by auburn and eretria
It was six o'clock on a rather unpleasant and drizzly Monday morning
and Mrs. Hudson was baking.
Though she kept the door to her kitchen carefully closed, the
of freshly baked cake wafted from underneath the door like a fine fog
creeping up the stairs to their flat.
John sighed and stopped typing his latest blog entry. He'd hoped
she'd be a little more subtle about the whole thing, but then again,
he knew what Mrs. Hudson thought of other people's kitchens. She'd
never have gone anywhere else to prepare for a party.
John sipped his tea and promptly wrinkled his nose, setting the mug
down. It had gone lukewarm while he'd been typing. He'd given up on
sleeping sometime around three o'clock in the morning when the
thunderstorm had woken him and reminded him of the bombs in
Afghanistan too much to fall back asleep.
To his surprise, Sherlock hadn't been bothered in the least, which,
considering his usual light sleep, was highly unusual. Then again, he
had made sounds about preferring to sleep through his birthday all
day yesterday, so maybe he had taken appropriate measures to ensure
that he did just that. Well, John thought wryly, at least that would
get him out of having to make sure Sherlock turned up for Mrs
Hudson's party for him. He could just cart a sleeping Sherlock
downstairs. It would be a sight more pleasant than a petulant and
ill-tempered Sherlock who wanted nothing more than to get out of the
flat, no matter how much he liked Mrs. Hudson.
Outside the window of 221B Baker Street, light slowly began to creep
into the night's shadows, revealing torn branches and rubbish bins
overturned by the force of the wind. The street was still wet,
reflecting the streetlights' gentle glow.
Downstairs, John heard Mrs. Hudson open the door, sending a cloud of
chocolate cake scent up the stairs. His stomach began to rumble and
he pressed an arm over his midriff, hoping to quell the sound.
Sherlock may not have woken from the thunder last night, but you
never knew what might tear him from the deepest sleep.
The creaking of step three of the carpeted staircase alerted him that
somebody - well, Mrs Hudson, really - was walking up the stairs,
trying to be extra-quiet and failing spectacularly. You had to tread
on the far right corner of step three and the far left of step four
to avoid that kind of creaking, and you needed longer legs and better
functioning hips than Mrs Hudson had to achieve sneaking upstairs.
John rose, stretched his back and decided to dump the lukewarm tea in
favour of a fresh cup. The kitchen was farther away from Sherlock's
bedroom after all and the usual noises of John puttering around the
kitchen were too well known to Sherlock to wake him.
The water in the kettle had just begun to rumble gently when the door
to their flat opened fully and Mrs Hudson's head appeared; the light
reflected off perfectly coiffed hair. No curl out of place. She cast
a quick look around, and, upon not finding Sherlock, walked into the
kitchen, something half-concealed behind her back.
"I heard you walking around since before five," she said.
"So I thought you might appreciate a spot of toast, poor dear?"
Once more, John was struck by how not-hostile her mother-henning made
him. He'd always hated it when Harry had tried it because it had been
so patently fake. Maybe the difference with Mrs. Hudson was that
there was not a hint of an ulterior motive to her concern.
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson," John said with a smile. "Much
The text message from Lestrade read, Ready to
kill him yet?
bit back on a grin. Lestrade knew him too well by now. All those
evenings spent in pubs getting pissed together and commiserating over
women had left the DI with a rather good knowledge of John's hang-ups
when it came to Sherlock. Despite what it might look from the outside
and particularly to Sgt. Donovan, Lestrade was by no means a fool. Quite
the opposite, or Sherlock never would have wasted a second of his
time helping him. No, Greg was smart as well as pragmatic and he knew
that it made no sense to muddle through on your own and lose valuable
time when you had help at hand, no matter how unorthodox. He was an
excellent detective on top of that. There wasn't much that went by
Just like Sherlock's birthday. He hadn't checked ahead of time, but
according to Lestrade, John's fidgeting had given him away. And John
Watson prided himself in never fidgeting.
John texted back a quick, Sharpening the knives. Might want
to call the police,
went back into the living room where Sherlock was screeching on his
violin. Somewhere in there, John detected bits of Schφnberg and
Penderecki, all in cacophonous disharmony with Sherlock's own
composition. Fingernails on a blackboard would have been more
"There's tea in the kitchen if you want," John said.
Sherlock held a long flageolet note that hurt John's teeth, then
dropped the violin's bow with a disgusted huff and fell backwards
onto the sofa, cradling his violin in both arms like a child. "Too
"I'm sure you can manage without breaking into too much of a
sweat," John answered. He reached for the newspaper and sat down
in his chair on front of the fireplace. Funny how it had become his
chair. Sherlock rarely ever sat in it, even if he appropriated
everything else that belonged to John without asking or giving the
slightest hint that he even understood there was a difference between
what was his and what was John's.
"It's my birthday, isn't it?" Sherlock asked in a woeful
"Even though I'm only a lowly medical doctor, the concept of a
rhetorical question isn't beyond me, Sherlock."
Sherlock turned on the sofa, staring at John imploringly. "Shouldn't
you be nice to me on my birthday?"
John took a deep breath and opened the newspaper without comment.
"You could fetch me my tea."
"And pigs could start flying," John retorted. "There
was something in yesterday's newspaper about it, and an announcement,
I believe, in yesterday's weather forecast: Pigs to start flying on
Sherlock Holmes' birthday."
He dodged the pillow that came flying in his direction.
"Get up and get it yourself, Sherlock. And then get dressed.
Mrs. Hudson is expecting us at twelve o'clock."
"It's barely ten!"
"I don't need two hours in the bathroom."
John turned another page of the newspaper as loudly as he could
manage. "Yes, Sherlock, you do."
By eleven forty-five, John could still hear Sherlock splashing around
in the bathtub. His phone, lying by the fireside table, had rung five
times already, but Sherlock had studiously ignored it. John was
halfway resigned to carrying the damn tub downstairs, complete with
its occupant, but decided to make one last attempt at something
"Fifteen minutes, Sherlock," he called through the closed
door. "You know Mrs. Hudson hates it when you're late."
"Did you get me a present?"
