppies?”

“We’ll see. It’s a shame no one’s called for the others.” Sherlock joined him and they watched as the ecstatic Radcliffes thanked the police for their help.

“Well, we didn’t do much of anything. It’s those two who did all the hard work, we just helped.” The two constables from Risby that had been so helpful pointed to John and Sherlock.

“Thank you so much, Doctor Watson!” The Radcliffes were just beside themselves, “How can we ever thank you enough?”

“You don’t have to. But we do have one problem.”

“Oh?”

“Your puppies were the only ones that had any tags.” He put his hands in his pockets, “And no one has called to claim the others.” There was some back-and-forth and Mrs Radcliffe hedged on taking on another eighty-four puppies, but she was eventually talked around to it and soon the mews street was swarming with Dalmatians. As the barrage died down, John chuckled. 

“That. Is a lot of dogs.”

“One hundred and one Dalmatians. My God.” Greg huffed, shaking his head. “So, what’s this I hear about you being a pilot?”

“Not exactly a state secret, Greg.” He rolled his eyes. He was never going to live that down, was he? It was always something, as Sherlock was so fond of saying.

“Bullshit. Why didn’t you say something?”

“It never seemed important.” He shrugged. Sherlock snorted. Saying their goodbyes, John and Sherlock stopped by The Met to file formal reports on the case and then returned to Baker Street. Not quite business as usual, but damn close enough. Now all they had to do was come back from the dead. Well, Sherlock had to come back from the dead, John not so much.

 

Chapter Text


Two days later, John looked out the window of Baker Street and found the sidewalk crowded with reporters. It was barely past eight in the morning, he noted with a sense of disdain.

“Oh, look at that. Guess Mycroft was right.” He made a noise in his throat as he sipped at his tea, “Saw that coming.”

“Well?”

“Suppose we’d better show ourselves, yeah?” He looked over his shoulder at Sherlock, who stood in the kitchen doorway, messing with his shirt-cuffs. John chuckled and went to help him. “Stop worrying, you knew this was going to happen.”

“Who said I was worried?”

“You get this look on your face when you’re worried about something, but it’s not something everyone can see.” He fastened the stubborn buttons and straightened Sherlock’s jacket, “Time to show the world that Sherlock Holmes is alive and well.”

“I suppose they’d have to be a bit desperate to try and get past you today.” Sherlock mused, petting the sleeve of John’s smock, “Not the friendly doctor in fuzzy jumpers, are you?”

“Not today. These are the same people that tore you to shreds three years ago and killed my reputation, I don’t want to come across as “friendly” today.” John flicked a piece of lint from his smock and brushed off the buckle of the stable-belt secured at his waist. For the occasion of showing themselves to the world publicly for the first time in three years, John had found a new, properly fitted and starched Temperate Combat Dress uniform hanging in his closet and suspected he should be grateful Mycroft hadn’t insisted on a dress-uniform. He hadn’t worn a uniform for much since leaving the Army, maybe a couple of cases when they got themselves involved with a military case and it was prudent to blend or on special occasions, but it felt a bit strange just at the moment.

“Boys!” Mrs Hudson yelled from downstairs, “Making them wait any longer won’t make them go away, you know!”

“Yes, Mrs Hudson!” They called down together, going downstairs after a bit of last-minute fiddling. Sherlock was especially touchy about the regimental flash patches on John’s sleeves and the rank-stripe on his placket. Mrs. Hudson waited by the front door for them holding Sherlock’s recognizable but rarely-worn Belstaff and scarf, the highly-recognizable deerstalker hat that had more or less started the whole mess that led to the showdown at Bart’s three years ago, and John’s regimental beret, appropriately adorned with a regimental cap-badge and hackle for the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.

For the occasion, they had both shaved and gotten a haircut, which was very much against what they liked these days. Well…not completely. They had both cheated. They didn’t look like a pair of homeless bums, but there was just enough of their recent looks left to make a statement that the John Watson and Sherlock Holmes everyone remembered from before November 2011 were not really there anymore. Time and experience had changed them both.

“You know, that rank is active again.” Sherlock murmured as John cocked his beret right.

“I know. Sitting on reserve, not going anywhere, and the people who matter know that. I think he did it initially to threaten me, a message that I can’t stop him from getting rid of me, but now it’s more like if something comes up, I’m not just sitting there looking pretty.”

“He found out about the extraction, didn’t he?”

“Yep. That was great.” John snickered and ruffled the silly Belstaff, “You look like Sherlock Holmes again.”

“Isn’t that the whole point?”

“Come on, you, let’s go face the vultures.” He winked and took Sherlock’s hand as Mrs Hudson opened the door for them. He stepped out first, completely ignoring the small army of reporters with their cameras, phones, and dictatapes. People still used those? Hmm.

As he took up position by the stairs just to the right, one reporter got his attention.

“Doctor Watson! Is it true that Sherlock Holmes is alive? That he was never actually dead?”

“Why don’t you ask him?” John turned his head and kept his hands behind his back. That was Sherlock’s cue and as they had discussed, he stepped out of the house in Belstaff, scarf, and deerstalker. After a while, it was clear he would never get a word in edgewise, so John raised one hand and things got very quiet very quickly. Looking at Sherlock, who mouthed “Thank you”, he gave a subtle wink. He would always look after Sherlock’s interests. Facing the expectant throng, Sherlock had just two words for them: “Not. Dead.” John snorted, keeping a straight face. The interviews took a bit longer than that, but John and Sherlock had made a pact to be polite and play nice with the press, as hard as it was to do it.

“Doctor Watson! Are you going back to the Army? Why are you in uniform?”

“Good of you notice. Not formally, but as a Medically Limited Reservist. I won’t be deploying for anything except my obligations for training and service. A few weeks, that’s all. Barring war breaking out, or an overseas training exercise, I’m staying in London to help Mr Holmes, just as I have since 2010.” He shrugged, entirely uninterested in talking about something that really wasn’t anyone else’s business but his and Sherlock’s. Finally, the press had the answers they needed, maybe not the ones they wanted, and it was quiet on Baker Street again. At least until the next case came up or one of Sherlock’s experiments went sideways again.