John heard a gurgle when Sherlock submerged and wondered for a moment
if he should check up on him after all. He wouldn't put it past
Sherlock to drown himself just to escape the party. Then again, no.
Too vain. So maybe John should just lock the door and shut down the
boiler and wait for the hot water to run out. See how long Sherlock
would last in a tub full of cold water.
John pursed his lips, thinking about it. The idea had a certain
On his way to creating another mental entry to his inner blog called
'Creative torture for your best friend,' Sherlock's phone rang again.
"I'm not answering any birthday well-wishes," Sherlock's
voice came muffled from behind the bathroom door.
"You just wanted to have a present," John stated, trying
for mild but coming out sounding exasperated. "One generally
goes with the other."
"That would explain why you didn't give me one yet, then."
John rolled his eyes.
The phone kept ringing.
"Answer it and tell them I'm indisposed."
"You're always indisposed. And I'm not your bloody secretary."
The phone kept ringing. This time, it appeared to be someone with
"Not easily frustrated, this caller. Could be dangerous, John,"
Sherlock announced, his voice a mix between bored and gleeful.
"Oh for " In the end, John moved to grab the phone
just to stop the noise.
The name on the display made his eyebrows climb.
"Greg," he greeted, muffling his voice so Sherlock wouldn't
"Who is it?" Sherlock demanded.
"Ah," Lestrade said, a knowing smile tinting his voice.
"Ignoring his phone then?"
"Well, you know him."
"Who is it, John?"
"Don't we both," Lestrade huffed. "Listen, John, I
know it's a bit inconvenient, but I could use your help."
"Who is it?"
"Do you have a murder?"
"No, a break in, jewellery theft. But it's weird enough that I'd
appreciate a consultation."
"Did you say murder?" There was a loud splashing noise
accompanied by the hollow sound of skin moving on wet enamel over
"Greg, we're due for a party in," John checked his watch,
"John, is that Lestrade?"
"Oh, is Mrs Hudson baking her famous chocolate porter cake?"
Lestrade sounded positively perky at the idea, and John knew why.
Mrs. Hudson's cakes were widely known as the best you could get
outside of a gourmet bakery.
"Yes, she is, so you can see why it's a bit inconvenient
The bathroom door flew open and Sherlock stalked out, completely
naked and dripping water everywhere. John blinked. Slowly.
"It's not inconvenient at all," Sherlock announced
cheerfully and took the phone from John. "Lestrade! You are
John heaved a sigh and watched a leftover bit of foam slide slowly
down Sherlock's spine.
So much for the party.
Built in record time, the Milton Building, product of old money and
new coming together in the economic rubble of 2008, swept thirty
storeys high. Designed by Foster & Partners, in style, height,
and metaphor, it overshadowed the £140 million flats marketed
by the Candy Brothers only blocks away, and still managed to fit in
its neighbourhood. The first twenty floors were occupied by exclusive
businesses and secretive government offices, but the top ten were
made up of high-security, luxury penthouses.
As with Norman Foster's Gherkin at 30 St. Mary Axe, the
Milton incorporated numerous eco-friendly elements, in its case
disguised as decoration. A mosaic fret band made of glass bricks
ticked up and down over each floor, invisibly slanted to channel
water into the hidden drains and protect the seals of the acres of
glass. From ground level, the fret bands appeared to be set in the
walls. Closer examination revealed that with each storey the bands
moved out from the wall to overhang slightly, reaching a width of ten
inches on the thirtieth floor. Washed clean, the coloured glass shone
like jewels, saving the aluminium and mirrored glass expanses from
appearing brutal and cold. John rather liked it, though it wasn't the
sort of place he often found himself. He generally considered the
ultra-rich types who lived in places like the Milton to be alien
species who just happened to be from the same planet.
Like sea slugs.
The DC that Lestrade had stationed outside the lobby to meet Sherlock
escorted them both to a security desk where a second, private
security officer met them. His gaze met John's with the placid
self-confidence of a bear, measuring him in a way that almost no one
did when confronted with the vibrating energy of Sherlock Holmes.
Like knew like. John recognised a former soldier like himself and
guessed the man was ex-SAS. Places like the Milton snapped up men
like him as soon as they retired.
"Sherlock Holmes," Sherlock announced, as if that were all
the explanation needed for why they were there and his way should be
He received a slow, lizard-blink in return.
"John Watson," John added.
"Lestrade wants them upstairs," the Detective Constable
explained. "He sent for him." The 'him' went with a
distinct, disgusted head-cock toward Sherlock.
The security officer nodded and said, "You're cleared to use the
residents' private lift. I'll take you up. If you'll follow me?"
"Because the consultants called in by the police obviously need
to be accompanied," Sherlock remarked to John scornfully.
It did resemble locking the stable doors, John admitted to himself.
He settled for a minatory, "Sherlock," and Sherlock sniffed
but strode to the lift without articulating any more inciting
remarks. As usual, he towered over everyone else and let himself be
shuffled to the back of the lift. John really couldn't guess all the
details Sherlock's brain was picking out of their surroundings, but
he did see the way his pale eyes flicked from the card the security
officer used to the keypad that required a separate code before the
lift began to rise, to the CCTV camera mounted discreetly in one
corner of the glass-and-brushed-bronze conveyance.
To John, the whole Milton Building seemed very secure, very state of
the art, and he couldn't imagine how a thief had made it to the
twenty-eighth floor. He was already bracing himself for Sherlock's
scathing opinion, however.
"Diamonds are so clichιd," Sherlock muttered as the
Detective Constable led them from the lift.
"Cufflinks, do you suppose?" John asked impishly, just for
the quick glare it provoked from Sherlock.
The lift exited on a shared entrance hall with four doors, one on
each wall, with fresh flower arrangements each different
in crystal vases on small side tables just beneath the keypads to the
security locks. Recessed lights illuminated the flowers and keypads
subtly and brighter overheads came on as they stepped onto the
Sherlock stopped in the centre of the vestibule and looked around
slowly, observing the Turkish carpet, the carved wood panelling, the
single fainting couch upholstered in crushed emerald velvet, its
spindly legs stained dark as ebony. He didn't remove his hands from
the pockets of his long coat, didn't twitch, yet his bearing conveyed
his scepticism so well it even got to the phlegmatic ex-soldier.
"Steel core doors," the security officer volunteered,
"solid wood veneer, state of the art locks, surveillance,"
more CCTV cameras focused on each door and the lift, "motion and
heat sensors, fingerprint readers. Don't see how anyone got through
"Of course you don't."
Sherlock made a face at John. His attention wandered again while the
DC and the security man went to the door with the arrangement of blue
irises and knocked briskly. He wandered off and peered at a
ventilation grate not much larger than a lunch-box. The grate echoed
the bronzed metal in the lift.
"Ventilation ducts all too small to even send a child through,
of course," Sherlock declared. He sniffed. Again.
"Each penthouse has its own HVAC system with filtration."
Sherlock sounded smug, his mouth folding into a prim cross between a
smile and a sneer, which wasn't unusual. He knew something no one
else had realized yet. John sighed to himself. No doubt Sherlock
would shove Lestrade's nose in it quickly enough.
Perhaps he should lay off the metaphor before he sank to quoting
Hamlet, John thought as the door opened and the DC gestured for
Sherlock to go inside with a sweep of his hand. The security officer
stepped back, making a face of his own, no doubt in response to the
gabble of voices suddenly audible from inside.
"Good sound proofing at least," John muttered as he walked
Mirth lit the man's eyes for a microsecond. "Our tenants pay for
"The illusion of it," Sherlock disagreed as he strode by.
John thought of the CCTV cameras everywhere and the way Mycroft and
whoever he worked for did Mycroft work for anyone in fact or
did everyone work for him? could hijack them so easily and
Sherlock came to a stop in the very wide open sitting room, ignoring
the opulent decorations, the Turner hanging on one wall opposite a
giant flatscreen TV, the forensic mob in their coveralls puttering
about and the clutches of uniformed and plainclothed police, the
flat's owners, the Milton-Exeleys, bombarding a harassed-looking
Lestrade, and a group of four people, two in uniform, who had to be
the help, all huddled together in one corner. The room was amazingly
bright, thanks to the wall of glass, which included doors out onto
the balcony the building had. The architects had cleverly created a trompe-l'il
effect that concealed the balconies from the ground.
Yet, for all of that, John would swear the place smelled musty. He
stopped short of walking into Sherlock and thought it really did
smell and not of cleaners, perfume, cologne or cooking. If Sherlock
hadn't complained all the way from 221B over the sheer plebeian-ness
of investigating a jewel theft, John might have thought they were
looking for a dead body, though the smell wasn't strong enough to
come from a human one.
He'd thought sometimes in Afghanistan that he would never get the
smell of death from his lungs and skin and yet was still often
stunned at the way bodies reeked as they decayed.
It never seemed to bother Sherlock, so it took John by surprise when
he sniffed ostentatiously before faking a sneeze, complete with
fluttered handkerchief held to his nose.
John shook his head. The flat must have cost the Milton-Exeleys over
a hundred million pounds and yet it reeked of decomposition. Small
wonder Lady Milton-Exeley looked pinched and worn, while her husband,
Sir Edward Milton-Exeley, arbitrageur and knight of the realm for his
contributions to art, charity and the economy of the City, needed a
shave, blood pressure medication judging by the redness of his face,
and a visit to a dermatologist to check if the mole on his neck was
pre-cancerous. John reminded himself he wasn't the man's physician,
he wasn't even practising medicine, and it wasn't his business. Sir
Edward was yelling at Lestrade, who gave John a harried look that
translated to 'make Sherlock do his thing now and save me from this
rich twit.' Lady Milton-Exeley appeared to be using her smartphone to
While John had been concentrating on Lestrade, Sherlock had moved
over to the balcony where he crouched and ran long, pale fingers over
a small, scarlet carpet that likely cost more than John made in an
entire year. A flash of a grin lifted the corners of Sherlock's mouth
as he rubbed his fingers together. John realised the carpet was
darker there, as if it was damp. Sherlock looked up to the glass
door, back to the Turner on the wall, and rose, erecting himself to
his full, imposing height with slow, cat-like grace. All gazes zeroed
in on him. John had witnessed that effect on many people and had been
a victim to it himself before he had seen through Sherlock's game.
These days, he just enjoyed watching the novices with quietly
"Time to go, John," Sherlock announced. "Case solved."
"What do you mean solved?" Sir Edward shouted, abandoning
Lestrade to stride over to Sherlock. He might have been intimidating,
if he hadn't been a full head shorter than Sherlock. Or if anyone
alive had ever intimidated Sherlock. Instead, Sir Edward missed ridiculous
only by the sharp intelligence in his watery blue eyes that had him
stepping back from Sherlock on his own. "You're the consultant. Am I paying
"No," Sherlock told him.
Sir Edward nodded.
John wondered if Lestrade or anyone would point out that Scotland
Yard wasn't paying Sherlock anything either, that he took these
consulting jobs for the thrill of out-thinking everyone and in the
aimless hope that something or someone eventually would provide his
overclocked brain with a challenge.
"Well then?" Sir Edward turned a fulminating glare at the
assembled cook, maid, and two others. "I suppose you'll need to
interview everyone again to tell which one of them did it."
"Oh no. I wouldn't waste my time. None of them did it,"
Lestrade joined them. His expression didn't give away a lot, but John
thought he didn't like Sir Edward very much. He spoke directly to
Sherlock after a tiny nod to John.
"We've got the maid, Astrid Beasley, the cook, William Hostens,
Sir Edward's personal assistant, Calvin Fitzwilliams, and Lady
Milton-Exeley's assistant, Beatrice Westminor. There's also a driver,
Alton Lewis, but he never comes upstairs."
"Irrelevant," Sherlock said.
"You don't want to talk to them yourself?" Lestrade didn't
even try to sound surprised. John expected he asked just to prod
Sherlock glanced at the four and raised his eyebrow. "Why?"
"It has to be an inside job."
"None of them had anything to do with it and their inane babble
would be even more tiresome than yours."
Lestrade gave Sir Edward the sort of suspicious look he gave all
suspects not the long suffering one he gave Sherlock or the
commiserating one John sometimes earned. Sir Edward puffed up.
"If you are implying that I or my wife have wasted your and our
valuable time with a false report or any
fraud, Inspector, you will hear from my solicitors!"
"Why are the rich all so tediously predictable?" Sherlock
wondered to John.
"You think that about everyone."
"Because they are."
"Sherlock," Lestrade interrupted in quiet frustration. "If
it wasn't an inside job, how was it done?"
"Take a deep breath."
"I'd rather been trying not to."
"The smell, Lestrade," Sherlock insisted as if it explained
"Rather like a dead mouse."
Sherlock closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, miming
utter despair at the plodding of lesser brains.
"You could explain," John reminded him gently. Sherlock had
no doubt simply written down all the correct solutions to complex
mathematical equations in university without bothering to show the work that
proved them. He must have been the despair of his lecturers and the
"I'm beginning to believe the 'party' would have been
preferable," Sherlock complained.
John checked his watch and suppressed his smile. Sherlock would
finish shortly and they'd still be in time for Mrs. Hudson's
gathering. Sherlock wouldn't have thought of that
as he rushed
through this investigation. "Really?" he poked at Sherlock,
just to get him to get on with it. Mrs. Hudson's chocolate porter
cake truly was sublime and he was beginning to feel a bit peckish.
His morning tea seemed nothing more than a phantom memory of the
distant past. Before long, his stomach would begin growling in
"Oh, very well," Sherlock sighed, put upon and letting
everyone know it. He pointed to Lestrade, "It's not insurance
fraud, the Milton-Exeleys' finances are sound. The jewels involved
are insured, but not extravagantly. They just bought a Turner at
auction, which is hanging on the wall here, and a Constable from a
private seller. They own this flat along with shares in the entire
building. It was Lady Milton-Exeley's suggestion that Foster &
Partners design the building; the cachet associated with the awards
the Gherkin and the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Building have garnered
would surely add to the sheen of new construction. They expend
considerable sums on charity, very admirable of course, but it does
cost a positively obscene amount to buy a knighthood in today's
economy, doesn't it?" He finished with a nod to Sir Edward, who
had begun sputtering.
Lestrade rolled his eyes. "Go on, Sherlock, there must be
someone here you haven't managed to insult yet."
"It's a bit of a waste of my breath to insult the forensics
twits, isn't it? At least Anderson isn't here to destroy any useful
John coughed softly.
Sherlock pointed to Lady Milton-Exeley next. "They went out last
night. She tweeted about it. Twittered. As she does about everything.
A chronicle of empty consumerism."
Lady Milton-Exeley flushed red then paled enough that her make-up stood
out, turning a desperate look toward her husband as she hurriedly
stuffed her smartphone into her cashmere cardigan's pocket. So
Sherlock was right of course Sherlock was right, the git was
always right and she had posted her evening's plans. Sir
Edward did not look best pleased.
"You'll find the thief followed her."
"Casing the place?" Lestrade asked, puzzled.
"On Twitter, you Luddite."
John saw Lestrade taking a deep breath before he continued and
commiserated quietly. Trying not to strangle Sherlock, then. Oh, did
John know that feeling...
"All right, fine, so the thief knew no one would be in the
penthouse last night," Lestrade agreed. "Still doesn't get
him in here."
"As if that was any difficulty."
"The security "
"How did the thief get in?" Lestrade asked patiently.
With the most put-upon huff possible, Sherlock recited: "C5
." When no one got it, he glared at John.
"Oh, everything makes perfect sense then," Lestrade said.
Sherlock nodded as if he hadn't noticed the sarcasm. "It does."
Lestrade raised an eyebrow at John. "What is
John ransacked his memory for the formula. It had to be something
from medical biochemistry since Sherlock expected him to recognize
it. Unless it had something to do with John's military service.
Sherlock had mentioned the smell... Ah, it finally came back to him
from his pathology rotation.
"Yes, obviously," Sherlock murmured as he wandered over to
the doors to the balcony and let himself out.
John and Lestrade followed him. Both of them walked carefully, not
wanting to slip on the slick tiles that were still glossy with rain
from the night before's storm.
"And what's Cadaverine when it's not giving Sherlock there
something else to lord it over the rest of us, then?" Lestrade
"What it sounds like," John explained. "One of the
chemicals responsible for the smell of dead things. There's also
putrescine, produced by putrefying flesh "
"Yes, John, he can look it all up later," Sherlock said
with an impatient wave of his hand. He'd turned his back on the
amazing view of the Serpentine and was studying the outside wall of
the building above the balcony. "The thief undoubtedly purchased
it over the internet from a chemical supply company. It isn't
difficult. He'll have used an alias and a false credit card along
with a no longer useful address if you manage to trace him that far."
"Why?" John asked despite himself.
Sherlock gave him the look that said John, like the rest of the
entire world, had disappointed and caused him unbearable,
indescribable pain once again. Asking Sherlock to slow down his brain
enough for anyone but Mycroft to keep up was rather like hitching an
excitable racehorse to a geriatric donkey and applying a switch to
both their hindquarters. The donkey tried to go faster and Sherlock
strangled himself in the traces.
"You'll find," Sherlock said to Lestrade, "that
sometime in the last month, depending on the building's regular
maintenance schedule, the supervisor will have been contacted by the
company that manufactured its HVAC filtration system. Impeccable
credentials will have been provided and apologies that they need to
replace or service a part with a faulty design. No charge and no
extra trouble as they'll have dispatched their own technician."
"The thief," Lestrade stated.
Sherlock rolled his eyes.
"The ventilation system is too small to use as access."
"But not too small to hide a stink bomb containing Cadaverine,
no doubt placed with great precision where the smell would affect the
Milton-Exeleys' flat but no others. He had only to wait for an
evening with the proper weather once it was in place to activate it,
probably with a mobile."
"He still had to get in. The alarm system "
The wind and John expected there was always a wind this high
up; they were so high he actually wondered if anyone ever went to the
balcony railing and looked down without suffering vertigo
ruffled through Sherlock's hair and tossed the end of his ratty scarf
about. The scarf, despite its original quality, had never recovered
from the case in Chelsea two months before. John had been quietly
plotting to get rid of it since then. For a breath, he hoped the wind
might whip it right off Sherlock's neck and away. It didn't, but he
still had his original plan, to be executed before the day was out.
Sherlock gestured to the glass doors. "Wasn't on. Lady
Milton-Exeley, who probably tweeted about it, left the doors open in
order to 'air out' the flat while her husband and she attended the
opera gala last night."
"Sherlock, we're twenty-eight storeys up," John pointed
Sherlock widened his eyes at John before pointing at the decorative
ledge running along the exterior wall, then proceeded to stop John's
heart in his chest by taking two running steps and leaping to catch
hold of it. He pulled himself up in an awkward scramble of long
limbs, nearly catching his legs in his coat, and got to his feet. The
toes of his shoes overshot the ledge by at least an inch.
"My God, man, get down," Lestrade demanded in a tight
voice. If Sherlock fell, he'd land on the balcony and probably break
a bone or two, but the ledge continued beyond the balcony, and
Sherlock was shuffling his way in that direction.
Sherlock just grinned at them, in his element it seemed, alive with
adrenaline and wildly pleased with himself. John considered whether
he just wasn't too old to deal with Sherlock on a regular basis. His
resting pulse had increased markedly since they became room-mates and
his blood pressure was up as well. If Sherlock didn't get him killed
by some psychopath, then his antics were going see John expiring of
an early heart attack.
He did his best to hide his ire and worry however, because the best
way to deal with Sherlock was to refuse to be impressed, it only fed
his already monstrous ego.
"Bit extreme to get out of your birthday party by throwing
yourself off a building, isn't it?" John ignored Sherlock's
immediate frown and shared a small smile with Lestrade.
"Even, I dare say, clichιd," Lestrade agreed.
"More cake for us, though."
Scowling, Sherlock leaped back down, landing neatly as a gymnast, his
coat catching the wind and fluttering like dark wings.
"The rain's washed away any forensic evidence, but the thief
came around to the balcony from one of the other penthouses. Who
lives in them?"
Lestrade flicked open his old-fashioned copper's notebook and
"The penthouses are owned respectively by the financier Richard
Eastmore, Prince Johannes Karl Otto Kasimir zu Sayn-Wittgenstein
it's occupied by his daughter, Princess Sophia-Amelia zu
Sayn-Wittgenstein-Vallendar and Sheik Mahmoud bin Rashid bin
"Eastmore isn't married, but keeps a mistress," Sherlock
said, "so not him. Mahmoud bin Rashid surely keeps bodyguards in
the penthouse with him "
Lestrade was nodding.
" therefore: Sophia-Amelia is, if not young, then young
enough to indulge in a toy boy, especially a handsome and charming
one," Sherlock finished.
"So will you be next year and that doesn't stop you from
looking," Sherlock said. "Your wife still having that
"Sherlock," John said warningly.
"All right, all right." Sherlock turned up his coat collar
against a gust of wind. "She brought the thief home with her
last night. He'll have had a hat and an umbrella and the CCTV
recordings will be useless, but he's dark-haired, blue-eyed, between
twenty-five and thirty years old and quite handsome. He left this
morning, no doubt after sharing a pleasant breakfast with the lady."
He dusted his hands together as if that was sufficient and even
trained monkeys should understand everything now.
"You mean the thief walked that ledge from the Princess' balcony
to the Milton-Exeleys' and then made his way back?" John asked.
He looked at the decorative ledge in horror. "At night. In the
middle of a rain storm."
"It required excellent reflexes, athleticism, and a complete
lack of fear, but once the ground work was in place, the actual theft
would have been easy for him," Sherlock confirmed.
"Well, who is he then?" Lestrade asked. "Since you've
figured everything else out."
"I can't do everything for you, Lestrade. You'll have to try to
find him yourself. Show some pride in your work."
"All right, we'll check the building's maintenance records and
the security recordings from last night," Lestrade said with a
sigh. "Then we'll talk to the Princess." He managed to say
it without looking like he wanted to drag Sherlock back out to the
balcony and throw him off. John was impressed.
Sherlock headed for the door. "Come along, John." He paused
in the main room and added, "Oh, by the way, the Constable in
the library? It's been replaced with a forgery."
Outside the Milton-Exeley building, trying to flag down a cab, John
remarked, "They're not going to catch him, are they?"
Sherlock wound the scarf around his neck. "Of course not."
Once they were in the cab and en route back to 221B, John frowned.
"Wait. How do you know he had blue eyes?"
"That, John," Sherlock told him with smiling satisfaction,
"would be telling."
"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson's voice was what John had come to
identify as excited annoyance. "Having to work on your birthday,
it's just not right."
"Many people do, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock answered in that
tight tone John only heard him use with Mrs. Hudson and only because
he respected her too much to call her an idiot as he would have
"Well, never mind that now." She ushered them into her
flat. "I'll bring a fresh kettle to the boil and make us a nice
cuppa. Here, give me your coat and," she caught a glimpse of
Sherlock's scarf, "oh, dear, you really should replace that.
It's looking rather, ehem "
"Yes, thank you, Mrs Hudson, a cup of tea would be lovely,"
John interrupted her. "Do you have room for my jacket as well?"
"Don't start," John said without looking at Sherlock once
Mrs. Hudson had left the room. He knew the long-suffering puppy eyes
and their effect on him. "Yes, Sherlock, you have to. End of
discussion." Oh, the pouting later on would be BAFTA-worthy.
"And do behave. She only means well."
"The road to hell "
John reached out and thrust the newspaper from Mrs. Hudson's living
room table into Sherlock's hand. "Shut up, Sherlock."
"Everything ready upstairs, Mrs. Hudson?" John asked under
his breath when she came back.
"Table is set and all his favourites are there, though I'm
afraid I didn't manage to get a hold of the Persian cucumbers he
likes best." She looked vaguely stricken at the thought. "Do
you think he'll mind terribly?"
John bit back on a smile. "I'm sure it'll be just fine, Mrs.
Hudson." He rubbed his hands together. "Well. Shall we?"
Mrs. Hudson nodded. She'd changed again since the morning when John
last saw her and was now wearing one of the cerise dresses that she
still claimed drained her but which Sherlock had once said he liked
on her. "Yes. I imagine his first guest will be quite impatient
"He made it, then?" John asked, surprised.
She shot him a mischievous look. "After a bit of grumbling."
"How long has he been waiting?"
John glanced at his watch and winced. It was just after two. Even
though solving the case had only taken Sherlock the better part of
twenty minutes, traffic on the way back had been hellish. This was
not going to end well.
"Don't worry love, the snooping kept him occupied," Mrs.
Hudson said cheerfully. When John paled and spluttered, she added, "I
did hide your magazines."
He was resolutely not going to think about this, John decided and
turned to Sherlock. "Come on, birthday boy." He clapped a
hand on Sherlock's shoulder. "Let's see what your surprise is."
"Afternoon tea for which it's too early by far and an alarming
number of flowers, obviously," Sherlock muttered, but amazingly
kept his voice low enough so Mrs. Hudson wouldn't hear him.
He did storm ahead of them, though. John shared a brief grin with
Mrs. Hudson and followed suit. He had barely reached the fourth step
when he heard a thoroughly disgusted, "What are you
"And a happy birthday to you, brother dear." Mycroft's
voice held the usual amount of cultivated disdain. "So glad you
could make it and refrained from throwing yourself off that balcony."
"Preferable option," John heard Sherlock mutter under his
breath when he rounded the corner.
"Now, boys, be nice to each other," Mrs. Hudson cautioned.
"Can't have proper afternoon tea while being cross with each
other, now can you?"
"Generations of British families have managed, Mrs. Hudson,"
Mycroft sneered. "And I dare say ours perfected the art of
ignoring one another over tea while making polite conversation."
Conversation that other people would have considered the polite,
stiff-upper-lip way of sharpening the knives before going to war,
John imagined. He really hated imagining Christmases at the Holmes
household. World War Three would have nothing on them.
"Besides, it's too "
"Yes, thank you, Mycroft," Sherlock interrupted before
Mycroft could finish what was the exact same thing Sherlock had said
downstairs. John raised an eyebrow and looked back and forth between
the brothers and Mrs. Hudson. Still protective. Always protective.
"Let's skip straight to the only purpose for your visit: Did you
bring me a present?"
Mycroft's lips curled into a complicated blend between a sneer and a
pained yet fond smile. "Wouldn't you like to know."
"Now, Sherlock, no presents before tea!" The disapproving
twitter this time, John noticed. Sherlock straightened a little. It
was fascinating to see how easily Mrs. Hudson handled Sherlock and
even more fascinating how readily he complied.
Sherlock flung himself on the couch with an eye roll that would give
every self-respecting ophthalmologist few enough of those
around a heart attack.
Mrs. Hudson shook her head with a smile that was far too fond for
this level of petulance while she reached for John's elbow and
steered him toward the table. "Sit down, John, there's a love."
Seated, John had a chance to fully take in what Mrs. Hudson had
prepared in their absence.
Cake stands with sandwiches, cucumber and salmon. Large,
fluffy-looking scones and slices of that dark, far too delicious
delight that was Mrs. Hudson's famous chocolate porter cake.
John had been new to Baker Street, only a few weeks in, when he'd
first had a taste of heaven. Right downstairs, in Mrs. Hudson's
kitchen after another job interview fallen through and an attempt at
flirting refused. Maybe it was because he'd been so dejected back
then, or maybe it was just the novelty, but John remembered that
first bite into that cake, dark, moist, crumbly and unbelievably
chocolatey, perfectly balanced against the thick layer of cream
It would be wrong to have a slice before Sherlock, wouldn't it? Then
again, Sherlock might be busy having a staring match with Mycroft
over who would first cave, so John decided to have the last laugh and
reached for the cake stand.
Mrs: Hudson's hand on his wrist interrupted him. "Proper order."
"Oh, right, yes," John automatically guided his hand over
to the sandwiches.
"Would you like a cup of tea, Mycroft?"
"Very much, Mrs. Hudson, thank you."
For a long, uncomfortable moment, there was only the bright and
gentle sound of tea being poured into fine bone china cups, of
teaspoons clinking against them. The silence stretched, and John,
during his own none too subtle look at them, saw that Mrs. Hudson,
too, was eyeing them with a certain amount of dread. Sherlock and
Mycroft were still staring at each other, only this time, with
teacups raised to their lips. The seconds turned to minutes and John
couldn't help but wonder if they would resort to throwing their cups
at each other's faces. John wouldn't put it past Mycroft, and he most
definitely wouldn't put it past Sherlock.
"Oh, Sherlock," Mrs Hudson finally broke the tension and
amazingly, Sherlock broke eye contact and glanced toward her. She
sounded as though she'd just remembered something important. "Why
didn't you tell me you would have another visitor?"
Sherlock frowned and set the teacup down. "If it had been up to
me," he slanted a glance at Mycroft, "there would have been
no one but you and John, so, I beg your pardon?"
John crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Mrs. Hudson as
well, who slightly wilted under their combined scrutiny.
"Well, there was such a nice young fellow here just after you
left," she explained while turning her teacup in its saucer back
and forth. Amazed, John saw that the tips of her ears were going
slightly pink. "So handsome, that one was, you don't have many
friends quite that handsome, dear, I would remember." She gave
John an apologetic smile. "No offence, John."
Sherlock, the bastard, actually snorted. John did what he had become
best at over the past years he ignored him.
"Do carry on, Mrs. Hudson," John said.
"Well, you see, he had dark hair and such lovely blue eyes,
really stood out, those did. He did look a bit sad."
John tensed and wasn't surprised to see Sherlock's fingers tighten
around his teacup as well. Moriarty?
"So?" both Holmes brothers asked in unison and promptly
glared at each other.
"Oh, dear me, I'm all a-twitter about his looks, and forget the
most important thing, he left you a present!"
"A present," John echoed, alarmed. Bomb. What if it was a
"Yes, a tiny present, seemed a bit odd and he said he really
couldn't wait because he had a plane to catch, such a shame if you
ask me, he was such a nice lad, but let me get it for you, here,
wait... " She rose from her chair and shuffled over to the
"Wait!" Three chairs scraped back from the table and John
realised that all three of them were expecting disaster.
Sherlock got up as well and all but sprinted after her. "Wait,
Mrs. Hudson, do sit down and tell me where you put it, you've been so
busy with preparations already "
"Oh, don't worry, love, I've got it here already." She
turned back to them with a tiny origami mouse in her hand, made from
dark blue paper.
Sherlock frowned and turned the mouse over in his hand. Slowly a
smile began to crinkle the corners of his eyes.
Mycroft inched closer as well, threw one glance at the mouse and
twitched a rare, honestly amused grin.
Sherlock unfolded the paper and smoothed it with just his fingertips,
almost as though handling something fragile.
Sherlock's smile widened into a grin, making John once again feel
completely left out. "Nice try, but it was hardly a challenge at
all," he said almost to himself.
John snatched the paper from Sherlock's hand and read, Hope
you enjoyed your present. NC.
"What present?" John asked.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Mycroft chimed in.
"Do have the grace to enlighten those of us whose brains came
back labelled return to sender?"
of a scone. When
"Oh, presents," Sherlock said, fake-bored. "Who needs
John felt a smile lift the corners of his mouth. "People who
want them, I suppose."
"Don't know any."
"Sounded different this morning."
"Everything sounds different in the morning. I'm not a morning
"No, I noticed that much."
"How could you notice, you rarely notice, or rather, you notice,
but you don't observe, so "
Mycroft cleared his throat unsubtly. "If you two want to
continue your little marital dispute, I could take this and go back
to my office."
"Take what?" Sherlock inquired.
"The present you don't want, I suppose," John said
jauntily. "You could always leave it with me, Mycroft."
"It's a little above your, erm "
"Ah, ah!" John narrowed his eyes. "Don't spoil the
moment. I was just beginning to consider liking you."
Mycroft smiled, thin-lipped, but kept quiet.
"You'd be the first," Sherlock commented drily. "I
don't think he even likes himself very much."
"Isn't it nice to be part of a sociopathic family, dear
brother?" Unfazed, Mycroft reached for the perfectly wrapped
rectangular box. "Happy birthday."
"Thank God, he spared us the singing."
"He means to say thank you," John interpreted. "I know
what'll be my Christmas present this year. Dictionaries.
"You'd make millions," Mycroft agreed.
"And lose a flatmate," Sherlock cautioned. He was still
running his hands over the smooth, dark-green wrapping paper Mycroft
and from the way the corners were folded, John had no doubt
that it had been Mycroft personally who'd wrapped the present
had used. He hadn't shaken it yet, but he didn't appear to be far
"Well, open it, then!" Mrs Hudson urged. She had her hands
folded on the table but was sitting on the front third of her chair.
"Don't have to," Sherlock said, pushing the box away from
him. "I know what's in it."
"Do you now?" Mycroft asked.
John was surprised to find out that Mycroft sounded amused rather
than miffed. He looked back and forth between the brothers, trying to
find the clue.
"I do. And I didn't even know they were in production yet."
Was that awe in Sherlock's voice? No, couldn't be.
"It appears that this one was."
"Excuse me? For the slower ones among us, what is 'this one'?"
Both brothers shared a look that made John worry about what would
happen if they both were to work together in earnest and set their
petty feud aside. The world would tremble, he was sure.
"Then again, instead of having one made for me, he goes for off
"Off a rack not even built yet," Mycroft said, this time
sounding miffed after all.
"But a rack nevertheless."
Sherlock pushed the box aside, still not opening it. The slight
lingering of his fingertips against one corner of it showed John
exactly how much Sherlock wanted to tear the package a
computer, John guessed, something very, very advanced that would
cater just to Sherlock's needs and vanity apart and get his
hands on the new piece of equipment. Showing a remarkable
self-restraint and impulse control he only seemed to possess around
his brother, Sherlock turned to John, fingers steepled.
particular look, then. John braced himself.
Mimicking Sherlock's tone, John replied, "Sherlock!"
"I do seem to remember you mentioning a present this morning."
Sherlock tapped his fingertips against one another.
"Did I now?" John inclined his head, miming deep thoughts.
"You know, I'm... not sure I did."
That earned him a frightfully effective pout. "John."
John wondered how much longer he could drag this out before Sherlock
"You're being difficult."
"And you're very demanding."
A slight pause, then the pout was accompanied by a scowl. "It's
John nodded. "And tomorrow it's somebody else's."
"But I don't care about other people!"
"And here lies the problem."
"John." Ah. The reasonable voice now.
"Good heavens, you two really are married, aren't you?"
Mycroft commented, looking as though he was close to a laughing fit.
A very tight-lipped one, mind.
Sherlock shrugged. "Your point being?"
Mrs. Hudson cleared her throat primly. "Be a dear, John, don't
make him wait until he gets childish."
"How would that be different from any other day?" Mycroft
She opened her mouth, then seemed to think on it and closed it again.
"Never mind me. I'll just be sitting here, reflecting on the
meaning of friendship," Sherlock murmured, his voice low and
Passive-aggressive little bastard, John thought fondly. "All
right, all right."
Damn him if his eyes didn't actually light up when John rose from his
chair. Once more, it triggered that funny little bloom of warmth
somewhere just under his heart. It took nerves of steel some days,
but John knew why he was friends with Sherlock. There were things
hidden under that prickly, eccentric exterior no one bothered to look
for or, even when it was plainly written on his face, bothered to
actually see. Leave it to Sherlock bloody Holmes to turn John into a
sap in his forties.
John walked into the kitchen and opened a cupboard he was certain
Sherlock had never touched since he had set foot into this flat. Sure
enough, his present lay, untouched, in the very spot he'd left it.
Well, John inclined his head a little, maybe not completely
untouched. The ribbon around it had slipped a little, only confirming
John's suspicion that Mycroft hadn't been idle during his wait. John
looked around the cupboard door and raised an eyebrow at Mycroft who
just shrugged in reply.
"Has he been snooping again?" Sherlock asked, rolling his
eyes at his brother. "Next time he's here without us, do tie him
to a chair, Mrs. Hudson."
"Then I can finally use those handcuffs again," Mrs. Hudson
said, a delighted squeak in her voice.
"Uhm," John said, intelligently, blinking a couple of
times. "That was probably more than I ever wanted or needed to
know." He suppressed a shudder and focused on Sherlock instead.
, no, he hadn't needed that particular mental
the corner of his eyes, he saw Mrs. Hudson smirk.
"Here you go, then." He thrust the package at Sherlock.
Sherlock reached for it delicately, inspected the wrapping and
John shrugged. "You're going to tear it open like a Christmas
Cracker, anyway, why bother with a perfect wrapping?"
"Valid observation," Sherlock agreed and tore at the
wrapping as though it personally offended him. When he had liberated
the slim rectangular box from its prison of gift-wrap, he took a
moment to run his fingertips over it much the same way he had over
Mycroft raised a brow at John, and this time, it was John's turn to
Of course, things never went as planned when there were not one but two
Holmeses in a room, which was why the moment Sherlock began to lift the
lid of the box was the precise moment the doorbell rang. Insistently
but politely in a way that could only mean
"Lestrade!" Sherlock jumped up and dashed down the stairs
to open the door with gusto. "My dear Lestrade, what brings you
"What?" John didn't need to see Lestrade's face to know
that he was looking at Sherlock as though the man had grown a second
head over the use of 'dear Lestrade'.
"Oh, yes, I heard you were having a bit of a get together and
wanted to pay my regards." Lestrade's voice came closer as he
walked up the stairs. "Also," he added when he entered the
room, "we have a murder."
He nodded at Mycroft and Mrs. Hudson. "Oh, Mister Holmes."
His gaze swept over the table and came to rest on the cake stand. A
smile crept up his face. "And Mrs. Hudson. How very nice of you
to throw a party for good old Sherlock here. Has he been behaving
himself? How do you do?"
Mrs. Hudson beamed. "Oh, it was nothing, dear, nothing. Here,
would you like a slice?"
Lestrade raised his hands in modest protest. "I couldn't
Hah, John thought, Liar. Lestrade's gaze hadn't left the cake for
more than a second since he entered the room.
"Oh, Inspector, please, you'd be doing me such a favour!"
"Really, Mrs. Hudson, I couldn't, you see, there's been a
murder, and I "
"Oh, Sherlock will sort it all out, won't you, Sherlock? Here,
Inspector, have a seat, I'll get you a clean plate."
"Well, all right, maybe a tiny one."
Smooth bastard. John saw Lestrade's pupils dilate, and he'd bet
Lestrade was already salivating. Not that he blamed him, mind, but
still. Wasn't it a bit much to invent a murder just to get a bit of
Lestrade had barely lifted the fork with a piece of cake on it
he reverently cut into and looked at it lovingly to his mouth
when Sherlock reappeared right in his personal space, taking
Lestrade's plate away.
"There's no time for cake, Inspector," he exclaimed. "We
have a murder!"
Lestrade closed his eyes for a fraction of a second, a gesture of
utter defeat, then seemed to remember that there was still cake on
the fork and put the tiny bit of cake into his mouth as quickly as
Sherlock rolled his eyes. "Up you get. No rest for the wicked."
Lestrade visibly bit his lips.
"Oh, Sherlock, you could have let him finish at least!"
Mrs. Hudson said, sounding disappointed.
"No, I really couldn't." Sherlock dashed over to her and
kissed her on the cheek. "I really, really couldn't, you see?"
There was such an air of childlike, infective glee
that Mrs. Hudson softened in the blink of an eye. "Oh, you,"
she said. Colour was rising in her cheeks and her smile matched his.
"Off with you, then."
Sherlock practically ran over to the coat rack where he shrugged into
his coat. (Collar turned up, of course.) "Coming, John?"
John sighed and thought about his present, neglected on the table.
Better not to look at it and feel that little stab of disappointment.
After all, Mycroft's hadn't fared any better.
"Sure," he answered.
To Lestrade he said, "Doggy bag, Greg?"
"You, John Watson, are a saint among men."
"I know," John replied. He lifted his chin in Sherlock's
direction. "I put up with him."
"But, Sherlock, what about your guest?"
Sherlock, already standing in the doorframe, bouncing on the balls of
his feet, turned to Mycroft. "Oh, him?"
"He can let himself out. Or eat all the cake and finally screw
over his latest diet."
"Sherlock!" John, Mrs. Watson and Lestrade hissed in
"He mocks because he cares," Mycroft replied mild-mannered
and with another one of those thin-lipped smiles. "Never mind
me. I need to get back to the office, anyway." He reached for
his coat which likely cost more than John had made in two
months at the hospital and shrugged into it with a gesture
frighteningly similar to Sherlock. "Mrs. Hudson, it's been a
pleasure. Thank you so much for the invitation."
"Oh, I'm so sorry this has been cut so short, Mycroft,"
Mrs. Hudson said.
"Not your fault at all."
"Here, let me give you and the Inspector some scones and a bit
"Doesn't need it." Sherlock sing-songed.
"Sherlock!" Mrs. Hudson thundered, before whisking herself
off to her kitchen.
"Yes, well." Was Sherlock actually blushing
never ceased. "Ready to go?"
John threw one last, regretful glance at the table, then shrugged and
reached for his jacket. "Ready."
Lestrade looked longingly toward the kitchen and got to his feet as
slowly as humanly possible. Sherlock practically vibrated in place in
"Let's go, then!"
Mrs. Hudson hurried back out and shoved a bag into Lestrade's hand
and another into Mycroft's, a dark frown on her features. "Do
you know," she whispered to John, "I think the young man
who left the mouse must have stolen some of my scones! The bloody
John groped for something say and settled on, "Well, they're
quite good enough to make anyone resort to crime."
Mrs. Hudson beamed at him. "I'll make sure to save you some
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
"John!" Sherlock interrupted. "We are all waiting on
They all clattered down the staircase ahead of John, whose task, as
usual, it was to close the door behind him. Downstairs, he heard Mrs.
Hudson's surprised voice: "Sherlock, do you have a new scarf?"
"See you, Mrs. Hudson!"
John started, but couldn't help throw one last look at Sherlock's
overstuffed chair. Sure enough, there lay John's box. Open and empty,
while Mycroft's box was still wrapped on the table.
"What's taking you so long, John?"
John smiled and followed Sherlock.